Soylent: What Happened When I Stopped Eating For 2 Weeks

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Shane Drinking Soylent

Tim Ferriss Intro

Hundreds of people have asked me about Soylent, a controversial Silicon Valley team trying to replace food with a grayish liquid.

“Does it really deliver all the nutrients the human body needs?”
“Is it safe?”
“Why hasn’t anyone tried this before?” [Hint: they have]
And most often: “What do you think of Soylent?”

Serendipitously, four or so weeks ago, I received an e-mail from Shane Snow, a frequent contributor to Wired and Fast Company:

I’m sure you have seen the buzz about the food-hacking movement, where a couple of Silicon Valley techies have been creating Matrix-style food replacement formulas for “optimum” chemical nutrition. Soylent.me, in particular, has been buzzing like crazy, having raised $800k in a Kickstarter-like campaign.

But nobody (besides the creators) has gotten his or her hands on any yet.

Except me.

Naturally, we had to do an experiment.

This post describes the longest non-employee trial of Soylent to date (two weeks without food), including before-and-after data such as:

- Comprehensive blood panels
– Body weight and bodyfat percentage
– Cognitive performance
– Resting heart rate
– Galvanic skin response
– Sleep

I share my thoughts in the AFTERWORD and occasionally in brackets, but this article focuses on Shane’s experience and data.  Please also note that this is *not* a Soylent take-down piece. I hope they succeed.

That said, there are some issues. I expect the debate on Soylent to be fierce, so please leave your thoughts in the comments. I’ll encourage the Soylent founders to answer as many questions as they can. From all sides, I’m most interested in studies or historical precedent that can be cited, but logical arguments are fine.

Also, a quick clarification: There is a bit of soy lecithin (an emulsifier) in Soylent, but soy is not a main ingredient, which is understandably confusing.

Enjoy the fireworks…

Enter Shane

It’s seven a.m. on a Wednesday, and I am in my kitchen staring at a bag of flour. A crinkly, metallic bag with a blue, Superman-style “S” logo glued to it. With no scissors handy in my one-bedroom Manhattan apartment, I’ve managed to tear the bag open roughly with my teeth, inhaling a blend of oatey sawdust that, when mixed with water, will be my sustenance for the next two weeks.

I stare at it, thinking about all the pizza I won’t be eating, and the donuts Rebecca from the office will surely set out on the table next to my desk. But, I had all those things last night as a parting gift to my taste buds, so I sigh, pour the flour mix into a 2-litre pitcher of cold water, and shake.

Bottoms up.

This is Soylent. Not the cannibalistic “Soylent Green” that Charlton Heston weeps about in the 1970s sci-fi movie, nor the soy and lentil “soylent” steaks in Harry Harrison’s 1966 novel, Make Room! Make Room!. This is Soylent, the tasteless, odorless food replacement drink that a kid in California—who raised a million bucks from strangers like me—invented to take food out of our daily equation and, ambitiously, cure world hunger. This is the Soylent that geeks in Silicon Valley have been buzzing about for the better part of a year, and the Soylent that various nutritionists have attacked with dire arguments of Ad Hominem mixed with Appeal to Authority. This is the Soylent whose inventor, Rob Rhinehart claims has made him fitter, more alert, and more productive, after having drank it semi-exclusively for about seven months.

… and it tastes like oatmeal water. Not bad, I admit as I gulp down half a Nalgene bottle’s worth for my first of many non-breakfasts with the stuff. I fill a second Nalgene to drink after work, and leave the Fedex box with a dozen more crinkly bags on the kitchen counter as I lock the apartment door behind me.

On the surface, Rhinehart, a 24-year-old entrepreneur and engineer, seems an unlikely person to invent such a concoction. I had reached out to him months ago after reading his blog, where he moaned about how time consuming cooking and eating food is for him, and documented the development of a meal replacement in the vein of the amino acid goop served on board The Nebuchadnezzar in The Matrix. But when we met up a few weeks ago in Brooklyn, Rhinehart became in my mind the most likely person to invent such a drink. Quiet, earnest, with the precise diction of someone smarter than any of your friends (unless you hang out at science poetry slams), Rhinehart strikes you as the kind of obsessive introvert who really doesn’t have the patience for food and just might be willing to cram a decade of biology and chemistry into his head during Winter Break to invent a cure for it.

Basically, he’s a hacker. He’s just taking that hacker’s mindset to the human body.

“People see some credential as this binary thing,” he explained to me about why he’s qualified to do this. “The formal path is really inefficient.” But by devouring textbooks and seeking mentorship from master chemists and nutritionists, and bringing his experience in electronics manufacturing (which turns out to be strangely analogous to mass-producing supplements), he had successfully reverse-engineered—at a molecular level—exactly what the human body needs out of food. He claimed, at least.

And that’s where the nutritionists and whole foodies start to freak out. As Rhinehart published his findings and geared up to take his chemical smoothie to market (the natural thing for a Silicon Valley-ite to do upon inventing anything), the objections started to chunkily pour in like mineral-packed oat-water in a Nalgene bottle. The most common include the following:

  • The body needs whole foods and not atomic nutrients; the synergy between diverse ingredients is what matters in nutritional uptake.
  • We don’t know what we don’t know about nutrition (i.e. Soylent might be unexpectedly harmful).
  • The inventor has zero background in health.
  • Some of its core ingredients are nutritionally empty.
  • If food is too hard, you’re doing it wrong.”
  • It’s “ludicrous” and “dangerously unhealthy.
  • It hasn’t been scientifically tested by anyone but the founder.

I love food as much as the next person. As a New Yorker, I hang out with whole foodies, juicers, raw vegans, and holistic health coaches aplenty. As a vegetarian, I am no stranger to dire warnings about dietary choices, or superstitions many people have about food. But as a technologist, I can relate to Rhinehart’s questioning of the assumptions we perceive as granted. (For example, I’m nervous about antioxidants, as some studies indicate they’re harmful to the point of causing cancer; however, most of us assume “high in antioxidants” is a selling point.)

So, when I look at the above list of objections, I think this:

  • The body needs whole foods, not atomic nutrients; the synergy between diverse ingredients is what matters in nutritional uptake. This sounds nice, but has not been scientifically proven. 
  • We don’t know what we don’t know about nutrition (i.e. Soylent might be unexpectedly harmful). That’s not a good reason to not try to innovate. Why not do some tests?
  • The inventor has zero background in health. If we’re going to dabble in logical fallacies, this one is better: If a man with a bachelor’s degree can invent self-landing rockets, then a kid with the same degree and a blender can invent a meal replacement drink.
  • Some of its core ingredients are nutritionally empty. The Soylent team claims they’re updating the formula to resolve such concerns. But even so, is Soylent on the whole less healthy than the average person’s diet? Are the “filler” ingredients supplemented in a way that delivers balanced nutrition? Those are the questions that need answering.
  • “If food is too hard, you’re doing it wrong.” Given the obesity epidemic in America and the number of malnourished people in the world (including America), it’s not a stretch to say food is indeed hard for a whole lot of people.
  • It’s “ludicrous” and “dangerously unhealthy.” Given the lack up scientific backup for such statements, this is only conjecture at this point.
    (Interesting side note: Rhinehart told me that Soylent meets FDA guidelines; the crowdfunding campaign says the components are FDA approved, and Soylent will be made with “strict regulatory controls.” I’m curious what those controls are, but it sounds to me like he is essentially cooking with FDA approved ingredients but hasn’t gone through the nightmare that is the FDA testing process on the final product yet. Not that FDA approval means something is perfectly safe for all people, per se.)
  • It hasn’t been scientifically tested by anyone but the founder. I want to test it.

As the crowdfunding orders piled up, and it became clear that Soylent’s delivery would be delayed like every Kickstarter project ever funded, I asked Rhinehart if I might get my hands on some supply, so I could do a gruel-based version of Supersize Me and measure the results of what Soylent does to a mildly out of shape 28-year-old.

He shipped me two weeks’ worth.

Then, I asked Tim Ferriss, himself a body hacker whose penchant for lateral thinking is refreshing in the echo chamber of interest-conflicted health bloggers and naysayers, for advice on how to make my two-week study scientific. He had a company called Basis overnight me a health tracking wristband, gave some advice regarding blood tests, and said, “Keep me posted!”

Now, I knew that two weeks was probably not enough time to see dramatic changes, but it is enough time, worst-case scenario, to do some damage. (However, total meltdown didn’t seem likely.) What I wanted to do was begin testing the conclusions that Rhinehart and his company had claimed, that compared to the average person’s diet…

  1. Soylent provides all the energy and nutrients the body needs.
  2. The body can absorb all the nutrients Soylent provides.
  3. Soylent makes one more alert.
  4. Soylent can help people cut fat and maintain good body weight.
  5. Soylent saves time and money.
  6. And at the end of the day: Soylent isn’t dangerous.

I consider myself a pretty health-conscious person. No alcohol. No meat. Slow-carbs when possible. Run three miles, three times a week. Pull-ups, push-ups on the days I don’t run. On the weekends, however, my weaknesses come out: I tend to devour pizza and shotgun Vanilla Coke. Despite what is probably an above-average-health routine, I am out of shape compared to five years ago when I lived in Hawaii and surfed/body-boarded every day, and I’m certain that I don’t get all the vitamins and nutrients I need—especially things like Omega-3s that vegetarians have a tough time eeking out of spinach and arugula smoothies.

Here’s what a typical day’s worth of food looks like for me:

Breakfast = Muscle Milk (often I’ll also have mate tea when I first get up)

Lunch = Chipotle vegetarian burrito (or something akin to it) and a Diet Coke

Dinner = Take out, usually something like Thai red curry with tofu

Snack = Typically, a handful or two of peanut M&Ms from the office; almonds if I’m lucky

Nutrition Facts–Grand Total:

Calories: 1862

Total Fat: 74.1g

Saturated Fat: 24.5g

Trans Fat: 0

Cholesterol: 19mg

Sodium: 4,277mg

Potassium: 1,395mg

Carbohydrates: 199.5g

Dietary Fiber: 34g

Sugars: 45g

Protein: 88g

Vitamin A: 96%

Vitamin C: 139%

Calcium: 105%

Iron: 84%

Vitamin D: 35%

Thiamin: 35%

Niacin: 35%

Folate: 35%

Biotin: 35%

Phosphorus: 35%

Magnesium: 35%

Copper: 35%

Vitamin E: 35%

Riboflavin: 35%

Vitamin B6: 35%

Vitamin B12: 35%

Pantothenic Acid: 35%

Iodine: 35%

Zinc: 35%

Chromium: 35%

Want to see the individual nutrition facts for each item? Here they are:

Muscle Milk Diet Coke Chipotle Burrito Thai Red Curry (x2 servings) Rice Peanut M&Ms

 

Total Cost:

$24 / day

 

For two weeks, I traded that in for this:

Shane Holding Soylent

Ingredients:

 (Click to enlarge. Note that my shipment had two weeks’s supply, though this paper says one.)

 

Nutrition Facts:

Soylent isn’t supplying a finalized nutrition facts list until the company launches this Fall, but here’s the breakdown based on information Rhinehart shared with me and has posted online, based on daily nutrition percentages for an adult male and the recommended daily serving size of Soylent. (Download his most recent nutrition facts sheet here.)

Calories: 2404

Total Fat: 65g

Saturated Fat: 95% of daily recommended value

Trans Fat: 0

Cholesterol: 0

Sodium: 2.4g

Potassium: 3.5g

Carbohydrates: 400g

Dietary Fiber: 40g

Sugars: ?

Protein: 80g (Note that early reports declared that Soylent had 50g of protein; Rhinehart recently revised his blog to say 120g of protein now, though he told me it was 80g in the Soylent Version 0.8 that I drank. The formula isn’t final yet.)

Vitamin A: 100%

Vitamin C: 100%

Calcium: 100%

Iron: 100%

Vitamin D: 100%

Thiamin: 100%

Niacin: 100+%

Folate: 100%

Biotin: 100%

Phosphorus: 140%

Magnesium: 112%

Copper: 100%

Vitamin E: 100%

Riboflavin: 100%

Vitamin B6: 100%

Vitamin B12: 100%

Pantothenic Acid: 100%

Iodine: 100%

Zinc: 100%

Chromium: 100%

 

Cost:

$9 / day (at the crowdfunding campaign price)

 

Observations

 

Day 0

The day before Soylent, I went in to my doctor for some fasting blood tests. Tim recommended a comprehensive swath of exams via WellnessFX, a company that collects and visualizes health information in cool, newfangled ways. Unfortunately, the nearest clinic was two states away from me. Most of the tests in WellnessFX’s “Cadillac” suite don’t have to do with dietary changes (according to my doctor), but were just plain cool and important to know about in general. So I did the next best thing and got a few panels—ones that a local nutritionist recommended—at my doctor’s office and had them shipped to a lab that WellnessFX uses. (Also note: if I had gotten the comprehensive suite here in New York, it would have cost over $5,000 to cobble together the individual tests on my own! One day, I will spring for that, but not today.)

[TIM: I disagree with Shane's doc and would argue that most blood markers can be moved up or down by diet. After all, outside of physical environments/pollutants, what other primary epigenetic inputs have greater global effects?  From liver enzymes to gene expression, you are what you eat.]

Then, I attempted to do 3 different body composition and weight tests: my FitBit home scale, a bioelectrical impedance body composition analyzer (or BIA, for which I used an InBody 230 at a local gym), and a DEXA scan at a local radiology lab. Bad news struck once again, as the DEXA scanner table was broken, “but will be fixed in two weeks.” After calling the only place in NYC that I could find that has a Bod Pod (Brooklyn College) and getting voice mail every day for a week, I decided to bag the third body scan. It was the before/after comparison that mattered anyway, which I would get with the other two just fine.

Finally, I took some tests on Quantified-Mind.com to measure my mental alertness while I was eating my typical diet of burritos and Diet Wild Cherry Pepsi. In this way, I could try to reproduce Rhinehart’s claim that Soylent improves mental acuity.

I normally wear a Jawbone UP bracelet to measure my steps and sleep, but Tim recommended the Basis band, which measures those things plus skin temperature and heart rate, so I started wearing that.

I was determined to eliminate any other variables, including bedtime, stress, and exercise, so I tried to stick to my regular routines before, during, and after the trial, and I did my best to standardize my sleep schedule and the times I weighed and measured myself, for both mind and body tests.

And then I had a mini party for myself, gorged on all the foods I shouldn’t eat, and went to bed with food in my belly for the last time.

 

Days 1-3

(Me. 7am. Looking like some sort of a wild animal.)

My first surprise was that Soylent tasted fine, familiar even. It’s easy to gulp down quickly. In fact, as someone who’s used to drinking disgusting vegan protein shakes made out of peas and hemp, I found it quite pleasant.

On the first day, I was struck with a wave of exhaustion around 3:30, and I had a “tired headache” the rest of the afternoon. This low energy in the afternoon is common for me, but felt particularly bad this day. I blamed it on the Vanilla Coke at 11pm the night before.

Months ago, my doctor had told me I had a mild amount of acid reflux. It hadn’t bothered me lately. But as soon as I started the Soylent, I noticed that the back of my throat started feeling like fire.

On the second day, it was clear to me that I was psyching myself out on the “no food” thing. My nose seemed to pick up the scent of food everywhere. I even wrote this in my journal:

“Last night I had a dream that I ate a brownie, and halfway through the brownie realized that I was only supposed to be eating Soylent for the next two weeks.”

By the end of Day 3 I realized that if I drank more Soylent in the morning and rationed it less, I had great energy levels in the afternoon. On Days 1 and 2, I drank about half of my supply by 8pm when I got home, and on the days that I tried to drink 3/4 of my supply by mid-afternoon, I felt great.

