You might be curious to find out if Soylent is actually healthy for you or not. The truth is not really, but it could be worse.
Soylent claims to be a replacement for food, which they like to call “Food reformatted.”
They claim a bottle of Soylent contains a “full meal” of protein, carbohydrates, lipids, and micronutrients.
Soylent has a hardcore following willing to quickly defend it. Hipster and Silicon Valley workaholics love this magical milkshake.
They say it saves them time cooking. They save money that would’ve been spent on real food.
Soylent proponents claim it to be a perfectly engineered food. A food without the footprint left by grown and cultivated real foods.
It’s almost like something out of a Black Mirror episode.
It might be shocking for them to hear Canada has recently banned Soylent. It failed to meet the requirements as a meal replacement.
There was also a major recall and food safety investigation on Soylent recently. Consumers complained of stomach pains, diarrhea, and vomiting.
Soylent makes a lot of claims, but in reality, their “meal replacement shake” isn’t all its cracked up to be.
Why Soylent Isn’t As Healthy As You Think
First, let’s cover the history of Soylent.
Rob Rhinehart created Soylent in 2013. He wanted to embark on a 30-day experiment drinking only a liquid concoction, which later became Soylent.
Afterwards, he was able to raise over a million dollars to bring his “secret formula” to the masses. Now, Soylent is a big company backed by investors with tens of millions of dollars.
Soylent promises to provide all the elements of a healthy diet without the wastefulness of actual food.
Proponents claim even buying real food at your local organic farmer’s market is causing a negative impact on the planet.
Soylent was originally created to help eliminate the need for food. But now it’s shifted towards providing an inexpensive meal replacement to supposedly optimize health.
Comparisons to Soylent have been made to Slimfast. This was another similar “magical milkshake” created in the late 70’s.
When I was a kid I’d see the commercials for Slimfast on TV. I remember how popular they were for people wanting to lose weight.
When we now look back at Slimfast we’re quick to dismiss liquid diets as a fad without much sustainability. Why should Soylent be any different?
Soylent Claims To Be Good For You
I’ll admit it’s enticing listening to founder Rob Rhinehart explain the benefits of Soylent.
He has all the makings of a charismatic cult leader. Especially after providing his people with a glimpse of a more hopeful future with Soylent.
Rhinehart has said…
“Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s good. I started to think that it’s probably all the same to our cells whether it gets nutrients from a powder or carrot.”
In the world of Soylent, all vitamins and nutrients are the same.
They claim your body will process them the same so why waste your time cooking the food in the first place.
It feels like in their ideal world 99% of your diet would be Soylent. This brings a lot of problems we’ll dive deeper into.
They’re also planning on solving world hunger with bottles of Soylent. It’s probably better to be drinking Soylent than to have people dying from starvation in the streets.
They may end up helping to feed more people, but who knows if it’ll actually improve their health or make things worse.
Why Soylent Can Be Bad For You
There are a handful of reasons why strictly consuming Soylent shakes isn’t going to be the best diet for your body.
You’ll most likely have digestive issues with Soylent as it contains a very low amount of fiber.
There are 9 grams of sugar in every bottle of Soylent. If you go 100% Soylent then you’ll be consuming at least 36 grams of sugar every day.
The nutrient profile of Soylent isn’t too bad, but it’s not great. Getting all your food from one source isn’t going to be a good idea.
The founder likes to compare eating real food and Soylent to infants fed breastmilk or formula.
Even though there are studies finding breastfeeding more beneficial to the infant than formula.
The lack of healthy fats and cholesterol in Soylent can be problematic. Gone are the days when eating fats are bad for you.
The latest research shedding new light on the benefits of saturated fats and cholesterol. Turns out it isn’t linked to heart disease and can actually improve your health.
The jury is still out if soy is good for you or not.
Some studies have found benefits to eating soy. It’s not totally bad. Yet, there are still lots of studies finding too many negative health problems with it.
