At what point and how shall we regard Soylent as "proven" and "safe"?


#1

This question arose when I expressed my doubts about inflicting soylent on prison inmates as a daily ration, and @bigepidemic asked me if I would change my tune “down the road a bit” once Soylent was “proven.” At that point it became necessary to consider exactly how and when we would be justified in regarding Soylent as proven and safe for general human consumption – even to the point of being administered to the inmates of prisons, psychiatric institutions, residential care facilities, etc.

For the purposes of this discussion we need to consider primarily the “official” version of Soylent, whatever that turns out to be once it starts to ship from the packer.

I would imagine that a crucial point of this discussion will be whether or not to consider Soylent a “chemically defined diet” in contradistinction to a conventional meal-replacement drink. I believe I’m essentially correct in stating that hardcore Soylent enthusiasts wish it to be as fully a CDD as possible, for example:

.[quote=“GodRaine, post:45, topic:3194”]
… by pure definition, I would like Soylent to be purely chemical.
[/quote]

To whatever extent we take that desire seriously as a goal for Soylent development, then to that extent it represents a huge experiment and a radical departure from conventional meal-replacement thinking.

So then: how do we decide when Soylent has proved its nutritional soundness AND its complete safety for general consumption by any and all sectors of the general public, up to and including inmates and confinees of various sorts? What should our criteria be? How should such proof be obtained and verified? How long is the process likely to take? What degree of certitude should be demanded? What relative degree of “safety” should we regard as acceptable and necessary? Who should decide these matters?

What do you think?


#2

This is a very interesting question. Clearly, “we” have already decided it is safe, albeit, until new information is discovered. I think it will be quite some time before the general public believes it to be safe. The timing will depend on if/when we can get some professionals on our side which is also going to be difficult. There will be skeptics for at least a full generation of folks have lived a healthy life primarily on Soylent. I believe that will be the golden moment where we can definitively say, yes, Soylent is completely safe. The other major issue I see, aside from time, is the sample size. Until we can get enough people on Soylent to rule out outliers, any health issue a person has, might be inaccurately attributed to Soylent. I’m not sure how to get around this inevitability. Skeptics will be very quick to point to Soylent as the cause.


#3

Perhaps the most serious aspect of this question is the time that it takes to decide definitively about practically any subject in the line of human nutrition. When you look at the radical disagreements about the role of dietary cholesterol and saturated fats in cardiovascular disease, for example. The question is many decades old and remains essentially unresolved, although recently it has started to be obvious that the initial simplistic assertion that cholesterol and saturated fats were both unmitigated risk factors for CVD is now being discredited. Or take the vexed question of megavitamins. Ever since Linus Pauling in… was it the 1970s?.. took up the banner of megadoses of vitamin C, this controversy has been brewing. Until quite recently the megavitamin camp seemed to be accumulating evidence and momentum. Now suddenly cohort studies appear to reveal that megavitamin supplementation increases statistical mortality risk – indeed, some such studies appear to associate any vitamin supplementation with i ncreased mortality! That’s if you believe that cohort studies and “associated risk” mean much of anything – who knows, we may shortly see some statistical analysis that will disprove the value of cohort studies!

In any case, it seems obvious that a fifty-year time frame may be needed just to outline the pros and cons of a nutritional problem, let alone to begin to resolve it definitively. This is quite likely to be the case – in spades – with chemically defined diet for humans.

“I know you’re in a hurry, ah but it’s going to take awhile.” – “Fast As I Can”, song by Alan Doyle


#4

By that definition, the answer is ‘never’. You really seem to have something against the very idea of soylent in its entirety. Not that I care. I’m planning on going my two weeks on just soylent to see what happens, and if it goes well for me I’ll switch over more or less permanently.

EVERY food has risks. Every food that is studied is the best thing EVAR for you to begin with, then the next study says it’s not. Coffee is bad for you; now it has antioxidants. Butter is bad for you, use margarine because it has healthy trans-fats; oops, now those are bad, go back to butter. Chinese food is great! Oops, no, the way it’s cooked causes problems.