But also by the end of Day 3, I had a monster canker sore on my bottom lip.

 

Days 4-6

(Me. 7am. Still looking haggard.)

By the fourth day of Soylent, I turned a corner. I started feeling noticeably great. I didn’t get the afternoon doldrums, I wasn’t starving, and had plenty of energy for my regular, 3-mile run along the West Side of Manhattan. On Sunday, I held a marathon writing session, where I didn’t even look up for over 6 hours—a shocking feat for me lately. And my burning reflux throat was completely gone. Though the canker sore was still going strong.

WARNING: Skip to the next section if you don’t like reading about poop.

It was around this time that something I should have anticipated—but hadn’t—finally happened. My poop became Soylent. Typically (and forgive me if this is TMI) I have a bowel movement once a day; it’s rare that I don’t. With Soylent, I started going every two days. And by the time everything from before made it out of my system, said infrequent bowel movements became extremely sticky and, ahem… off-whitish-tan. It was gross, but felt strangely… purifying?

 

Days 7-9

(Me. 7am. Look who took a shower!)

I stopped craving food at this point. I felt fantastic. I sat at a work outing and didn’t care that I wasn’t eating the delicious guacamole that everyone was passing around. I would watch people leave for lunch breaks and chortle to myself while I got an hour of extra work done and sipped my Soylent. My energy levels were higher than I had felt in a while. I didn’t feel that sort of shaky invincible like you do after drinking a Red Bull, but I felt pretty darn close to it.

But on Day 8, something peculiar happened. I got really bad vertigo in the afternoon. Then again the next afternoon.

I soon realized this was because I had been cheating since Day 7.

What happened was my blender broke. I had been shaking and stirring Soylent by hand, which meant I wasn’t able to get all the clumps out. By this time (and either it was my batch settling or me starting to get lazy at stirring), the chunks in my mixtures were getting huge. The white stuff that was mixed into the tan stuff was floating to the top and congealing together. For the last few days, I’d tried swallowing the white chunks down and gagged on them. So I just started just scooping them out.

I’m pretty sure the white chunks were the rice protein, and perhaps something else important. Whatever it was was causing my blood sugar to crash. On the afternoon of Day 9, I bought a Magic Bullet.

 

Days 10-13

(Hey, look at you, Mr. Morning Person!)

The Magic Bullet did the trick. I fully mixed and fully drank my Soylent, and soon felt great. No more vertigo. Energy levels still at an all time high.

At this point, I was becoming hyper productive—both because I felt like it and because I was no longer using food as a procrastination method in my life. One of my coworkers told me I was more wired and chipper than he’d ever seen me.

[TIM:  The "food as procrastination technique" is a non-trivial point. It's critical to always ask yourself: "What else could explain this effect?"  Personally, I love to delay writing by snacking and drinking when totally unnecessary.  If Soylent removes these delay tactics, is the improvement due to biochemical change or a behavioral change?]

Also by this time, the canker sore was completely gone (I am told it was stress), and there was still no more sign of the reflux (perhaps also stress?).

I was happy. Life was starting to feel simple. I felt… lighter… inside. Which is a hard thing to objectively measure, but that was the case.

And by the final day, to my surprise, I found myself wishing I had two more weeks’ of Soylent left.

 

Aftermath

My first day back to real food was a bit of a doozy. I took all the blood tests and body scans in the morning, fasting, and then went straight to upstate New York for a meeting. In the meeting, we were served pasta salad and melty cheese sandwiches, which I promptly devoured. And then felt like a camel had kicked me in the intestines. Later that day, I ate half of a pizza from Angelo’s in Midtown (great place, btw) and washed down some vitamins with Muscle Milk to ensure some modicum of nutrition.

And the next day I felt gross.

Inspired by my experience with Soylent, and with that junk food binge over and done, I committed to eating healthier on my own. And I have. I cut soda out of my diet entirely—an easy thing to do after two weeks off. After a couple days of mild indulgence on things like bread and chocolate, I’ve now restarted Tim’s Slow-Carb Diet™, this time with what appears to be a little more will power. I even started working out with a trainer. (No more half-hearted pull-ups!)

Though I felt a noticeable difference in energy after the first couple of days, once I started eating healthy on my own, I feel like I’m somewhere between my “normal” and “Soylent” level. Which is not too shabby.

(Oh, and it took two days for poop to not be Soylent anymore; four to completely return to normal. Hooray.)

 

Data

Here’s the raw data from my tests, plus explanations when needed:

Weight / Body Composition:

This is the embarrassing part where everyone gets to see how out of shape I am. (Note to any lazy future news reporters who arrive at this page via Google or some other future search engine: Do not describe me as 160 lbs and made of 20% fat in any future articles. I’ll soon be a changed man, I swear!)

InBody 230 (BIA) Scan, BEFORE:

(enlarge)

InBody 230 Scan, AFTER:

(Enlarge)

The BIA indicates that I lost 7.7 lbs in these two weeks. (Awesome!) Concerningly, I seemed to have lost 3 lbs of fat and 4.7 lbs of lean mass. (Hmm….)

Fortunately, only 1.2 lbs of that lean mass was “dry lean mass” aka muscle. The rest was apparently water weight. So I had a 3:1 fat loss to muscle loss ratio, which is much less concerning.

My home scale tells the same story, just scaled down about 5 lbs:

 

FitBit WiFi Scale, BEFORE:

FitBit WiFi Scale, AFTER:

I’m not quite so heavy on the home scale; that’s undoubtedly because the bio-electrical scanner scans you while you’re still wearing your clothes, and I was wearing pretty heavy jeans the first time I went in. To make sure clothes weren’t a factor, I wore the same jeans when I went back in the second time (both times I wore a V-neck t-shirt of similar weight).

For anyone who’s curious, I do have DEXA scans, which the place with the broken table (Chelsea Diagnostic in Manhattan) took of me on the last day of Soylent. They pretty much corroborate the %s. Here’s a fun picture:

 

Blood Panels:

I had several blood panels tested before and after, with the following results:

 

Bloodwork BEFORE:

(Click either of the below images to enlarge)

Bloodwork AFTER:

(Click either of the below images to enlarge)

You can pore through the data yourselves, but the areas that stick out to me are the following:

  • Fasting Glucose went down
  • Sodium and Potassium and Chloride and Carbon Dioxide and Nitrogen and Calcium stayed relatively the same
  • Creatinine went up 30%
  • Estimated Glomerular Filtration Rate dropped 27%
  • Total Cholesterol went from 127 to 117, dipping just below the normal range. (Says the nurse at my doctor’s office, “The abnormal result was your total cholesterol level which was 117mg/dL. The low limit is 25mg/dL, so it was only slightly out of range. When your levels are high this is a concern, but low cholesterol is not anything to worry about.”)
  • HDL Cholesterol (the good kind) stayed basically the same
  • LDL Cholesterol (the bad kind) went down from 66 to 63
  • “Non HDL” Cholesterol (I assume more of the bad kind) went from 82 to 73
  • Triglycerides, or fat in the blood stream, dropped 46% (apparently lowering my risk of heart disease)
  • Monocytes, Absolute went up 25%
  • Eosinophils, Absolute went down 33%
  • Basophils, Absolute went up 25%

Mental Alertness:

I tested my reaction times via a site called Quantified-Mind early on and toward the end of my Soylent trial (and attempting to get the same amount of sleep before each test, also mitigating other variables such as mood or time of day). The site puts you through a battery of tests, randomized in groups of 7, so the results below are a combination of a couple of trials that I did in order to get matching tests both times.

(Enlarge)

Higher scores mean better reaction times and accuracty. As you can see, I improved across the board. This seems to corroborate the observation that I was feeling more alert and mentally snappy.

 

Vital Signs & Steps:

I wore a Basis band for the duration of the trial (with the exception of Day 5, when the battery ran out, and I left it at home charging). Below are some screenshots of early days on Soylent versus later days on Soylent.

(click either of the below to enlarge)

(Key: Blue line is skin temperature; red line is heart rate; orange bars are steps walked or run. Gaps are when I took the thing off for some reason.)

It’s difficult to pick out many Soylent-related insights from these charts, other than nothing crazy went on with my heart or skin temp throughout the trial. One interesting tidbit is my sleeping heart rate seemed to smooth out the longer I was on Soylent. There was less jumping up from 45 to 53 beats per minute and back.

I asked Bharat Vasan, one of the founders of Basis, to take a look at the limited data set I collected and help me unpack what happened. He dumped my data into a spreadsheet (which you can view in its entirety here), and commented on the following highlights:

  • RHR:  Your Resting Heart Rate had declined over the last 3 days of data from 50bpm to 46bpm which could be a sign of improved fitness. There are also other factors that could have contributed to it from your diet or sleep patterns. It may be interesting to chart your weight against resting heart rate. 
  • Sleep: You slept a little over 8 hours a night (both average and median) which is the great since that’s what’s recommended. Sleep times seem to have been pretty consistent with a couple of late nights (judging from the patterns chart below).

(Side note: one of the cool things the Basis tracks is perspiration vs heart rate. Notice with this chart how my perspiration spiked even at times when my heart rate was normal. “Potentially due to an emotional reaction or temperature changes,” Bharat tells me. Does that have to do with diet? I’m not sure. But it’s interesting.)

Cost:

Regular diet (not including meals out with friends on weekends, which almost always includes dinner Friday night and brunch Saturday): $24/day

Soylent diet: $9/day

Savings: $15/day or $105/week ($5,460/year)

(If you include $80/weekend I typically spend on eating out here in New York, then that’s another $4,160/year, for a total of $9,620.)

 

Potential weaknesses in the data:

Although I attempted to eliminate variables that could affect any of my before/after measurements (such as wearing the same clothes for the bioelectrical impedance scan and taking photos and tests at about the same times of day), the following things could have affected the final data:

1) I took my second BIA approximately 3 hours earlier in the day than the first one. Though I drank tons of water during Soylent, according to the instructions, those missing 4 lbs of water weight indicate I may have been less hydrated when I came in the second time. And studies of BIA measurement (on obese subjects, at least) indicate that hydration potentially alters the accuracy of BIA muscle and fat measurement.

2) On that note: I drank more water during my 2 weeks of Soylent than I normally do. How much of my results could be attributed to that change versus the actual Soylent ingredients, I’m not sure. But it could be a factor.

3) An alternative explanation to my improved scores on Quantified Mind could be that I simply got better at the tests because I had taken them before.

4) This experiment only looks at the effects of addition (I added Soylent). The gaping hole is that I couldn’t properly test the effects of subtraction of elements of my regular diet. What if the elimination of diet caffeinated soda is what really caused the fat loss? What if Muscle Milk was making me sluggish, rather than Soylent making me alert? (I think these explanations are probably unlikely, but I’d rather be certain than hunch-driven.)

5) Perhaps most importantly with a one-man experiment like this, I’m not immune to the possibility of a placebo effect. Would I have had similar results if someone told me that a pizza-only diet would make me skinnier and snappier? (P.S. If that diet ever becomes a thing, count me in.)

 

What I would do differently next time:

I believe a 30- or 60-day Soylent trial would produce more conclusive (and perhaps dramatic) results than the two weeks. Before embarking on such a trial, I would test (or study) the elimination of various elements of my diet, one by one, to account for the effects of subtraction on all of the measurements I took.

Second, I would like to test Soylent with a number of subjects, and give half of them placebos. The difficulty here, of course, is in the details, and in the possibility of really screwing the placebo people over. (Do you give them a drink that truly is nutritionally empty and then watch them nearly starve to death? What do you split test: high carbs and low carbs, high vitamins and low vitamins, individual ingredients? Do you blend up a day’s worth of Chipotle and Muscle Milk and dye it tan as a control?)

I would certainly do a DEXA scan or Bod Pod before and after, not just BIA and a home scale. (Couldn’t help it this time with the broken table at one location and summer break at the other. Also, how does the entire city of Manhattan only have one of each of these?!)

To better measure muscle gain or loss, I would physically measure the inches of my waist, arms, chest, legs, and neck before and after.

Finally, to really make things interesting, I would love to split test subjects living off of various other meal replacements (they’re out there). The Ultimate Meal, GNC’s Lean Shake, Slim Fast,  Naturade—shoot, even Muscle Milk (if I drank 4 of my 34g shakes a day, I’d get 100% of nearly all my vitamins and tons of protein).

While we’re at it, we might as well put the test subjects all in a house together and let MTV film. ;)

 

Conclusions

After looking over the data and my daily observational journals, it appears that a Soylent diet contains more nutrition than my typical diet, and that I was able to absorb said nutrition sufficiently well. Even though I’m not in the habit of putting many bad substances in my body (except for caffeinated soda, which I have now cut off), I was definitely getting more balance and less junk via Soylent than I do with my normal routine. My blood tests show that I remained healthy under a Soylent regimen. I had no weird heart rate or sleep issues (and in fact seem to have slept better than normal), and I was indeed more alert.

However, the composition of my weight loss (3 lbs of fat and 1.2 lbs of muscle shed) indicates that I wasn’t getting enough protein to maintain lean muscle, given my height/weight and the 3-mile runs and pullups/pushups I do 3x a week. This speaks to the challenges of creating a one-size-fits-all formula in a food replacement. When I try Soylent again in the Fall, once the company ships orders, I plan to supplement with extra protein. Of course, Rhinehart and team are still tweaking the formula. They say they will soon release different flavors, and Rhinehart indicated to me that they could adjust the mixture for athletes. So more optimal protein/carb mixtures are likely in the cards at some point.

Going along with some of the skeptics I mentioned earlier, I do question the high amount of carbs and the use of oat flour and maltodextrin in the Soylent 0.8 formula; why not something healthier to deliver energy, like quinoa? Perhaps it’s a cost issue?

One thing to note is that these guys aren’t marketing Soylent as a fat-shredding regimen. It’s meant to be a health simplification diet. And that it absolutely was. Shockingly, so, I might add, because I expected to be miserable the whole time and was in fact quite happy. Beyond the time savings (and not having to think about food much), I was struck by how much easier it was to stick to a diet as simple as Soylent versus any other diet I’ve tried. As they say, it’s easier to be 100% obedient to a diet than 99%. Soylent left no room for debate, and therefore turned out to be quite easy.

(Though sticking to the diet was surprisingly easy, I did have one gripe: Nalgene bottles are a rather bad user experience with anything but water. The mouth of the bottle is huge, making it easy to spill. And spilled Soylent dries like paper mache.)

By far, the most interesting result to me was the cost and time savings of living on Soylent. I saved $200 during my trial. This is good news for the company’s greater mission of combating world hunger—especially since I imagine they’ll be able to manufacture and ship the stuff to impoverished areas at much cheaper than the kickstarter price. (One side note: the use of Soylent requires access to clean water, so there will be additional logistical challenges to making a “cure-all” for the world’s starving.)

My two weeks of Soylent is just a data point among a flood of results that will come out as the powder hits the market this fall. Long-term, clinical trials are certainly going to go a long way to proving the stuff’s effectiveness and safety to a degree that will not leave nutritionists nervous. But in my limited data set, signs point in a positive direction for the Soylent crew.

On the other hand, food is delicious. Much more delicious than Soylent, even though Soylent isn’t awful.

“We’re definitely not trying to compete with the experience of your mom’s cooking,” Rhinehart tells me. “Our goal is to make food more like water.”

I found a new appreciation for good food after living on Soylent for two weeks. That first bite of Angelo’s Pizza on my first day off was a truly aesthetic experience.

But all the freedom to eat heavenly, post-experiment food didn’t prevent me from saving half a bottle of Soylent after the last day of my diet, just in case I needed a quick meal sometime.

