Whole foods versus Soylent


I’ve seen a lot of speculation and deep cogitating about the effects of switching to a non-food diet. The fact is, we don’t know what effects eating “real” food has compared to eating just Soylent, so any speculation about what we’re evolved to cope with is baseless. Any speculation that there are heretofore unknown nutrients in so-called natural foods that are critical to longevity and health is also baseless. You can’t apply scientific reasoning to unknowns like this.

I’ve read of many so called nutritionists and (witch) Doctors claim that switching to a non-food diet is dangerous. They’re demonstrating a very human fear of the unknown, and a very unscientific and ignorant response to an awesome experiment. I think many others are also being disingenuous and deliberately inducing FUD over Soylent.

One of the biggest benefits of Soylent, in my mind, is the baseline for nutrition. Once you have that baseline, you’re going to be able to scientifically determine the effects of a given food source. You’re also going to be able to profile individuals based on their response to Soylent. If your nutritional profile requires a higher daily intake of iron, Soylent and blood testing will determine that, and you can correct it precisely. If you want to shape your physique in a certain way, there’s no the possibility that you can tailor your nutritional profile to help achieve that fitness goal.

With Soylent as a basline, statistics like BMI, weight loss, weight gain, subjective analyses of personal hunger and satiety levels, and a myriad other characteristics of our daily lives can be quantitatively assessed in terms of daily nutrition. All of those datapoints can be compared relative to the health effects on a population of other individuals.

Clinical studies, with the Soylent numbers as a baseline, can determine the precise effects, and mechanisms, of whole-food consumption.

If there are such things as these “critical for healthy life” phytochemicals or synergistic combinations of whole foods that we need in our diet, then I can think of no better way to justify their existence and utility than Soylent. Simply profile the addition of a given food source to a population of individuals and measure the results. I can also think of no better way to disprove these claptrap theories than the science of Soylent.

The tl;dr version: Anyone who claims to know so-called “whole foods” are necessary for a healthy life is a quack. The science can’t yet justify it, and they’re probably selling a bill of goods. Or they’ve bought a bill of goods. Soylent provides the means for nutrition to become a real science.


Well, I guess I should say welcome to the soylent forum, 'cause you are brand-new here. Got it all figured out right from the get-go, have you? Congrats.

But you, too, are participating in a belief system at this point. Soylent, at this point, is also a “bill of goods.” You correctly point out its potential to become a nutritional baseline, but to state that it IS a baseline right here and now is getting pretty far ahead of the facts, given that a final definitive formula has not yet been released and that the actual product is still a month or more away from its first and earliest possible production and distribution dates.

Widespread use and general acceptance could make Soylent into the kind of nutritional reference baseline you have described. I don’t think that is likely to happen overnight.

At this point Soylent has some science, some theory (which might or might not ultimately turn out to be “claptrap”) and a healthy dash of optimistic true-believership. If the concept and the associated formula and product prove out in practice, they will do so without this kind of slanted advocacy and will, in the end, be better off without it.

What’s wrong with recognising and admitting that Soylent, at this stage of the game, is frankly experimental? “The science” to which you refer can’t justify Soylent at this point any more than it can the whole-foods claims. You aren’t really helping matters or proving anything by adopting an adversarial stance against a straw man of whole-foodism. If the science is sound, it’ll prove itself; let it happen. Don’t push the river.


Soylent attempts to match the baseline, it is not the baseline itself. The baseline I’m referring to is the known RDA values for the various macro and micronutrients that all of the Soylent recipes are attempting to fulfill. Those are the best known scientific reference against which we can design our diets.

I haven’t figured anything out. Science has come up with those RDA values. Like I said in the op, Soylent is an experiment. One of the hypotheses that can be effectively proven or disproven by the Soylent experiment is the idea of synergistic whole food effects, or holistic phytochemical benefits, both of which are pseudo-scientific at best at this point in the game. Those diets may well prove to have benefits - my assertion is that it’s pointless to speculate on those until the Soylent experiment is performed and quantified.

Nothing wrong. I’ve said many times it’s an experiment, but the experiment has sound foundations. The bloodwork and reports of the participants so far have been positive. That’s encouraging, but closer to anecdotal support than real evidence at this point in the game.

The science is sound. The hypothesis that Soylent will provide a complete nutrition by itself may prove false, but the underlying experiment is what I’m enthralled with. Here we have a game changer, because you have a population of individuals sharing a uniform nutrition source, and it’s comprised of a bunch of geeks. There are a lot of people willing to log their experiences, and a lot of people getting blood work done as they participate.

