Synthetic vs naturally occurring micronutrients


I have concerns about the nutritional approach Soylent takes.

There are many things we don’t understand about digestion and nutrition. Indeed, studies have shown that, for example, calcium ingested in synthetic form is more likely to cause bladder stones than the same amount of calcium from plant or animal sources.

All of my concerns about Soylent would be addressed if the micronutrients were sourced from plants. I would be more convinced that unknown unknowns are being covered.

This would essentially make Soylent like a pre-made juice powder. (i.e. Something more like the drinks people make for themselves by juicing vegetables.)

Is there a definitive discussion that covers this? Is my logic faulty? Is there an alternative that sources micronutrients by combining plant sources in different ratios?


I think the main reason is price. Soylent takes its stance as the reductionist, industrial approach to food, and I think there is value in that but sure, it is not the only (or best) way to be.

The alternative you’re looking for would be Ambronite. It’s several times more expensive. :stuck_out_tongue:


Thanks for the link!

Price is important. But health is more important. If Soylent is being designed to be a whole food replacement, then covering unknown unknowns seems like it should be top priority.

In this study I’m thinking of, calcium in supplement form made bladder stones 20% more likely. Perhaps there are similar problems awaiting long-term Soylent users?


I wouldn’t be surprised if something like that turned out to be the case.

Again, though, Soylent is the industrial approach. It tends to cater toward the people who are already on a highly processed, Standard American Diet, rather than the kind of people who shop at Whole Foods and farmers markets for their local organic produce (like me, heh). I think there’s room for multiple businesses along that spectrum, and Ambronite will do just fine catering to people like you, but I would bet that Soylent will reach a bigger market.


All food can be broken down into these chemicals.

I don’t see what the big deal is.

Not a person was worried about what I was eating when it was a Pizza, cheesey bread, and a 2 liter at Pizza Hut. >_>


Haha, I kind of agree with you @Rishkoi, but the important thing to remember is that food is not just chemicals… it’s nanotechnology.

Big difference there.


I hear you buddy, I just get sick of everyone’s sudden concern over my health. Like as a society we all decided anything that came from the earth is inherently better then anything man made.

It’s actually quite fascinating.


There has been some talk that Rosa Labs is also experimenting with using algae as a protein source. Apparently the trials have yielded a smooth, yummy product. But it was too late to finalize for the current production run. Perhaps in the future.



Calcium is an element. Isn’t calcium in it’s purest form just calcium no matter where it comes from?


Oh, don’t get me wrong. I eat total junk. In fact, one of the biggest draws for me is being able to round out my diet without having to think about it too much.

But even with pizza and burgers, and what have you, you’re getting your micronutrients in a complex form. There are other things in the food. Things which may be essential.

It’s not that the calcium in milk (say) is “purer” or “more natural” than the calcium in supplement form. But the calcium in supplement form makes you 20% more likely to develop bladder stones. Why is that?

The reductionist approach to nutrition says: the body needs calcium, so I can just add calcium to this food mix in powdered form. But studies show it’s more complex than this.

That’s what I meant about unknown unknowns. Nutrition is still so poorly understood. A reductionist approach seems overconfident, and potentially quite risky.


Research bioavailability. What vegetable and animal sources provide is buffered nutrients, from which you metabolize generally less efficiently than from processed sources. Soylent doesn’t have overages - so you don’t need to worry about issues arising from taking in too much calcium, or any other micronutrient.

For example, the beta carotene in carrots doesn’t have an upper limit for safe ingestion, but acts as a provitamin for vitamin A - your body will metabolize carotene on an as needed basis, depending on what’s available. For nutritional purposes, your cells don’t care whether the vitamin A comes from carotenoids or from Vitamin A supplementation.

Plants are made from chemicals. There’s nothing magical about a potato’s potassium that makes it biologically different after digestion than a banana’s potassium… or potassium supplements. There may be beneficial phytochemicals that augment human health, but there’s nothing particularly special about a plant source of a vitamin or mineral over a synthetic source, given that the same chemical is being metabolized in either case. In some cases, synthetic supplements are superior to natural sources as they provide a greater bioavailability - better nutritional bang for your buck.