It wasn’t long before I did.

Shane Snow is a technology journalist in New York City. He contributes regularly to Wired Magazine, Fast Company, Advertising Age, and more. Follow him on Twitter @shanesnow or on his LinkedIn Influencer blog at http://www.linkedin.com/influencer/7374576. And if you’re especially adventurous, subscribe to his private mailing list at http://eepurl.com/yJaEP

 

Open Questions:

I came away from my Soylent experiment with a few unanswered questions. I’d love any insights or opinions from Tim’s readers on the following:

1) How much of a problem are the so-called “nutritionally empty” ingredients like Maltodextrin? Are carbs from that source (or oat flour) just as good as other carbs, so long as one gets all the other vitamins and minerals from other sources?

2) What powder-izable ingredients might one swap in for any of the Soylent ingredients to further optimize the formula?

3) What other variables ought to be controlled for in future experiments with Soylent?

4) What’s the probable explanation for the acid reflux and canker sores in the first few days? Is it possible that they were related to Soylent, or more likely related to other factors in my life?

5) Also, can we suggest some more marketable names than Soylent? (Or is the fact that it’s a hoax-sounding name good for marketing?)

Afterword from Tim

I commend the Soylent team for attempting to simplify food. The problems of nutrition and world hunger are worth tackling.

That said, I’d be remiss if I didn’t highlight a few points, voice a few concerns, and pose a few questions. Soylent has done an incredible job of building an international PR platform, sparked from single well-done blog post written before it was a business.

And with great audience comes great responsibility.

Food isn’t a game, and people can die. I propose that — if Soylent doesn’t modify it’s claims — people will die. For their customers and investors to remain intact, allow me to highlight a few things:

- Meal-replacement powders aren’t new. The only reason SF-based investors think it’s new it because of a novel target market: time-starved techies. Met-Rx pioneered meal-replacement powders (MRP’s) in the 1990’s, and there have been dozens of copycats since. From the Wikipedia entry:

Created by Dr. A Scott Connelly, an anesthesiologist, the original MET-Rx product was intended to help prevent critically ill patients from losing muscle mass. Connelly’s product was marketed in cooperation with Bill Phillips and the two began marketing to the bodybuilding and athletic communities, launching sales from the low hundreds of thousands to over $100 million annually. Connelly sold all interest in the company to Rexall Sundown for $108 million in 2000. MET-Rx is currently owned by NBTY.

- Be careful with any terminology like “FDA-approved” or indirect implications of medical-like claims. Get a good regulatory affairs law firm familiar with both compliance and litigation. Consumables at scale involve lawsuits.

- It’s premature to believe we can itemize a finite list of what the human body needs. To quote N.N. Taleb, this is “epistemic arrogance.” Sailors only need protein and potatoes? Oops, didn’t know about scurvy and vitamin C. We need fat-soluble vitamins? Oops, consumers get vitamin A or D poisoning, as it’s stored in body fat.

But let’s put aside a complex system like the human body–what about an isolated minimally-viable cell? Craig Venter, who sequenced the human genome, was recently interviewed by Bloomberg Businessweek on his team’s attempts to build one:

We’re trying to design a basic life form–the minimal criteria for life. It’s very hard to do it because roughly 10 percent of the genes are of completely unknown function. All we know is if we take them out of the cell, the cell dies. So we’re dealing with the limitations of biology.

Upshot: The human body isn’t well understood at all.

This doesn’t mean you can’t attempt to create good nutritional products; it does mean you need to mind your claims.

- Nutrition and people are not one-size-fits-all. Among the Soylent claims Shane outlined, there are the below. I’ve added my comments:

Soylent provides all the energy and nutrients the body needs.
[TIM: I'm not convinced Soylent can prove this.]

The body can absorb all the nutrients Soylent provides.
[TIM: I'm not convinced Soylent can prove this for healthy, normal subjects, let alone -- for instance -- people with celiac disease who cannot handle grains.]

Soylent makes one more alert.
[TIM: If measured, this could potentially be demonstrated.]

Soylent can help people cut fat and maintain good body weight.
[TIM: Be wary of any structure or function claims. Reword.]

Soylent saves time and money.
[TIM: Provable compared to another defined group (e.g. eating at Chipotle), but not across the board.]

And at the end of the day: Soylent isn’t dangerous.
[TIM: I'm not convinced Soylent can prove this. Where are the data? Safe for how long?]

I think claiming to know all the nutrients human’s require is dangerous. Claiming something is “safe” as opposed to a more objective/provable “all ingredients are on the GRAS list” is also playing with fire.

Given your early adopters, there’s a good chance you’ll have at least a handful of Type-I and Type-II diabetics (among other medical conditions) who are engineers prone to enjoying extremes. How do manage that with your user directions and messaging? What if they’re 100 pounds instead of 180? Or 350 pounds instead of 180? Don’t expect “Don’t use Soylent if you have a pre-existing medical condition” to stop them from using it exclusively as food, if that’s your positioning.

Tread carefully. Moderate claims are nothing to be ashamed of and can be monetized incredibly well. Don’t roll the dice with your customers’ long-term health.

Best of luck. I really hope you guys figure it out.

###

And dear readers, what do you think of Soylent’s approach and the above experiment?

Please join the conversation in the comments below. There several MDs, nurses, and nutritionists kindly offering their professional opinions (and answering questions).

Posted on: August 20, 2013.

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580 comments on “Soylent: What Happened When I Stopped Eating For 2 Weeks

  1. It’s no surprise that the typical American diet doesn’t contain adequate nutrients for our body. Regardless of how “healthy” you think you are, it is extremely beneficial to supplement with a quality nutritional supplement. The can of diet coke made me cringe, but I try to avoid pop all together, diet or otherwise.
    Certainly a neat experiment, but my advice to people trying to live a healthy lifestyle is eat whole foods, fortify nutritional intake with quality natural supplements (acetyl glutathione, coq10, vitamin d3 and others) and lead at least a moderately active lifestyle (even a 20 minute walk everyday). This story is sure to stir up some opinions and hopefully warrants further study into complete nutritional alternatives.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s unfortunate the capitalist system we live with doesn’t foster a healthy environment for people to live in, making sure people have access to quality food. I’m optimistic things will change though.

      Like

      • Capitalism doesn’t offer people access to quality food? Try living in Soviet Russia, North Korea or Feudal Europe and tell me capitalism is bad. Look at the levels of food produced in capitalist and non capitalist societies and tell me that capitalism is somehow denying people access to quality food.

        Like

      • Politics aside, the soil simple doesn’t contain the nutrients it did even 30 years ago. Paired with highly processed diets it is no wonder nutrient deficiency is so widespread, even among “healthy” individuals.

        Like

      • Hahaha, you compared American Capitalism to Soviet Russia, North Korea and MIDDLE AGE EUROPE… Damn, your statement clearly shows where this American Predatory Capitalism (Unfortunate Status Quo) belongs. Among the worst systems in the history of humanity. If you look at Asia and Europe, South America and so forth as an average, they offer much much healthier food than corporate America, that is for sure. America haven’t been a true capitalist country in decades, I hope you wake up.

        Like

      • I do agree with Matt Myers on this one. Maybe worded a bit differently. It’s not so much that capitalism denies access to healthy food, but unfortunately like water running down hill, just follow the flow of money. Whether it’s the government subsidizing corn farmers and making Dorito’s a home run financially, or making it much more profitable for corporations to sell high sodium high shelf life foods than healthier foods, the water flows to higher profit not so healthy foods. Combine that with a general lack of education regarding nutrition, and you have a perfect storm. Unfortunate. Maybe not a direct correlation to capitalism, and I’m not suggeting that communism or something in between would be better, but the problem is real and seems to be getting worse….

        Like

    • Jeff- I couldn’t have said it better! It’s scary to think we have to start coming up with alternative nutritional choices because of the quality of our food (or lack of food). I agree this needs further testing and experimentation!

      Like

      • Agreed it needs more testing than 1 person’s story but what a fantastically well document experiment!

        Fair few people find excellent results by cutting out food (like 5:2 diet attached) but having all nutrients you need makes more sense to me instead of just IF.

        In future I would imagine your Soylent could be tailored to your exact body’s requirement, how awesome would that be!

        Like

    • Jeff – agreed. I do see this product having great potential for 3rd-world countries that have limited food and resources, but for the typical American or 1st-world person, I don’t see the appeal over whole foods other than ease of preparation.

      For people with money and access to real food, why choose “Frankenfoods” over some hearty steak, greens, and fruits? (And lets not get started on “red meat causing heart attacks” – http://www.brainbodybelly.com/2013/02/05/red-meat-and-heart-attacks/ – <— This states my thoughts exactly.)

      Like

      • if soylent is costing USD 3.10 (190 rupees) per meal then its very expensive for 3rd world countries to afford. in India one can get a decent meal for 20 rupees but soylent would cost almost 10 times. its an expensive substitute at current rate.

        Like

    • @ jeff look at what a typical college student eats – mostly junk food. it’s amazing that the human body is able to consume such crap and still function. I think soylent is a excellent idea – however it’s just a new positioning in marketing and not really something totally new as meal replacements have been around for a long time. The novel idea is consuming only a meal replacement and no whole foods. That is the controversially.

      Like

      • This is the root of the problem in a sense, most people eat junk regularly. They know better, they understand it is unhealthy, but they choose to do it anyway. It is not enough to simply know what is healthy and what isn’t, most of the time it takes a severe health condition to open their eyes and prompt dietary changes. I run into this problem daily through my health blog, I promote a total immune health supplement that is simply outstanding, an ingredient list that is bar none. But regardless of how remarkable this product is, and highlighting just what it can do for your health, people have a hard time coming to terms with spending the money on their health. Now bring that full circle to making wise dietary choices and the same problem arises, people don’t want to make the effort or spend the money on their health. If you simply focus on prevention and make healthy choices before your health is compromised you can not only prevent these health conditions from arising in the first place, but you can dramatically improve your well-being and quality of life.

        Like

  2. Fascinating post, Tim and Shane. Tim, after reading your argument against plant-based diets in 4HB (“we don’t know what we don’t know” about the body and nutrition), I’d be up in arms if you didn’t say the same thing here. Glad you did.

    I can’t see how this can possibly be good for long-term health, but then again, I’m a whole-foodist. But for helping provide bare-minimum nutrition in situations where it’s inconvenient or impossible (or unaffordable)? I think that’s where Soylent could prove extremely useful.

    Like

  3. First!

    Is it primarily derived from soy? I am not a big fan of soy products and think it should be avoided most of the time. I used to be a big fan of making homemade protein drinks as they can be easily digested, but for me having carbohydrates such as berries, bananas causes me to feel very bloated.

    From personal experience and also research I think that people need different amounts of micro and macro-nutrients depending on a number of factors which are hard if not impossible to calculate or find out. I know that personally since I deal with a number of uncommon health issues which are primarily genetic that I need extra amounts of b vitamins than other people. Also many vitamins/minerals have several different forms which people respond to differently and some are better absorbed than others.

    For example vitamins/minerals which are oxides are not easily absorbed and are the worst form to supplement with. Also supplements with with sulfate or sulfur compounds in them (thiols) can cause problems with a number of people. Other examples such as taking folic acid (the synthetic form of the b vitamin) are not recommended and people should supplement with the methyfolate form or other forms of folate.

    Like

      • The body can tolerate it but it has no advantages over other foods. Soy should be avoided mostly due to the polyunsaturated fat, the fact that its likely GMO, and the anti-nutrients/phytoestrogens it contains.

        Like

      • Just read the ingredients; soy lecithin is the twelveth ingredient, third from last. It seems rice is the source of protein (third ingredient) and it is more an oat-rice based drink than soy so the name is missleading. I would try it since it’s not all or mostly soy and the amount since so little.

        Like

      • GMO does not equal bad. GMOs are fighting malnutrition and deforestation. Can we please stop blending agricultural monopolies with GMO production.

        Like

      • @Matt

        GMOs may be causing a different kind of malnutrition since the body does not know always how to process it, and deforestation can be solve many other ways (urban sprawl restrictions, more stringent rainforest protection, less eating of meat since it takes 7 pounds of corn in to create one pound of beef out, etc).

        My perception is that Richard’s comment is valid to consider.

        Like

      • And what if soy products make up a substantial part of a persons diet, not just a small serving here and there?

        I understand that journalistic sensationalism has exaggerated the entire ‘dangerous soy’ notion.

        But, lots of products nowadays contain soy and therefore many people aren’t even aware sometimes when they ingest it. I mean it was a shocker to me once I realized how many Whey products contain soy, not to forget protein bars and other bodybuilding products.

        Also isn’t this a contradiction?

        “If you even reach a level where soy is causing you problems, the problem is your overall diet, not soy.”

        If soy is causing you problems how is it for sure be your overall diet that is messed up, isn’t that individual? What if a person eats only healthy whole foods, like veggies, fish & eggs, except he or she also consumes a large serving of soy protein powder every day, are you saying this couldn’t possible be a problem, and IF the person has problems it must be the overall diet that causes problems?

        Sorry if I misunderstood you, but your wording was very confusing to me.

        Like

      • You are again confusing the little amounts in day to day food as if they add up as “toxins” that will get you sick.

        That’s not how it works.

        Plus, soy is heavily treated. The “phytoestrogens” that everyone freaks about is irrelevant.

        The link I put in already covers it, but here are the specifics: http://examine.com/faq/is-soy-good-or-bad-for-me.html#summary6

        This isn’t even a matter of focusing on the tree in a forest, it’s more like focusing on a sapling in a forest.

        Like

      • Ummm.. the phytoestrogens can be quite harmful..as they can create make hormones unbalanced esp for women. Plus, can’t digest soy. Soy was never ever meant to consumed in large

        Like

      • Now, that really depends which study you read isn’t it?
        There’s also plenty of evidence that increased soy consumption in Eastern countries is a contributor in lower cancer rates.
        There is really a lot of nonsense going on about nutrition and for nutritionists and researchers, it’s frustrating because sometimes results aren’t published or made public just because it’s not “breaking news” or what the public cares about. So it’s still far too early to say soy goes one way or another. Like another comment mentioned, we still don’t know enough about the human body so nothing is really for sure. All we can do is eat as healthy as we can, enjoy the food (or lack of) and not argue over little details. If you’re not a big fan of soy, then don’t eat it. If you hate blueberries, then don’t eat it. It’s really as simple as that. Is forcing yourself to eat something you don’t like really worth the small risk reduction in cancer some time down the road? Especially if our biggest risk for cancer is already hard coded into us?
        Here’s a great paper (if you’re into the science) that summarizes a lot of what we know on soy.
        Non-isoflavone phytochemicals in soy and their health effects
        Authors: J Kang; TM Badger; MJ Ronis; X Wu
        Published in: Journal of agricultural and food chemistry, 2010 Jul 28; 58(14): 8119-33
        (Sorry I can’t link to it, I found it on an academic database. But probably available wherever you can find this journal)

        Like

    • If you read the entire article you would know that it is NOT made with soy or people. But seriously, I think the way this product will be used is not as a complete meal replacement where whole food is not consumed at all but as a meal supplement. The majority of people will not give up eating food entirely but instead use soylent as a meal supplement in addition to solid food. I’ve been using muscle milk as a meal supplement for a long time. It’s very convenient.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m all for food alternatives… But there’s a problem with Soylent – and it’s in the name. It’s primarily made with soy. Soy by some is touted is a miracle food – yet others say Soy intake leads to increase estrogen levels in men and also tends to lower your testosterone levels. The lack of estrogen and the testosterone are two key ingredients to make men men… Increased estrogen and decreased testosterone make it more difficult to add muscle mass and worse super simple to lose it – as demonstrated in your documents. As a guy in his 40’s when test levels start to drop naturally this is a really bad thing. As a guy in his 20’s doing this wouldn’t necessarily be a good idea. Of course, being smaller is better because there’s less stress on the body and the organs but less muscle could lead to all sorts of issues down the road… Less testosterone will also have a long term cost. Just things to consider. Now substitute soy with some other ingredient, change the name and you could have a winner. ;) (It’ll be a winner anyway I imagine, but I won’t be partaking…)

    Like

      • Just read the ingredients; soy lecithin is the twelveth ingredient, third from last. It seems rice is the source of protein (third ingredient) and it is more an oat-rice based drink than soy based so the name is missleading. I would try it since it’s not all or mostly soy and the amount since so little.

