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Soylent has enjoyed incredible popularity, but considering the controversy in recent years around this meal replacement drink, many consumers pose the question: Is Soylent healthy? To find out, I have teamed up with a medical doctor who specializes in human metabolism, and we analyzed the ingredients in Soylent. We concluded that Soylent is not a healthy product, mainly due to the following ingredients:
The good news is there are plenty of healthier options available, such as meal replacement drinks from Ample and others.
Superfoods that fundamentally alter the way we ingest and acquire the necessary nutrients have been an essential component of speculative fiction for decades. Movies, television programs, and books are riddled with examples of fictional products that can cover all of our nutritional needs while drastically reducing production costs and our impact on the environment. Today, thanks in part to a passionate group of nutrition hobbyists and do-it-yourself enthusiasts who distrust existing dietary recommendations and the food market agenda, we find ourselves on the verge of a food-tech rebellion.
Originally pioneered by Rob Rhinehart, Soylent, conceptually, is the idea that one can make nutrition simple, cost-effective, and comprehensive. In practice, Soylent is a meal replacement drink that asks “What if you never had to worry about food again?” and has become a successful Silicon Valley business that manufactures an All-You-Need nutritional shake.
From its inception, the founders of Soylent released the product as an “open source” formula, and thousands of people began experimenting with customized versions aimed to cover their specific nutritional needs. To date, there are over 8,000 custom formulas, spelled with a lower case, “soylent,” to differentiate them from the original. However, the sheer number of soylent variations that promise innovative nutrition blurs the authenticity of the product from a conceptual standpoint, and turn its consumption into a complex problem; which results in consumers finding it increasingly difficult to recognize what is safe to it.
Nevertheless, both the soylent DIYers and users of the precise formula subscribe to a few general conceptual guidelines on which the entire product is based. A typical serving of Soylent contains:
A typical soylent ingredient list will read like this: Water, Maltodextrin, Rice Starch, Soy Protein Isolate, High Oleic Algae Oil, Canola Oil, Isomaltulose, Isomaltooligosaccharide, Oat Fiber, and Soy Lecithin, followed by several emulsifiers, various vitamins, and minerals such as potassium chloride, zinc sulfate, and thiamine hydrochloride.
Soylent has been recalled four times in the past 18 months.
Unfortunately, regulators have raised concerns about the safety of these products following reports of vomiting, diarrhea, and various other digestive issues amongst users. Ultimately, this led to Meow Global Networks, Inc, the manufacturer of Soylent, pulling the product from shelves on repeated occasions (2). After several rounds of testing, laboratories determined that no pathogens or external toxins had been consumed by the sickened individuals and that, algae, one of the main components of the soylent formula, had been to blame. Most alarming perhaps is the fact that Meow Global Networks has recalled its product four times in the past 18 months. (3)
So let us take a closer look at the main components of this complex formula and try to ascertain their relative safety:
Maltodextrin is an artificial white powder that acts as a thickener in many processed foods. Although manufacturers enzymatically derive Maltodextrin from various natural starches, as a finished product, Maltodextrin is highly processed. It has a relatively high glycemic index which means that it can easily cause blood sugar levels to spike after its consumption. Additionally, manufacturers often derive Maltodextrin from genetically modified starches which have been linked to various diseases such as Alzheimer’s, cancer, and antibiotic resistance. (4), (5)
Soy protein isolate (SPI) is a highly refined form of soy protein that is made from defatted soy flour. Food manufacturers use soy protein isolate to improve the texture and mouthfeel of various products; in the case of soylent variants, soy protein isolates functions as an emulsifier and as a source of protein. However, concern has been raised about the elevated levels of Isoflavone compounds found in soy protein isolates. Isoflavones are naturally occurring plant phytoestrogens which act in a strikingly similar fashion to human estrogens; incidentally, some hormone-dependent diseases are substantially affected by elevated isoflavone levels (6). Additionally, there is evidence to suggest that variations in gastric pH levels due to an inhibitory effect caused by ingestion of soy protein isolates, cause zinc deficiency. (7)
Soylent and the various soylent variants are marketed as healthy products, in line with dietary guidelines and aimed at improving body functions. However, most of these products contain inordinate amounts of added sugars. Sucralose is an artificial, non-nutritive sweetener used widely by the food industry mainly for its cheap cost. Although considered safe for human consumption, several studies have suggested that sucralose consumption can affect both glycemic and hormonal response in otherwise healthy but obese individuals. (8), (9)
Rounding out the ingredient list of every variation of soylent is a plethora of vitamins and minerals, many of which are synthetic in nature. Manganese sulfate, Dl-alpha-tocopheryl acetate, sodium selenite, are just a few of the many compounds found in soylent products that have been associated with severe adverse side effects. Because soylent formulation is not regulated by the FDA, and because DIY has become such an essential part of the soylent agenda, it is easy to end up ingesting dangerous levels of some of these substances, ultimately leading to hypervitaminosis and intoxication (10).
Ideologically, Soylent is a good idea but, unfortunately, its inventors executed the idea poorly by using unhealthy ingredients to keep manufacturing cost at a minimum. As a result, we have to conclude that Soylent is not a healthy product based on its ingredients.
I was born and raised in Austria. I speak German, English, and Spanish. Since moving to the U.S., I have lived and worked in the greater Atlanta area. In my twenties, I was a professional 100m sprinter. These days I do mostly CrossFit. I'm a technologist and Apple fan. I love science and don't believe anything unless there is proof. I follow a Ketogenic Paleo diet and intermittently fast every day. I'm married and have two trilingual kids. My goal with this blog is to share what I learn so that you can spend time on something else. Check out my latest Diet, Fitness, and Technology articles.
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