Soylent has been a hot topic in the nutrition space lately. The belief is that soylent can be a healthy and alternative to real foods. When I first heard about it, the biggest question that came to my mind was whether or not it can actually provide all the micronutrients necessary to sustain a healthy life.The makers of Soylent claim it contains all the nutritional requirements necessary for a healthy lifestyle. Soylent reminds me of another supplement product named Ensure. Most doctors will tell you to drink Ensure when you are low in weight or if you are unable to get nutrients from elsewhere, but Soylent is a whole different beast.
How Soylent started?
Soylent was started by Rob Rhinehart so that people could save more time. Rob detailed his initial 30-day experiment in food replacement on his blog. He later went towards running a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for Soylent. This is what Rob initially said,
“I hypothesized that the body doesn’t need food itself, merely the chemicals and elements it contains. So, I resolved to embark on an experiment. What if I consumed only the raw ingredients the body uses for energy?”
After the crowdfunding campaign, Soylent had venture capital financing for a seed round of $1.5 million to further develop proof of concept.
For me personally, I enjoy food way too much to be only living off Soylent, but let’s get into the details on if it’s actually healthy for you or not.
What’s inside Soylent
Let’s take a quick look at the nutrition value behind Soylent:
According to their site, a bottle of Soylent has 400 calories, 25 micronutrients, 2g saturated fat, 300mg sodium and 3g fiber. You can see the picture below for a screenshot from their site.
From the outside, it seems pretty good, but let’s look a little further.
If you read Soylent’s FAQ, the first answer is their Healthy statement.
Healthy: Soylent’s nutritional makeup includes protein, carbohydrates, fats, fiber, and vitamins and minerals such as potassium, iron and calcium. It includes all of the elements of a healthy diet, without excess amounts of sugars, saturated fats, or cholesterol.
From this message, we can determine a few things:
- Soylent has the macronutrients needed for you to survive daily
- There isn’t “excess amounts of added sugar and fats”
- Soylent does have some fiber that your body needs
- Soylent has the micronutrients that your body needs to function
Not too shabby! Let’s dive into each one of these for a clearer picture.
Soylent has the macros you need
In a bottle of Soylent, you’ll get 21g of fat, 37g of carbohydrates, and 20g of protein. In terms of calories, that’s 189 calories from fat, 148 from carbohydrates, and 80 from protein. As percentages, that’s 45% fat, 35% carbs, and 20% protein. If you refer back to the article that we put up previous on macros, you probably know that this isn’t the best macro split, but that’s flexible.
The most important question when looking at these macros is whether or not they are coming from healthy sources. Are they the good type of macros that you’re body needs. Remember there are 20 amino acids in protein itself.
Let’s start off with the protein. Soylent’s protein comes from soy, which is probably why it’s named Soylent. Most of the protein in Soylent comes from Soy Protein Isolate, which isn’t bad for you, but at the end of the day, the source comes from processed soy. Processed foods probably aren’t the best for us.
The issue with soy is most soy today contains something called phytoestrogens, and these phytoestrogens are estrogen mimickers in the body. Processed soy are linked to many health problems because they kill off good bacteria in your gut, known as probiotics benefits, and also damage the working of your digestive system. This isn’t to bag on soy. It has its health benefit as well.
Now, their carbs don’t seem so bad, since we do need carbs for our body, but let’s look at their GI. Soylent has a glycemic index of 49. That’s roughly the same as an orange, a pasta, oats, mango, blueberries and so forth. That’s not bad but it should be something that you’re aware of if you have sugar level problems. If that is all that you’re consuming, then it’s like taking down a bottle of orange juice at once.
Soylent doesn’t have an “excess amounts of added sugar and fats”
Hmm..ok, but does this mean that they don’t have any added sugar and fats as well? What type of fats are they?
So, for the sugar part, we all know sugar is bad for you. It’s good to hear that they dont have any added sugar. Sugar is hard to avoid in general, but we don’t want any sugar in general. In one bottle of Soylent there are 9g of sugar. Assuming that you’re only drinking Soylent, you would need at least 4 bottles a day to maintain your daily calorie intake. That is 36g of sugar. The American Heart Association recommends that you 37.5g a day for a man, 25g a day for a woman, and assuming you’re active and not eating under your daily caloric needs, you’d be getting above that amount with Soylent. In conclusion, this isn’t necessary considered as healthy.