        Like

      • soy lecithin is in pretty much every other processed food. Dont freak out because you read the word soy somewhere luddites!

        Like

    • Except that there’s no soy in Soylent. The name is a play off the famous Charles Heston quote “Soylent Green is people!” and that it was “everything the body needs”.

      Like

    • you realize that there’s actually no soy in there right? But I guess it might be a good idea for them to rebrand simply because there will be people who wont bother to find out and assume that it contains soy. Because reading is so last century!

      Like

    • “Soy intake leads to increase estrogen levels in men and also tends to lower your testosterone levels. The lack of estrogen and the testosterone are two key ingredients to make men men”

      Yawn. This is simply not supported by evidence.

      Like

    • John, John, John, Did you read the article? Soylent contains very little soy. Soylent is named after the Charlton Heston cult film Soylent Green. Soylent Green was made up of human beings, yum!

      Like

  5. Good cautionary statements. I want to point out that a lot of people are mistaking a sudden burst of energy as proof that soylent works – if anything, it likely means you were missing some critical mineral/vitamin and soylent was able to fulfill *that* deficiency. I would not be surprised if Shane had originally been deficient in a combination of Mg, D, and/or Zinc (Mg is a common deficiency). On the flip side, it may be creating deficiencies that will not rear their head well down the road.

    I also think the amount of protein is still a bit too low – that Shane thought he was getting “tons of protein” shows how much confusion there still is on the importance of protein.

    Lastly, I’d point out that the vitamin RDAs are based on staving off diseased states (D = rickets, K = hemorrhaging, etc). If soylent is indeed going for optimal, it should be dosing D (and other minerals/vitamins) at a higher level.

    Like

  6. Agree with your analysis and think they should think hard about your questions.

    To me, the whole premise of Soylent seems flawed – trying to reverse-engineer a magic pill from our current (limited) understanding of nutrition. Very reductive and coming at things from entirely the wrong angle.

    As you say, history is littered with examples of magic pills that were magic up until someone realised they weren’t. (and were in fact poison.)

    Until nutrition is an exact a science as physics or chemistry, we need a different approach: look at healthy people, see what they’re eating, start from there, and iterate as necessary.

    A wholistic paleo-ish philosophy makes infinitely more sense than Soylent: look at the populations that were highly physically functional, fertile and disease free, see what they ate, and see what happens when we eat like that.

    Test and tweak as necessary, informed by biochemistry but guided primarily by the diets and lifestyles of cultures that were healthy.

    Like

    • I think your requests here for reverse engineering “populations that were highly physical functional, fertile and disease free” are borderline impossible – to the best of my knowledge, we don’t have especially good information on the history of nutrition, especially when it comes down to precise quantities of nutrients.

      Personally, I think the additive model (as per Soylent’s approach) is much better than the subtractive model – start with the absolute minimum that we know is required by the human body, test, measure, then add things as deficiencies become apparent. Yes, this is a little risky because it means people will risk nutritional deficiencies (though so many people already have these – how many people are actually getting blood tests to measure their basics? I’m sure as hell not!), and needs to be carefully monitored and controlled, however I think it will lead the best overall results in the least time. I think this is in concurrence with your notion that nutrition should become a more precise science.

      Like

      • We have plenty of data on healthy and comparatively disease-free (heart disease, cancer, obesity, etc) societies. Kitivans, Aboriginals, Inuits, American Indians. And there were big variations in their diets, which is great – it shows there are many ways to support a healthy body. So let’s start with one of those diets, then test, tweak and iterate. This is the Paleo approach and it works amazingly well.

        Reductively trying to piece together the right balance of nutrients is folly because we don’t know anywhere near the whole picture of what nutrients are important.

        The whole approach is wrong. How about eating what we’ve evolved to eat, rather than reverse-engineering the magic pill then finding out too late that it misses a huge chunk of critical nutrients that we didn’t even know were important. Or that digestion of solid food is important. Or that certain nutrients compete for absorption and need to be consumed at different times. etc etc etc.

        The Soylent approach is vulnerable to all sorts of black swans. Eating in the way that ancient healthy societies ate, however (or approximating as best we can with modern foods) is much more robust.

        “It’s not the beta-carotene… it’s the carrot”.

        Like

    • Rich I agree with you and I think Tim you would too. Rich referred to study healthy people and copy what they are doing to get healthy and ‘tweak’ for individual needs.

      Just like Tony Robbins studied successful people and modeled their behavior and created success, to hack the food issue we need, for example, to model communities of healthy people like people who live on certain Islands off Japan and hack their behavior by coping their diet of sweet potatoes etc.

      I believe Tim has shown food preparation can be a joy and not a burden when you are well organized. Meal preparation can be a celebration not a chore (and it helps free the mind from the constant focus on work activities)

      Shane,

      We all know a small sample size is not science but I give you Shane credit for your willingness to share and be criticized by the community, this takes courage.

      However, I think Shane you know drinking out of plastic water bottles, milk as breakfast and fast food for any meal is not an ideal base diet. Tests of effectiveness need to be based on subjects that like Tim already know the core habits of healthy diet and practice them.

      Worth noting: I see Shane you have a Culligan filter on your tap, good idea. I recommend you switch from plastic water bottles to choose stainless steel. Get a stainless steel water bottle for children you know as well.

      Tim, thanks for the post I had not heard of Soylent.

      Have a great day,
      David

      Like

  7. We need to first think about his diet prior to the Soylent experiment… vegetarian. This is not a healthy or balanced diet, no matter how you look at it. This is analogous to saying that someone with a standard American diet is going to benefit by going to vegan/vegetarian diets. Of course. Does that mean “optimal” for the human body? Never. Could you survive on Soylent? It appears so. The question to be asked and tested is can you THRIVE on Soylent.

    Like

    • “We need to first think about his diet prior to the Soylent experiment… This is not a healthy or balanced diet, no matter how you look at it.”

      Because it’s missing meat? lol

      Like

      • Yes. I believe it is extremely difficult to have a well balanced diet without addition of animal products.
        Not to mention he regards himself as being “health conscious” yet is binge eating awful foods on the weekend as well as eating refined and processed foods on a daily basis.

        Like

  8. All you’ve done is avoid anti-nutrients, which is why you’re feeling much better (and consequently felt like trash after you started on food again). This will not end well in the long term as you’re missing a lot of minute cofactors. We could tweak the formula to adjust for them though ;)

    Like

    • Other problems you’ll run into are different ingredients in your current formula will inhibit the absorption of others. Zinc inhibits the absorption of copper, for example, and this is not something you’ll notice a deficiency in over a period of two weeks.
      I agree you don’t need a nutritional background to formulate something like this, however, you do need to ask more questions of the formulation.
      No Vitamin K2? Hmmm… I wonder what effect a deficiency in that will have? Better hit Google, because I guarantee you will want to add it into your formula!
      Which then poses the question “is it water soluble?”

      I’m a product development Chemist. If you want a hand in actually formulating a superior product, let me know :)

      Like

      • Hi Aaron,

        Agreed that there are definite limitations with both water solubility and — as a consumed liquid — flavor profile that consumers will tolerate. Neither factor necessarily optimizes for nutritional content, and both can force sacrifices.

        It’s a tough problem, and kudos to the Soylent team for at least attempting to deconstruct it.

        Tim

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      • It can be tackled, Tim. They just need to think outside the box regarding product delivery. Do you think you could put me in contact with them to help the product? As you’d know, there are specific emulsifiers that double as nutritional bonuses, like phospholipids that could help with the fat solubility.

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      • Tim,

        Interesting read. Just a note: the Inbody 230 uses DSM-BIA technology (very different from BIA). I would link the research, but a quick google study will afford you the same knowledge. Best….

        Like

  9. Many comments that I would add, I’ll stick with this one: I believe there’s something inherently good with the process of food preparation; from growing, to harvesting and cooking into marvelous pieces of art. There’s a philosophical aspect to food, and a spiritual one. It makes our culture, culture makes food.

    As a replacement for a couple of meals a week, this is an excellent idea, if done correctly. I can’t buy into the idea of humans drinking food out of a bottle for the next centuries though.

    Like you Tim, I wish them the best of lucks in trying to figure it out.

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  10. I agree with the above comment, for the most part. I think the inventor of this drink took an overly simplistic look at what the human body ‘needs’. I would speculate that even a biochemist does not know the exact nutrients, both macro and micro, for the human body. I would not have as much as a problem with this persons experiment if he’d atleast admit his own ignorance in creating such a product. This is not to be taken as harmful criticism, even a nutritionist/biochemist would not admit to understanding all the mechanisms of the human body.

    The problem is at the end of the article his data shows that he lost more muscle mass than fat! That should not happen under most circumstances. If it did humans would not have been able to survive some 10,000 years ago.

    In addition, some of the numbers are a little ambiguous, and I doubt he even understands what they represent; this is not to say that I understand all the data either. For example, the data showed that his white blood cell count (basophils and monocytes) went up, as if that was a positive outcome from his experiment. However, you could argue the very opposite and claim that his body was under stress from a unfamiliar diet which caused his white blood cell count to rise, which is actual a more reasonable claim.

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  11. My takeaway is that this isn’t a zero sum game. While these types of “all Soylent all the time” tests are interesting, I assume the average consumer isn’t looking to replace all their food with Soylent, but instead use it as the odd meal replacement. I.e. I don’t have time to go out and get breakfast, so I’ll just have a Soylent. Just doing that I’m sure will be much healthier than the current “I’ll just skip breakfast” or snacking on junk food.

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    • Hi Adarsh,

      Totally agreed. However, they need to ensure the product is safe if they’re positioning it as a potential full-time meal replacement. I know plenty of people who will take that literally and pay whatever price (known or unknown) as a result.

      Cheers,

      Tim

      Like

  12. I am just so skeptical of this. And I also don’t know how it’s going to fix world hunger when you need access to water, refrigeration, and a blender. I do like the idea overall, and Shane’s results are promising.

    Like

    • I could be missing something, but I don’t think it requires refrigeration, which makes it perfect for shipping and storing in poor countries. The access to clean water thing (and it was mentioned in the post) is valid: we need to be developing that too. Blending things is easy enough without electricity, so that’s taken care of.

      Solving water would be fantastic in itself, but having a cheap nutrition to add would probably save a lot of suffering.

      Like

      • I believe that the reason it is pictured in a fridge afterwards is because after being made up (by adding water) it should be refrigerated… Or possibly it just tastes/feels better when cold, not luke warm! Again, the blender is helpful, but you can shake it and mix it properly, he was just being lazy!! They addressed these issues on the Soylent creators’ blog page.

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  13. My greatest concern is around the lack of understanding of everything the body needs. Beyond even Vitamins and Minerals which have been discovered, there are thousands of phytochemicals (and very likely tens of thousands of phytochemicals) which our body needs.

    We have absolutely not discovered all of the phytochemicals and other compounds which we need in our diet. The only way to get all of these now is to eat fresh foods – fruits and vegetables mostly.

    As a supplement to a regular diet, I see little issue with Soylent, but as a total meal replacement, I agree with you Tim – this is potentially very dangerous. Thanks for bringing to the attention of the public.

    Regarding a number of the results, I’d say you get the same results from intermittent fasting, including the increased mental clarity. It’s a great write up on Soylent, I’m glad we all get to share in it!

    Like

    • I think you make a good point on the intermittent fasting. It seems to me as though during the test he may have expelled some yeast (white matter) half way into the trial. This could explain the rise in mental clarity.

      Like

  14. It seems probable that soylent is better than much of the manufactured food on the market. It also seems unlikely that soylent is better than quality whole food.

    I take a Talebian approach. We don’t know what we don’t know about food. I’d like to address two of Shane’s points:

    The body needs whole foods, not atomic nutrients; the synergy between diverse ingredients is what matters in nutritional uptake.
    –> This sounds nice, but has not been scientifically proven. (Shane links to the naturalistic fallacy)

    It’s true that nature doesn’t prove something is good. We can nonetheless have a strong presumption that the body does best on whole foods.

    We have thousands of years of history of humans doing well on whole foods, and zero evidence that the human body can do as well on artificial foods.

    Nassim Taleb would tell us there is a presumption in favour of natural system that has stood the test of time. Human biology is very, very complex. If whole foods serve it well, they may do so for reasons we can fathom.

    One problem for Soylent is that it would have to prove itself safe on the timescale of a human lifetime. That’s very, very hard to do.

    Shane’s second point

    We don’t know what we don’t know about nutrition (i.e. Soylent might be unexpectedly harmful).
    —> That’s not a good reason to not try to innovate. Why not do some tests?

    See my point above. How can you test that Soylent is better than whole foods? There is a massive potential for false positives.

    With natural foods, if something seems effective, it probably is. We would have discovered poisonous or second order effects long ago.

    With an artificial food like soylent, it could appear effective for, say, ten years, while introducing a variety of malignant effects.

    Or maybe it is totally healthy. I have no idea. How can we know? You can’t prove a good is safe without using it for a long, long time.

    That said, I would expect soylent to be better than a diet of pure artificial junk food, as many americans eat. They’re also engineered foods, but in that case we can positively identify the harm.

    One additional problem of soylent: the designers assume we need a steady inejection of the same macronutrients every time we eat.

    We know positively that this is false. Bodybuilders have long known that carbohydrates are more effective after a workout. As with increased protein after a workout.

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    • Solid comment, Graeme. Thank you. I should also say that — in my opinion — the burden of proof should fall on the party making the claim.

      Thus, Soylent cannot prove their product is safe by countering with “No one has proven Soylent unsafe.”

      Tim

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      • That’s not an opinion, Tim. The burden of proof is always on the claimaint, whether the claim is positive (i.e. Soylent is safe as a meal replacement) or negative (i.e. Soylent is not a sufficient meal replacement). Curiosity implies skepticism of the negative claim, and concern over lack of evidence implies skepticism of the positive claim, and at the moment both are warranted.

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    • That is the key point when talking about safety.
      Safe compared to what? The average american diet? I think they really have to screw things up to come up short in that comparison.
      I believe the majority of americans would be better of going all in on soylent compared to the “safe” processed sugary fatty food they over indulge in causing them all sorts of health issues.
      Put the average american diet as a comparison as opposed the ideal diet that no (or very few) people actually eat. A comparison to the perfect diet isnt very interesting in my view.

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    • I have to disagree with Graeme on his thinking here. To paraphrase, “Nothing that hasn’t been tested for (what, centuries?) can conclusively be called safe, and must therefore be avoided at all costs.” If that’s your heartfelt belief, you best get off the internet right away. It’s only been tested for about 30 years, and shows every sign of causing numerous health issues. New things must be tried an tested, or nothing can ever change. Even foods that we have been comfortable with for ages can have detrimental effects – peanuts seem to be trying to kill more and more people every year, despite over 7000 years of tests.
      Some injuries may result from the testing and fine-tuning of this new product, as they do from every new product. As long as it is not overtly dangerous, and changes are made to address issues as they are found, I can’t imagine any reason to abandon this idea just to cling to the status quo. Personally, I hope to be included as part of the test group to use this item as an attempt to replace whole foods. That’s been a hope and goal of mine for years, and I doubt I’m alone in that.