Soylent Lacks Real Fiber
A bottle of Soylent contains only 3 grams of fiber. If you’re drinking 4 bottles per day then that’s only 12 grams of fiber.
The daily recommendation for fiber is 38 grams for men and 25 grams for women. Although low, even the average American eats 15 grams of fiber per day.
Fiber lowers your risk of cardiovascular disease and plays a role in the health of your gut.
Most fruits contain a high amount of fiber. The natural fructose in fruits can cause your blood sugar to spike.
But the fiber in the fruit will slow the absorption helping to prevent spikes in blood sugar.
In this study analysis, researchers found fiber to:
- help with type 2 diabetes
- improve glycemic control
- regulate appetite
- those with higher fiber intake weighed less
- reduce inflammation
- lower chance of colon cancer
Fiber is an important source of prebiotics for your body. These nutrients encourage the development of healthy bacteria in your gut.
Soylent Contains Sugar + Sucralose
Every bottle of Soylent contains 9 grams of sugar. After drinking 4 bottles of it in a day you’ll end up with 36 grams of sugar.
That’s a lot!
The American Heart Association recommends limiting your daily sugar intake to 37.5 grams for men and 25 grams for women.
In the real world, you should try to keep your daily sugar intake under 10 grams. Especially if you’re trying to lose weight.
There’s undeniable evidence sugar consumption is one of the main causes of weight gain, diabetes, and other chronic health problems.
Soylent also contains the artificial sweetener sucralose.
Artificial sweeteners, like sucralose, cause you to gain weight even though they contain zero calories.
Sucralose is 600 times sweeter than table sugar. After eating it your body is expecting an influx of calories to come with it.
The reward pathways in your body aren’t satisfied when there are no calories to back up the extreme sweetness of sucralose.
This causes your body to want to eat more and more.
This study found low-calorie sweeteners increase fat in your body by allowing more glucose to enter your cells. This results in increased inflammation leading to weight gain.
The more artificial sweeteners you’re putting into your body the more it’ll encourage sugar cravings and dependence.
Even drinking diet soda can cause you to gain belly fat.
It’s best to minimize your intake of sugar and artificial sweeteners. Drinking more Soylent isn’t going to help.
Soylent’s Nutrient Profile Is Lacking
Soylent claims you’ll get all the vitamins and minerals you’ll need in one bottle.
I’ll admit Soylent does cover a wide-range of vitamins and minerals in their nutrient profile. But that doesn’t mean it’s all you’re going to need.
Going on any one diet for too long will result in the buildup of micronutrient deficiencies.
Health problems start when you’re not getting adequate amounts of these micronutrients.
Scientist are linking micronutrient deficiencies to cancer development and other chronic health problems.
For example, you’ll most likely develop heart disease if you’re not getting enough potassium from your diet. Your blood pressure will go up and next thing you know you’re having a heart attack.
This is why it’s important to make sure you get a wide range of foods in your diet.
Otherwise, eating the same foods all day every day will lead to deficiencies.
There are nutrients in real foods that help to increase your absorption of vitamins and minerals.
These nutrients often work together to make food more bioavailable to your body.
You can see from the Nutrient Facts the amount of vitamin C will only make up 20% of your daily requirements. This means you have to drink 5 bottles a day to meet them.
Some synthetic vitamins and minerals are absorbed just as good as others. There are others which are not.
It would be unwise to get all of your vitamins and minerals from synthetic sources. This is when health problems can happen.
For example, calcium supplementation has resulted in problems for those who take it. They found users had an increase in heart disease.
Instead, try to get your calcium from real foods like eating more sardines.
Breastmilk vs. Formula
Let’s dig deeper into the comparison of Soylent and eating real foods to breastmilk and formula.
“I have, and actually I’m even more interested in the similarities between breast milk and formula. As far as safety control and completeness are concerned, formula is actually better. Natural isn’t always best.”
This isn’t true.
Even the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization recommends 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding for infants.
They claim nutrients found in breast milk are more easily digestible and superior to formulas.