Taking vitamins by itself says that people know they aren’t eating right. If they were, they wouldn’t need the vitamins. Soylent is essentially the equivalent of taking all of the vitamins necessary instead of having to do it the ‘hard way’, from food. Yes, humans evolved to eat food. Humans evolved as omnivores. Doesn’t stop veg*ans from claiming otherwise.

"Health is merely the slowest possible rate at which one can die " – Samuel Johnson


#5

As far as i know there is no food authority to give the verdict: ‘Soylent is safe’.

To me soylent is a concept, and not a product. I am not even interested in an official soylent, I am interested in the possible ways to build a soylent. I even believe a passion for food and for soylent can be a very fruitful combination.

I imagine soylent to grow culturally to be a kind of meal or drink. Something like gazpacho or wine. They are all different, and most are very enjoyable and the fact they all are different is part of the fun of consuming them!

It would be nice if some real cooks will devote themselves to it as well. I think I would enjoy a meal in a restaurant with two starter-like dishes and then as a third have a soylent (with some truffle oil and other nice ingredients) that will make you leave the place with just the right amount of everything you need.
Last weekend I made one with fresh strawberry’s and coconut milk. Perfect taste. And im sure i will experiment some more with this.

Some of you will say that if soylent takes a lot of efford, then it is not a soylent anymore. I propose to say that if a substance has the optimum balance of nutritions for humans, it is a soylent.
In this view you lose the benefit of the quick preperation, but the advantage of being “well fed” is still huge imo.

Therefore i think the question when soylent will be regarded as save is not a pressing subject. And besides, as far as I know there aren’t many scientists in the field who reject the idea. I lately asked Jacob Seidell - Professor Nutrition and Health, director Department of Health Sciences of the Free University of Amsterdam via his Twitter account if he heard about soylent already. He said he did heard of it, but rejected and belittled the idea immediately by saying soylent was like artificial insemination. It makes you a baby, but you have to miss the sex.

I think Seidell himself missed some advantages of soylent there, but he has a point: ‘Cooking and eating is not a waste of time’

That brings me my last point of this already too long post, but i didnt saw this on this forum yet. Cooking and eating is a very important way to relax. It gives your mind some rest and space to think about something else then your work. These breaks are very important for the experience of fulfilment in life, and I am sure they are very healthy too. Stress-hormones are real killers. Beware of them!

In regard to the questions of OP: I think that it is very save to say that soylent is culturally rejected by now, but that this will change in the course of time: there are many of us spreading the word, and the benefits of being ‘well fed’ will be recognized by everyone who experience it. So when in time there will come this turning point that soylent will be culturally accepted? We just can’t know the future, but even if we did I don’t think we, the DIY’ers, would act any different now.


#6

@starchasertyger [quote=“starchasertyger, post:4, topic:3930”]
You really seem to have something against the very idea of soylent in its entirety. Not that I care. I’m planning on going my two weeks on just soylent to see what happens, and if it goes well for me I’ll switch over more or less permanently.
[/quote]
People doing exactly what you are doing will mostly likely prove to be the way in which soylent eventually is validated. It is notoriously difficult to organise formal long-term nutritional studies for something like this. OTOH if soylent fails to validate it would probably via the same route – negative results of experimenters.

I am not at all opposed to soylent! I try to be realistic about it, though, and part of that realism consists of recognising just how much of a nutritional experiment it really is in its strictest CDD form. Those who say that soylent is a concept have it right, IMO, and as such soylent is open to quite a variety of interpretations and morphs; it is likely to evolve dramatically if it persists successfully, as I hope and believe it will.