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  15. Fantastic data. My main original concern about Soylent is verified by the cholesterol data – this stuff does NOT have enough natural fats to sustain normal hormone and steroid production.

    To see why this is important, go read the Sexy Time Steak section of Tim’s 4 Hour Chef book: you F’in need fat. Period.

    The nurse said regarding cholesterol: “When your levels are high this is a concern, but low cholesterol is not anything to worry about.”

    She is dead wrong, and in fact, the complete opposite is true. Low cholesterol is associated with hormone imbalance and low IQ. High cholesterol is necessary for everything from testosterone to Vitamin D production.

    So I suspect long term use of Soylent will result in many of the downstream metabolic issues of low fat diets or strict vegetarian protocols – and this bloodwork should ideally include a hormone and Vitamin D spectrum to really see the whole picture.

    But fantastic article either way!

    Like

    • Co-sign. To add on to this, where would they get the fat source from? Something cannot be created from nothing. Adding a fat source would raise the price for Soylent and reduce the “positive” effect globally that they are going for.

      Like

      • I can’t see it being too tough to incorporate some oil into it to incorporate some fats. Perhaps some MCT or Coconut oil even.

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    • This is why nurses are NOT supposed to interpret lab results. There are serious issues with cholesterol being too low, and when I saw the ingredients listed a big, fat 0 for cholesterol my first thought was “this can’t be good”.

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    • I was under the impression dietary cholesterol is not essential, because our bodies manufacture it on our own. And that diet can influence this process, but not in the direct consumed-cholesterol = blood-cholesterol sense.

      So if his blood cholesterol is low, maybe his body is not be making as much of it for some reason, or it’s staying in tissues rather than floating around in his blood. A Soylent diet may be affecting these things in ways that have nothing to do with consumed cholesterol. Correct me if I’m wrong?

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  16. I think Soylent is an excellent attempt at an incredibly difficult task and I am excited to do my own experiments with it. A formula based on the recommended daily intakes will have too much for some and too little for others based on their own specific body codes (genes, bacterial colonies, allergies, etc). I love the idea of tailoring the mix. That will allow for people to work with their doctors, trainers, and nutritionists to match their meals to their health goals.

    One question I have on the long-term health effects is what will happen to gum/teeth health without the act of chewing?

    I wish Soylent the best of luck and I hope that people who are unaware of what their body needs stay away from v1.0 so that the company has a better chance to study and continue to improve the product before it is truly mass-marketed.

    A question for Shane: do you think you’ll keep Soylent as a part of your regular diet? Even for 1 (on-the-go) meal per week?

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    • Now here is an idea I like….
      Get the components/ingredients into a 3d-printer/mixer device…. Regularly adjust the formula depending on the person at the time. Regular checkups, monitor devices and blood panels could adjust for individual issues. It could also be tailored better for time, making sure certain chemicals that can’t be digested with others are properly taken into consideration… As time progresses we could build more and more rules/improvements into the testing and formulations over time or based on allergies/reactions etc… Certainly would be better then a big-mac diet…

      Like

      • Funny, I was thinking of the same 3D printer/mixer idea. This, along with a simple blood tester (something like an epipen which you’d maybe use weekly) that would feed its results back into the mixing algorithm would make a great kickstarter project to go along with Soylent.

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  17. So… you started off as a fat out of shape vegetarian and ended up a fat out of shape vegetarian. Great. I see little, if ANY, difference from eating this to eating say, Myoplex Deluxe 2 – 3x a day, except Soylent is cheaper(?), tastes worst(?), and has less nutrition…..

    And this raised how much on kickstarter?? Seriously?

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  18. I like that they’re making a go at this, but I think they will definitely be( and are) missing ingredients that are useful for the human body. An example for the Tim Ferriss clan, what about myristic acid?(something Tim has claimed upping helped his energy. It also helped mine) I know it’s a work in progress, but there are probably dozens of small little things like this that might help.

    Also small annoyance. I think the pictures are cheating in a way. I mean, come on dude. In the first picture you’re wearing a dark shirt, in crappy lighting, looking depressed. In the last one you’re wearing a pink one, in good lighting, smiling. I get you’re trying to show how you’re feeling or something, but changing the lighting and whatnot makes it look like you’re trying to force a point, and doesn’t really give a good objective measure. It raises the question of how much of this was a placebo affect.(i.e. that you already wanted/expected it to cause an improvement)

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    • @Marshall

      Yeah, I worried about that as I was putting the post together. I took the photos at the same time every morning. My window screen wasn’t pulled down to block the sunlight on the last one, but that wasn’t intentional. By the time I wrote this up, a week had transpired, and I realized that was the best picture I had. I considered lightening the other ones up, haha, but that would have been weird, too.

      Indeed I was feeling much more springy in the morning. However, you are absolutely right it could be placebo effect. OR it could be that I wasn’t eating crap right before bed every night.

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      • I think that the photos are impressive. See my separate comment on this. It isn’t the shirt or the lighting. The face is less bloated (looks thinner) and less saggy. You look significantly healthier, even your eyes shine. It’s not the lighting, or the color of the shirt, I don’t think.

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  19. A friend of mine who was vegan for over a decade became deficient in one of the minerals provided by meat ( I forget which one, sorry). He was then forced to eat meat to repair the damage to his body that had been caused from being deficient of that mineral for so long. The problem was that his body didn’t produce enough stomach acid to break down the meat that he was reintroducing to his system because he was vegan for so long and was forced to take pills of sulfuric acid to digest the meat. Not pleasant.

    I could potentially see this happening with Soylent.

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  20. Interesting post and idea. I think we can take in the food we need in multiple ways but i don’t know if this can be “the way”. There isn’t enough fat for someone in a colder region (think eskimos) to get what they need to keep from wasting away from this mix. I guess they could have different serving sizes with different calories, protein, fat, etc. depending one the users needs and geographical location. It will be interesting to see where this leads.

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  21. Tim, you echoed my one big problem with this idea by way of your Taleb reference. To that I’d add more Taleb, namely that I’d bet that nutrition is too complex a field to permit the rigorous testing of changes in anything less than a lifetime. We know that nutrition can have chronic affects that take decades to manifest, so I am really hesitant to be an early adopter of something like this. That said, I agree with you that it’s great that someone is making the effort. I applaud their willingness to put themselves on the line in their investigation, and they deserve the spoils and the laurels if they succeed even a little bit. (That goes for the testers, too, even if the payoff is just the improvement to their lives that the rest of us risk missing out on.)

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  22. I agree its been done before, not to mention keen new bodybuilders have subsisted on p-shakes for weeks on end.

    I’ve never seen anyone frame the argument in the way Rob has, to treat world hunger as a logistics problem.

    It’s a good concept, and in the context of dying of starvation or possible not having perfect nutrition from Soylent… the Soylent is the winning option.

    I’ve been trialing something similar, but its gets a *lot* easier in terms of micro’s if you incorporate some normal meals into your diet. When soylent comes out I guess i might not *have* to do that, but I still will.

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  23. Love that he did this, and that Rhinehart is developing this…even though I’m a dietitian who loves food. More options/exploration = better since everyone’s food needs (physical and cultural) are different.

    Points: the biggest things that stick out to me are 1) Tim’s note that we can’t be sure it has everything because we haven’t even identified the “everything” we need with certainty; this is obviously only a problem if it’s a complete diet replacement for an extended period of time. 2) the problem with going to “100%” of RDAs, since Sol’s right and those aren’t based on optimal function, just what we think seems like it probably definitely doesn’t cause deficiency diseases in most of the general population based on trials from the past 50 years (and some have way better research than others to back them). Also to this point, not sure where Rhinehart got his #’s for nutrients, but some vits/mins are different for women vs men and also change with age, so that will have to be addressed, unless he’s only targeting men 20-55.

    Noticed that intake on Soylent was about 600cal higher than on a muscle milk/burrito day…? Just curious why it’s being formulated to 100% of RDAs and 2400cal, I guess…

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    • Also, I need to see the list of nutrients but, besides basic compounds,what about enzymes and more complex nutrients? I understand these can be syntheized by the body from basic nutrients but it is so good when one gets them from food sources. Does my question make sense?

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  24. Oh my god, where to start. ’80’ grams of protein per day is PLENTY ENOUGH to maintain LBM (especially in you), but its ‘use it or lose it there’ and your data points have margins of error that far exceed the ability to draw a conclusion that you lost actual LBM as opposed to water/glucose.

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  25. Don’t know why it cause fireworks, unless its one of the my way or highway foodies getting bent. As you said, it is just another meal replacement drink. Pretty well researched over the last 20 years, with a large sample size. The only reason most of them allowed a meal at night was for behavoral compliance, not because you need a solid. People are fed with IV for weeks…….. and they are fine for nutrition.
    But interesting, hope they do well, and listen to your advice. Especially about underselling potential claims……

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    • I’m a nurse and will tell you that IVF is not fine nutrition. Preferable nutrition would be gastric feedings. But regular foods is the most preferable. You can only live so long on IVF’s, btw.

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  26. Since their crowdfunding campaign launched I have been avidly observing the discussions unfold. One particularly great resource has been the forum that they set up for their customers and curious hackers to talk about every single issue and idea.

    Personally I will be happily purchasing soylent as soon as I can and subsisting off of it as fulfills my perceived needs. I believe soylent will quite possibly change the world and be a billion dollar business. In fact I would dearly love to go work with the team.

    Thanks Tim for featuring this guest post, have been awaiting your views on this for quite some time.

    Like

    • Thanks for the comment, Nathan. Just out of curiosity, how do you think Soylent differs most from past attempts at meal-replacement powders? Or is it better use of social media, etc. and not a better designed product?

      Tim

      Like

      • I’m not aware enough of the previous product attempts to say how it differs in terms of nutritional value and the like. The timing and positioning of Soylent however has created a perfect media storm. Previous attempts as well probably didn’t have the advantages of crowdfunding or YC-engineer-founder types behind them.

        What fascinates me is the reaction from people to the concept of soylent. I’ve been pitching it to friends for months and it ranges from laughter to anger to asking where to send their money.

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      • Okay, I didn’t see Nathan’s reply until I refreshed (posted the comment).

        I remember seeing Met-Rx in running and tri magazines in maybe the late 80’s early 90’s? Then lots of other products that were brought to market but the reach wasn’t there (internet + advertising platforms, blogs etc).

        Now we have this huge “food problem”: what is the correct way to eat? Why am I so tired all the time? High-carb, low-carb, meat, no meat? Apps like DailyBurn are helping people to become aware of their macro-nutrient intake.

        It seems we have a larger, primed market (not just the Met-Rx crowd) and a larger platform (not just magazines) to reach the people.

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  27. Soylent seems very interesting, I feel the same way he did with the hassle of preparing regular foods. Even if Soylent isn’t 100% healthy, I’m fairly certain it’s healthier than what myself and many others eat.

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  28. Hi,
    Looking at the nutritional data, I can’t see that you’ve covered all nutritional requirements. Where are the omega fatty acids? CLA?
    If this is supposed to be a total food replacement, you literally have to include EVERYTHING that I need from food.

    Not convinced about this.

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  29. I want to see this repeated actually using WellnessFX’s baseline. I think it has a lot of very interesting markers that were not left out on the panel Shane’s nutritionist recommended.

    Like

  30. 1) How much of a problem are the so-called “nutritionally empty” ingredients like Maltodextrin? Are carbs from that source (or oat flour) just as good as other carbs, so long as one gets all the other vitamins and minerals from other sources? <<>>

    2) What powder-izable ingredients might one swap in for any of the Soylent ingredients to further optimize the formula?

    3) What other variables ought to be controlled for in future experiments with Soylent? <<>>

    4) What’s the probable explanation for the acid reflux and canker sores in the first few days? Is it possible that they were related to Soylent, or more likely related to other factors in my life? <<>>

    5) Also, can we suggest some more marketable names than Soylent? (Or is the fact that it’s a hoax-sounding name good for marketing?) <<>>

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  31. I tried Veganism for one month and it was a lot of work, I was eating these huge portions (like salads for 15 people, lots of juices), and always eating always washing veggies, juicing, etc. I felt I had not time for anything. It may be healthy but extremely time consuming. This is so appealing to me because it takes all the work out of eating while still healthy. I’m going to wait until next year to try. Healthy food w/o the work, I’m on it!

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  32. when you start a fast of any type your body starts to dump toxins that have accumulated in your body. The canker sore and acid reflux could be related to that some how.

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  33. I am totally disgusted. Basically, what has been done here is this. Someone who knows little about anything in real world concocts an MRP (meal replacement powder) but does it by re-inventing the wheel like its 1970 again, labels it ‘Soylent’ (after Soylent Green) and markets it as a cure for world wide hunger.

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  34. Tim,

    When Soylent started circulating around SV and the tech world my biggest concerns were the claims that they were making. People were reacting as if the Soylent team had stumbled across something new and spectacular. As you pointed out, meal replacement drinks and powders are nothing new. In the strength and fitness world the velocity diet is marketing by T-Nation as a body transformation diet and consists of mostly protein shakes with supplements added to cover nutrition needs.

    The American diet is notoriously poor and is in need of improvement. In the long-term, maybe Soylent (please change the name) can be a part of healthy diets. Currently, I seriously doubt the formula would cover my dietary needs. Until it does, combining a healthy, whole food diet with exercise should be the goal for all of us. Thanks for posting this!

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  35. Yeah, so, remember when that 2 wheeled contraption came out 10 years ago and was all like, “we improved walking.” No one cared. Testing the market via Kickstarter may be an approach that seems to suggest that people want a product that says, “we replaced food” but I can remember so few fond memories that didn’t involve food that I would guess people are just kidding themselves. I’ve often said to my wife, “Let’s move to Thailand!” Then the sobering reality that we would be leaving ageing parents, life long friends, familiarity of language/scenery, and the distance factor that would mean we would truly be alone, pulls me back down to earth reminding me that it would be nice, inspiring and awesome, but in the end, not for us. This may sound like a lot of rambling, but seriously – replacing food? Not likely.

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  36. If Soylent contains soy… and therefore, GMO soy… That’s not starting out well, nor will it end well. Also, homo sapiens currently have under-developed jaws and all kinds of crooked teeth problems because we do not gnaw and chew meat as our ancestors once did. Imagine what the jaws of a generation of humans on a liquid-only diet will look like.. scary :(

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    • Just read the ingredients; soy lecithin is the twelveth ingredient, third from last. It seems rice is the source of protein (third ingredient) and it is more an oat-rice based drink than soy so the name is missleading. I would try it since it’s not all or mostly soy and the amount since so little.

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      • Hi Tim,

        On the subject of “cleanses”/fasts have you done any and or documented your experience? Probably a much asked question though I haven’t seen you comment on it.

        Like

      • Off-topic, but impossible not to comment: I´m testing 1mg of finasteride 2x per week for that (trying to minimize sides of chronic reduction of DHT). Perhaps even 1mg is too much, but It´s have been working, apparently, and no sides (I have with daily use). I intend to do a before/after of the scalp in a few months.
        Tim, if you want, I’ll keep you posted.
        Best self-test that I found on this besides me:

        http://www.baldtruthtalk.com/showthread.php?t=9577

        Specially the final posts by the author. He could be into something.
        What caused me to test – this old graph:

        http://www.propeciahelp.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=1170

        Everything leads to believe that 1mg daily is exceedingly much.

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  37. I’ve been curious about Soylent for a while, and this post adds a lot of value.

