Soylent (meal replacement)

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Soylent
Soylent.svg
Type Meal replacement
Course All
Place of origin United States
Region or state California
Associated national cuisine None
Created by Rob Rhinehart
Invented 2013
Serving temperature Refrigerated or room temperature
Main ingredients Water, maltodextrin, soy protein isolate, high-oleic algal oil, isomaltulose, canola oil, rice starch, and oat fiber[1]
Food energy
(per serving)
400 (pre-mixed 414 ml liquid[1] or powder[2]kcal
Other information www.soylent.com
  Media: Soylent

Soylent is a brand of meal replacement products available in the U.S., named after an artificial food in the science-fiction novel Make Room! Make Room! Soylent was introduced in 2014 after a crowdfunding campaign that generated nearly $1.5 million in preorders.[3]

Its producer, Rosa Foods, says that Soylent meets all nutritional requirements for an average adult.[4] Initial recipes were first created and tested by software engineer Rob Rhinehart[5] as a self-experiment in nutrition. Subsequently, the powdered version of Soylent was developed into the first product line of Rosa Foods, which currently markets and sells the product. For about two months in late 2016, the company also marketed a solid-form meal bar under the brand name as well, but it was discontinued after reports that it caused gastrointestinal problems for some consumers. Sales of the powdered version were also halted briefly in late 2016 before the product was reformulated and its sales resumed.

Rosa Foods says that the current formulation is based on recommendations of the National Academy of Medicine.[6] They established an FDA nutrition facts label and said the product meets the criteria for some health-related claims.[7] Rosa Foods also states that Soylent includes all of the elements of a healthy diet, without excess amounts of sugar, saturated fat or cholesterol.[8] The company also is vocally supportive of genetically modified food.[9]

History[edit]

Origin[edit]

A Soylent package, along with the powder and resulting drink

Soylent began as a 30-day self-experiment in nutrition. In January 2013, software engineer Rob Rhinehart purchased 35 ingredients, most in raw chemical form, which he had concluded based on reading nutritional biochemistry textbooks and U.S. government web sites were every substance that the body needs to survive.[10][11] Rhinehart, working at a start-up, had come to view food as a time-consuming hassle, and resolved to treat food as an engineering problem.[11] The ingredients included potassium gluconate to get potassium (since pure potassium is too highly reactive to consume), calcium carbonate for calcium, monosodium phosphate for phosphorus, oligosaccharides such as maltodextrin for carbohydrates, and olive oil for fatty acids.[12][10] With some trepidation, he poured the chemicals into a blender, added water, and drank the mixture.[11][13] It tasted sweet, like cake mix.[13]

Consuming nothing but Soylent for the next 30 days and measuring his results, Rhinehart claims that his energy levels skyrocketed, his skin improved, prolonged mental concentration was less fatiguing, and he was able to run farther than he ever had before.[10] He adjusted proportions to counter problems such as a racing heart and an iron deficiency.[10][13] Previously, Rhinehart had spent about two hours a day making food, eating food, and cleaning up afterward. He got Soylent preparation time down to 5 minutes in the evening, plus a few seconds to drink each "meal" the next day.[10]

Over the next two months, Rhinehart lived mostly on Soylent, identifying and correcting further problems, and continued to refine the formula. One change was to use oat powder instead of maltodextrin: the original formula had no fiber.[14] His monthly food bill fell from about US$470 to US$50, and Soylent gave him full visibility and control over his nutrition, enabling him to fine-tune his intake of any nutrient at will.[10]

Naming[edit]

Soylent is named after a food in Harry Harrison's 1966 science fiction novel Make Room! Make Room![15][16] In the novel, most types of soylent are made from soya and lentils. The word also evokes the 1973 film adaptation Soylent Green, in which the eponymous food is made from human remains.[11] Rhinehart also says he chose the name, with its morbid associations, to pique curiosity and deeper investigation, since the name was clearly not chosen with a traditionally "flashy" marketing scheme in mind.[17]

DIY community[edit]

In 2013, a community of people interested in making their own Soylent emerged online, attracted by the ability to customize nutrition precisely to each person's unique needs.[18] Another software engineer, Nick Poulden, founded the web site diy.soylent.me, where users shared the results of their own tinkering with the Soylent recipe.[11][19][18] Users could enter a nutritional profile and select a recipe, and the web site would calculate exact proportions of each ingredient to yield the desired intake of each nutrient.[11] Zach Alexander, a former professional cook, made a Soylent formula mostly from ingredients available at grocery stores rather than laboratory supply houses, which he calls Hackerschool Soylent.[19]

