Soylent mentioned on the Skeptic's Guide to the Universe podcast


For those that don’t know, the Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe is a weekly podcast covering science news and critically looking at pseudo-scientific claims.

They were not really kind in their review of Soylent but not because it wouldn’t work. They were critical because it already exists: Ensure was mentioned by name. They were also deriding the lack of rigorous scientific practices in the creation process. Ensure had to go through FDA-approval following standard clinical trial methodology so you can be reasonably sure that it’s safe for long-term consumption.

I really appreciate the work Rob has gone through and the fact that he’s using himself as guiena pig is awesome. One thing that I think is overlooked is that products like Ensure are, I assume, tested under the idea that the person is using it as a last resort and they have no other option: it is formulated to keep you alive and in probably a more sedentary lifestyle. Rob is using Soylent as a primary food source while maintaining a very active lifestyle. I think this is a pretty important distinction. It would be interesting to compare against Ensure with this in mind.

I don’t really have a question, just thought it was neat that Soylent is getting more press.



Interesting that they chose to compare a drink that’s still under just its first round of testing to a finished product already on the market. What will they say when the Kickstarter gets funded and rigorous testing is completed?


Ugh, Ensure is full of sugar and corn syrup though. It’s really not a good choice for a meal replacement.


This^ I’ve tried drinking Boost and Ensure for several days in a row (a few weeks, I believe?) and the sugar just made me so sick of it I couldn’t look at it without getting nauseous and had to throw all the rest of them away… That was a year ago and now that I’m trying to see if I can have them occasionally again I have a hard time finishing even one bottle… Plus when I was drinking them I gained a lot of weight; I think because all the sugar made me crave more sugar and carbs.


You may want to try Jevity:

This one is made for those that have to eat via feeding tube. I would assume they don’t add anything to improve taste since it skips most people’s tastebuds.


Well, they’re more concerned with rigorous standard clinical trial testing: double-blinded, placebo-controlled testing of a relatively large, diverse population of people. Meaning:

  • You have hundreds if not thousands of people in the study, male/female, a mix of races, ages, etc.
  • Approximately half get actual Soylent, the other half get a substance that provides no nutritional value at all (the placebo)
  • Neither the person being tested or any person they interact with from the “Soylent team” know which substance they’re getting (although someone behind the scenes is keeping track)
  • People are studied for an extended period of time (the longer the better)

I’m guessing even with Kickstarter funding this would be pretty hard to organize: this kind of thing is usually done by pharmaceutical companies that have millions of dollars to spend on a single trial. Rob is doing a very informal trial right now, but everyone is taking Soylent and reporting how they feel–this would never come close to passing a review as a viable clinical trial. Saying you feel better is textbook placebo effect. You need hard data to prove whether the person actually got better because we are horrible witnesses, especially to things happening in our own body.

When Rob said his skin condition he’s had since birth cleared up that’s a fairly objective standard to measure against. Likewise his blood results are compelling. But just saying “I have more energy” is wide open to interpretation. If someone complained that they were tired all the time and you could give them an “amazing new drug that guarantees more energy” but is actually just a placebo injection of saline they will more than likely report having more energy.

If Rob intends to make Soylent for sale and gives specific health claims he’ll need to pass FDA requirements which means a real clinical trial (or several). I’m not 100% sure but I think as long as you don’t make specific health claims you can avoid FDA regulation (many nutritional supplements do this very thing). Here’s a Wikipedia article about dietary supplement regulation by the FDA.


Clinical trial testing is what I meant. I got the impression from what Rob said in one of the DNews videos that the Kickstarter is meant to fund such testing.


At least this part would be impossible to test as a full replacement for any other source of nutrition.
Can’t have a study where half of the subjects starve to death, can we?


Skeptics tend to confuse nonsense claims and lack of large scale double blind tests published in peer reviewed literature. Ensure cannot claim to offer complete nutrition, Ensure “Complete” does not even list the % of RDA of vitamins and minerals in the product.


I’ve heard it tastes bad… I wonder if that can be fixed by adding flavoring or if it’s irreparable?