@Hoyer Tom, you are really thinking outside the box and quite fruitfully. Great post! [quote=“Hoyer, post:5, topic:3930”]
Some of you will say that if soylent takes a lot of efford, then it is not a soylent anymore. I propose to say that if a substance has the optimum balance of nutritions for humans, it is a soylent.
In this view you lose the benefit of the quick preperation, but the advantage of being “well fed” is still huge imo.
[/quote]
I love that definition of soylent – it goes right to the essence of the concept and in a way that ensures the permanence of soylent as part of the nutritional landscape. Quick preparation may be a feature but it isn’t the essence of soylent; so far relatively few in the DIY community have really achieved that goal, indeed most seem to be investing a whole lot of effort in soylent, much more than they would in simple cookery. I know that even my own efforts using “real food” ingredients have not been that easy, quick or convenient. BTW your strawberries/coconut milk soylent sounds delicious, I must try to remember that one.

Excellent. That is a good point, that the rejection is largely cultural, or simple turf-defending by people like Dr. Seidell. The efforts of the DIY community will go far toward spreading the word and convincing many who are open to new ideas, and the benefits of soylent speak convincingly for themselves. If people persist with soylent development, there will come a turning point when its benefits will achieve general recognition and acceptance.


#7

I regarded Soylent as safe when I noticed that it shared the same components as Ensure, minus the fuckton of sugar.


#8

@Hoyer I would point out that not everyone considers cooking and eating to be relaxing, in fact, there are many times that having to eat adds to my stress levels. Of course, this is because of the choices I make and my lifestyle, but flexibility is one of the great pros of Soylent in my opinion.


#9

I totally agree with you. In the future I will use soylent exactly that way, when I leave office late and have to watch a show in the evening (i work as a programmer for a Dutch theatre). In such situations it will help to keep stress levels low as well. Nevertheless I think the breaks people have always had to take for preparing, eating and digesting food, should not be lightheartedly ignored. I think the nerves are involved as well.


#10

I think the classic defense of Soylent in nutrition arguments applies here too: it may not be perfect, but it’s a lot better than what real people are actually doing day-to-day. While in ideal circumstances people do set aside time to prepare a meal and eat it with their family, the reality of daily life is that many meals are prepared by a fast food restaurant or a microwave, and we eat them while working or watching television. One of my favorite Zen proverbs is “When walking, walk. When eating, eat.” I think there is a great argument for eating real food occasionally and following that time-honored ritual of setting aside time to eat with family or friends. That said, I don’t think it’s realistic to expect that to happen for every meal, and the people who do still manage it every day are likely not the people interested in Soylent.


#11

At what point and how shall we regard Broccoli as “proven” and “safe”?

Seriously.


#12

Yes, seriously, Andrew. Don’t you think the question is worth our consideration, if only so that we have a decent overview of the extent and nature of our task here to promote acceptance of soylent by the general public? It has already been noted how often the nutrition professionals are displaying a knee-jerk scornful and dismissive attitude. I think it’s useful for us to explore questions of this sort, so that we know what we’re up against. To me, one of the good things about this forum is that it mostly takes place on a level considerably above mindless, uncritical fandom (@Isa to the contrary notwithstanding).

Soylent, after all, is a bit more radical than broccoli, so I’m not sure the comparison is too valid.


#13

These are pretty much why I’m interested in Soylent. Food is not really enjoyable as such anymore for me. I live alone, so there’s no family aspect to it, and the time spent cooking, cleaning, acquiring food, storing it, discarding it and having to take out the trash could be better spent doing almost anything else, especially if I can drink Soylent while I’m doing it. The lower cost of it is nice but secondary, really.

CDD?

‘Soylent as a concept’ drifts into ‘we’re eating food, we’re just calling it something else’ territory… the main stated purposes of Soylent were to be easy to prepare, cheap, and take little or no storage.
From Rob’s original 'How I stopped eating food post:

In my own life I resented the time, money, and effort the purchase,
preparation, consumption, and clean-up of food was consuming.

Rereading, this and my previous post comes off as kind of hostile and defensive, and that isn’t my intention. Sorry about that.