A commercial venture[edit]

Rhinehart's blog posts about his experiment attracted attention on Hacker News,[20][11] eventually leading to a crowdfunding campaign on Tilt that raised about $1.5 million in preorders[3][21] aimed at moving the powdered drink from concept into production. It became one of the most funded crowdfunding projects ever accomplished. After the campaign, Soylent had venture capital financing for a seed round of $1.5 million[21] to further develop proof of concept. Media reports detailed how operations began for Rosa Foods in April 2014, using a relatively small $500 system to ship the first $2.6 million worth of product.[22] In January 2015, Soylent received $20 million in Series A round funding, led by venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz.[23]

Prior to June 2015, Soylent was only available for purchase and shipment to people in the U.S. On June 15, 2015, the shipping of Soylent to Canada was introduced[24] at the same price in U.S. dollars as for U.S. customers. Expansion to European countries is a stated future goal. In October 2017, Canada disallowed further shipments of Soylent due to a failure to meet Canadian food regulations on meal replacements.[25]

In July 2017, Soylent was sold offline for the first time at 7-Eleven stores around Los Angeles.[26] By April 2018, Soylent was sold in over 8,000 7-Elevens around the country and it is planned to be sold in Walmart.[27]

Products and versions[edit]

Soylent Powder[edit]

Soylent Powder is a powder that must be mixed with water to make a drink. The formulas for versions 1.4–1.7 have been published and are freely available.[28][29][30][31] Since version 1.2, all versions have been vegan (i.e., containing no eggs, dairy, or other animal-derived substances).[32]

Version Changes Release Date
Soylent 1.0 First full version. Ingredients were finalized in January 2014, using rice as the protein source.[33] Shipments began in April[34] (vegan) and May[35] (regular) of 2014. Early 2014
Soylent 1.1 The sucralose was decreased, giving it a more neutral flavor, and new digestive enzymes were added.[36] October 2, 2014[37]
Soylent 1.2 Omega-3 fatty acid from fish sources was replaced with omega-3 from algae, making the drink suitable for vegans and the enzymes added in Soylent 1.1 were removed.[32] November 10, 2014[32]
Soylent 1.3 Dipotassium phosphate was added and shipping box sizes were reduced.[38] December 11, 2014[38]
Soylent 1.4 Fats were incorporated into the powder that eliminated the need for the oil bottles, resulting in less packaging required in the shipping boxes. On the advice of F. Xavier Pi-Sunyer, a professor of medicine at Columbia University, it had a carb/fat/protein calorie ratio of 43/40/17.[39] Isomaltulose was added and gum acacia was removed.[40] February 25, 2015[41]
Soylent 1.5 Improvements to texture from a reduction of oat flour and an addition of emulsifiers. Removal of powdered safflower and flaxseed oil which were both replaced by canola oil powder, supplementing the existing powdered high oleic sunflower oil and algal oil.[42] June 1, 2015[42]
Soylent 1.6 Uses whole algal flour, high oleic algal oil and soy protein isolate that replaces brown rice protein. 45% lipids, 20% protein, and 35% low-glycemic carbohydrates, closer to Soylent 2.0 macronutrients.[43] (Discontinued in October 2016 after reports of gastrointestinal problems.) June 23, 2016[43]
Soylent 1.7 Reformulated to have a more neutral flavor profile. Algal flour removed.[44] December 15, 2016[44]
Soylent 1.8 The fiber source shifts from isomaltooligosaccharide to soluble corn fiber. Replaces all algal ingredients with high oleic canola creamer. Usage of gums is halved. Serving size is same while weight per serving increased.[45] March 13, 2017[45]
Soylent 1.9 With the 2020-required Reference Daily Intake guidelines, the potassium and fiber has increased per serving; all vitamin and mineral content has been increased or decreased to follow the revised guidelines.[46] Cacao Powder version 1.9 is the first flavored powder product from the company. January 9, 2018[46]

Soylent Drink[edit]

Soylent Drink, originally called Soylent 2.0, is premixed Soylent with various flavorings added, sold in a bottle.