As a result infants immune systems are stronger at preventing infections. The fatty acids in breastmilk also encourage brain development.
In this study analysis, researchers found formulas to be linked with negative health outcomes for infants. They found higher rates of deaths from infections and chronic diseases.
This newer study from the University of California, Los Angeles found breastmilk to significantly contribute to the infant’s good bacteria.
Your body needs healthy bacteria in the gut for immune system, digestion, and brain health.
There are some studies finding not much difference between breastfeeding and formulas.
But if this was your baby would really risk it if you didn’t have to?
Where’s The Fats
Soylent does have 21 grams of mostly unsaturated fats in each bottle. But where are the unsaturated fats?
Recent research has proven eating saturated fats isn’t linked to an increase in heart disease.
In fact, your body needs saturated fats to run optimally.
Increases in weight gain and diabetes began with the demonization of eating fats. Turns out they were the good guys.
Once people kicked fats to the curb we went switched them out for refined carbohydrates.
The old Food Pyramid I grew up with as a kid is proof enough they were totally wrong.
Fats help to slow the absorption of sugar in your body. This is what prevents blood sugar spikes causing insulin insensitivity.
Eats fats will also help to increase your feelings of being full. This will cause you to not want to eat as many calories in the day.
Recent research has also found dietary cholesterol is actually good for you.
Eating saturated fats and cholesterol isn’t going to raise your LDL (bad) cholesterol. For more see why eating the whole egg is good for you.
If you’re on an all-Soylent diet you’ll be missing out on these necessary fats in your diet.
Soy Just Isn’t That Great
Soy is widely considered a health food even though there is inconclusive evidence on its benefits.
The protein in Soylent is from soy protein isolate, and if I were you I wouldn’t be putting this in my body all the time.
Its true studies have are limited and inconclusive if soy will harm you or not.
This study found soy’s estrogen-mimicking compounds could reduce fertility in women. Women fed soy formula as infants had longer periods and more menstrual cramping than those breastfed.
This study found no difference in weight loss for those eating a diet with protein-rich soy. Claims that soy is better for you for weight loss aren’t true.
If you’re a man then you might want to reconsider your soy intake. This study found soy protein lowered testosterone in men by 19% during the 4-weeks.
Crazy enough, once they stopped taking the soy their testosterone levels went back up. Eating more soy isn’t worth the chaos it can cause to your body’s natural hormones.
I’m not saying soy is the devil, but it’s a food that shouldn’t make up the bulk of your diet.
Drinking multiple bottles of Soylent per day is asking for some serious health problems.
It’s probably ok for you to be drinking Soylent here and there. Even once a day isn’t going to kill you, and there actually could be some benefits to it.
It’s a better choice for a meal considering the high amount of junk food the average American eats on a daily basis.
But that’s still setting the bar pretty low.
Soylent’s proponents claim all “vitamins are vitamins” whether they’re synthetically made or from natural real foods.
This is only partially true. Some vitamins are, but there are also some that are not.
Slimfast proved liquid diets won’t last. It’s no wonder users of the called it, “death by milkshake.”
There are no long-term studies on Soylent yet. But with the evidence above it’s hard to give it the full approval.
With Soylent you’ll be missing some other vital nutrients. This includes omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, saturated fats, and phytonutrients.
The back of Soylent bottles even says you shouldn’t replace your entire diet with only Soylent. But they do say it can replace any meal. Not so fast.
Nothing like dumping sugar and artificial sweeteners in your body multiple times per day in the mother of all processed foods.
Is soy bad for you? It looks like it is.
You’d be crazy to go 100% Soylent, but drinking a bottle a day isn’t going to kill you. Probably…
Josh holds a Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Physiology and Nutrition Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) by the National Strength and Conditioning Association and he’s a Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) by American Council on Exercise. He’s worked as a Strength and Conditioning Coach at the high school and college levels. He has over 15 years of experience as a personal trainer and nutrition coach. He is also the author of The Flat Belly Formula. He strives to bring inspiration and results for people to live healthier lives through smart diet and exercise.