Plant and animal sources of food are great, and sometimes offer phytochemicals or efficient sources of nutrients that are hard to get elsewhere.

So because some things are good as food, and oversupplementation of certain micronutrients is bad,

Please, when referencing studies, provide links. Studies show that 99.99% of all unreferenced studies are completely useless to further discussions!

Well, let’s take a look:

So we don’t know what we don’t know, certain forms of highly bioavailable calcium supplements have adverse effects if you have too much, and plants have micronutrient sources.

You can rule out oversupplementation from Soylent, because they’ve designed it to match what the body needs, not 10000% RDA of ELECTROLYTES!

We’re left with a comparison between: unknown potential benefits (or drawbacks) from phytochemicals , and well known, soundly established micronutrient minimums satisfied by Soylent.

Be aware that Ambronite is also potentially toxic with the amount of iron it’s got. It’s not enough to satisfy the minimums, you also have to stay under the upper limits (if you like your kidneys.)

Soylent is mostly vegetable sourced, processed macronutrients, with people who’ve lived for almost a year on it with substantially healthy results (the diy community as well has produced some very good results.)

The difference between Soylent’s current formulation and a purely vegetable sourced formula is twofold: Soylent’s processed ingredients cost far less, and you lose the unknown potential benefits and drawbacks of phytochemicals (unless, like most of us, you continue to eat real food and use Soylent for the drive-by meals.)

Since those are the only two reasonable criteria, given the basis of the discussion so far, there’s no reason to ditch Soylent.


Totally. I’ve been struck by this too. It’s funny (or annoying) how when talking about Soylent, people immediately rush to the most nostalgic, gourmet, healthy food to compare it to, and conveniently forget the processed junk that most people in the West eat these days.

Yes, it’s calcium, but that’s beside the point. When I said that food is nanotechnology, I meant that it’s not just about having enough of certain chemicals, but also the form they come in and how they are broken down by the body’s nanomachines (enzymes) and incorporated into new nanoconstructions (cells and proteins and such).

For example, (and this is totally made up) maybe pure elemental calcium comes in big crystals that the nanomachines can’t break down easily, so they tend to form bigger calcium crystals that can eventually show up as bladder stones. But when calcium comes from plants, maybe it is packaged in convenient plant-wrappers that don’t tend to clump together into big crystals.



This isn’t a “Supplement” is the problem. A supplement is this:

Soylent is calcium in its broken down, and most pure state. It doesn’t really matter where it came from at that point.

At least for May, 12th, 2014 the jury is out. For all we know, this version is better for the human body. Who knows.

Better then a cheeseburger though.


My mistake, it was kidney stones:

“Unlike supplemental calcium, high intakes of dietary calcium do not appear to cause kidney stones and may actually protect against their development. This is perhaps related to the role of calcium in binding ingested oxalate in the gastrointestinal tract. As the amount of calcium intake decreases, the amount of oxalate available for absorption into the bloodstream increases; this oxalate is then excreted in greater amounts into the urine by the kidneys.”

(Citations available via that Wikipedia article.)

My concern is not under or over supplementation. My concern is that there may be things we don’t understand about the food we eat that turns out to be essential. For example, the presence of other substances which aid the absorption of micronutrients.

Do we really know enough about nutrition to be able to say what it is in a food source that our body needs? Enough to extract those ingredients and then subsist on those alone? The professional disagreement over phytochemicals is enough to suggest that we don’t.

If I start using Soylent, I will use it for day-to-day substinance, and will continue to enjoy food socially on a regular basis. So I am not worried about missing out on anything. (As already noted: my diet is very bad already.) But I am worried that there are unknown unknowns similar to those studies on supplemental calcium that may be awaiting long-term users.


@axcho that’s a very good point. The packaging of these micronutrients is important. And from what little I know about nutritional science, we don’t really understand a lot of it. That’s what I’m worried about. Those known and unknown unknowns.