    The 400g of carbs is the biggest head scratcher in my book. How can alertness and focus be improved so dramatically if blood sugar and insulin levels are on a constant roller coaster? Would think that an internet savvy young founder would be a little bit more suspicious of the USDA food guidelines these days. The e-paleo/crossfit/bulletproof/4hb/etc blogs are teeming with good info that should be more integrated into the formula.

    A solid reimagination of the MRP concept, but for constant use over the course of weeks seems disastrous. The whole “feeding the world” bit comes across as naive and overblown at this stage as well. Remain profitable for a year selling to 6-figure early adopters first, then ship it out overseas. Good job bootstrapping after that first post went viral though. Hope things work out for them.

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  38. Sadly reductionist thinking behind this! Fine I guess for a rare emergency meal on the go but completely lacking in the thousands of (mostly as yet uncharacterized) micro nutrients in whole plants. Whole plants i.e. vegetables (fresh or frozen) should make up the main part of your diet by volume. Those micronutrients are what our bodies need to stay healthy long term, prevent all sorts of health ills and disasters. If you want research and detailed info read Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s recent “Super Nutrition”. Tons of research citations in the footnotes at end of book. This is the sort of thing where you won’t likely notice problems, except crazed food cravings, for perhaps quite awhile. Then mystery of mysteries, you start to slowly fall apart in perhaps undiagnosable ways. Or maybe develop a serious cancer that your body would have eliminated without it ever bothering you. That sort of thing.

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    • Vegetables are good but they’re not the holy grail people make them out to be. They contain polyunsaturated fats, goitrogens, anti-nutrients like oxylates and estrogens. Fruits = sugar = fuel. Brewers yeast, bone broth, grass fed milk, cheese, butter, and liver will make up for missed veggies. For the last two weeks I’ve been living off of these foods. 200-400g of carbs per day – primarily from sugar and I’m losing weight and feeling more energetic than ever.

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  39. It’s obvious to me that it lacks A LOT of nutrients and stuff we probably don’t even know about food today. It’s synthesized food. And liquid food has been around forever. I just don’t see what these guys have done that are so amazingly special.

    It’s scary, because people are so want to believe it and want to go the “lazy” route. Hell, if I get to pop a pill loose weight and get healthy.. I would do it!

    I am so done with the ‘next thing’ fad that is always showing up. I am sticking to my veggies, meat and staying away from too much preserved food for now.

    I think Tim got it right with 4 Hour Chef and I am really appreciative for the hard work he did for us all. Finally someone with influence came out and said something. Tim is right.. People can die! Get of the bandwagon!

    I’m not ready to be the guinea pig for this experiment! If you want to potentially sacrifice your health.. know your risk! Maybe something will come out of this eventually…

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  40. The biggest issue is the lack of a proper trial. Some guy on a blog is not a proper trial.

    This phrase in particular shows a worrying lack of understanding with how any sort of scientific or medical research is conducted: “It hasn’t been scientifically tested by anyone but the founder. I want to test it.”

    What you’re done has a sample size of 1. It is not being scientifically tested. If Soylent want to assure people of its safety, they’ll pay for an independent trial that has a decent sample size of people to account for variations in the population, and removes the placebo affect using a blind or double-blind set up. That is, having a control (eg. normal diet), a diet replacement that isn’t soylent, and soylent.

    Until this is done I’d personally steer clear of Soylent. They haven’t accounted for any variation in the requirement of people’s diets, underlying medical conditions, and so on. Their claims are based on self-reported, small sample size tests.

    That said it is a good idea, even if it isn’t an original one, but they way they’re approaching it is concerning.

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    • @NickE

      Absolutely right about the sample size. Did you see the sections called “Potential Weaknesses In the Data” and “What I’d Do Differently Next Time”? This is indeed one data point where many are needed. I hope it was an enlightening read anyway!

      Like

      • Oh yes, definitely a good read. My criticism was more for Soylent than your post. Bit worried about potential issues when a whole bunch of people stop eating and use a product that hasn’t been properly tested…

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  41. Questions for Shane:

    Did you miss chewing?

    Did you feel satisfied/full?

    What did you do when your blood sugar dropped, drink more Soylent? And did that help to stabilize your blood sugar? Or did you just power through it and hope you didn’t pass out?

    Did you ever get hungry? Especially, did you ever get hungry after you’d drank your daily supply of Soylent?

    You comment that it didn’t taste bad, but what about smell, feel, and appearance? Did you ever look at it and think, “man, I want some food, some real food.”?

    If Soylent were readily available would you give up food entirely?

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    • @Molly

      I didn’t really miss chewing, but I did chew mint gum once in a while, so my jaw wouldn’t feel weird.

      When my blood sugar dropped, I drank more Soylent and shortly felt much better.

      I did get hungry in the early days especially, but once I started drinking more earlier, the hunger didn’t really happen. If anything, I felt a little too full most days by the time I finished it all. And a couple of days I drank a little less than 2 bottles (which is how I ended up with 1/2 a bottle left at the end).

      It didn’t smell bad (kind of nice, actually), but the texture was odd at first. It certainly isn’t as appetizing looking as food, but once I had weened myself off of food sufficiently, I honestly was shocked at how easy it was to not care about “real” food. That’s perhaps one of the most surprising things I didn’t expect.

      I would not give up food entirely, but I would consider doing 6 days of Soylent, 1 day of gorging myself a la Slow-Carb Diet. Actually, what I would probably do is drink Soylent for breakfast and lunch, and then have a proper dinner. That would appear to be superior to my current routine.

      Like

      • So a shake for breakfast, a shake for lunch, and then a sensible dinner? You could call that the Slim Fast Diet. Maybe Tommy Lasorda will endorse it!

        The only thing the “data” in this post shows me is that you didn’t die. N = 1 studies are garbage, especially short-term experiments. You could fast for two weeks, take good multivitamins, and drink lots of water and experience similar results (though more weight loss, probably in better or the same proportions).

        Seriously, what is the point of this remarketed idea? To forget the enjoyable process and the social accoutrements involved in food preparation and consumption? Oh, to cure world hunger? Then raise money through a non profit.

        Almost every claim made by the company is suspicious (thanks for being honest, Tim). Longitudinal studies would be needed to verify a lot of the claims with any degree of statistical meaningfulness.

        Here’s an example of what I mean: The “experimenter” suffers an ill effect and blames his broken blender. Is there any real data supporting this causal relationship? No. This whole thing is Mickey Mouse.

        The idea of this being useful for most people interested in nutrition is absurd. Body builders and marathon runners need different food inputs. Besides, changing things up can often help people achieve specific desired results. There is no one size fits all.

        C’mon Tim . . . . I always read your stuff, but help us all protect our attention until meaningful data is available.

        Like

      • Cool. Thanks for the reply, Shane. Fascinating. I wondered if maybe it might be best used as a replacement for one or two meals a day rather than replacing food altogether. Food, and eating, is way too good to give up completely. Too bad it’s so expensive, and for some, hard to come by.

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  42. So, I see Soy is an ingredient. Couldn’t find something cheaper I suppose? Soy is an estrogen mimicker and is less ‘natural’ than any other product like it (whey,casein,etc). .001% of the population may actually have an ‘allergy’ to whey or casein, but I am sure just as many, if not more, people have an allergy to soy. Except only soy is an estrogen mimicker but whey,casein,egg,etc is not. And, also, but not least, Soy Lecithin contain MSG. So this ‘wonder food’ has MSG. Lovely.

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    • Just read the ingredients; soy lecithin is the twelveth ingredient, third from last. It seems rice is the source of protein (third ingredient) and it is more an oat-rice based drink than soy so the name is missleading. I would try it since it’s not all or mostly soy and the amount since so little.

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  43. Interesting article but this is one product I wouldn’t guinea pig myself on. I’m quite certain the only reason he was seeing any sort of boost in energy and performance was because he was vitamin deficient and dehydrated prior to Soylent. His diet was terrible. Muscle Milk for breakfast? Takeout for lunch and dinner? Soda?
    Good effort to the Soylent team, it we can solve world hunger with products such as this then the world will be a better place but I think this is only the tip of the iceberg.

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  44. very interesting but i can assure you i will not be partaking in any personal experimentation with this product, as Tim stated and other have also commented our understanding of the body is so limited and if a product is being designed off suggested RDI then it is likely to be flawed as one size does not fit all.

    it also does not take into account other environmental factors which may leach nutrients out of the body, or stressors that may lead to higher requirements than those “recommended”.

    I am a Trainer not a nutritionist but i do have a massive interest almost obsession with the workings of the human body and believe there is so much more to food and nutrition than just its simple chemical components.

    I can however see potential for this product in short term situations for sustenance when food is not or cannot be available in abundance but that’s it a short term solution.

    The claims are pretty outrageous and once again i commend the team for tackling this, and the way in which it has been marketed is quite ingenious, but if anything is to be said it would be to tread carefully. As Tim said there is potential for people to die, which really has little benefit for the brand image.

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  45. Soylent may be better than this guy’s regular diet but the guy is getting his daily vitamins from muscle milk. Synthetic vitamins may or may not meet dietary needs but studies show these can be dangerous at times or may not do any good.

    The soylent diet is completely devoid of phytonutrients. It may contain antioxidants but as has been noted by the author there is some concern about whether these cause cancer, but nobody has suggested that with food based antioxidants.

    Soylent contains grapeseed oil which is an unsaturated fat and these fats are highly unstable and typically rancid after processing. These form free radicals in the body and promote inflammation and premature aging. This diet is not high enough in sugar or saturated fat.

    I think long term this could lead to potential health problems.

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  46. I just recently went on a juice detox diet, and Shane’s experience doesn’t seem too different…. first day feeling hungry, by the third day feeling great, feeling of “cleanliness”, increased alertness, weightloss (but through combo of fat and muscle) etc.. But I personally would much prefer to eat a diet of juice than some weird oat/chemical mix!

    I truly believe the benefits on these sorts of diets is giving your body – digestive and cleansing systems- a break and a chance to “catch up”.

    But here’s my issue: what’s so wrong with Shane simply eating a healthy, balanced diet of FOOD for two weeks? I’d like to see the results of THAT trial.

    Who’s he kidding? Muscle millk, burrito and thai red curry is NOT a healthy diet buddy!

    I completely echo Tim’s comments – the human body is far too complex and misunderstood for the sweeping claims that Soylent have made.

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  47. As someone who is not a fitness expert and/or nutrition freak, I have to laugh a bit at the focus on the small points.
    My career focuses on process efficiency and speed delivery in service and manufacturing industries . presuming you have read Tim’s 4hb you are aware of Pareto distribution. Why do I get the feeling that comments to date are focusing on the 20%?

    Personally, I the salient fact I took from it was that after the two weeks, he found it easier to move towards a better diet. Anyone who wants to pick at the finer points must stand back and ask is the meal replacement better or worse than what 80% of the population eat day to day? Does it create progress towards a better end result? Can McDonalds create a McSoylent [kidding]

    Tim – In your afterword you mention variation in users weight bf etc. Ironically these are all consequences of not getting it right to begin with. In my line of work we call this failure demand, where work is created because it wasn’t done right the first time (time spent fixing something that wasn’t done right the first time round). This is compared to value demand where if done right first up, it is high profit/benefit.
    In saying this, if we all eat right from birth, the issue and industry as a whole would not exist. Worth a thought?

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  48. I think this is well intentioned but it does sort of highlight the key differences between an article written as an information piece and actual medical research.

    No way is 2 weeks is long enough to evaluate the effect of the diet. When I tell patients to make specific diet changes to improve cholesterol they need about 3 months before I repeat blood tests. I think you need to do at least that long.

    Most of your data is not helpful. I know its important to log how you feel every day, but so much of that is subjective its difficult to quantify. Hard endpoints are always better, so its good you have blood work, but the mental tests and other things less helpful. I think you need to read the science based medicine website or some James Randi. A lot of people that take a placebo report feeling amazing–if they think its going to help. And terrible if they think its going to make them feel bad. That seems to be the bulk of the early reporting. Not helpful.

    there is a way to account for the subjective data–you need to study LOTS of people and compare changes in cholesterol, blood pressure, weight, body fat, visceral fat, more HARD data points. Ideally with enough people you can see key points and trends amongst populations, not individuals. Populations are much more important.

    You nailed a major issue with testing diet interventions–its often difficult, unethical or impossible to do blinded evaluations of different foods/diets because some are dangerous, or its just not possible to conceal to the test or the subject what they are eating.

    Food is amazingly complex. We always seem to think we know what the key things are, put them in vitamin form and eat them. Most studies on vitamin supplementation are not good–ie taking lots of vitamins may not improve health and in some cases may be dangerous. When I was in med school I saw a cardiologist frantically calling patients to have them stop their Vit C and E supplementation since the big NIH showed that patients had HIGHER mortality, not lower. People love OMega 3 but research on heart disease is less than exciting–was it in omega 3 in fish that was key or maybe the Omega 7? Don’t know. Better to eat the fish.

    So I’m more skeptical of being able to load something like soylent with the best parts of food since lots of of the identified vitamins/nutrients out there may be wrong.

    For a vegetarian I’m shocked at your intake of muscle milk and relative lack of veggies? I eat more broccoli and cauliflower than you! And burrito–does that mean wheat/tortillas/white rice?

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    • Hi David,

      Thank you for the thoughtful comment. You wrote:

      “I tell patients to make specific diet changes to improve cholesterol they need about 3 months before I repeat blood tests.”

      Why did you pick three months? I’ve seen some fairly dramatic shifts in 4-6 weeks, but this often includes supplementation (niacin, etc.).

      All the best,

      Tim

      Like

      • Tim thats a very good question. I will have to check lit on that. I think its probably more out of convenience in the modern medical system–most primary care docs are busy. Patients are busy and diet changes are tough–what you can do for 6 weeks might not sustain for 3 months. I guess it is a random number. At least in my mind. 6 weeks certainly would be better than 2 weeks. 12 Weeks maybe not as good.

        And to finish with 1 more comment–I think anecdotes like this article are interesting. But its very dangerous to extrapolate the experiences of one person over 2 weeks into a broad statement on the benefits of Soylent. Thats why medical studies are done with many people over many months or years. Medical articles rarely have a good narrative or tell a good story–so people tend to listen to the anecdotes since its easier to process. But an N of 1 would make for a terrible study.

        I have my own concerns about Soylent and I think Tim you raised some very good points. It is close to an unregulated experiment and if a large amount of people got seriously sick on soylent, would they have any recourse? do they know the risks of trying it? Informed consent people!

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  49. Most of the subjective experiences you mentioned here are familiar to me from fasting, or drastically reducing and regulating my food intake. The longest I fasted (only water) was 12 days, and my experience was almost identical (in the early days food cravings, etc.) Except for the poop thing (that was rather gross when fasting and not white at all).
    If you’d drastically reduce your food intake and make very healthy food choices, I think you’d have pretty much the same effect as what you mentioned with Soylent, and probably in a more sustainable way.
    Also, after a diet like this, you really shouldn’t have started with a fast-food indulgence. Of course that creates a sharp contrast that makes you feel terrible.

