My only concern about Soylent - although it's a biggie


#1

I appreciate that this point will have been made already, but I haven’t been able to find threads that deal with it, and I’d be interested to know what other people’s thoughts are on it.

Although Soylent supplies all of the essential micronutrients, normal food of course also contains chemicals other than the essential micronutrients. And given that deficiencies in certain essential micronutrients don’t just cause, by definition, short-term problems, but can also have strong associations with certain cancers in the long-term, it seems quite possible that an absence of at least some of the chemicals in food that aren’t essential micronutrients, and therefore don’t cause short-term problems when absent, will nevertheless have a similarly strong association with certain cancers in the long-term.


Arsenic, Boron, Nickel, Silicon and Vanadium
#2

You are talking about Phytonutrients / Phytochemicals right? I would actually suggest someone buys a Phyto supplement if they are actually worried. The problem is that these are not essential, but some have shown to be “healthy” as antioxidants and such.


#3

I wasn’t actually thinking solely about phytonutrients. I know very little about nutrition, and the chemical composition of food, but some of the components that I’ve seen mentioned online, but which aren’t listed in the Soylent nutrition label, in addition to phytonutrients, are:

arsenic, boron, nickel, silicon, vanadium, lutein, tannin, anthocyanins, diindolylmethane, L-theanine, fluoride, lithium


#4

The below page from the UK’s NHS lists the following chemicals as components of a healthy diet: beta-carotene, boron, cobalt, nickel, phosphorous, potassium, silicon, and sulphur. But none of these are included in Soylent.


#5

Some of the ones your link lists are listed because they are a component of some of the vitamins. If you are already taking in that vitamin then you won’t be deficient in that mineral.


#6

This is why I don’t understand the filtered water recommendation. I prefer my water to use my rural tap water.
Here’s my water testing report I got last year.

Contaminants within regulated levels: ARSENIC, BARIUM, CHROMIUM, FLUORIDE, NITRATE, SELENIUM, RADIUM.

Secondary Contaminants: CALCIUM, CHLORIDE, MAGNESIUM, PHOSPHORUS, POTASSIUM, SILICA, SODIUM, SULFATE.

If you’re worried about getting these chemicals, I would drink tap water. I would think if you lived in a city some of these might be removed though.


#7

But I would guess that these chemicals don’t exist in unfiltered water in the same quantities as in food.

Also, there are very many other chemicals than these that are in food but aren’t essential nutrients.


#8

But the logic of my concern still applies to those chemicals that aren’t components of vitamins - including the very many other chemicals than I’ve listed that are in food but aren’t essential nutrients.


#9

I’d be willing to bet most of the chemicals you listed I’m probably not getting or haven’t been getting. If you can tell by my typing, I’m still alive. :stuck_out_tongue: I don’t eat many vegetables and just a few fruits.

I’m just not a big believer in there’s some foods out there that are performing some magic with your body and chemicals. There’s nothing official on the subject, because nobody knows. I still wouldn’t go drink some lithium just because.


#10

But my concern is that an absence of these chemicals, that aren’t essential nutrients, could lead to an increased risk - not certainty - of cancer over a long period of time - not immediately.

Therefore, even if you’re indeed not getting some of these chemicals, the fact that you’re still alive, and apparently healthy, doesn’t, in itself, show that this deficiency in your diet isn’t increasing this risk. That is, while I of course wish you a long and healthy life, perhaps this deficiency will lead to you develop a cancer in 20 years that you would have otherwise developed in 40 years. Again, I sincerely hope not! :smile:

Also, this doesn’t apply to ‘some foods’ that are ‘magic’ - I’m talking about naturally-occurring chemicals that all foods, even unhealthy foods, contain but which Soylent doesn’t.

You’re right about the current lack of knowledge in this area, but it’s surely unlikely that a complete absence of these chemicals, which aren’t essential nutrients, but which have been present in our food throughout our evolutionary history, won’t have negative implications for our health.


#11

It could be said the exact opposite, as well. It’s possible that these chemicals are what is causing our cancers and eliminating them would unlock further medical breakthroughs. :stuck_out_tongue: I wouldn’t worry much about it, I know I don’t. :slight_smile:


#12

Rosa Labs (makers of Soylent) have intentionally limited themselves to essential nutrients for both cost and simplicity reasons. And unless current science suggests that one form is preferably to another, they’ll probably use whichever form of each vitamin/mineral fits in the build best.

Also, if by “missing” you mean not on the nutrition facts label, the nutrition facts doesn’t have room for everything, and doesn’t include anything that doesn’t have a DV (which includes most of what you mentioned).

