Eating food is great and all, but sometimes it’s just a hassle.
Shopping, prepping, cooking, cleaning up…it can take quite a bit of time.
Hence the popularity of fast food, protein bars, meal replacement shakes, and the like.
Their convenience comes at a cost, though: nutrition.
What if there were another option, though?
What if there were a special type of meal replacement shake that gave you the best of all worlds? One that was inexpensive, fast, tasty, and healthy?
Moreover, what if it were so nutritious that it could replace food altogether? What if we could live off of it exclusively, if we were so inclined, and be perfectly healthy?
Well, that’s the pitch for Soylent.
It’s no mere protein shake, we’re told, but a nutritionally perfect food that provides your body with the complete spectrum and macro- and micronutrients that it needs.
How true are these claims, though?
Well, as you’ll soon see, while Soylent is a viable meal replacement option, it just can’t live up to the hype.
Let’s find out why.
Soylent is a meal replacement drink that’s designed to supply all of the macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals the body needs.
It was invented in 2013 by an engineer named Rob Rhinehart, whose goal was to create a healthy, convenient, and affordable liquid replacement for food.
You know, something like this…
It gets its name from the dystopian movie Soylent Green, in which the teeming masses of the future are sustained by a mysterious substance called, well, soylent green.
It’s an interesting choice of product name considering that, in the movie, we learn that soylent green is made from human corpses, but I digress.
Soylent was originally a powder that came with a tube of fat that you added separately, but now you can buy it in four different ways:
Soylent is primarily marketed as an easy meal replacement for busy people, and it works fairly well in this regard.
It’s easy to mix up, making it extremely convenient.
It doesn’t need to be refrigerated, so you can bring and store them anywhere.
It’s more nutritious than many meal replacement shakes, making it a healthier option for on-the-go eating.
It’s nutrition facts are pretty good, too. Here’s what you’ll get in a serving (meal) of the 1.6 powder:
That’s certainly better than what you’ll find in most meal replacement supplements, but does that mean that it can replace all of your meals?
Use this workout and flexible dieting program to lose up to 10 pounds of fat and build muscle in just 30 days…without starving yourself or living in the gym.
If Soylent were billed as a nutritious meal replacement drink, and not an all-in-one “superfood,” then it wouldn’t be fair to call it overrated.
I don’t like the choice of soy protein (the subject of another article), but it’s still better than many of the low-quality, sugar-laden alternatives.
But, because it is promoted as an all-purpose food replacement, well, a bit of debunking is in order.
Soylent was formulated to meet the minimum nutritional requirements of the average sedentary person.
That is, it was created according to a baseline diet of about 2,000 calories and just 100 grams of protein per day.
And that just doesn’t work for us physically active folk.
If you want the best possible results, then you’d want to eat about 2,000 calories per day, and you’d want those calories to break down into about 200 grams of protein, 200 grams of carbs, and 40 grams of fat.
If you were to get all of your calories from Soylent, though, your macros would look quite different:
That’s no good.
The low protein intake would result in less muscle gain (or even muscle loss), the low carb intake would exacerbate those problems, and the high fat intake would offer no major health or fat loss benefits.
Even if you were to get less than all of your calories from Soylent, you’d still find it hard to balance your macros.
For example, ~1,000 calories of Soylent provides about 50 grams of protein, 94 grams of carbs, and 50 grams fat, which is still no good (that’s all your fat for the day but only 1/4 of your protein and 1/2 of your carbs).
The bottom line is Soylent’s macronutritional formulation may make sense for people that eat a relatively low-protein and high-fat diet, but not for those of us working to improve our body composition.
Soylent’s USP is that it’s the ideal solution for people who “don’t have time to eat.”
What’s wrong with that, you ask?
Well, when most people say this, what they really mean is that maintaining healthy eating habits isn’t important enough to them.
You see, research shows that people who take the time to plan, prepare, and savor their meals make generally better eating decisions than those who don’t.
