Is Soylent a risky bet? The


#1

So here is my one concern about Soylent. There is an awful lot we don’t know about nutrition, and no doubt a lot of stuff that we don’t even know we don’t know. So Soylent may accurately and correctly capture everything we do know and believe about nutrition as of 2015. That’s great. My worry is that if there are things we’ve missed, if there are important micro-nutrients or essential combinations of nutrients we’re not even aware of, then there might be real risk associated with taking this particular Soylent formulation and consuming it to the exclusion of everything else. Don’t get me wrong: my concern has little to do with the fact that Soylent is not “real” food. If someone were to develop a “perfect” nutritionally balanced meal out of “real” foods and then said “You can confidently go ahead and eat nothing but this perfect meal 3 meals a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year,” I would have exactly the same concern.

Anybody else share this concern?


#2

Some have been on Soylent for quite some time now with little to no ill effects from deficiencies.

If something is found in the future that is considered important, it can always be added to the formulation.

I know for me personally, it is much healthier than what I was eating before. There were lots of things my diet was deficient in before Soylent.


#3

Previous threads on this (or similar) topics:

There’s probably more, but that’s what I found with a quick search.

That sounds kind of like MealSquares, if you aren’t familiar with them.


#4

The criticism of Soylent in the OP can also be applied to any other food. The reality is that we know some about food but OTOH there is a whole lot we don’t know. That was true before Soylent came along though.

Whole foods have a lot of chemicals in them that Soylent doesn’t. Is it possible that some of these chemicals in whole foods are beneficial and we won’t know it until later on? Yes. And it’s also possible that some of these chemicals in whole foods are harmful and we won’t know it until later. Obviously, “beneficial” and “harmful” don’t mean “increase lifespan a lot” or “give you cancer in 5 years” because we’d know already if chemicals in whole foods had such large effects. But it’s possible that the effects are smaller but real and we just don’t know it yet.

I think people have a tendency to think whole foods are perfect or designed to be optimal for us and in fact I’ve had people tell me exactly that. For some reason people can’t fathom that fruits and vegetables are just things living out their lives and they don’t particularly care if humans consuming them get cancer down the road as a result.

Of course our ancestors have historically eaten various foods and they survived and reproduced and here we are today. That doesn’t mean that what they were eating was perfect or optimal though but rather that it was good enough to keep them going. And also I don’t think a lot of the foods that people consider “natural” today were the ones our ancestors were eating.


#5

I was worried about the same thing at first. What I eventually decided was that it’s considerably more risky eating food prepared by myself (even if varied) than it is to eat a formula designed by professionals.


#6

I suppose it all comes down to whether our body is better at breaking things down or building them up. If its better at building things up, then process of elimination would be* the ideal dietary template. My hunch is this is the correct approach. It certainly can’t be worse than eating a variety of foods that contain many thousands of unknown and unstudied compounds.

That was true before Soylent came along

I couldn’t agree more. I don’t think the OP’s concerns are unwarranted or should be ignored, but its a curious thing that so many people end up asking these things only after hearing of Soylent. The presentation of the product may come as a challenge to some: “Has everything, you say? We’ll see about that…”

I think this attitude should be welcome! I think it was a byproduct, and a good one, of the initial goal for simplicity. I think Soylent will make more people take interest in the peculiarities of their diet than they would otherwise.


#7

Again, I’ll say that my concern is not about Soylent per se, it’s about eating exactly the same mix of foodstuffs for every meal, day after day. If it comes up after hearing of Soylent, I think it’s only because Soylent is (as far as I know) the first diet regimen that doesn’t incorporate some element of “variety.” Yes, I realize that many if not most people who eat Soylent also eat other things, but such eating is inevitably positioned as a matter of pleasure or a break from the single-meal tedium rather than a means for addressing potential nutritional deficiencies.


#8

Usually, it suffices to continue a certain diet until you start feeling unexplained symptoms, then you wonder if your diet could explain the problem, and investigate that possibility.

I personally have felt very well after six months of consuming Soylent and not much else. If you want to proceed more cautiously, do so.


#9

Your worry is the same as mine fundamentally, but I’m not concerned there’s going to be a highly impactful hole in our current nutrition understanding that would cause serious problems. If there were something like that we’d have found evidence of it, as cultures around the world eat incredibly variable diets and there are situations where individuals have eat certain things, etc. And we have, it turns out lacking the nutrient Calories is pretty bad, so is a complete absence of protein.

Nailing down all the less statistically obvious stuff has yet to happen, but everything big has already been noticed.


#10

Look at it this way. Before Soylent how many different meals did you eat over the course of a month? A dozen maybe cycled through over and over again. How long had you been eating those dozen or so things? Now liquefy those meals and mix them together then drink them every day. Are you still worried about missing something important? You should be. Its just as likely.


#11

I think the perfect diet is the one that keeps you from aging at all.

In a word?


#12

Soylent is different than other foods because it is designed to be balanced and other foods are not. So if you need 2,000 calories in a day and you’ve eaten 200 calories of Soylent so far, you’re 10% of the way there on all the nutrients that Soylent aims for.

Take a look at the nutrient list for other foods. After 200 calories maybe you’re 2% there on some nutrients, 10% there on others, 60% there on yet others, etc. We’re so accustomed to foods that are considered “good” also being imbalanced that we automatically think that even if we’re eating “good” foods, we have to eat a variety of them. But if a food was truly good then it wouldn’t lack anything and we wouldn’t need to eat anything else.

An orange is considered a good food. But what if you ate only oranges? You’d get way too much of some nutrients and way to little of others. No food is good enough that it doesn’t have to be supplemented by other foods. That illustrates just how low the bar is set on the foods we already eat.

Part of the point of Soylent is to take the good of this food and that food and the other food and put it all in one food. If you do that then you don’t need to eat a variety of foods because the variety is already in the one food you’re eating. It’s like investing in an index fund instead of having to figure out which bunch of individual stocks you should invest in.

All that said, we’re only talking about the 35 or so nutrients in Soylent that the Institutes of Health or whatever says (as of current opinoin) are needed by humans. A variety of whole foods has all these nutrients we’re talking about as well as varying levels of many other chemicals whose effects on human health we’re not certain. Is it possible that if we had perfect knowledge then we’d conclude that some of those chemicals are useful? Yes. Or maybe some are harmful too. We just don’t know at this point.


#13

I think you might be missing the OP’s point. He isn’t concerned that Soylent is missing one or more of the known essential nutrients. He is concerned that it may or may not be missing some yet unknown essential nutrient. Vitamin F if you will.


#14

Let’s go further than Vitamin F. Let’s postulate that there are many combinations of nutrients that can kill you, but we don’t know what they are. Is it safer to eat a restricted diet of things that are generally believed to be safe, or keep rolling the dice while hoping not to ingest one of the unknown fatal compounds?


#15

Who says you only have to consume Soylent? Consume it 1 or 2 meals a day if you are worried about it, and consume something else the rest of the time.


#16

I heard that copious amounts of Vitamin F can be found in apple stickers.


#17

You’re saying I can only smash that like button once? That’s sad.


#18

I agree.

I would add, though, that the ‘whole foods’ we eat have in fact been designed for us: by us. There is nothing we eat today that is ‘natural’. All of it has gone through thousands of years of selective breeding and cross-breeding by us to be what it is today. Much of what we eat wouldn’t even survive in nature without us tending to it, whether plant or animal.

Understood in that way, Soylent is really just the next step in a process that has been going on for a long time. Unfortunately, processed foods have gotten a bad rap because most processed foods weren’t designed with nutrition as the primary goal. But, that doesn’t mean it can’t be.

People really do need to get over this idea that ‘natural’ is better.


#19

I echo the OP’s concern, and here are the main bullet points of my thinking:

  1. The soylent paradigm seems to NOT be “food to live”, but rather “food to not die”. There’s a universe of nutrients that are essential (vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fats) that is fairly well defined. Soylent has those covered*. But is there not also a universe of nutrients that are good for you in some way, but not essential? That universe is much less well defined, and soylent barely dips its toe into that realm. Other than fiber, what non-essential-but-beneficial nutrients does soylent even try to incorporate into its blend?
  2. *Bioavailability. From what I’ve read, the bioavailability of nutrients is hard to ascertain. For all we know, even the essential nutrients in soylent may not be getting fully absorbed. Sure, enough of them get absorbed, in some people, that a few human guinea pigs have been able to live off of soylent for a year or two without dying. Well, I lived off of mostly pizza and coca-cola for a year or two without dying, so I don’t see those test cases as particularly compelling or reassuring. “Real food” has one gigantic advantage vis-a-vis bioavailability, namely, that for all of the history of life on earth until the last century, that’s all we had, so we know it works.
  3. Even if we buy into the chemical delivery of nutrients, is soylent even a good way to accomplish that? What’s the advantage of soylent versus, say, eating a couple MET-Rx bars every day, and getting the rest of our calories however we want?

#20
  1. By the very nature of your question, these are unknowns to anyone. The great thing about Soylent is that if something is discovered in the future that is vital, it can always be added. However, the fact that something might be missing plagues all diets if that something is unknown. In other words, whether it is Soylent or something else, that thing will not necessarily be consumed if it is unknown. (…and keep in mind that Soylent does indeed incorporate “regular” or “alive” items into its mix, as Tordenskjold recently pointed out.)
  2. Again, we don’t know how much is absorbed in more traditional diets either. There really is nothing to compare it to. We know that Soylent most likely works just as well as traditional diets based on what we have see so far from people’s consumption. Obviously, more study is needed, but all signs point to good health. Lots of people have had bloodwork done pre-Soylent and then after using it for awhile, and these results have been generally very positive, seemingly indicating better health.
  3. There are three main advantages to soylent, and ease of delivery is one of those. It would be very possible to get all the micronutrients, omegas, macros, etc. in any number of combinations of ways in your diet. Soylent is one way; There are obviously others. I would surmise Soylent’s combination of easy/cheap/healthy would be hard to replicate in another diet, but it is likely possible given enough thought.