Soylent does have good fats. Polyunsaturated and Monounsaturated fats are the good fats, and they minimize saturated fats, but the truth is that saturated fats aren’t bad for you. New research have shown that saturated fats aren’t nearly as bad for you. It’s probably not the best type of healthy fats that your body needs, but it’s not nearly as bad as transfat.
Soylent doesn’t have any cholesterol. That isn’t necessary a good thing. Our body actually needs cholesterols.
There are actually two types of cholesterol: “bad” and “good.” LDL cholesterol is the bad kind. HDL is the good kind. Too much of the bad kind or not enough of the good kind increases the chances that cholesterol will start to slowly build up in the inner walls of arteries that feed the heart and brain.
That is why if Soylent is the only thing that you’re consuming for the day, you will still another source of food for cholesterols. Again this shows that it isn’t necessary healthy as they claim.
Soylent does have some fiber that your body needs
You probably know that fiber is important to good health, but do you know if you are getting enough?
Most Americans aren’t. The average adult only eats 15 grams of fiber per day. Women need 25 grams of fiber per day, and men need 38 grams per day, according to the Institute of Medicine. There’s 3g of fiber per bottle of Soylent. Using the example above, if we are consuming 4 bottles of Soylent that means we’ll be roughly getting in 12g of fiber a day. That’s less than what the average American consumes in a daily basis.
Fiber slows the rate that sugar is absorbed into the bloodstream. When you eat foods high in fiber, such as beans and whole grains, the sugar in those foods is absorbed slower, which keeps your blood glucose levels from rising too fast. This is good for you because spikes in glucose fall rapidly, which can make you feel hungry soon after eating and lead to overeating.
In addition to that fiber is what helps you have soft and stable bowel movements, which is why you see that a lot of people on low carb or keto diets experience problems with constipation.
Soylent has the micronutrients that your body needs to function
Soylent does have a good amount of vitamins that will help you stay alive and function, but it’s always best to get your vitamins and minerals from actual foods.
Although vitamin and mineral supplements may be of benefit in certain instances, they cannot take the place of eating a variety of healthy foods every day, said Samantha Heller, an exercise physiologist and clinical nutrition coordinator at the Center for Cancer Care at Griffin Hospital in Derby, Conn.
The quality of any particular soylent product compared to any particular food may prove to be lower (or higher) in terms of vitamin and mineral bioavailability, and most soylent products do not contain thousands of nonessential phytochemicals or complex flavorings compounds.
Taking vitamins and minerals, even if it is within the recommended daily average, still leaves the consumers short on the recommended daily intake, as the body can’t efficiently dissolve the artificial substances properly. Therefore the efficiency of them being supplemented is greatly diminished.
Here is the breakdown of soylent’s micronutrients:
In theory, 5 bottles of these will help you hit your micronutrients, but hold your horses! When evaluating vitamins and minerals, it is important to look at the form that you are taking. For instance, the type of vitamin D used in Soylent is ergocalciferol or vitamin D2. Humans need cholecalciferol or vitamin D3 that is used throughout the body. Soylent uses vitamin K1 instead of K2. K1 is transported poorly in the intestines and does not convert well to K2. There are a lot more to this, but this isn’t a post to breakdown which micronutrients are better than the other. It’s just to give you a general overview of where you might not be getting enough micronutrients from Soylent.
So does Soylent contain all of the vitamins and minerals we know about so far? Yes. Does it contain all of the vitamins and minerals you need? Probably not.
Another thing we have to consider when it comes to vitamins is whether or not your body will absorb those vitamins from Soylent verus real foods. Chewing, for example, helps with absorbing vitamins and minerals.
So, in conclusion, is Soylent good for you? To be honest, I love their concept and love what they are doing. Think about it, most people that are admitted to the hospital have some sort of malnutrition problem, even if it’s not their main problem. A lot of people are required to be on feeding tubes and have to take liquid supplements, so I do see this as an alternative supplement option.
Is it as bad as junk food? Not at all. Matter of fact it is a lot healthier than junk food, but it should never replace actual foods. Our body was made to consume real foods and real protein.
North Americans are simultaneously overweight and malnourished, and a diet like Soylent, for all of its flaws, provides less of the problem ingredients like sugar and cholesterol and more of the nutrients.
A good thing about Soylent is that it’s fairly cheap, so it can be a budget food and meal replacer when it’s absolutely necessary to do so.
As I mentioned, I personally love food too much to just live off Soylent, but to conclude it can help keep you alive in emergency situations. I also see Soylent improving their products with even more nutrients in the near future.