They tend to choose more nutritious foods that are lower in calories, and they tend to get more satisfaction from their meals and eat fewer calories overall.
That’s why meal planning works so well.
It teaches you to make deliberate, informed choices about what to eat, and this ultimately translates into better long-term eating habits.
Eating a bunch of Soylent, on the other hand, teaches you what, exactly? That it’s easy to replace many, if not all, of your calories with fast, processed, pre-packaged food?
Yup, it sure is, but how is that lesson going to help you in the long run? What will happen when you get bored of Soylent? Where will these habits lead you next?
Right back to the drive-thrus, vending machines, and microwaved meals, of course.
You’ve probably heard that the best diet is the one you can stick to.
There’s a lot of truth in that.
You see, when it comes to long-term results, dietary compliance is everything. The better you can stick to the plan, the better your results are going to be.
That’s true of any diet, too, regardless of how “perfect” it might be in theory. If you can’t follow it with relative ease, and for the long haul, then it’s not for you.
(That’s why I recommend flexible dieting so highly. It’s the most adaptable and sustainable method of dieting that I know of.)
Now, how does Soylent measure up against that yardstick?
Well, unless you just don’t like eating any foods whatsoever, I can already tell you that you’re not going to enjoy an all-liquid diet.
It gets really old, really fast.
Eventually, the temptation of real food will win, and your Soylent fling will come to an end.
Research shows that liquid calories aren’t as filling as whole foods, which is why it’s generally a bad idea to drink your calories (and especially when you’re dieting to lose weight).
The reason for this is obvious:
Hearty foods like grains, meat, and vegetables sit in your stomach for hours, keeping you full and satisfied, whereas liquid calories like Soylent are more rapidly digested and absorbed, causing you to be hungry again sooner.
Studies also show that thoroughly chewing your food leads to greater feeling of fullness after meals than just swallowing (or slurping) it down as quickly as possible.
That’s why people whose diets are comprised mainly of relatively unprocessed foods like lean meats, fruits, and vegetables almost always lose more weight than people who eat large amounts of processed foods.
On paper, Soylent has all the nutrients the body needs to survive.
That doesn’t mean you can eat it exclusively for a long period of time without any negative health effects, though.
Scientists don’t fully understand yet why whole, unprocessed foods are so good for us, but they do know that it has to do with the large number of chemicals and compounds that foods contain in addition to essential vitamins and minerals.
That is, foods contain special molecules not found in nutritional supplements that make them more beneficial to our health.
That’s why it’s not advisable to rely on a multivitamin for meeting most of your micronutritional needs, and why replacing most or all of your food with Soylent isn’t a good idea, either.
It’s just not the same as eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and healthy types of protein.
By now, you can probably see why I think Soylent just isn’t all it’s chalked up to be.
That doesn’t mean it’s worthless, though.
When you you honest-to-goodness don’t have time to prepare and/or eat healthy whole-food meals, then Soylent is a decent choice.
Maybe you just found out that you have to get to work early, which means no time to make breakfast.
Or maybe you’re going to be flying for 20 hours with no access to any real food of any quality.
Or maybe you’re crunched on a deadline and are going to be spending a lot of time at your desk.
Whatever the reason, if you really don’t have time to eat the way you’d like, Soylent can be a good fallback.
It’s definitely more nutritious than most protein bars, RTDs, and meal replacement shakes on the market, which are often little more than very low-quality protein powders with some simple sugars and a whole host of chemicals that you can’t pronounce.
Soylent isn’t a viable all-in-one food replacement that can forever free you from the the pains of planning, prepping, cooking, and eating food, and it’s not a shortcut for getting into shape.
It’s just a decent meal replacement supplement.
So, if you’re often tight on time and in need of a nutritious snack, Soylent isn’t a bad choice. That’s about all that can be said about it, though.
If, however, your goal is develop an enjoyable, sustainable lifestyle that will allow you to build muscle, lose fat, and stay healthy, you don’t need Soylent.
You need to learn how to manage your diet.