Also, potassium is explicitly included in the blend. I would recommend checking out the complete list of Soylent’s macronutrient and micronutrient breakdown. On a cursory search, both phosphorus and sulfur are mentioned there, and I’m sure you’ll find a few others. In regards to beta-carotene, while not included, retinol is. Both are different forms of Vitamin A and presumably Rosa Labs believes them to be interchangeable, and I trust their expertise on that over my own.

I think you might be overly concerned about this. If you are concerned about missing them, (and have confirmed that Soylent actually lacks them) then take supplementation. But for pretty much anything Soylent doesn’t include, there is no known RDA value for it, so Rosa Labs would not know how much of each of these possible nutrients to include, and they’re mission is to provide precise nutritional needs, not to guess at them.


#13

For this claim, you’ll have to back your point up with citations. The burden of proof is not on us to prove its not essential, but on you to prove that it is. For us to prove that the various things not included in Soylent is not going to hurt us would be an infeasible undertaking. By virtue of both the sheer number of things not included in Soylent and the lack of scientific evidence for most of what’s not included in Soylent.

If this evidence exists, please post it here. Rosa Labs will pretty much be guaranteed to use the information for future formulations if you can find strong evidence for your claim. But they have no reason to start throwing in things to the blend (that will increase the cost of Soylent, and due to lack of demand might not be available at scale) without that strong evidence.

Also, I apologize in advance if I came across as rude. This was not my intent; I simply wanted to make it clear where the burden of proof lies on this claim.


#14

That’s a good point, but it seems to me likely - albeit from my lay perspective - that our bodies would have evolved to make use of at least some of these common components of our food, albeit in such a way - given that they’re not currently considered essential - that the negative effects of deficiency only become apparent after many years of deficiency.


#15

Re their nutrition facts label not listing every component, the ingredients list to the side should be complete, and consists largely of simple chemicals, with a few more complex ingredients like the rice protein - together, these will surely only contain a fraction of the chemicals in normal food that aren’t essential nutrients. Indeed, that’s of course the point of Soylent: to provide only the chemicals currently considered essential, rather than to replicate the complete chemical composition of normal food.

Thanks for your points re some of these chemicals, such as potassium, but I assume that the chemicals that I’ve mentioned above are only a fraction of the all of the chemicals commonly found in normal food that aren’t currently considered essential. Re supplementation, I assume that the available supplements will likewise only cover a fraction of these chemicals.

But this reason for Rosa Labs not including these chemicals doesn’t do anything to allay my specific concern.


#16

Re citations and burden of proof:

I’m not actually expressing any final scientific conclusion about this matter, but simply airing a possibility, from the perspective of someone who, as stated, knows very little about nutrition, and the chemical composition of food.

Also, I’ve never understood the concept of ‘burden of proof’. In this case, as with any disagreement, both sides are making a claim: I’m claiming that there’s reason to be concerned about the possibility that these chemicals in food, that aren’t considered essential nutrients, have a long-term anti-cancer role, just as at least some of those essential nutrients seem to. And you’re claiming that there isn’t reason to be so concerned. So each of us, if we want to convince others of our position, needs to provide a justification for it - that is, we each have a burden of proof.


#17

You made the claim that it’s something to worry about, I’ve made the claim that we don’t have evidence to substantiate that claim.

If I were to make the claim that Soylent is not deficient in any essential/beneficial nutrient, then you would have a point. But that’s not my claim. I actually wouldn’t be surprised if there is something missing.

For a little more clarity on the burden of proof, look up Russell’s Teapot.

In the mean time, unless you can substantiate your claim that Soylent is deficient in a nutrient whose absence might cause/accelerate cancer, then why should I be inclined to believe it? And furthermore, without any understanding of their effects and optimal amounts, what should Rosa Labs do about it? They are limited by current nutritional science, but unless those nutrients are present in all foods, sheer probability would conclude that a Soylent-based diet would be no more deficient in these unidentified nutrients than the what you are currently on now.

I’ll take it a step further: nutritional science does have a decent grasp on the majority of what our bodies need/want, Soylent incorporates all of that knowledge, and most traditional diets have been shown to be deficient in known essential nutrients. From that, we can surmise that probabilistically, Soylent is an improvement in the diet of most people in the world. Is it perfect? Of course not, if it was, we’d probably not be having this conversation. But is a lack of perfection in a superior system sufficient reason to keep going with an inferior system?