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  50. Interesting experiment. I’d love to see more data.
    I would suggest one more lab to add to for future testers interested in the long term effects on micronutrients.
    Spectracell’s Micronutrient Test
    http://www.spectracell.com/clinicians/products/mnt/

    I agree with Ben’s assessment that the body needs more fat and that low cholesterol can deleterious in the long run. Look at the steroidogenesis pathway… the first step is cholesterol:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Steroidogenesis.svg

    Last point (small correction)
    EGFR is not epidermal growth factor, its a calculated glomerular filtration rate (a kidney function marker)
    Quest should probably list it as eGFR instead of EGFR.

    http://labtestsonline.org/understanding/analytes/gfr/tab/test

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  51. It is common among endurance athletes who eat a lot of simplified (manufactured) food for easy absorption (like cyclists during the Tour de France) to end up with weird digestion problems. The “gut rot” experienced after a summer of hard training and extended used of these manufactured foods, is likely due, in my opinion, to a lack of key nutrients and fiber making its way to the microbial flora of the lower intestines. This results in a lower diversity of microbes, which means less vitamins and hormone regulation (by products produced by the microbes), and poor nutrient sensitivity, and potentially chronic inflammation. I always recommend more fruits and veggies to help counteract this. I wonder if the same reduction in gut microbial diversity might prove true with extended use of Soylent.

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    • Derek, I wonder if inadequate mastication in the mouth could also be a factor here (one of many), given the role saliva has in breaking down carbohydrates?
      Limited enzyme breakdown of the foods in the mouth alongside a lack of enzymes from the food itself wouldn’t help the situation.
      Another factor is a lack of fats to lubricate the system.

      Perhaps Soylent products could come with a sachet of liquid beneficial bacteria to add to the powder?

      Watered down Kefir comes to mind – over 30 strains of good bacteria and yeast in a lubricating yogurty consistency. Enzymes, bacteria and necessary fat all right there!!
      I hear also that good bacteria survive best in a liquid medium. Many die in the encapsulation process.

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  52. I think Soylent is conducting an unregulated and illegal clinical trial. I can’t believe it’s not shut down yet. Even if it turns out to be 100% safe and the next best thing since sliced bread (lol) – the way it is being marketed is irresponsible and dangerous.

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    • Better than shutting anyone down, in a free society, wouldn’t it be better if people educate themselves and make their own choices and decisions?

      Like

      • Sure, we live in a free but regulated society. There are laws around food and drugs for people’s safety. If drug companies could offer their experimental drugs to desperate patients then many would take the drug and many would be seriously harmed. That’s why there are processes in place to make sure testing is ready for humans and only certain patients are allowed to participate in trials under very strict regulations that are reviewed by the FDA (at least in the US).

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  53. I’m glad Tim weighed in with sensible comments,and correctly noted that Soylent is not the first meal replacement formula, and it may not provide all the nutrition one needs.

    Personally, I prefer to make my own meal replacement shakes with real food, including veggies (powdered moringa- one of the most nutrient dense foods, nettle, chickweed, kales, etc.), a little bit of fruit, vegan protein powder, spirulina and the occasional addition of medicinal mushrooms & almond milk.

    Granted, it’s not as cheap in the short term as Soylent (and it doesn’t always taste that great), but I think I’ll save money on medical bills in the long term by using high-quality, whole food ingredients.

    I do, of course, eat solid food; I just use my replacement shakes as a supplement to my diet for a nutritional boost and when I am busy on the go.

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  54. Tim!

    I’ve been waiting for this article. Thanks.

    Your comments are a great example of why I love you.

    I planned to supplement my diet with Soylent as I tend to skip meals and I’m already on the skinny side. However due to their website having issues, I never ordered. After reading this article I’m ever more curious as to wether adding Soylent to my regular diet would would help or harm.

    Looking forward to a follow up.

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  55. I really love lifehacks, and limited, safe experimentation on yourself. Love the data, but it’s not near enough. Get creative and come up with more ways to test performance and body composition results. The one conclusion I came away with was that Soylent is woefully lacking in a whole mess of things; when the data didn’t lead me to that conclusion. Agreed, just eliminating the negative parts of your diet may have done everything positive in the results. Diet Coke isn’t just a caffeinated beverage, it’s a chemical cocktail that no one in their right mind should consume. The same scrutiny could be applied to the other parts of your “normal” diet. You eat out a lot, and restaurants don’t stay in business by feeding you healthy food. They stay in business by feeding your cravings and addictions. Agree with Tim on the claims. They should never even hint at being a complete replacement for food, forever. If you do, you now take on the liability for every health issue your users ever have, whether or not they stick to your usage recommendations. Meal replacement is the only logical level to talk about. I’d love to see a redesigned formula that includes more fats and proteins, and a comprehensive test by more than one person.

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  56. Interesting article.

    Correction for the blood work section:
    “Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor dropped 27%; ”
    EGFR in this context is estimated glomerular filtration rate, which is a renal function test calculated from the creatinine level, age, gender, ethnicity and body surface area. The 27% drop you noticed, as well as the increase in creatinine are compatible with mild dehydration (although one would expect the BUN to increase in that setting, but not necessarily so…)

    Regardless, we can’t conclude much from a single “patient” self study. Tim’s comments are really important here. I’ll echo his “fears” in saying that we don’t understand the body nearly as well as we would like to. The interactions are just too complex.

    The marketing seems to be key here, and I certainly hope they have good layers to get their wording right.

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  57. Am I the ony who notices that the most basic stuff on this product is dead wrong? The idea is good, but:

    Carbohydrates: 400g
    Protein: 80g
    Total Fat: 65g

    Too many carbs, WAY few proteins for males who do any sports and not enough fats aswell.

    Plus the protein (all of it) seems to come from soy, which isn’t as bioavailable as other sources of proteins, not to mention many of the other side effects soy has on males.

    The only reason to use soy for protein is because its cheaper; at least try decent sources and add a decent whey/casein blend.

    Like

    • The protein in this version was from rice, not soy. I believe that they were originally using whey protein. The most recent update in the forum was that they moved to a mix of rice protein and pea protein. The only ingredient with “soy” in its name is soy lecithin, which is an emulsifier.

      I would like to see a lower carb version (with higher protein and fats to make up for it). Supposedly they are going to offer those eventually and this first run is just going for the most generic baseline possible.

      Someone mentioned the only person living off this is the creator (Rob). FWIW, this is not true. He has a group of about 50 “beta testers” IIRC. There is also a forum full of people at discourse.soylent.me that have been making their own versions of this stuff at home.

      Like

  58. It may not be Soylent Green, but the name still creeps me out, as it would anyone from my generation (baby boomer). That said, the complaints about poor nutrition strike me as rather like the Bloomberg’s City of New York outlawing giving food to the poor because the City can’t verify its salt or fat content. Yes, there might be consequences of subsisting on Soylent, but there are even more dire consequences of subsisting on nothing.

    On the other hand, starvation in many parts of the world is not from the lack of available food sources, but a matter of politics. There is an abundance of good food in the world; it’s just not always possible to get it where it’s most needed.

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  59. This is an inevitable evolution of the way humans feed themselves. Yet I don’t think it’s going to “replace” food any time soon.

    The more likely result will be that people use Soylent as the *backbone* of their diet (perhaps drinking just 1 to 3 shakes a day), while they consume the rest of their calories in the form of traditional, delicious food.

    Because of this, I think the perfect name for this product would be *Staple*. The team should spend whatever it takes to get that URL. If you own that, then you own people’s mindshare in this product space. Because that’s exactly what this is: the potential *staple* substrate of humankind’s future evolution.

    Good luck guys. Let me know how I can help!

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  60. I think the initial improvement in health metrics would merely be from the avoidance of a persons normal diet.

    The ingredients list doesn’t give me much confidence as being a viable long term meal replacement. There are numerous things that we get in a natural diet that are missing here. There is something like 90 essential minerals and vitamins (not including other nutrients like EFA’s and cholesterol), you need all of these in precise quantities to survive. The ingredients provides 100% ROI’s for a lot of these but misses many (selenium, vanadium, manganese etc).

    The fat source is entirely new to the human diet as well and I don’t see that working long term.

    Paleo soylent anyone?

    If the ingredients were made from whole foods ground up, then I think it would be viable but mixing and matching single ingredients is a dangerous way to do it and will ultimately lead to deficiencies.

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  61. Also, it would be cool if the model evolved to a subscription service where they send you packages of FRESH ingredients to mix with the basic Soylent powder, on, say, a weekly basis. Since low-prep time is an important selling point, it would be great if I had a packet of neatly cut celery, carrots, blueberries, sliced bananas, or whatever else they thought would go nice in a Soylent smoothie.

    This would help ease all the “but it’s not whole food” critics while giving the consumer some weekly *variety* as well.

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  62. Interesting case study. The diet you were previously on certainly wasn’t healthy (at all). Many of the benefits you noted might have simply been from your body going through a natural detox, getting rid of the crap accumulated for years.

    Also, just because a label says you’re getting X amount of vitamins doesn’t mean it’s good, or that it’s the real thing.

    The food industry has deceptively lobbied and it’s very hard to trust food labels from processed food or restaurants.

    I actually do extended water fasts a couple times per year and have guided a few hundred patients through the same thing. I’ve also used some specifically formulated rice based formulas from time to time.

    The human body is always trying to return to a homeostatic norm. Extended fasting is a great way to detox and accelerate this healing.

    I’d advise against going right back into processed food after a liquid diet like this or a true water fast. It can hit your body hard and make you feel like you’re hung over.

    Did the Soylent make you healthier?

    Ehh… it’s more likely that because you reduced the total toxic load, your body was able to do what it was designed to do… ie, heal itself.

    Improved mental awareness, better concentration / focus, better digestion, weight loss, heightened physical senses, and intestinal healing are common benefits of a fast.

    Many times reflux is because the standard American diet is devoid of many necessary enzymes / probiotics that break-down food. You don’t have enough acid so the food sits in the stomach and putrefies.

    Then, the gas burns as it goes up.

    Americans have a bad habit of not giving the stomach a chance to digest everything before putting another snack in. Or, just not chewing thoroughly.

    You might like a fantastic book called “Fasting Can Save Your Life” by Herbert Shelton. It’s very old, but chock-full of wisdom from a practitioner that’s guided thousands through fasts.

    Anyway, congrats on looking and feeling healthier!

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  63. Search the piece for ‘reword’ < you meant to reword some stuff.

    Also, a 1 paragraph conclusion is missing – very few people will read this whole thing.

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  64. I’m curious about the pH measurements. Did the experimenter measure saliva and urine pH before and after? Also, I’d like to see what the water (pH 6-7 most common) and the Soylent together would have been once blended. Hopefully the drink is overall alkalizing…with its minerals that may be the case.

    (I would keep in mind that sometimes pH falls initially on a alkalizing diet if the theory holds true that an alkalizing diet will first pull acids out of tissues, which I myself also experienced.)

    Also, what type of water does the Soylent team recommend?

    I’d also like to see pictures of the blood before and after a 3 month test to see red blood cell shape…would the red blood cells be spiky-looking due to bad protein digestion (one theory), looking like donuts due to bad nutritional uptake (one theory), and I’d also want to see the white blood cells as well.

    Interesting study, and as an MBA/entrepreneur myself, I don’t think as much about where this won’t work as much as I do where it will work initially. Definitely, I can see a niche, and as Soylent refines the process, it can then add market share into other niches. Should be exciting to watch. Great post!

    –Kevin

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  65. I only focused on a few lab results — I’m a family doc, though, and was curious to see what happened.

    When creatinine doubles, it means you lost half your kidney function. So going ‘up 30%’ would generally mean that you had lost significant kidney excretion function.

    This is too short to know what it might mean, obviously.

    What does a scientist call a failed experiment? Data. Thanks for trying to supply some data!

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  66. Really interested in checking out Soylent once it is available. Glad to see they’ve improved on the taste from what the early adopters had been saying about it.

    One thought to add. Soylent doesn’t have to be a binary choice. Just because you can subsist on Soylent alone, it doesn’t mean you can’t add in a protein shake for your extra protein, or Muscle Milk. Not to mention switching to two meals a day as the founders expect most people will. It will be interesting once it’s released to see what the early-adopters do and their results with various meal choices.

    Finally, I would expect there would be many different options. I believe one of the biggest things about Soylent is its released as one of the first “open-source” foods. From that people can build their own “paleo-lent” or 4HB-lent or any other variation to fit certain diets. I expect if Soylent becomes successful you’ll likely see hundreds of these options come up from different competitors.

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  67. I wouldn’t switch to this completely, but it sounds like a great way to help out with intermittent fasting.

    Hopefully we have more case studies like this one done. The cognitive function improvement alone is interesting.

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  68. Funny how this just came out. I have just started my own experiment were I combine a low carb high protein diy version with Tim’s slow carb diet. I have a cheat day & a very small bowl of soup or chili a day. I am 400 lbs plus and decidied I needed to do something bootcamp like. And frankly doing it this way seemed like it would be fun. People should also google The Velocity Diet that bodybuilders use. Look in Dan John’s book Never Let Go or on the T-Nation site.

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  69. This can be good for time poor people. Very efficient, but do not want to lose the proper excuse to enjoy a long meal with the loved ones.

    Good for the disadvantaged. No need to cook or go grocery shopping in the near future? and possibly no need to go to the dentist (since our teeth will lose their original function and degrade over time)? This provides huge savings on time and money, but cosmetically we will look awful… but who knows, the benchmark for beauty might change over time.

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  70. I ordered a 1 month supply to test it out, but I intend to use it as one piece of a more customized diet. No way would I ever risk replacing my entire diet with something like this…there is no one size fits all with nutrition, and some of the numbers are totally out of whack (2400mg of Sodium? Only 3500mg of Potassium? And Calcium, Phosphorus and Magnesium…not the right quantities or ratios on any of those).

    FDA recommended dietary allowances are a very poor place to start a formulation like this, in my opinion.

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  71. I notice that iodine is listed among the ingredients. I’m allergic to it, so I know that iodine allergies can be potentially very dangerous. Apparently they’re common enough that iodized and non-iodized salt has always been clearly labeled–Soylent would be well advised to follow that practice. I don’t know if the iodine-allergic population is large enough to warrant a version of Soylent without it added, but at the very least there should be a conspicuous notice somewhere on the front of the package.

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  72. I’m glad that they are trying, and I will certainly give it a shot when it hits the market. I don’t think it will be better than traditional food for a while, if ever, but it can certainly be better than the alternative: convenience foods and fast foods etc.

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  73. This seems really interesting!

    As an engineering student myself, I do agree that we often like to take things to extremes.

    Perhaps there is value in doing an experiment where Soylent replaces one or two meals a day, instead of all three?

    Given the ease of preparation and relatively high cost of typical breakfast foods (breads, cereals), it seems like a great breakfast replacement.

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  74. Could you please adjust the author’s byline so we know who is actually writing the article.

    I assumed I was reading an article by Tim Ferriss until I read, “then, I asked Tim Ferriss,” Ugh.

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  75. Hello,
    Great works. I’m 46 and I am tired of eating 3 times a day… A thing that worried me about Soylent, is that being predictable is to be vulnerable (to bacteria, virus or disease). I think pseudo random eating protect us, but I may be wrong there are animals that do always eat the same thing and survive well.
    Best regards,
    Gilles

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  76. I’d be keen to take on soylent as part of my diet, but not completely replace it. I think it’s too early for people to commit that fully to it just yet. Especially if you don’t regularly monitor your blood stream.

    I’d also be hesitant about the long term effects on teeth without having anything to chew on. By making food obsolete, you’re also making your teeth largely obsolete, calcium or not, I can’t imagine that being all too positive.

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  77. I am doing something similar every now and then with a meal-replacement product which appears relatively similar. Main difference is probably much less calories from carbohydrates. The effects are great. Complete Fasting is an even more drastic change, MRPs aren’t as bad/good as that.

    I’ve heard bipolar people complaining that they have a tendency to switch phases on such a diet. Which can be quite dangerous…

    Tim Feriss’ warning seems a bit ironic since in his first book he talks about selling overpriced nutritional supplements with exactly the same thin kind of evidence he condemns here.

