When you hear the word Soylent, what image pops into your head? A dystopian future where people are recycled into tasty little green treats, perhaps?
For the past few months, talk about a product called Soylent has been making the rounds on the Internet. It's billed as an all-in one nutritional drink that has all of the nutrients that your body needs.
Creator Rob Rhinehart's pitch is that you would potentially never have to eat food again.
"Soylent is all of the essential nutrients required by the body in a more elemental form," said Rhinehart on Take Two. "It's basically a powder — you mix it with water, you drink it, you add flavoring if you'd like — but the primary goal here is efficiency."
Rhinehart, a 24-year-old software developer, developed Soylent after realizing he had a poor diet and didn't have the means to eat better.
"I figured, do we really need the food itself or do we just need the nutrients?" said Rhinehart. "It's not that people don't know what's healthy and what's unhealthy, it's that we haven't created the means necessary to get healthy foods to everyone."
Rhinehart beta-tested the product, first by restricting himself to an all-Soylent diet for 30 days.
"By every objective measure, I got much, much healthier," said Rhinehart. "My gym performance was much improved, my blood work was fantastic, I slept better, had more energy, gave up caffeine, and all the things you would hear from someone who got a lot healthier."
He found that drinking Soylent worked for him 90 percent of the time, saving him money on food and saving him from having to cook and clean dishes. He would allow himself to eat regular meals with friends on the weekends.
The group is currently working on customizing the mixtures for men and women, as well as more targeted concoctions based on a person's weight, level of physical activity, body fat percentage and nutritional goals.
Soylent has been a polarizing product. Some say that their skin has cleared up and they've lost weight since drinking it, but critics find it repulsive and say that it can't accomplish what it claims.
"It is a reasonable concern, 'what if nutrients are not getting absorbed in the proper amount?' That's why I did so much blood testing and so much quantification on myself and some other testers," said Rhinehart. "There have been no deficiencies. As long as the nutrients are bioavailable and safe, which they all are, the body can make use of it. It just has to do less work to extract it as it would from traditional food."
Rhinehart hopes his product will help improve nutrition for people who have a difficult time accessing good food as well as in the developing world, since Soylent doesn't spoil and is easy to transport.
See what Take Two producers think about Soylent:
Should we be drinking Soylent?
Rob Rhinehart's argument for the benefits of Soylent may be convincing, but what do nutritionists think of the stuff?
"This probably falls under a category of meal replacements," said Tracy Anthony, Associate Professor of Nutritional Sciences, Rutgers University. "On an intermittent basis, adults can drink a lot of things and be ok, but if you're looking to incorporate this as the main component of your sustenance, there are a lot of things lacking in this particular product."
Anthony says the main carbohydrate ingredient in Soylent, Maltodextrin, is a high glycemic sugar, which can cause insulin to spike and set someone up for diabetes later in life. Some people can also have something called reactive hypoglycemia, due to the fast insulin spike that results.
The protein element in Soylent is whey, a fast-digesting protein that delivers amino acids quickly. Bodybuilders often use whey for this reason, but it can also cause an insulin spike compared to other protein sources.
Anthony says it may also missing other key nutritional ingredients.
"I didn't see choline listed on the creator's list. Choline is very important in protecting cell membranes and making neurotransmitters and liver function," said Anthony. "Over time, if this product actually is deficient in choline, you could be setting yourself up for diabetes, fatty liver, and processing problems in memory."
UPDATE 2:47 p.m.: Julio Miles of Soylent points out that Soylent actually does containe choline. Here is a full list of ingredients:
Anthony says that Soylent is a decent option if you're looking for a meal replacement or want to lose weight, but she cautions that it shouldn't be the source of most of your nutrition.
"There are things that you can use to survive, but that's different than saying, 'what do we need to live, and experience the full value that life has to offer?'" said Anthony. "At some point it needs to transition into having a proper relationship with food, and ultimately that's what serves your highest quality of life."