There are discussions occuring about phytic acids mitigating nutrient intake, vitamin supplementation, various macronutrient ratios, and other really neat subjects.

The point of my post was that anyone claiming to know whether or not Soylent (or any other diet) is better than a whole-food diet is a quack. I stand by that assertion, because there hasn’t been a large-scale, long term experiment of the scope of Soylent. The best we have to go on is studies of different cultural and international populations based on relative differences in regional foods. Those provide interesting results, but it’s not uniform or standardized. Soylent will be. Its value isn’t necessarily whether it’s going to succeed as a food replacement, but the data gathered during the process. If it’s not complete, it provides the means to answer why.


Honestly, I think it’s fair to doubt, from a scientific perspective, that soylent is nutritionally complete. Remember that the list of essential nutrients we have, and the standards defining adequate daily intakes of those nutrients, were not handed to us from on high written on golden tablets. People figured them out through a complicated process which involved a lot of statistics, guesswork, estimation, and observing the effects of various bad diets on people who eat them.

Nutritional science is a very approximate science. If you actually read, for example, the U.S. government’s documents where they explain how they defined their dietary standards (the DRI), you will see a lot of cracks in the wall. There are a number of places where they pretty much guessed about something. There are a lot of places where a conclusion they draw was based on a single study. (In nutritional science, failure to replicate is common enough that a single study isn’t worth much.) If you look with a critical eye at the actual studies upon which our nutritional science is based, you’ll find potential issues which could invalidate the results of the studies. This is not to disparage the scientists doing this valuable work; it’s just that nutrition is an elusive subject of study.

Now don’t get me wrong; I have a significant amount of faith in our nutritional science, and I think we know a lot. I just don’t think it would be right to believe that our nutritional science is solid, pure truth, or that we know everything. It isn’t, and we don’t.

The specifically relevant issue, for this discussion, is that none of these studies have furnished any definite evidence that we have discovered all essential nutrients. It’s hard to imagine how they could. Personally I wouldn’t be surprised if in fact we have; but I wouldn’t be surprised if we haven’t, either. Soylent itself is a good test of this question. If people can live on soylent exclusively for years and remain healthy, that is good evidence that we have found them all. If they get sick, it indicates that something is wrong or incomplete about our nutritional science.

So in conclusion, I think that it’s not unscientific to doubt the nutritional completeness of soylent; though I also wouldn’t be surprised if it is. Time will tell!


GOOD posts, both of you! jrowe, I think the difficulty with Soylent as an experiment will be the same difficulty that besets all long-term nutritional stdies – adherence. That and the absence of a specific parallel control group.

Uh… isn’t that rather an inversion of your initial emphasis? I thought you were claiming that those who make claims for whole foods are quacks, but perhaps I misread you. Anyway I’m sure not going to argue with anyone who adopts a Scots verdict (“not proven”) at this point! But I guess we need to do some thinking about what it will take to accumulate really credible proof, given the difficulties of funding and carrying out long-term controlled nutritional experiments. “Cohort studies” won’t ,cut it, they are a dime a dozen, mostly publish-or-perish crap that proves very little.

Second statement, true; first statement, not necessarily. When they do nutritional studies of that sort with lab rats and mice, it’s accepted that the study needs to be multi-generational, and deficiencies often become apparent quite late in the game, in the form of reproductive problems down the line or diminished viability in filial generations. For Homo sapiens studies that creates a formidable problem.

It is tremendously difficult to prove that anything is innocuous. Much easier to prove that a substance is deleterious in some specific way! But to give Soylent a clean bill of health won’t be the work of two, three, five or ten years, unfortunately. Realistically probably the best outcome that can be hoped for is something analogous to GRAS status – it hasn’t yet been shown to cause any serious problems, so we reckon it’s reasonably safe for most folks to consume. But 100% of the time, a solely-Soylent diet? Don’t hold your breath! Time will tell, yes; but it’s likely to take a LOT of time to convince… whom? A majority of nutritional scientists? How do we even define a nutritional scientist? The whole field is so fraught with fuzziness and uncertainty…


Second statement, true; first statement, not necessarily. When they do nutritional studies of that sort with lab rats and mice, it’s accepted that the study needs to be multi-generational, and deficiencies often become apparent quite late in the game, in the form of reproductive problems down the line or diminished viability in filial generations. For Homo sapiens studies that creates a formidable problem.

This is a great point, and something I hadn’t thought about!