Soylent Original, Coffiest, Cacao and Nectar bottles going from left to right.
Flavor Description Release Date
Original First pre-mixed Soylent liquid product and it alters the carb/fat/protein ratios to 33/47/20; it has a glycemic index of 49.2 and a glycemic load of 16.7.[47] About half of the lipid calories come from algal sources and it uses soy for its protein source.[48] September 9, 2015[49]
Cacao Chocolate-flavored Soylent with a similar nutrition profile to Soylent Original. December 26, 2016[a]
Nectar Fruit-flavored Soylent with a similar nutrition profile to Soylent Original. Ceased production in August 2017. December 26, 2016[a] (Discontinued)
Strawberry The second fruit-flavored Soylent flavor with a similar nutrition profile to Soylent Original. June 20, 2018
  1. ^ a b Amazon addition date, prior to being added to Soylent.com on January 3, 2017

Soylent Cafe[edit]

Soylent Cafe is Soylent Drink mixed with caffeine, L-theanine, and different flavorings. Soylent Cafe was originally called "Coffiest", after an extremely habit-forming drink in the 1952 science fiction novel The Space Merchants, by Frederik Pohl and Cyril M. Kornbluth, which gets every customer "hooked for life".[50][51]

Flavor Additives Release Date
Cafe Coffiest Has coffee flavoring, ~150 mg of caffeine from coffee powder per serving and 75 mg of L-theanine.[52] August 9, 2016[52]
Cafe Vanilla Has coffee and vanilla flavoring, ~150 mg caffeine from coffee powder and 75 mg of L-theanine.[53] June 7, 2017[53]
Cafe Chai Has chai flavoring, ~30 mg caffeine from black tea powder and 25 mg of L-theanine.[53] June 7, 2017[53]

Soylent Bar[edit]

Soylent Bar was Soylent in the form of a solid, edible bar. It was discontinued in October 2016 after reports of gastrointestinal problems.[54]

Version Changes Release Date
Soylent Bar 1.0 First solid-form Soylent product at 250 calories.[55] Introduced with a carb/fat/protein calorie ratio of 43/38/19. Had a glycemic index of 55 and a glycemic load of 13.[56] Introduced in salted caramel flavor. August 16, 2016[57]

Health effects[edit]

The makers of Soylent say it contains all the nutritional requirements necessary for a healthy lifestyle.[7] There may be social drawbacks of living on a Soylent-only diet, since some critics have said that it comes at the expense of the pleasures from eating and sharing food.[58]

Some people have experienced gastrointestinal symptoms from consumption of Soylent.[59][58] Speculation on the cause of such symptoms sometimes centered around the amount of dietary fiber contained in the product which is known to cause such symptoms when diets are abruptly altered to increase amounts of fiber consumption. Later versions of the product lowered the amount of fiber content, but this did not stop the reports of gastrointestinal problems. The lower fiber content of the product led to additional criticisms of not containing an adequate amount, compared to daily recommendations, leading some to utilize fiber supplementation.

In October 2016, Rosa Foods recalled Soylent Bars due to reports of gastrointestinal symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.[60] The company is reported to have actively researched the issue with an independent party and suspected soy or sucralose intolerance.[61] However, the company later concluded that algal flour was the cause after reviewing similar reports on Soylent 1.6 (powder), and was reformulating products to remove it.[62] The company halted the sales of Soylent 1.6 after concluding so.[63] TerraVia, the supplier of Soylent's algal ingredients, published a fact sheet in response to media coverage for its algal flour.[64] In December 2016, Soylent released a new iteration of its powdered formula, Soylent 1.7, which no longer contains algal flour.[44]

As of October 24, 2017, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is blocking sales of Soylent from Canada on the premise that the label on Soylent does not meet the CFIA requirements to be listed as a meal replacement.[65] Shipping Soylent to Canada has been blocked by the CFIA until Rosa Foods makes changes to its products; Canadian shipments first began in June 2015.

Lead and cadmium content[edit]

Comparison from the Soylent FAQ[66] on Proposition 65 chemicals in Soylent versus other foods.

On August 13, 2015, nonprofit environmental and corporate social responsibility watchdog As You Sow filed a notice of intent to pursue a lawsuit against the makers of Soylent, claiming that Soylent did not adequately label its product given the levels of lead and cadmium present in the drink. The basis for the lawsuit lies in California's Proposition 65, a law that requires additional labeling for food products containing trace amounts of certain substances.

