What is Soylent?
Software engineer, Robert Reinhart believed that his busy lifestyle was leading him to poor dietary choices. He thought that he was far too overwhelmed to source food with adequate nutrition and had a moral conflict about supporting the agricultural industry. He “hypothesized that the body doesn’t need food itself, merely the chemicals and elements it contains,” 1 ordered a bunch of powdered supplements, and began a long-term, liquid diet. Reinhart made claims of improved health in multiple domains and launched a crowdfunding campaign to mass-produce what is now called Soylent. Is this the future of nutrition? Can we duplicate the results of Reinhart’s experiment? In the preparation for this product release, we should critically evaluate this product based on its contents and their biosynthetic implications in human physiology.
Soylent 2.0 – Ingredients List
The first step to this is to take a look at the available data including the ingredients list. The image below was taken from the Soylent website. 2
Soylent 2.0 – Macronutrient Content
Soylent has a macronutrient ratio of 47:27:26 (carbohydrates:fat:protein) by weight and from the ingredients list, we can derive that the source of the carbohydrates is maltodextrin and isomaltulose, the fat comes from algal oil and canola oil, and the protein comes from soy protein isolate that seems oddly familiar. 3 Let us compare a similar product that uses:
- 20% rice oil (fat)
- 58.73% corn (carbohydrate)
- 21.07% soy (protein)
- 1.2% synthetic vitamin and mineral blend
In Soylent 2.0, the maltodextrin is a starch derived from corn, and soy protein isolate is derived from soybeans. Instead of using rice as the vegetable oil source, Soylent 2.0 opted to go with algal oil that gives it an edge over its competitor. Canola oil is one of the worst fats one could put in their body because it contains erucic acid that damages the heart. There is not near enough DHA and EPA in either food and deficiencies will eventually manifest in the body taking the form of heart disease, bone deterioration, cognitive disorders, or even cancer. In fact, a deficiency in DHA has been shown to increase mortality rates across all domains. 4
Want to know where I got the nutrition data in the above image? It is livestock feed. It may not have the same “mouthfeel” as Soylent 2.0, but from a biochemical standpoint, they are nearly identical. I will give a slight advantage to Soylent 2.0 over livestock feed.
Update: People from the Soylent community have contacted me regarding the macronutrient nutrient ratios. I mistakenly quoted the macronutrient ratio from Soylent 1.5 rather than 2.0. I have corrected the ratios above. The direct comparison to Soylent 2.0 versus this particular livestock feed is +7:-11:+4; respectively. I have chosen to address these values by weight, rather than caloric energy because of the inequality of isocaloric values.
What is disturbing to me is not the similarity of macronutrients, but the means from which they were sourced and processed. Captive animals, who have lost their freedom to graze naturally, are fed commercial products derived and processed from corn, soy, and vegetable oil. The ingredients are designed to keep animals alive in a confined and restricted environment as cheaply as possible without a reduction in weight. When you read the story of a software engineer overworked, too busy to eat, and consumes Soylent, there are some definite parallels.
Soylent 2.0 – Micronutrient Content
Below is the micronutrient breakdown of Soylent 2.0: 5
At first glance, it does not look too bad. If you drink five bottles of Soylent 2.0 each day, you will get 100% of your daily vitamins and minerals, right? Not exactly. 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 2.0 is ergocalciferol or vitamin D2. Humans need cholecalciferol or vitamin D3 that is used throughout the body. D3 is significantly superior to D2 in human physiology. 6 In the same regard, Soylent 2.0 uses vitamin K1 instead of K2. K1 is transported poorly in the intestines and does not convert well to K2. 7 In clinical studies, vitamin K2 has shown cardiovascular improvements while K1 had no effect. 8 This is because K2 helps transport calcium into teeth and bones rather than forming arterial calcification. 9 K2 has also been shown to reduce cancer risk, and K1 has been shown to be ineffective in this area as well. 10 When we look at the chelated minerals used, we find the same dilemma – zinc sulfate, magnesium phosphate, sodium molybdenum and sodium selenite. Why use such inferior sources of minerals? Are the creators of Soylent 2.0 ignorant of the scientific data, or are they just trying to save a few pennies?
There are other ingredients in Soylent 2.0 that are outright harmful. Studies have shown that dl-alpha tocopherol (synthetic vitamin E) is linked to increased cancer rates. 11 This is due to the reverse chirality of the synthetic isomer 12 meaning that the shape of the molecule is backward from natural vitamin E. Negative health effects can also be associated with one of the water-soluble B vitamins. For instance, approximately one-third of the population will increase their cancer risk when consuming synthetic folic acid. 13 This is because of a mutation in the MTHFR gene. People with one or more defective MTHFR genes will have trouble converting synthetic folic acid to 5-MTHF. With supplemental use, in the dose that Soylent 2.0 provides, folic acid levels will build up fueling cancer cells.
Soylent 2.0 – The Gut Impact
Soylent 2.0 contains a few FODMAPs:
- F (Fermentable Starches) – rice starch
- O (Oligosaccharides) – isomaltooligosaccharide
- D (Disaccharides) – isomaltulose
- M (Monosaccharides)
- A (and)
- P (Polyols)
Consuming Soylent 2.0 every day will have a dynamic impact on the microbiome. Many of the carbohydrates will not be absorbed in the stomach, or large intestine that will feed bacteria in the small intestine. Since the bacteria are restricted only to the carbohydrate sources in Soylent 2.0 the lack of options will limit the diversity of the population with single, long term use. Bacteria that can process isomaltooligosaccharides and rice starch are going to have a tremendous advantage over those that do not. Over time, the Coprococcus, Collinsella, and Coprobacillus phylotypes will overrun the Bifidobacteria, 14 butyric acid levels will drop, 15 and endotoxin will leak out into the bloodstream. You may hear anecdotal reports of people consuming nothing but Soylent 2.0 for months at a time without incident, but it is just a matter of time before they will develop problems.