I wasn’t specific enough in regards to Soylent itself in the first post, but basically it boils down to the fact that anyone claiming definitive knowledge that Soylent is inferior to whole foods is talking out of their derriere. There’s no science that whole foods or specific vegetables or phytochemicals provide any tangible benefit that Soylent lacks. I see people advising caution, when there is no basis for that advice, because under what we currently do know (the macro and micro nutrition profiles) Soylent appears to offer a complete match.

As far as anyone knows, Soylent could be a perfect match for human nutritional needs. Or it could be a long-term ticking time bomb with various subtle and debilitating effects. It goes both ways… or it could (and most likely will) be somewhere in between the two extremes. I would wager that Soylent will be closer to optimal nutrition than a majority of so-called whole food diets, and that as time goes on, it will evolve into a more superior match than a non-supplemented diet can provide. That’s pointless speculation, though - just as any assertion that whole foods are definitely superior and that Soylent is dangerous.

What I’m trying to drill down to is that either direction is equally valid at this point, but only the Soylent experiment provides the foundation for a complete scientific theory of nutrition. There’s no nutritional theory of everything yet, and a lot of so called doctors and nutritionists are pulling shenanigans (lemon cleanse, body detoxes, ear candles, homeopathy, etc.) They’re making bank on the lack of sound science and education in the field of nutrition.


Sounds like we’re on about the same page.

I would wager that Soylent will be closer to optimal nutrition than a majority of so-called whole food diets, and that as time goes on, it will evolve into a more superior match than a non-supplemented diet can provide.

Agreed. I know, almost for sure, that soylent is better than what I eat when I don’t eat soylent. The only people who I think are doing better, health-wise, than soylent are the people who eat only unprocessed foods, count their calories, plan their meals extensively, have a long list of forbidden foods, literally track their intake of every micronutrient, and take similarly extreme and paranoid measures with their eating.


Sorry for being off-topic, but this is a beautiful proverb that I hadn’t heard before.


I agree, it’s an awesome turn of phrase. Thanks for the phrase, and I’d not heard this song before. :smile:

Don’t Push the River


The human body can seemingly adapt to survive on a very large variety of things. Shortly after high school, I lived entirely off of ramen noodles and, rarely, pepperoni pizzas for over three months with no noticeable major side effects. I have also “lived on” pizza hot pockets, Pizza-hut pizza, fast food burgers and fries, etc. for extended periods of time. The only plants I consume are beans, grains in breads/crackers/etc, tomatoes in ketchup/tomato sauce, potatoes (usually as french fries), and baby carrots and/or apples 2-3 times a year. I’m certainly no picture of health, but I’m on no prescription medication, and get sick less often than my skinny/fit roommates who eat far better than I do and exercise regularly. If there are “phytonutrients” that are required to be in our diet, I must be getting them from those very few plants I do consume, or the lack of them has not caused me any significant harm (yet). </ anecdote>


I can relate to this more than I’d care to admit, but for myself not eating healthy has a pretty large effect on my mental faculties.

As @gilahacker pointed out, we can definitely survive on an ‘unhealthy’ diet, so I don’t think there is much question left on the survivability of what we’re doing at minimum.

The question now becomes a matter of optimization, which if nothing else, as OP pointed out, we’re at least establishing a baseline for comparison.


The foundation, or baseline, is in my mind the single most important aspect of nutrition science. We’re chemical factories. Our nutrition is a matter of chemistry. Stripping away the what-ifs and going with what we know for certain provides the foundation.

The problem is that consumer ignorance is retailer bliss. I can’t wait for the unholy flood of FUD a successful Soylent will unleash. Hundreds of shills (M.D.) will come crawling out of the woodworks to explain why their 8+ years of overpaying government subsidized tuition rates means science is actually wrong. You need Brawndo, because it has electrolytes!

Once Soylent succeeds, or something like it, we’ll see products like Pepsi Vitalé or Coca-Cola Complete. If they were smart, they’d have something like it waiting to launch. Billion dollar companies, you do the math.

One of the questions I have to ask is why they haven’t launched such a product yet. The only logical answer is bad news for soda consumers. They know it’s bad for you, they don’t want people to be aware of their health in a general way, and something like Soylent causes you to be acutely aware of what you put in your body. I’d imagine a sugary caffeine rush and then crash would be highly uncomfortable to someone who is on a very healthy and consistent diet. If you’re accustomed to it, then you don’t notice the crashes as much, and are unconsciously primed to guzzle some more. Soylent breaks the cycle and kills the cash cow.