Although Soylent contains levels of lead and cadmium far below the national safety levels set by the FDA, it does contain 12 to 25 times the level of lead and 4 times the level of cadmium allowable in a product without additional labeling as specified by Proposition 65.[67][68] A lawyer who has worked on settlements of Proposition 65 suits described the case as "alarmist", as the levels are well below FDA limits of what is allowed in food products.[69] However, as Soylent is marketed as a complete meal replacement, many customers consume the drinks three times a day, equating to 36 to 75 times the lead and 12 times the level of cadmium without the Prop 65 label.[70] As You Sow believes these levels may be harmful.[67] Lead is a neurotoxin that accumulates in soft tissues and bones, and even at low levels is linked to nerve damage, lower IQ, and reproductive problems including decreased sperm count. Cadmium is also a toxic heavy metal and has been linked to kidney, liver, and bone damage.[70]

Soylent's website displays the Proposition 65 warning required by California.[69] Rosa Foods published the position that the levels of heavy metal content in Soylent "are in no way toxic, and Soylent remains completely safe and nutritious".[66] Rosa Foods also published an infographic and spreadsheet based on an FDA study of heavy metal content in common foods, comparing two selected example meals to servings of Soylent with a similar amount of caloric intake. Both of the company's chosen comparison meals include high levels of cadmium and arsenic, along with levels of lead similar to those of Soylent; although one of them includes tuna and the other includes salmon, providing over 97% of the arsenic in each proposed meal, with spinach providing 74% of the cadmium in the higher-cadmium meal and fruit cocktail providing 71% of the lead in the higher-lead meal.

Product recalls[edit]

On October 12, 2016, the company announced it would halt sales of the Soylent Bar due to reports of gastrointestinal illness.[60] The company asked customers to discard any unconsumed bars and said it would offer full refunds.[71] On October 21, 2016, the company triggered a product recall, and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) announced it had commenced a food safety investigation.[72]

On October 27, 2016, the company also halted sales of Soylent Powder. The company said tests on the bar had come back negative for contamination, but also said that some powder users had reported similar stomach-related symptoms from consuming the powder.[73][74]

On November 7, 2016, Soylent blamed algal flour for making people sick, and said it planned to remove algal flour from future formulations of the powders and bars, which it did in the next formulation version 1.7 introduced on December 15, 2016.[75] The drink-based products use algal oil, not algal flour, so are deemed to be safe for users.

Flavor and product reviews[edit]

Rhinehart called the flavor of the original versions "minimal", "broad" and "nonspecific".[76] Soylent 1.0 contains soy lecithin and sucralose as masking flavors and to adjust appearance, texture and smell.[33] Before version 1.4, vanillin was included as an ingredient for flavoring.[77]

Dylan Matthews of The Washington Post noted in 2013 that Soylent fulfills a similar need as medical foods such as Abbott Laboratories's Jevity, but for a much lower cost.[78]

Reviews on the taste of powdered Soylent vary. One reviewer said he was "pleasantly surprised" with the "rich, creamy, and strangely satisfying" flavor,[58] and another likened it to that of a vanilla milkshake with the texture of pancake batter.[79] Negative reviewers said it tasted "like someone wrung out a dishtowel into a glass",[80] said "my mouth tastes hot and like old cheese",[80] or that it was "purposefully bland", "vile" and made the taster "gag"[81] and compared the taste to "homemade nontoxic Play-Doh".[58][59]

Farhad Manjoo of The New York Times said he "found Soylent to be a punishingly boring, joyless product".[59] Chris Ziegler of The Verge, who experimented with subsisting only on Soylent for almost a month, said that although he liked and "never really tired of the flavor", he still concluded that "Soylent isn't living, it's merely surviving", and described the apple he ate at the end of that period as "my first meal back from the abyss" and the best he'd ever had in his life.[58] Adrian Chen of Gawker said "Soylent looks as appetizing as it sounds. The combination of its off-white color, opacity and viscosity made it look – sorry to be gross here – like watered-down semen."[80] He said he "was having trouble getting it down", and eventually "dumped the whole thing in the sink".[80]

Both Manjoo and Ziegler said they had experienced some gastrointestinal problems from drinking it.[59][58] Lee Hutchinson of Ars Technica also reported a brief period of "adaptation gas" at the beginning of a four-day experiment.[17]

Amongst the new flavors, Coffiest has been described as similar to a "caffeinated Nesquik drink,"[82] and Nectar has been described negatively as tasting like "lemon aspartame."[83]

See also[edit]

Similar products[edit]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]