#14

In this kind of stuff, you’ll never get a definite answer, however the more people try soylent and share their experiences, the better position we’ll be to see if it’s safe or not. I love the concept but I see a problem with the generic one-size-fits-all soylent idea. From a selling point of view, there needs to be substantial potential for customization.


#15

But it’s the exact way around. The recipe is open source, you can tweak it all you want. One thing soylent is not is one size fits all.


#16

And it’s been mentioned that there may / will probably be different versions of it, even if not at release, for women, or adding nootropics as an option and so on, so even the release version will eventually be customized.


#17

Soylent is not really that innovative. It is essentially a homemade version of Ensure Plus. All of its ingredients are Generally Regarded as Safe per FDA. It is food, just like Lucky Charms is food, and broccoli is food, and the batch of cookies the nice lady down the street made are food.

There’s no prima facie reason to think Soylent is dangerous, any more than there is to consider broccoli dangerous or Lucky Charms dangerous. I don’t think any of these foods have been conclusively and irrefutably been demonstrated as safe.

My point is that you question is so open-ended and ill-defined as to be meaningless. The question seemed rhetorical to me. You are presupposing that homemade Soylent needs to pass a different bar than other food products to be demonstrated to be safe.

My perspective on this is that Soylent is safe. This is not the same as being optimal for health. But that is not a realistic goal, and an impossible standard to apply.


#18

CDD = “Chemically Defined Diet”, i.e. a dietary ration that can be assembled from raw chemical sources as opposed to one made from foodstuffs. There has been some work done along these lines with lab animals, rats and mice, for example: Journal of Nutrition, Pleasants, Reddy and Wostmann, Qualitative Adequacy of a Chemically Defined Liquid Diet for Reproducing Germfree Mice The abstract states:

ABSTRACT: The objective of this study was to determine if germfree mice could be adequately nourished by a diet containing only known nutrients in chemically pure form. This study was made possible by the availability of chemically defined diets in liquid form which could be filter-sterilized without loss of chemical definition. Germfree mice required special modifications in the proportion of nutrients in order for them to adjust to the diet. Modifications were also made in the course of the experiment to improve nutritional adequacy. Mice fed this type of diet were able to reproduce into the fifth generation, demonstrating that the diet must contain at least minimal amounts of all essential nutrients. Quantitative insufficiencies or imbalance, however, were indicated by a high incidence of sudden death at 10 weeks of age, by loss of some females shortly before or after they had delivered litters, and by generally low breeding performance. Increased magnesium content of the diet reduced the incidence of sudden death. Second generation mice survived up to 21 months on the diet before loss by accidental contamination. It is concluded that the diet contains all essential nutrients but that the proportions of nutrients need to be altered for periods of heavy nutritional demand.

There have also been a few short-term studies in humans using chemically defined diet support in gastroenterology: Gastroenterology, Young, Heuler, Russell and Weser, Comparative nutritional analysis of chemically defined diets


#19

I agree with you that Soylent is really not that innovative and that it participates in the ongoing history of meal-replacement drinks that essentially began with Mead Johnson’s Metrecal in the 1950s and that continues to this day with a plethora of general and specialised products, of which Abbott Labs’ Ensure Plus could be regarded as the bellwether.

However, to read Rob’s blog posts and the other Soylent promotional material, you wouldn’t know that there was any such history. Soylent is being promoted as a radical innovation. And it is also being promoted as a complete replacement for food, and is thereby inevitably being put in contradistinction to food. That does rather demand more careful scrutiny than what might be given to just another food item. (Your “batch of cookies the nice lady down the street made” is insultingly patronising and rather reductive, but I guess by now I should accept that that’s just your style, Andrew.)

My OP question was open-ended because it was intended to provoke discussion rather than to discover a simple answer to the question (I doubt there is any simple answer, really). Personally, I value this discussion; if you do not, why do you participate?


#20

It is new because Ensure Plus is restricted to hospitals so most people don’t know much about it.

Also, why can’t soylent be used as a meal replacement?