Soylent based on its ingredients or what is know about them is an idiotic idea… period! If you think that molecules and atoms are just molecules and atoms, then why does Soylent need any ingredients? Why not just mix a bunch of phosphorus, hydrogen, calcium, carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, magnesium, sulfur, potassium, and sodium etc… together in a lab, in the right proportions, and call it a day?

Soylent proposes the most horrendous ingredients noone with two braincells to rub together would want to touch with a ten foot pole… It is based on complete and utter scientific ignorance and illiteracy… pun intended.

There are infinitely more things we don’t know about micro nutrients, their synergistic effect on the body then we do. Show me a single product on the market anywhere on the planet that advocates that when taking it you can quit eating! There are NONE! Do you know why? Because there is no magic formula. Nutrients found in food work synergistically – you can’t possibly think you can extract the main ingredients and be done with it. The body is not a car you can just dump something combustible into and it will always work the same way.

What happens to mastication and all its physiological effects on the body? What happens to the results of millions of years of evolutionary processes that built the body we have today?

Until recently we didn’t even know about the enormity of the bio-dome. Turns out the number of bacteria in the gut outweighs the number of cell in the entire body by a dozen fold. An untold number of different species and their variety… What are they functions? What are they relationships to each other and to the body? How are they related to food and nutrients? How does changing the diet effects the bio dome and the healthy functioning of the body?

What is the perfect formula? Perfect for whom? A child? A healthy adult? An adult with an acute or chronic disease? How does food effect the bodies chemistry of these people? The body is a biological machine NOT a robot that needs lubricants.

What is a healthy diet? Healthy for whom? A child? A healthy adult? An adult with an acute or chronic disease? You get my point…

If Soylent wanted to come even close to creating a lazy persons diet who doesn’t like to wash dishes because the xbox is waiting, they’d have to have a line of formulas each with different combination of ingredients that work synergistically mimicking what is produced by nature… prepared whole foods rather than main ingredients… LOL!

The biggest problem though is that there isn’t enough published research on the long term effects of doing something like this. I wouldn’t even care about credentials as I don’t think that is a qualifier to use available data to create something extraordinary… but not having a clue on the other hand is a problem…

With that said, I like the idea! I just don’t think that Soylent comes even close…:slight_smile:


So like I said, anyone who claims to know that Soylent is superior to whole foods, or that whole foods are superior to Soylent, is talking out of their backside. The fact of the matter is that nutrition is an evolving science. The healthy results of the Soylent trials so far are encouraging, but by no means solid evidence of success. Soylent may well be healthier than any other diet because of its lack of contaminants and complete nutrient profile. Soylent might not be healthier because of missing phytonutrients, or lack of variation in nutrient intake, or any of a number of reasons.

The answer isn’t known by doctors or scientists, @liamwbently. Soylent is an exciting experiment, and gives science the opportunity to discover many answers to many very complex questions. Your skepticism is well received, but you’re claiming certainty that Soylent is bad when there is no sound basis for that claim. The fact of the matter is that we don’t know. The evidence so far shows that it’s safe. Rob has an advisory panel of nutritionists and doctors reviewing and approving Soylent. There are other doctors out there saying that it’s a bad idea. There is no consensus on the efficacy or long term viability.

Most doctors will agree that it’s possible to live on medical food indefinitely. Tube fed patients survive for decades on the stuff and are healthy in terms of general nutrition. Soylent is more complete than most medical foods and has a better macronutrient profile, designed for healthy people.

You’re claiming there are unknown synergistic effects and that there is no magic formula. There isn’t any science to back that up. It’s an intuitive claim - one that were there evidence, I would subscribe to myself. However, I have found no compelling evidence of any holistic whole foods paradigm. In fact, much of what our digestive process does is less efficient because it has to break down complex chemical structures in whole foods, resulting in ineffective utility of the nutrients. Phytic acid, for example, is an anti-nutrient and reduces the nutritive value of food you take in. Whole grains are better for you when processed.

There are a ton of nutritionists out there, subscribing to one diet or another because of anecdotal evidence. There are few, if any, clinical studies that account for complete nutrient profiles and do regression work to determine the particular advantage of having whole foods versus simply having all the right macro and micronutrients in an appropriately bioavailable form.