Soylent 2.0 – Philosophy
According to Rhinehart’s blog, one of the biggest reasons for creating Soylent 2.0 was because of the immoral activities regularly displayed by the food industry. Since Soylent 2.0 uses ultra-processed ingredients, they are further removed from the food chain than the produce at the grocery store. This would lead a person to believe that Soylent 2.0 is not a participant in the wrongdoings of the food industry, but this operates on the assumption that the ingredients do not include the same sources. What is the difference between the rice, soy, and corn products in the store and those that are in Soylent 2.0? Other than the method of processing, there is none – it just comes in a different package. In fact, when Vice filmmaker went to visit the Soylent warehouse in 2013, they found that it was subject to rats and mold. 16 Third party watch group, As You Sow, tested Soylent 1.5 to find that it had ” a concentration of lead that is twelve to twenty-five times above California’s Safe Harbor level for reproductive health and a concentration of cadmium that is at least four times greater than the Safe Harbor level for cadmium.” 17 This is indicative of a poor quality vitamin powder, and we see this all the time in low-quality supplements. It would be much better to source whole foods carefully from trusted farmers, and there is a lot of benefit to diversifying the diet through eating seasonally, and locally.
Soylent 2.0 is ready to drink, and that is attractive to people who want to save time preparing meals. Some will make the argument that it is better for your than some of the fast-food entrées on the market, but at least with fast food, you have options and diversity. Fast food companies are also better regulated for hygiene standards.
Soylent 2.0: Final Verdict
I was going to give Soylent 2.0 an “F,” but it has not killed anyone yet, so I bumped it up to a “D-“. It contains potentially harmful ingredients; it is nutritionally inadequate, it is bad for your gut, and given the ingredients, it most likely tastes like glue. The only advantage it has is speed, but there are other products on the market that are just as fast to prepare and are about the same quality. If I were stranded on a desert island, I would drink Soylent 2.0 to stay alive. Other than that, I have no use for it.
In my conclusion to my Soylent 2.0 review I would like to encourage Soylent 2.0 customers to free up some of their time, source quality whole foods, and take the time to prepare your meals. The time it takes you to cook, it will be more than made up for in performance and efficiency.
Written by Jason Hooper
- http://robrhinehart.com/?p=298 ↩
- https://faq.soylent.com/hc/en-us/articles/200836809-What-is-Soylent- ↩
- https://faq.soylent.com/hc/en-us/articles/200789315-Nutrition ↩
- https://books.google.com/books?id=Y951BwAAQBAJ&pg=PA328&lpg=PA328&dq=dha+Reduced+risk+of+death+from+ALL+causes&source=bl&ots=GC4mU_KeyW&sig=JCQLydY8drFrKYMrz4QEuawksIw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CEAQ6AEwBWoVChMItqzxltaUxwIVUICSCh3oawQJ#v=onepage&q=dha%20Reduced%20risk%20of%20death%20from%20ALL%20causes&f=false”>https://books.google.com/books?id=Y951BwAAQBAJ&pg=PA328&lpg=PA328&dq=dha+Reduced+risk+of+death+from+ALL+causes&source=bl&ots=GC4mU_KeyW&sig=JCQLydY8drFrKYMrz4QEuawksIw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CEAQ6AEwBWoVChMItqzxltaUxwIVUICSCh3oawQJ#v=onepage&q=dha%20Reduced%20risk%20of%20death%20from%20ALL%20causes&f=false”>https://books.google.com/books?id=Y951BwAAQBAJ&pg=PA328&lpg=PA328&dq=dha+Reduced+risk+of+death+from+ALL+causes&source=bl&ots=GC4mU_KeyW&sig=JCQLydY8drFrKYMrz4QEuawksIw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CEAQ6AEwBWoVChMItqzxltaUxwIVUICSCh3oawQJ#v=onepage&q=dha%20Reduced%20risk%20of%20death%20from%20ALL%20causes&f=false ↩
- https://faq.soylent.com/hc/en-us/articles/200789315-Nutrition ↩
- http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3417158/ ↩
- Schurgers, L.J., Vermeer, C. Differential lipoprotein transport pathways of K-vitamins in healthy subjects. Biochim. Biophys. Acta 1570 (2002) 27-32. ↩
- Gijsbers, B.L.M.G., Jie, K.-S.G., Vermeer, C. Effect of food composition on vitamin K absorption in human volunteers. Brit. J. Nutr. 76 (1996) 223-229. ↩
- Elder, Haytowitz, Howe, Peterson, & Booth, 2006, pp. 436-467 ↩
- Schurgers et al., 2002 ↩
- http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=183163 ↩
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10385606 ↩
- http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19190501 ↩
- http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2890937/ ↩
- http://jmm.sgmjournals.org/content/journal/jmm/10.1099/jmm.0.017541-0 ↩
- http://motherboard.vice.com/read/soylent-how-i-stopped-eating-for-30-days ↩
- http://www.asyousow.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/As-You-Sow-Soylent-Press-Release_20150813-2.pdf ↩