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  78. One thought that came to mind a out cost and time especially related to world hunger are; 1. A refrigerator is required 2. A blender is required 3. A lot of water is required for both the drink and the washing of the bottles/containers. All of these items would dramatically impact the cost and feasability making it a non starter for having any impact in third world countries

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    • Refrigerator is not required, it is just more pleasant to drink something cold in the summer. The powder does not require refrigeration to store. The total amount of water should really be the same as with normal water intake and less than normal dishwashing.

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  79. Similiar “shakes” have been available in Germany for quite some time. One example is BCM which is great tasting and also offers things like bars. I have tried it myself for weeks in a row – although sometime cheating with a piece of chocolate, a non-alc beer or a few peanuts :).I can fully corroborate the positive effects AND my health measurements (and weight) improved a lot. The only thing is: the manufacturer doesn’t recommend to use it for more than a couple of months in a row.

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  80. I don’t understand why they’d go to all the trouble of making this stuff out of a gazillion processed ingredients, there’s already long established evidence of a pure meat diet covering all nutritional and energy needs indefinitely (http://highsteaks.com/carnivores-creed/vilhjalmur-stefansson/adventures-in-diet/) and you can get it for much less than $9 a day if that’s your issue.

    Find a way to make a steak and egg smoothie with a hint of liver in a cheap and sustainable way – BAM – world hunger and 90% of neolithic diseases are solved, baby.

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    • @Ash,

      The article you mention says that of the Eskimos that die of old age, they die 10 years younger on average than an industrialized country.

      I like that you including liver in your argument. I would consider liver to be a larger staple if you are moving to an all meat diet, but meat also introduces acidity of around 2-3 pH into your body that takes more for your body to regulate (perhaps this is part of the reason for the Eskimos nice quality of life, but earlier demise?). First the body adjusts to acid as best it can, then the food goes into the blood stream, then the blood has to immediately filter out the increased acidity into the tissues to maintain a high 7.36 blood pH, then the acidity in your tissues can cause problems later…perhaps cancer…which is always present with a specific type of acid. I’m ignoring the idea that meat also digests slower and some health experts believe it begins the putrification process still inside the body.

      Also, for an all meat diet, you would also want to eliminate all non-organic, non-pasture raised and non-grass finished meats as best as possible to eliminate endocrine disruptors and other issues from added hormones and antibiotics. Basically, it is very difficult to live like native Eskimos, even today, as many of them have now embarked at least partially on the western diet.

      But if you do, grass-finished organ meats like livers may be a good way to do it. So yes, add that to Soylent and see what happens!

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      • “The article you mention says that of the Eskimos that die of old age, they die 10 years younger on average than an industrialized country.”

        This has been done to death, but much of this data is due to modern medicine – ie they have increased infant mortality and deaths from stuff western hospitals could sort out simple enough, combined with the fact western folk live longer under palliative care.

        Dunno about you, but even so I’d rather live 10 years less than the average folk but completely healthy than have the last 30-40 years of my life fighting sickness and decrepitude.

        “I would consider liver to be a larger staple if you are moving to an all meat diet”

        Not really, it’s more a hedging bets thing. In the absence of *anti-nutrients* and such that are prevalent in pretty much every other plant-based food we eat, a diet of primarily muscle meat covers the bases quite well.

        “meat also introduces acidity of around 2-3 pH into your body that takes more for your body to regulate”

        Nah that’s all bogus BTW, it’s time to retire the acid/alkaline diet myths, it’s been vegan propaganda for too long and doesn’t stand up to critical thought nor evidence. Chris Kresser has a good couple of articles on this that cover more than I can here.

        “I’m ignoring the idea that meat also digests slower and some health experts believe it begins the putrification process still inside the body”

        This is another silly vegan propaganda myth. Meat and fat digest FASTER than carbohydrates, and the idea that they putrefy is utterly retarded, PLANTS are what ferment, meat is liquified in around an hour, plants can take several hours to digest and still often come out the other end in the same format they entered. Search [ meat rots colon gnolls ], great article debunking that malarkey.

        “Also, for an all meat diet, you would also want to eliminate all non-organic, non-pasture raised and non-grass finished meats as best as possible to eliminate endocrine disruptors and other issues from added hormones and antibiotics”

        I do agree that I would want my food to be as natural and healthy as possible, but the hormones and antibiotics argument is still shaky and lifted way out of proportion. A CAFO beef steak is still a gazillion times better for you than any modern “food” on the supermarket shelf.

        “add that [liver] to Soylent and see what happens”

        As mentioned in my OP, I don’t get why we need all the processed BS that they’re trying to stick in this product – I’m more a “remove everything until you’re left with only what’s good” instead of the usual folk who are “let’s add healthy stuff to crap stuff and call it a balanced diet”.

        But I think we’re getting somewhere…

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      • Hi Ash,

        I enjoyed the article you mentioned. I found it, and then I started to realize I think you are using the terms rot, ferment, and putrefy interchangeably and I think that is a little confusing. I used putrefy, not rot or ferment as your post and the article used. So, if you can cite the research that shows the level of decay from meat in the intestines and colon and the constituents that have decayed undigested, I would be eternally grateful as I’m trying to write blog posts on it.

        It would also be interesting to find out how long Soylent stays in the gut…a future study with more comprehensive info would be nice…we’ll have to wait for it.

        To sum up, the article you stated does not provide decay information and transit time…only that the body can handle some fats and proteins in meat.

        The article does seem somewhat logical in its approach, though, suggesting (but not showing) that some of the meat does get digested, which is my strong belief as well. Dr. Furman and others also seems logical to me. Furman claims (and cites some research) that meat slows down digestion, and that meat is also correlated to more cancers. Furman also makes the case that meat (due to high haem) destroys cells lining our digestive tract. So the more meat you eat, perhaps the less able you would be to digest other foods, like plants or beans if you start on them after eating a primarily meat-based diet.

        For some who have had meats their entire lives, perhaps Soylent would be better for them initially than trying other foods that take more to digest like plants. Perhaps this is a niche for Soylent.

        Furman also goes on to state on Eskimos – “I have not lived with the Inuits or the Massai but I have read many thousands of scientific articles on nutrition in the last twenty years and my conclusions are that the preponderance of evidence is irrefutable that more green vegetables, fruits, seeds, nut and beans in the diet and less processed foods and less animal products is disease-protective (especially cancer and heart disease) and lifespan promoting.”

        Furman goes on to state that he has researched over 2500 studies to determine his thoughts. Sure, it’s possible he’s biased, but he is a MD and has done lots of research, much more so than both authors of the articles you provided.

        So I wonder if Soylent will have the same effect…if it can capture all of the nutrients of the diet Furman advocates. At the very least, Soylent could potentially be more healthy than the standard american diet, and could be especially useful in short-term detoxes, though green juice detoxes may work just as well if not better (just cost more).

        The article you mentioned also doesn’t talk about Americans and compromised livers and gall bladders, possibly filled partially with gall stones, due to processed foods, hormones, antibiotics, binge alcohol, GMOS, or anything the body isn’t necessarily accustomed to throughout evolution. Once the body can’t produce bile as well, hydrochloric acid suffers as well, and digestion becomes worse and worse and worse. So in an optimal body without anything processed or fake ever, with no pollution or other disruptors contributing to your liver difficulties, meat may digest relatively well if eaten sparingly, especially if grass-fed, anti-biotic free, no hormones, happy animal, etc.

        How Soylent affects the liver would be one of my big questions. If it reduces liver capabilities over time, that sucks.

        Also, I read nothing in your post to debunk that low, acidic pH foods leads to greater acids in the tissues, which leads to greater chance for cancer (all cancers have an acid present).

        I would like to see Soylent talk more about the pH. (And yes, if you have pH debunking articles from reputable scientists or research, I’d like to learn and blog about it.)

        For liver to hedge your bets, liver (and natto) has high K-2 which helps calcium be assimilated. Without K-2, if you only eat meat, the theory goes that more calcium is released from bones to help reduce the meat inflammation…leading to bone density loss, osteoporosis, etc.

        I would like to see if Soylent has studied how well it helps calcium absorb…or to see if it causes calcium and minerals to be lost from bone like other processed foods.

        I’m a truth seeker so I’m happy to abandon any of the information that has contributed to my thoughts, but your posts haven’t lead me to abandon any of them. The use of the words “malarky”, “propaganda”, and “retarded” get in the way of the substance. I don’t have the answers, but I am researching them and be happy to provide you information on what I find in the future.

        I’m very keen to find out what the Soylent team finds through their research as well.

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  81. Nice try, but I found the 2 week period to be unreasonable.

    If you know juicers and other eaters, you know the Master Cleanse, where you eat nothing but Lemonaid, Cayanne Pepper, and Maple Syrup for two weeks. Most people I know who have done it say experiences like yours: better energy on a lot of days, worse on some, the body adjusting and then losing weight, then even better energy when finishing.

    But no one would consider that these three foods make a long term hack to the system. The body has enough free energy – and can synthesize enough of everything else – to survive two weeks.

    A reasonable test would be about 2 months.

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  82. I’m not sure whether I believe it will work, or I just WANT it to work. I read the initial blog posts back when Tim first posted them, and was super intrigued. And frustrated, as I’m sure many were, that I couldn’t just get my hands on some right away. I think they need to not make any health claims, just put it on the market with a well integrated feedback system. Based on the buzz it has surrounding it, I’m sure people will buy it. We’ll soon find out what the results are and how to tweak it for a mass market, rather than one dude mixing it in his kitchen. Oh yeah, and choose a different name!

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  83. I love that these guys are trying to solve a problem of this size. They just have to be really careful what they promise. Of course of you are dying from hunger this is a very good alternative to starving.

    Regarding the experiment, it is not very precise and well conducted, and even if it was I am sure the exact same things results could be produced just be fasting with water for 14 days. I even consider some of the health benefits of fasting to give even better results than ingesting powder mixes.

    Of course this is not the case for someone who already didn’t eat for 30 days because of not having food avaliable.

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  84. Is soylent actually made with soy? A bunch of people in the comments began debating if soy is a good food or not, but I didn’t even notice it being listed in the article… there is only one instance where “soy ” appears, and that’s not even talking about soylent directly

    I’m pretty sure that the only reason it is named that is because it’s a hilarious reference to “Soylent Green” from the 1973 movie of the same name… or because it’s made of people – either one.

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    • This recipe version has soy lecithin (an emulsifier), but the product is not soy-based. I don’t know if the final version will even have the lecithin. They seem to be tweaking things still, and probably will continue to do so right up until they have to start manufacturing and shipping the initial orders.

      The creator said he got the name from the book the movie was based on, and the whole “Soylent Green is people” was added to the movie. Soylent was not made of people in the book. A lot of people complain about the name, whether for or against the general idea, but I think the name is responsible for much of the publicity it’s gotten, and therefore much of its crowd-funding, pre-ordering success. Had he called it “nom” (yes, he actually considered that), he probably wouldn’t be getting the same level of free publicity and public interaction.

      Disclaimer: I do not work for or with these guys. I’m just interested in the product (my current diet is crap, this almost *has* to be better) and have read all the blog posts and nearly every forum post on discourse.soylent.me.

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  85. I’ve been following Soylent from the original blog post to the Kickstarter-like campaign, to the Popular Science article. It’s peaked my curiosity so thanks Shane for giving it a try for 2 weeks and letting us know how it went.

    I have been wondering (from the start) why this concept was considered “new” and I’m glad that Tim called Rhinehart out on that. For example, there’s a product now used for malnutrition called Plumpy’nut (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plumpy'nut) that was developed in France and doesn’t require clean water, refrigeration, or preparation. It’s basically peanut butter, veg. fat, sugar, and milk powder (sounds like a cookie I used to eat as a kid). It may not be the most well rounded meal out there but it isn’t filled with maltodextrin (a starch mainly derived from corn in the U.S., that unless organic, is made using GMO corn) or soy.

    Speaking of soy- like many other commenters stated, soy is no longer considered a health food (but the opposite) by many of us in the health industry. The USDA reports that soy, cotton and corn are the most highly sprayed (with chemical fertilizers) crops in the US. Congratulations, you put 2 out of the 3 in your drink- the ONLY food that you’re going to ingest for how long? Add to that, but both of those ingredients are also genetically modified (and the results aren’t fully in on GMO’s yet, so you’re already a lab rat in that experiment).

    Shane, you asked about thoughts on the acid reflux and canker sores. My first thought was that those likely could have been the by-product of detoxing. We can all agree that Diet Coke is filled with nasty stuff (chemicals, colorings, additives, caffeine, HFCS to name a few). Chipotle is notorious for its high salt content, and red Thai curries actually contain a lot of sugar. So, just detoxing from excesses in those areas, could have caused both the reflux and the canker sore.

    As far as Soylent goes, I agree with Tim. People love to take things to the extreme, so you’d better be darned sure that the claims you are making are followed up with hard data. Otherwise, max out your insurance, b/c lawsuits will follow, and people will die. Using humans as lab rats is risky business.

    I’m glad you’re back on the 4HB Shane, I just hope you’ll ditch the soy and add some pasture raised meat into the mix!

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    • Just read the ingredients; soy lecithin is the twelveth ingredient, third from last. It seems rice is the source of protein (third ingredient) and it is more an oat-rice based drink than soy so the name is missleading. I would try it since it’s not all or mostly soy and the amount since so little.

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  86. I think that the gastric reflux can be attributed to soy; I get gastric reflux from soy products because soy is usually hard to diggest. That it went away, IDK. The canker sore could be a detox thing. Sometimes if your body cleanses, it may have a healing crisis which can be expected. The one thing I’m most impressed with are the photos of Shane through out the days. He looked terrible at first and his face looked amazing towards the end. It could be that not having the pizzas, the doughnuts, the cokes and some others may have made that difference alone but it was impressive.

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  87. Great comments and points at the end, Tim. Definitely very exciting ground but I agree this is one area where humility will be best for everyone. Having moderate claims don’t need to be seen as a weakness or not believing in the mission.

    “All we know if that if we take them out, the cell dies.” Very haunting quote.

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  88. By any means this is an interesting experiment worth doing. Anything that gives us further understanding on what body needs, doesn’t need, is or is not beneficial or harmful is worth doing.

    There are some things things that bother me:

    1. Diet before that was really bad.
    Diet coke, m&m’s … I think it can be categorized as ‘junkfood vegetarian’. Just not eating that will improve many things.

    2. Changing the habits.
    Regular sleeping in itself has meaningful effect on life.

    3. Results
    Described cravings, mood changes, energy bursts and other are a lot simillar to what you get on water or a juice fast or detox. Eating nothing can provide you with similar results.

    It would be interesting to see further experiments with this in mind.

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  89. Ok. My big problem in this is the fact that thw human body will crave what it needs to survive. There are women who eat clay because they require the mineral because there body isnt getting enough. Unless Soylent can completely rewrite what humans need then it will not and can not be a one size fits all

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  90. You weren’t kidding on your Facebook post. This debate will be heated.

    My main concerns are personal, but I think it’s a proper concern: obviously safe does not mean allergen-free. There are too many celiacs who cannot handle grain out there to call this a cure-all. The formula needs to be interchangeable, so that even those who can’t eat certain vegetables could still get all they need from the formula with substitutes. In most cases, the primary formula would keep a subject alive, but a subject with celiacs or some other type of hindering allergy will not be a happy camper on this, and it may affect their lifespan and even diseases.

    In spite of all this, I agree that it’s worth the study and experimentation. This has the potential for a lot of things, though I dare not say what, though I doubt any of them bad. The testing required for each part, parcel and piece of an interchangeable Soylent formula seems nearly insurmountable though, at this stage. Perhaps that is just MY lack of creativity.

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