So here’s what it boils down to. I don’t know the answers. Scientists don’t know the answers. You certainly don’t know the answers. That’s because there’s an amazing noise to signal ratio in the data. The only baseline we have is people who’ve lived on medical food for years and years, and they obviously have other issues that would mask the benefits or detriments of the diet. Soylent lets us discover that nutritional baseline and determine if anything else is actually necessary. And if it is, it will manifest in a deficiency or defect of some sort. Doctors will be able to look at blood work, tissue samples, general well being, and other factors and say “Yup. You need some lycopene.” Or something like that.

Just because it’s been done one way for literally the entire span of human history doesn’t mean that it’s the best way. That’s hard to fight, sure, but it’s worth it. For Science!

As you peruse other topics in the forum, you’ll discover that literally every one of your concerns is discussed in great detail. Different people need different things. Soylent is designed to be a good baseline, a default meal, upon which you can supplement to your needs. There will be a male and female basic version. Childrens versions with appropriate micros might be needed, and this too is discussed, but I don’t know if they’re going to recommend simply adjusting the portions or what.


Sounds like a gigantic argument from ignorance based on a few google searches… A single tomato has more than 70,000 phytochemicals… Considering the mountains of data we have on diet and nutrition, you are suggesting a few horrifyingly stupid ingredients as a healthy baseline. You are right about one thing though… the supplementing part! Like a normal wholesome diet. LOL!

Look, you could submit your formula for scientific peer review. Let experts who specialize in this within the scientific community give you feedback. You know, not the kind that you purchase from your local nutritionist. If you did that, and there was genuine excitement, it would be published and you would probably get a Nobel Prize. But I know you would be very disappointed with the results… probably ridiculed out of the room…


I see you’re not interested in dialogue. You’re implying that tomatoes (to pick one of a gajillion healthful whole food items) are requisite to a healthy diet. I’m implying that you can live a healthy life without tomatoes. Not that there aren’t amazing and healthful aspects to whole food, but that they are not necessary, and that many benefits of the foods are synergistic suppression of otherwise harmful effects from other foods.

One of the biggest benefits of eating tomatoes, for example, is the antioxidant properties. It prevents damage from other sources of nutrition. Excessive free radicals occur when you have poor nutrition - the byproducts of foods you consume can trigger unhealthy processes in the body, leading to incomplete metabolic cycles. With balanced nutrition, the antioxidant properties of vitamins A, E, and C are enough to almost completely quash any potential damage from the free radicals. Poly/Phenols from phytonutrients in plants are awesome at augmenting the performance of the main 3 antioxidant vitamins.

It’s not an argument from ignorance. It’s an argument from science. The experiment is Soylent. The hypothesis is that it’s good for you. The results so far have supported that. In 10 years, we’ll be able to determine whether it’s any good for a 10 year period. In 20, we’ll know what happens in 20 years. Hopefully by then we’ll actually have mapped all the metabolic pathways in the human body.

I’m 100% sure that Soylent is not going to be “perfect” nutrition, as in the best possible nutrition of all possible sources of food. That’s not the point. Revisit the project FAQs and educate yourself to figure out the point.

I’m also 100% sure that it’s better, easier, and cheaper than what I’ve been eating for the last 2 years.

Your claim that Soylent is “horrifyingly stupid” is ignorant, in the literal sense of the word. I would say “horrifyingly” so, but anonymous asshattery on the internet doesn’t much faze me anymore.


For clarity, I’d also like to point out that phytochemical does not mean “magic plant chemicals that are good for you.” It’s “chemicals in plants.” Like, for example, nightshade. Foxglove. Foxglove is medicine, but is also deadly, and so forth. Beneficial phytochemicals exist, and are awesome parts of the really good diets. That’s never been in contention.
http://www.ars.usda.gov/Services/docs.htm?docid=8875 is a good place to find some known beneficial phytochemicals, and can really aid in learning about the established facts.


So would you continue to complain if we added every single phytochemical found in a tomato?
Also, precisely which ingredients are horrifyingly stupid, and why? [quote=“liamwbently, post:14, topic:4272”]
Turns out the number of bacteria in the gut outweighs the number of cell in the entire body by a dozen fold. An untold number of different species and their variety… What are they functions? What are they relationships to each other and to the body? How are they related to food and nutrients? How does changing the diet effects the bio dome and the healthy functioning of the body?

By this logic, it is vitally important never to change the diet - after all, we have no idea how it affects the “biodome” (humans are not a biodome - that’s a closed ecological system, and we’re not closed). So you must never eat any new food - goodness only knows what it’ll do to our internal bacteria!


Actually, in my mind, the fear is not that doctors will find a deficiency in a known substance. The fear is that they will look at the blood work and say “looks good, I don’t know what the problem is, go back to eating real food”.