If your concern is that we should look into these, then I will absolutely agree with you. And will I fact see what science is behind the UK’s claims, if it exists. But you made an u substantiated claim that Soylent will most likely cause cancer. Which is a strange claim to make when you have admitted yourself that you lack knowledge. That’s about as foolhardy as me making claims about a particular wine most likely make your food taste like crap. I have no knowledge of how any of that works, so I refrain from making claims and will limit myself to asking questions.


#18

All right, I’m going to do some brief searches to figure out how much we (humanity) know about how necessary some of the nutrients you’ve listed are. Phosphorus, potassium, and sulfur are all included in official Soylent and are tracked on the DIY site as well, so most people will get enough of those. From the UK NHS list, that leaves beta-carotene, boron, cobalt, nickel, and silicon.

Beta-carotene is a precursor to vitamin A. The way I understand it, the truly useful forms of vitamin A are retinol, retinal, and retinoic acid. The group of chemicals known as carotenes (of which beta-carotene is a member) are useful because they can be converted into the more useful retin-prefixed chemicals. In Soylent, vitamin A is provided as retinyl palmitate, a synthetic form of retinol. Adding beta-carotene to Soylent wouldn’t help in the vitamin A sense, but there still could be reasons to supplement it directly. Some of the most highly cited articles I’ve seen in my brief search are:

  1. Lack of Effect of Long-Term Supplementation with Beta Carotene on the Incidence of Malignant Neoplasms and Cardiovascular Disease. Prior to this large, long-term study, there was some reason to believe that supplementing beta-carotene would lower risks of cancer and cardiovascular disease. However, this 12-year study found no difference in any sort of mortality between people who took beta-carotene regularly and those who instead had a placebo.
  2. Effects of a Combination of Beta Carotene and Vitamin A on Lung Cancer and Cardiovascular Disease. This 4-year study compared the effects of retinol, beta-carotene, retinol+beta-carotene, and placebo supplementation on mortality rates, especially looking at lung cancer in smokers, non-smokers, and those exposed to asbestos. They found that beta-carotene and retinol actually increased the chance of lung cancer or cardiovascular disease. The first study I listed actually commented on this one, saying their results did not show this increase in risk.

There are some studies showing that an antioxidant blend of vitamin C, vitamin A, zinc, and beta-carotene can reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration (vision loss), but I haven’t found any studies which show that beta-carotene itself is responsible for the improvement. I’m seeing insufficient evidence all around to really support the idea of supplementing with beta-carotene.

Boron seems to have a good amount of evidence for it being an essential nutrient for mammals (such as ourselves). It is not yet well established how much we need, but rat and pig studies have shown that deficiencies can occur, but can be fixed by supplementing an extremely low amount of boron (They had to filter the dust from the air in order to induce any sort of deficiency in rats). I think it’s estimated that a standard diet gives us 2-4mg of boron per day, and extrapolating from the animal studies would give us an approximate requirement on the order of µg. Considering boron is known to be an essential nutrient for plants, and we’ve got hundreds of grams of oat flour per day in Soylent, I’m guessing we’re getting enough just from that. I’m also reading that boron may be found in people’s tap water, which may be enough as well. Moral of the story here is that it’s probably necessary in tiny amounts, Soylent probably contains it, and nobody really knows how much we need in our food.
Some links for the curious:

  1. A 20 year old survey of studies showing boron is important to brain functionality.
  2. A more recent survey with evidence that boron is truly essential for human diets. It’s behind a paywall and I’m not on campus, so I can’t comment much more on that.

Cobalt is known to be an essential nutrient for animals. From what I’ve found, there haven’t been many (any?) studies on cobalt supplementation in humans, and limited studies on cobalt supplementation in animals. The only thing I’ve found that we know cobalt is useful for is in synthesizing vitamin B12. Farm animals get most of their cobalt from ingested soil, but we humans get it from a variety of dietary sources. If B12 is the only thing cobalt is needed for, then Soylent users don’t have to worry: B12 is provided in the right amounts. It is also worth noting that cobalt poisoning is a big concern, the classic example being cobalt used to stabilize beer foam causing serious problems in heavy drinkers (See here; paywall). Moral of the story here is that the only thing we know cobalt is used for is supplemented directly in Soylent, and researchers don’t seem to care enough to perform studies on its supplementation.

Nickel seems to be not important in human diets, but may be essential for some microorganisms living in our guts. I should note that it seems significantly more research has been done on the harmful effects of nickel than the beneficial. People worry about nickel from cooking things in stainless steel pots, nickel content in euro coins, the toxicity of nickel sulfide fumes, and how nickel released from a volcanic explosion fed a pathogen which contributed to the Permian–Triassic extinction event. Of course, these are mostly not about dietary nickel, but this at least would indicate to me that nobody has thought to themselves “Aha, I think nickel would be important for humans in this case; let’s do some research.” I’ve found some reason to believe that the large amount of oats in Soylent provide more than enough nickel for whatever we might use it for.
It’s more interesting to consider its uses for gut bacteria. We’ve only recently come to understand the real importance of the gut-brain axis, so we don’t know much about what we need to feed our gut bugs to make them happy.

Silicon seems like it might be important in bone formation. This study seems to show positive correlation between silicon intake and bone mineral density. Luckily for us, oats are known to be particularly high in silicon (425mg/100g). I haven’t written much here, but I don’t feel like there’s much more to say. We still don’t really know much about the uses of dietary silicon, but bone density seems like a good start, and Soylent’s got plenty of silicon for that.

Other notes: The USA has done a pretty good job establishing the DRI for all sorts of things. Refer to this and, more generally, this, for a lot of good info. Sadly, it’s getting a little out of date.

@derrick_farnell’s arguments fall into three categories: 1) Soylent is missing ingredients X, Y, and Z, which may be important, 2) Soylent may be missing essential ingredients that we don’t yet know are important, and 3) Soylent may be missing some non-essential nutrients which still provide important health benefits. Claim 1 was somewhat adequately supported by the UK NHS link, though if he wanted to go above and beyond, it would have been nice for him to do some research of his own first. I hope I’ve addressed some of those concerns. Claim 2 is pretty much unsupported, but more interesting because it’s sort of meta. How do we prove that our knowledge is incomplete? How do we prove that we know everything there is the know about a topic? Who should have the burden of proof between these two?

It’s hard to gauge exactly how much about nutrition we do know. I believe we can be fairly certain that we have identified everything that is truly essential. For an excellent example of this, refer back to the US DRI reports. Here, they’ve gone over every nutrient that they had sufficient reasoning to assume may be possibly essential, and done a meta-analysis for each. There are even other nutrients in the reports which they find to be non-essential or altogether useless. The probability that they’re missing actually essential nutrients in a report like this is very, very low. Furthermore, this is used as the basis for the ideal modern diet. If there are deficiencies in the DRI, then anybody following a “healthy” diet will encounter them, and I imagine widespread deficiency symptoms from people on the ideal diet would not go unnoticed.

To support Claim 3 for a bit, the big topics that we certainly don’t understand in nutrition are phytonutrient interactions and gut microbiome health. There are no diets in the world which can properly account for these factors right now, but luckily, they are not essential for our survival. They can definitely affect long-term cancer rates, mental health, and definitely GI issues, at least. If you think your current diet (or any “healthy” diet) properly optimizes these factors, you’re mistaken. Are the women in your life eating mushrooms and drinking green tea on a daily basis? If not, they’re much more at risk of breast cancer. Ever enjoy meat with an orange glaze? Too bad, the combination of vitamin C and fat will increase your risk of cancer. There are countless interactions between random nutrients, and no diet is going to be able to include all of the positives and none of the negatives.

In this sense, Soylent is your best option for maximizing the benefits of nutrient interactions because it’s so well controlled. As our knowledge improves, you can either micromanage your diet (peas and carrots but not corn, or corn and cauliflower but no beans, etc) or you can have a meal designed to mathematically optimize for the positives while decreasing the negatives. We don’t know what’s missing from Soylent, but then we also don’t know what’s missing from any other diet. The big difference is that Soylent uses the full extent of human knowledge to create a meal whose healthiness is only limited by the pace of cutting-edge research. You’re not going to get that from any other diet.

Finally, on burden of proof. Ugh, I’ve started to write this section out too many times and can’t find a good way to approach it. Just… don’t get too caught up on burden of proof. Russell’s teapot applies to claims we can’t scientifically provide evidence against (e.g. there is a teapot floating in space, there is a god), but we can (and have) provided evidence against the claim “we should be concerned that soylent is lacking important nutrients”. I think everyone’s time would be better spent looking up evidence one way or the other, rather than saying “You look it up”, because that evidence does exist for both sides.


#19

I am constantly amazed how we survive given most people either don’t think about the nutrient content of food and /or they just eat whatever they want. This is strictly antidotal but in medicine we are constantly amazed by people with the worst hygiene having the fewest infections. Guess it’s Darwinism.


#20

Wait a second. Soylent doesn’t prevent cancer? Alert the media! I smell a class-action! goes back to sipping his Soylent