“Soylent is mostly vegetable sourced, processed macronutrients”

It’s the “mostly” that concerns me. I was wondering if there might be a way to make up the shortfall in micronutrients from the core ingredients by combining natural sources. For example, some mixture of dark green vegetables and multicoloured fruits might be able to do it. But you’d need to come up with a mix that balanced the relative percentages found in each ingredient so the totals were what you wanted. (Well, taking into account that for some micronutrients, having too much isn’t really a problem.)


Quite possible, but I’m optimistic that it will not. My guess is that when calcium is consumed as a component of foodstuffs that other items in said foodstuffs are helping or hindering the processing in some way that results in less stones. IIRC, fiber slows the digestion of carbohydrates. I’m guessing there’s some synergistic thing happening with the calcium in food along those lines. I believe Vitamin D helps in the absorption of calcium, not sure if there are other things that do that too.

Ideally, the other ingredients in Soylent will be sufficient to perform the same task, but, since we don’t know exactly how it all works, we could be missing something. It’s important to remember that, even though it’s a marketed product up for retail sale, Soylent really is just one big experiment in human nutrition. We may not know the full benefits or detriments for many, many years.

A note about Ambronite: I haven’t researched it myself (it costs far more than I care to pay for powdered food), but I did see some comments from people concerned about extreme excesses of certain nutrients in that mix. I’d definitely recommend researching this yourself before consuming it.

I’m glad there is “competition”, even if it is of the ridiculously expensive, whole-foods mumbo-jumbo* variety. Soylent is trying to be a staple food that’s everything your body “needs”. Maybe one of the others will help us to discover if “phytonutrients*” really do have any measurable benefit, at which point we can determine if Soylent should include them. In any case, the more data the better, and if someone can live better off another formula than they otherwise would have off their regular diet, I’d call that a win. :slight_smile:

*Not that anyone cares but, for me, the whole-foods movement and the claim some of them make about the absolute “need” for phytonutrients has about as much credibility as homeopathy until we have sufficient evidence to prove otherwise. I’m not looking to argue about it with anyone, or even say that they are wrong. I just don’t believe what they do, and will not be convinced otherwise without undeniable evidence. I would love to be proven wrong, because that would mean that we have a better understanding of how our bodies work, and can optimize accordingly.


I was thinking something similar. In the case of calcium (which is again just one example) Soylent may provide the same sorts of conditions for digestion that regular food does, avoiding the higher risk factor. But it may not. And how many other things like this are there?

The suggestion to get micronutrients from a complex of natural sources (like dark green vegetables and fruit) is, effectively, a suggestion to hedge our bets. It’s an acknowledgement that a) there are a lot of unknowns, and that b) health is very important.

One of the quotes I saw while researching Soylent was:

This is a perfect example of “nutritionism”, or the notion that all that matters when it comes to nutrition are calories, fiber and protein grams, and vitamin and mineral content. Unlike Soylent, whole foods offer other beneficial compounds (like phytonutrients and antioxidants) for our health. This is the same reason why, no, you can’t subsist on a diet of highly processed junk food and “make up for it” by taking a multivitamin every day.


I just don’t understand why everyone is worried about these unknowns. I get that there may be some but how can we address them because even you don’t know what they are. Yes there may be something unknown but it’s a whole lot less than eating a standard diet with many more unknowns. Why stay hung up on the things you can’t explain and why not focus on things you do know. It’s a lot more productive.


“It’s the “mostly” that concerns me.”


When you put it that way, I should go back to good ol’ fashioned nutritious foods:


Yes? No? Maybe?

We won’t know until we try, right?

Please do not take our responses as hostile, though they may seem to convey that tone sometimes. We have heard terms like “phytochemicals”, “whole foods”, “paleo diet”, etc. many, many times while discussing Soylent, from people who haven’t done any research, are simply spouting buzzwords, and are trying to make a statement rather than have a discussion that we can get a little defensive.

The majority of us welcome these discussions if they are, in fact, well-reasoned intelligent discussions. These are good questions to ask, and I believe things we do need answers to in the long run.

I don’t personally think that we know exactly what the body needs to perform at its absolute best. I’m fairly certain that it’s even going to vary, not insignificantly, from person to person. However, I do think that Soylent’s generic approach is a huge first step in the right direction.

Welcome to the forum, and watch out for the trolls. :slight_smile: