Is it a good idea to use Soylent once/twice a day?

post by adamzerner · 2014-09-08T00:00:36.118Z · score: 5 (10 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 57 comments

Edit: Sorry, I didn't realize there has been so much discussion on this already! I thought I had just stumbled across some obscure product haha. Anyway, I've been reading through discussions here, on Hacker News, Tim Ferris' blog etc. There's been a lot of talk about whether or not this is truly a "replacement for eating" (or whatever the term is). I think the more interesting question is whether it's a good idea to:

I don't think this particular question has been discussed enough. And it seems that it hasn't been discussed here for a while. So perhaps we should start a new conversation!

My initial impression is that it is a good idea to use it as a once or twice a day thing.

  1. It saves time. To me, this is huge.
  2. It saves money.
  3. It makes it easier to eat fewer calories, fat, sugar and salt. I'm surprised this health benefit isn't talked about more. Most american diets have way too much of these four things. I think Soylent helps in this area for two main reasons: a) It makes you full faster. b) It doesn't have as much calories/fat/sugar/salt as you a typical diet probably does.
  4. It is probably way more nutritious than the meal it's replacing. Typical diets probably are lacking in certain nutrients, and Soylent will probably help to "fill in these gaps". Again, another huge benefit that I'm surprised doesn't get talked about as much (although this doesn't apply for people who use multivitamins).
  5. There really don't seem to be anything unhealthy about having it once or twice a day. I'm not very confident about this claim because it hasn't been studied enough, but so far I haven't heard of anyone experiencing health problems from Soylent* as a once or twice a day thing, and meal replacement stuff like Soylent seems to have been around for a while and hasn't caused anyone any problems.
    *The two main problems (digestive issues and headaches) seem to be sufficiently addressed by 1. Adopting it slowly into your diet (over the course of 5 days or so) and 2. Making sure you get enough salt.
So what do you guys think about using Soylent once or twice a day as I describe?

Edit: I just found an informative article - http://www.meghantelpner.com/blog/the-soylent-killer.

 


Original Post: you could ignore this if you're familiar with Soylent

I've just came across a meal replacement drink called Soylent - http://www.soylent.me/.

It is...

And thus it sounds amazing! I try to be healthy and cook my own meals but I find that I spend way too much time cooking, eating and cleaning (at least 2-3 hours a day). And despite my efforts to be healthy, I still think my diet has too much fat, sugar, salt, processed ingredients etc. (like most Americans).

The two downsides that come to mind are:
  1. It may be lacking certain essential nutrients.
  2. It may have detrimental effects on my health in the long-term.

1) It seems that they tried to create this drink to have all the macro and micronutrients you'd need. I'm not a nutritionist so I can't say, but I can't be sure that it is indeed comprehensive. However, I was just talking to a nutritionist and she mentioned that people in comas and stuff do survive on a formula similar to this that's injected into their stomach (or another part of their digestive system). So that does make me relatively confident that it's at least possible for humans to survive off a formula like this.

2) This is the biggest concern. This Stack Exchange answer seems reliable and said the long-term effects haven't been studied. And I recall hearing this before. I don't really see any reason to think there'd be detrimental long-term effects.
  • Tube feeding has been around for a while and doesn't seem to have any long-term effects (from what I know).
  • There doesn't seem to be anything odd about the ingredients that would be detrimental. When you eat food and digest it, it becomes something pretty similar to what's in the formula. In fact, it seems that the ingredients in the formula are simpler than the components of whole foods, and thus there should be less stress on your digestive system.
  • Meal replacement drinks have been around for a while and don't seem to have any long-term effects (from what I know).

However I really don't have enough information to make any reasonably strong conclusions. Those bullet points above are more vague suspicions than evidence backed knowledge.


So do any of you guys know anything about Soylent or meal replacement drinks/bars/etc.? Are they healthy? Are there things I haven't accounted for?

Also, I'm sorta surprised this isn't more popular. Most people I know hate cooking and cleaning and shopping and spending so much time and money on food. I think most people would be more than happy to have Soylent (or something similar) for a meal or two each day, and then have a big dinner or something. It would save a ton of money and time, and would reduce the amount of fat and sugar in the persons diet. And because you're spending less money on food and consuming less fat and sugar, you could justify eating out or ordering in a splurge meal more often! What do you guys think? Why isn't this more popular? Are people really that afraid of the health effects?

(I'm not being hypocritical. I know that *I've* been asking about the health effects and seem to be worried about them, but I wouldn't think most people would approach this the same way I am. If I lived on an island isolated from other people, was told about Soylent and asked what I think it's popularity is, I would guess it to be very high. I would think people would see that it's pretty nutritious, aren't really any known risks or reason to think there would be risks, and be eager to save time and money by using Soylent).

57 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-09-08T09:16:29.878Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

It is probably way more nutritious than the meal it's replacing. Typical diets probably are lacking in certain nutrients, and Soylent will probably help to "fill in these gaps". Again, another huge benefit that I'm surprised doesn't get talked about as much (although this doesn't apply for people who have multivitamins).

There's little evidence that consuming multivitamins is healthy for the average person.

comment by Rain · 2014-09-08T01:11:48.770Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Here's my review of Soylent and a taskification of how I use it.

Pros:

  • Much easier than cooking or even fast food, when transportation costs are taken into account
  • Much more nutritionally complete than fast food or processed sugar-foods
  • Relatively cheap
  • Tastes neutral or slightly sweet

Cons:

  • Sometimes sticks to the back of my throat
  • Can give foul smelling gas
  • Can cause headaches
  • Can cause nausea
  • Texture of high pulp orange juice
  • Doesn't have the daily allowance of sodium

Preparation Process:

  • Place Takeya pitcher on counter with top off
  • Rip off top of Soylent bag
  • Squeeze top of Soylent bag down to a circular shape that fits in the pitcher
  • Place top of bag in pitcher and tilt
  • Squeeze and press on bag until all powder is in pitcher
  • Add 1/4 tsp to 1 tsp of salt, depending on taste and sodium cravings. I use Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt.
  • Add warm water to pitcher to the edge of the container
  • Put top on and shake vigorously
  • Open top, careful not to drip remnants
  • Add oil from oil jar and more warm water to edge of the container
  • Put on top and shake vigorously
  • Place pitcher in refrigerator

Consumption process:

  • Pour Soylent into 8oz glass - I use Bermioli Rocco glasses recommended by TheWirecutter
  • Alternatively, pour Soylent into 16oz Thermos, such as the Thermos Nissan
  • If still warm, put in 1 ice cube
  • Sip or chug as needed
  • Consume lots of additional water
  • Immediately upon finishing a glass, add a dash of water, swirl it around, drink remnants, and then rinse glass

Notes:

  • Do not put water in pitcher before Soylent powder, as it's easy to put in too much water, and the Soylent won't fit.
  • Warm water mixes more easily with the Soylent
  • Soylent tastes better when chilled
  • Soylent dries out into a very hard, crusty residue which is difficult to clean, so stray droplets are a nuisance
comment by Rain · 2014-09-08T01:14:38.132Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Previous discussions on LW:

comment by adamzerner · 2014-09-08T01:41:49.911Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Sorry. Thanks for the links.

comment by Rain · 2014-09-08T01:48:00.095Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

No reason to apologize. It's a good time for another thread, since it's actually out now.

comment by adamzerner · 2014-09-08T02:05:03.446Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I should have thought to check for previous threads. I just heard of Soylent and thought of it as some obscure product so I didn't, but I should have just checked anyway.

I'm reading through them now, but if you wouldn't mind saving me some time, is there some sort of general agreement as to the safety of Soylen and similar meal replacement drinks/bars?

comment by Rain · 2014-09-08T02:11:46.089Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

No agreement. It's a polarizing topic, even here.

comment by zedzed · 2014-09-08T03:37:12.515Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I DIY soylent. It's cheaper (<$5/day (1), ordering everything online in America), and I'm not at all enthused about some of the choices for the commercial product. Here's my spreadsheet. Nb. this was made just for personal use (a) for sourcing (which is boring, tedious, and time-consuming) and (b) to estimate the price per day. I haven't included things you'll need like scales, something to crush the tablets, a blender and, most importantly, choline, since I already had enough of lying around. I also add creatine, although it's not essential. Check the original ingredient list and update if you're planning on using it. Partake at your own risk, and definitely don't do it if you don't have enough of a background in chemistry to go from "I need x grams of sodium" to "I should include y grams of NaCl".


Process

  1. Make a bag with the proper micronutrient blend (I go back and forth about including (and taking) nootropics, but this is when I'd add them. Except bacopa. Bacopa's super non-yummy and would ruin my food for the entire day). I usually make 12 or 16 days worth and add psyllium to make it 3 or 4 cups, which corresponds to putting in a quarter cup a day. Liquid micronutrients go in at make-time.

  2. Put olive oil into blender.

  3. Add micronutrients.

  4. Turn on blender and add water (the blender isn't going to be a huge fan of blending so little)

  5. Add maltodextrin and whey. Don't lollygag, because otherwise something... weird happens between the olive oil, water, and fiber and it turns into an inedible gelatinous mass. You don't need to rush, but be snappy.

  6. Store in refrigerator. Drink when hungry (I prefer it cold.)


Pros

  • Fast (it takes a bit of time to make the micro bag, but whipping up a batch takes around 2 minutes)

  • Cheap

  • More nutritionally complete than your diet (or anyone else's) probably is.

  • Taste is satisfying

  • Mental clarity (I've tried various approaches to eating over the years, some of them good, and soylent is by far the best in this regard)

  • You don't have to choose what to eat

  • No skill (or, more accurately, you need (rudimentary) chemistry instead of cooking. I suspect the average user here is much more likely to know the former)

  • All your foodstuffs are delivered to your front door. This was especially important as a college student constrained by bus schedules = going to store costs takes 1.5 hours.

Cons

  • Boring (which I personally consider a pro, but most people don't)

  • It ferments after a while. About a day room temperature, several if you refrigerate (which you absolutely should).

  • If you add too much water, it'll be unpleasantly runny. If you add too little, it'll be unpleasantly thick.

  • High startup costs (~$1000)

  • You don't get to choose what to eat

  • If you mess up, you can either wind up with a complete deficiency or overdosing by a few orders of magnitude. The spreadsheet I've linked to is meant for sourcing, not making it. Check elsewhere for how much you should put in/completeness.

  • Pain in the ass to clean the pitcher. Soap + soaking in water for a few hours works pretty well.

  • There is a completely reasonable chance something goes disastrously wrong, I contract the jumping cold robbies or somesuch and die horribly. Obviously, I think there's a very low probability of that happening, but very smart people I trust (ie. other LWers) disagree.


Miscellaneous stuff

  • The amount of water you should add varies by person. Some people prefer thick, bordering on pudding. Others prefer it thin like gruel. You'll probably have a few unpleasant batches before you figure out what's right for you.

  • Most things are best bought online, but in my area, the olive oil is notably less expensive in grocery stores.

  • I mentioned I don't have choline on the list. By all means, use my spreadsheet to source things, but for the love of Cthulu, check sources not me to make sure you're getting the right amounts of everything. I take no responsibility if you derp it up and wind up deficient or overdosing by two orders of magnitude (which is surprisingly easy).

  • As soon as I can afford to (ie. when I graduate/get a job), I'm planning on switching to mealsquares. They do the same thing but better (nutrients from whole foods, have the flavonoids/anthocyanins things, easier, and reportedly taste better). However, according to back of the envelope, they cost 2.5-3x as much (2)

  • Many of my ingredients come from Amazon. Use amazon smile (I support CFAR) and, apparently, if you go to amazon following one of Scott Alexander's affiliate links (of Slate Star Codex) and buy stuff within the next hour, 4-8% (or more) will go to him. (I'm unsure about my affiliate assertion, but it's the best I can come up with and I'm at least 50% sure it's correct).

  • With one exception, literally everyone I've told about soylent immediately responds with some variation of "I couldn't ever give up real food" and completely dismisses it as a thing they might possibly do. This would explain why it's not more popular

  • My current model: macronutrient composition doesn't really matter. Yes, there's some essential fats and it's quite bad to not have enough protein and there's better and worse fats (omega-3 vs trans) and better and worse carbs (based on glycemic index). But, beyond that, the focus on "low-carb" vs "low-fat" is beside the point. 1, 2

  • I'd be willing to answer any questions that come up. I've been doing soylent for a little over a year now, and am a pretty big fan of it.


(1) I weigh about 75 kilos, mostly lean, am active, and am trying to add muscle. This all has implications in terms of how much protein I include; changing any of these factors changes how much protein you'll need changes how much it costs, likely in the downward direction. Notice that protein, by far, makes up the majority of the cost (~40%)

(2) If you assume $5/day soylent and 2000 calorie diet, then mealsquares, at $75/6 = $12.5 / day. However, soylent is (slightly) less than $5/day. More importantly, I eat significantly more than 2000 calories a day, and with DIY soylent, you can increase the number of calories with maltodextrin which is ludicrously cheap.

comment by VAuroch · 2014-09-09T18:22:04.816Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Have you considered the Soylent Orange formula from the MealSquares people? Why did you go with this way rather than that?

(I have eaten about 50% Soylent Orange, 50% other simple food, for the past ~15 months.)

comment by zedzed · 2014-09-09T23:36:38.106Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I saw Soylent Orange after having invested in Soylent "Green" (1). I didn't look into it too hard because I'd already invested heavily into traditional soylent and (a) didn't want to incur sunk costs, (b) had already spent significant time doing "Green" well and didn't want to look at another approach and (c) I had already put myself at enough of a deficit with "Green" that I couldn't afford to switch again. So, a sunk cost, a trivial inconvenience, and a suboptimal investment; none of these are reasons OP shouldn't go orange instead of green. I'll also note that the cost per calorie is on par.

There are, however, values that make "Green" a good choice. I value mental clarity, and I've gotten that much more with "Green" than on any other diet (2).

If you're into quantified self, putting in each component by itself makes it extremely simple to test the effect of one micro or macronutrient on your body.


(1) No, it doesn't contain humans. But that's what you'd expect me to say even if it did. But it doesn't. Really!

(2) Obviously, having not tested Orange, there's no reason it couldn't yield better mental clarity than Green. Part of my intuition for Green goes something like "it doesn't contain anything that could potentially gum up the works, which is why your thinking feels so clean when you're strictly on Green." By main influence here is Staffan Lindeberg's Food and Western Disease, which spends about equal time talking about how things in food can improve health (like multivitamins) or diminish it (various defensive chemicals from plants, environmental toxins, etc.).

That said, I'd be extremely interested to find if going for a period exclusively on Orange resulted in improved mental clarity, and especially interested in a head to head test.

comment by VAuroch · 2014-09-10T01:50:33.231Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I will say that if you already own a blender, Soylent Orange has very low startup cost. Other than the marmite, everything involved can be purchased on the scale of a week or less, if you have Whole Foods-type places nearby.

I know I benefited tremendously, but there was a huge effect from just eating enough food, which was not my norm previously, and that probably dwarfed any noticeable effects from the diet specifically.

comment by zedzed · 2014-09-10T02:15:23.756Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

My dear fellow, I wish to thank you. I have been eating a suboptimal food that I thought was optimal these fifteen months.

comment by VAuroch · 2014-09-10T02:21:38.053Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

o_0? I can't tell if this was sarcasm (which isn't enormously warranted, I'm not really evangelizing) or sincere. If it was sincere, then: You're welcome! How is it better?

I only picked it because it is cheaper than buying Soylent Green, and easier than DIY Green. It's certainly less quantified-selfy, but it's good enough for my purposes.

comment by zedzed · 2014-09-10T06:33:20.717Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, not sarcasm. Courtesy of Julia Galef via Richard Dawkins:

This is the Golgi apparatus, which is a structure in the cell that distributes macro-molecules around the cell. And when Dawkins was at Oxford, there was an elderly professor in the department who was famous for his claim that the Golgi apparatus was illusory, that it was an artifact of observation, that it didn’t actually exist. So one day a visiting professor from the States came to give a talk at Oxford in which he presented new and compelling evidence that the Golgi apparatus was, in fact, real. So, as you can imagine, throughout the whole talk everyone is glancing over at the elderly professor like, “How’s he taking this? What’s he going to say?” And at the end of the talk, the elderly professor marches up to the front of the lecture hall and he extends his hand and he says, “My dear fellow, I wish to thank you. I have been wrong these 15 years.

I'm most compelled by the whole foods/bioavalibility argument (point 3 here.) and the likely comparative glycemic indices. Like, my marginal cost per meal is still lower on Green (since I've bought half the ingredients for the next months/years/decades), and it's worked for me, but if I were to make a suggestion to past-me, it probably would've been for Orange.

Except... now I think about it, I'm again compelled by my previous "cleanliness" arguments (Green doesn't contain any extras, some of which you don't want). Also, never grocery shopping is really, really nice.

Revised opinion: I know no one to whom I'd recommend Orange over Green. I will try Orange for comparative mental effects. If they're comparable or superior to Green, I'll switch, but I'm personally okay rolling dice wrt long-term health for a performance buff now (choosing Green over Orange reduces my expected life-years, but I'm okay with that if it increases what I get done during them/it gets done sooner so multiplicative effects can start multiplying earlier.).

And, in all seriousness, I've just updated a lot, and appreciate your role in sparking that (even if you didn't mean to).

Also, DIY Green is seriously easy to make. It's something like 2 minutes to put together a batch, which is an absolute godsend when you're pressed for time (like during semester). You need to set up some infrastructure to make that work, but you can do that when you're not under a time constraint.

...Food is complicated. Attempts to make it simple have... apparently made it more complicated. We may have just done this to ourselves (or mealsquares gets going and becomes price-competitive with soylent. Then food will be solved Once And For All and it'll be simple.)

I ramble. tl;dr: thank you (sincerely).

comment by VAuroch · 2014-09-10T22:42:48.945Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I can see the benefits (Orange has somewhere from 5-12 minutes prep time, and is probably slightly more expensive), but I think I'll stick with the more risk-averse option, especially since I would worry incessantly about whether I'd left out one of the ingredients I knew about, let alone the possible missing nutrients.

But all good thoughts. I am intrigued by your ideas, and wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-09-08T05:10:44.963Z · score: 7 (11 votes) · LW · GW

I have two problems with Soylent and equivalents.

First, we do not understand human biochemistry and nutrition nearly well enough to start making complete food replacements.

Second, I like (real) food. I like the taste and the texture and the smells and everything that makes yumminess. Why in the world would I give it up?

comment by Wes_W · 2014-09-08T05:30:26.805Z · score: 14 (14 votes) · LW · GW

Second, I like (real) food. I like the taste and the texture and the smells and everything that makes yumminess. Why in the world would I give it up?

This is totally a valid objection, but not a universal one, for what I suspect are typical-mind reasons. Personally, I also like food, but not so much that it feels worth the effort to me, at least on the margin. I'd happily use a Soylent-like product for most meals to save time, effort, and/or money, and leave "real food" for social outings, special occasions, etc.

comment by adamzerner · 2014-09-08T05:29:35.617Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

First, we do not understand human biochemistry and nutrition nearly well enough to start making complete food replacements.

I'm not proposing to use it as a complete food replacement, just as something to have once or twice a day. Because 1) it saves time, 2) it saves money, 3) it's more nutritious than the alternative and 4) it's less caloric/fattening/sugary/salty than the alternative.

Second, I like (real) food. I like the taste and the texture and the smells and everything that makes yumminess. Why in the world would I give it up?

I'm with you, food is great! But a lot of times I find myself scrambling to "get my meal out of the way" because I'm in a rush. I throw something together quickly or find something to eat on the go, and this doesn't give me that satisfaction you describe. I sense I'm not alone here. Aren't there times when you don't get to eat a satisfying meal, and you'd prefer something like Soylent instead because of the time, cost and nutritional benefits? You could still eat a nice dinner each day and real meals on the weekends when you have more time.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-09-08T15:07:29.066Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not proposing to use it as a complete food replacemen

Maybe you aren't, but Soylent is marketed as such.

Because 1) ... 2) ... 3) ... 4)

What is that "alternative" you're talking about? It's not made of straw, is it? :-)

Aren't there times when you don't get to eat a satisfying meal, and you'd prefer something like Soylent

Definitely not. Why would I drink goop when I can have real food instead? I don't find any of the time, cost, or nutrition arguments persuasive.

comment by kalium · 2014-09-08T16:36:36.193Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't understand all these people saying that $3 a meal is cheap. Maybe their alternative is going out to a restaurant?

comment by [deleted] · 2014-09-08T18:43:14.286Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not one of these people, but I've heard that some people find almost all forms of cooking stressful, difficult and unsatisfying. These people suffer from increased food preparation costs that make $3/meal cheap by comparison.

comment by kalium · 2014-09-09T02:29:52.378Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

These people suffer from increased food preparation costs that make $3/meal cheap by comparison.

I don't think it's correct to describe these mental costs in dollar terms. It's more convenient, sure, but that's not the same thing as cheaper. But yeah, now that I think of it cereal is probably $0.50/meal (skip the milk, goes bad too fast) but you don't want that more than once a day, and it's reasonably plausible that it would be hard to get two decently proteiny frozen meals for under $8.50 if grocery store selection is poor in your area.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-09-09T02:34:23.051Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think it's correct to describe these mental costs in dollar terms.

Labor costs.

comment by kalium · 2014-09-09T03:10:02.918Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

It's not that easy to convert marginal labor into money. Getting a second job is a high transaction cost, and alternatives like online surveys don't pay well. I just don't buy this type of argument except for certain very far from universal situations, e.g. hourly workers who have some leeway to set their own schedules.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-09-09T21:14:34.535Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It really depends on your base income. A programmer who makes 100k a year is in a very different situation then a college student.

comment by zedzed · 2014-09-08T18:33:01.263Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Commercial soylent is overpriced. However, you can DIY for <$5/day, even if you need unusual amounts of food. Compare that to these numbers, which were the first thing I found. My $35/week is about 19% less than thriftiest food budget using conventional food for my gender/age. Plus I'm fairly large (but lean), active, and trying to add muscle/not lose weight, all of which should increase how much food I need relative to average.

comment by Punoxysm · 2014-09-08T16:47:06.229Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Cheaper alternatives are either not-so-great nutritionally or take a decent amount of planning (especially if you're cooking for yourself alone).

comment by Lumifer · 2014-09-08T16:48:08.048Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I am guessing that no Soylent aficionados cook :-)

And of course $3/meal is cheap compared to Starbucks lattes X-D

comment by therufs · 2014-09-24T17:44:05.767Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure I count as an "aficionado", but I am a regular consumer of soylent, and not only cook but enjoy doing so. (Just not first thing in the morning, or when I have places to be.)

comment by advancedatheist · 2014-09-08T20:44:19.271Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I view Soylent the way I view Bitcoin: I'd like for others to use it exhaustively for several years to see what happens, then I'd consider whether I would want to use it myself based on the results. In other words, in some areas I want others to make mistakes as my proxies.

For example, synthetic organic chemicals can come with different stereoisomers in the mix, and I'd like to know how the Soylent recipes account for that, because your body's enzymes won't work with the wrong three-dimensional orientations of biologically important molecules.

BTW, Soylent's inventor, Rob Rhinehart, strikes me as an interesting guy, a libertarian who disvalues materialism. The article about him in The New Yorker magazine awhile back mentions that he has studied Buckminster Fuller's writings and tries to live according to Fuller's idea of "ephemeralization," which overlaps with the idea of "dematerialization" in economics. To escape the Malthusian trap and make 100 percent of humanity an economic success in a world with finite resources, you have to redesign humanity's physical life support to squeeze ever higher performance out of each unit of a given resource. In the limit this process turns the material stuff we need into something ghostlike. Rhinehart apparently views Soylent as a way to ephemeralize food production so that we can cut back on dirt farming and go easier on the environment.

Another BTW: A Marxist takes a dim view of Rhinehart, and of lifehacking in general, in this essay:

http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/05/19/solyent-neoliberalism-and-the-politics-of-life-hacking/

comment by adamzerner · 2014-09-08T22:26:31.743Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting comments!

comment by [deleted] · 2014-09-08T03:52:06.464Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

A cursory glance through Google reveals that, with Soylent specifically, there's a lot of skepticism and concern over long-term health effects in the nutrition community. A search as trite as "Soylent, good for you" started off with a full page of "why this does not work" articles and Wikipedia. Of course, Google is not a scholarly platform and page one of Google is not a bibliography of scholars. Search result number one is from a "nutritionista" who studies "holistic nutrition." Still, this is a new product, developed by people who are not nutritional researchers, made popular by spreading through counterculture channels, so real scholarship is scarce. Take that as you will.

For my part, Soylent is something I would like to work. I have Crohn's Disease, so any leg up on digestive health is one I'm willing to explore. But it's that same quality that makes me hold off on trying something like Soylent or MealSquares. I assume that any long term detrimental effects such things may be revealed to have on healthy people will be amplified dangerously for me. And if my only consolation is "You can save time and energy not cooking," then it isn't worth it. I can already control my diet well enough by cooking my own meals and knowing what goes in them. Not everyone has that luxury, though.

As I'm not a health specialist, my only way of judging food stuffs is by the ingredients list. What's in it? I've seen different lists for Soylent, none of which impressed me enough to change my beliefs, but that doesn't mean they won't change/I'm not mistaken. If you want to improve its standing or help find the flaws holding its acceptance back, try it, tell us about how it's working for you, spread the word of your experience. This thing began as a scientific means of developing a meal alternative and has developed into a scientific, engineered meal supplement. In other words, it's still an experiment. If you want to help by replicating, I'll certainly be paying attention.

comment by Rain · 2014-09-08T13:05:09.436Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The FAQ addresses Crohn's Disease: "more data needed".

https://faq.soylent.me/hc/en-us/articles/200838449-Will-Soylent-help-my-Crohns-or-IBS-

It also has a full list of ingredients.

https://faq.soylent.me/hc/en-us/articles/200789315-Soylent-1-0-Nutrition

One thing from the link above that I didn't previously know: "The Soylent recipe is based on the recommendations of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and is approved as a food by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)." (emphasis theirs)

comment by Mizue · 2014-09-09T20:22:42.187Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Is "approved as a food" like those fake star naming companies which claim that that the star names are in the library of Congress?

The FDA approving it as a food doesn't mean the FDA approves of it being consumed in a specific way. I'm pretty sure ketchup is approved as a food too, but that doesn't mean you can drink a bottle of it for lunch each day and stay healthy.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-09-09T20:33:37.595Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

One thing from the link above that I didn't previously know: "The Soylent recipe is based on the recommendations of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and is approved as a food by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)." (emphasis theirs)

That triggers my bullshit detector.

FDA does not "approve as food". It has a list of substances which have been approved as food additives or are GRAS (generally recognized as safe, basically a grandfathering clause). I'm willing to believe that Soylent ingredients all come from that FDA-approved list. That does not mean that the FDA approved Soylent as food.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-09-08T13:48:49.005Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Rain, thanks for the link. I'm impressed they factored in the question of Crohns/IBS. Most people tend to forget the issue.

I hope to get a chance to talk to my GI about it and some other supplements soon, when I have more time to judge his reliability (new guy so the verdict's still out), just so I can have his opinion on the subject.

comment by James_Miller · 2014-09-08T13:11:41.628Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Bulletproof coffee = coffee+MCT oil+butter from grass fed cows, which I have instead of breakfast and lunch, is relatively cheap and very easy to make and probably a lot healthier than traditional breakfasts and lunches.

comment by kalium · 2014-09-08T16:34:58.262Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Healthier is pretty hand-wavy. It's got pretty much no protein, which makes it not a great meal substitute for some people. That said, it was tastier than I'd have expected. Butter tea is a similar drink that's also surprisingly tasty, but easier to augment with spices if you don't like the base flavor.

Also... that guy came to speak at the company I work at, and uttered an incredible variety of nonsense. (Mentioned in passing that kale causes autism, said that you have to buy his special coffee beans because the headache you get after the coffee wears off is not caffeine withdrawal but mold poisoning and his beans are the only non-moldy ones on the market.) Kind of put me off the whole concept.

comment by zedzed · 2014-09-08T23:12:33.582Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Help me understand: why is bulletproof coffee healthy?

Specifically, it has a really, really low micronutrient:calorie ratio. My understanding is that these calories funge against calories from food that would have a much, much higher micronutrient:calorie ratio. Of course, it's probably better than, say, donuts, with their high glycemic load, wheat which may or may not be bad, and other assorted "goodies", but that's a pretty low bar. By the time you're investing that amount of resources into bulletproof coffee, my intuition is that you can come up with something that does all the good things that bulletproof coffee does without eating several hundred essentially "empty" calories.

comment by James_Miller · 2014-09-09T00:38:24.275Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not a medical doctor and what I know comes from blogs, podcasts, twitter, and general audience books so don't take this too seriously.

Coffee seems to be one of the few foods that has significant proven health benefits. But most coffee contains harmful micro organisms. Bulletproof coffee supposedly has far fewer of these toxin producing organisms. MCT oil and butter from grass fed cows supposedly has lots of great stuff in them.

I only consume fats until about 4:00 pm to promote autophagy which is what you body does when it goes into starvation mode. Bulletproof coffee contains only fats, and fats do not inhibit autophagy as carbs and protein do. Autophagy, from what I have read, is fantastically beneficial.

comment by zedzed · 2014-09-09T03:24:23.582Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Your argument is reasonable, although I'm skeptical that benefits from autophagy outweigh a likely micronutrient deficiency. Romeo_Stevens suggests intermittent fasting, which would give you the autophagy benefits without losing micronutrients. The obvious failure mode is not having energy to get through the day, although I remember spending a few weeks around finals de facto intermittent fasting and having perfectly reasonable energy levels.

comment by James_Miller · 2014-09-09T13:45:22.581Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I take bulletproof coffee to enable my intermittent fasting, which I define as going without carbs and protein. There is a transition period while your body becomes fat adapted. Also, if you do paleo like I do, there are a lot of calories to make up from need eating grains.

comment by Elo · 2014-09-08T01:00:08.576Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Colour me surprised! Soylent is so "known" in my little bubble of a universe that I thought this post sounded like someone trying to promote sales. Consider mealsquares too (a similar product).

Seems fine. Really depends why you need it - what are you trying to achieve by using it.

comment by adamzerner · 2014-09-08T01:13:04.346Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

what are you trying to achieve by using it.

Mostly to save time. Saving money is a plus too.

comment by Elo · 2014-09-08T06:29:37.247Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It does both those things. So far - the worst you might hear about it is negative poop-reviews: about what it does to your excretory system.

comment by Mizue · 2014-09-09T20:59:58.096Z · score: 2 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Replacing food with Soylent is weird. Perhaps in your social circle it's a plausible thing to do, but I'm pretty certain that most people would think it's a bizarre thing to do regardless of what certain geek social circles might think.

In fact, that's my impression of lots of LW-style ideas, such as cryonics and SI-style AI research.

Rationality always works when it is done perfectly. But it's incredibly easy to miss something and come to a weird conclusion by pure rationality. And being partly rational can be pretty bad when irrationality has evolved checks and balances and your rationality bypasses them but is not good enough to replace them. So I'm automatically very skeptical towards anything which is perfectly sensible--here--which people outside this circle of atypical minds would find ludicrous.

Not to mention the name. Yes, I know that in the book it was not made of people, but giving it a name that has negative connotations in the outside world suggests that the idea is insufficiently vetted by the outside world.

comment by adamzerner · 2014-09-09T21:11:27.517Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

1) I don't care if it's weird. In fact, I take pride in doing something that's rational that others think is weird.

2) I think you're right about rationality coming to weird conclusions and that being partly rational is can be bad. But that doesn't mean it's automatically bad. I think you need more evidence than "it's perfectly sensible--here but people outside this circle of atypical minds would find it ludicrous". At the very least, that map is very high level and not very precise.

comment by advancedatheist · 2014-09-10T18:47:44.492Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Replacing food with Soylent is weird.

And also potentially dangerous to your health. The idea of a uniform "human chow" makes sense and has legitimate uses, and we have a paleo precedent in pemmican, which has a reputation for sustaining people in polar environments in good health when they didn't have access to fresh food. But then pemmican uses natural ingredients. By contrast, I worry about ingesting Soylent if the recipes incorporate the wrong stereoisomers of synthetic organic molecules that the body's enzymes won't bind to for metabolism.

In fact, that's my impression of lots of LW-style ideas, such as cryonics

Uh, guys. LW didn't invent cryonics. And for some reason it hasn't registered even with most cryonicists that some neuroscientists think that cryonics deserves a second look because they have the tools now to study the integrity of attempts to preserve the brain's connectome. Refer to the website of the Brain Preservation Foundation.

comment by Zeno_X · 2014-09-08T21:51:26.829Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I would advise taking twice or thrice a day if you plan to use it exclusively. Less often and you risk blood sugar spikes and poor absorption.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-09-08T00:13:05.702Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The biggest drawback I've experienced with Soylent so far is that their shipping and manufacturing infrastructure is terrible. It's been 11 weeks since I ordered, and will probably be another six or eight weeks before they deliver.

comment by gwern · 2014-09-08T15:35:29.849Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

They claim they'll finish the crowdfunded orders in 5 weeks: http://blog.soylent.me/post/96572963857/current-production-and-fulfillment-status

comment by [deleted] · 2014-09-08T16:41:32.135Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Then I probably need to revise my estimate to an additional eight to ten weeks.

The earlier estimate was based on their "push all shipping estimates back an additional four to six weeks" e-mail, combined with the original "ten to twelve weeks" estimate.

comment by adamzerner · 2014-09-08T00:32:02.502Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Have you tried it before? If so, how have you liked it? What's it taste like? Is it filling? Satisfying? Does it make it easier to be healthy as far as having less fat/sugar/calories? Have you had any difficulty digesting it or anything?

comment by [deleted] · 2014-09-08T00:35:51.834Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It's basically cake batter.

You know you can google customer reviews, right? There's nothing inherently special about LessWrongers' reviews.

comment by adamzerner · 2014-09-08T00:42:52.005Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Haha yeah, I actually didn't think to do that. I came to LessWrong for a rational opinion on whether it's safe/a good idea and because I figured there'd be some people into biohacking who could point me in the right direction for information, but hadn't thought to ask about that other stuff until I saw your response. I'll check out some reviews!

comment by D_Alex · 2014-09-12T09:14:39.847Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It is a bad idea. Have a delicious meal instead (it really is not hard), preferably in the company of interesting people. Unless of course you do not derive pleasure from delicious meals, or you do not consider pleasure to be of intrinsic value.

comment by pianoforte611 · 2014-09-11T03:03:35.267Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Adding to the list of downsides, two foods can have identical micronutrient and macronutrient profiles and still be processed by the body differently. It is possible that a perfectly healthy human diet, containing the correct ratio of nutrients, when liquified is more unhealthy. I don't know if it is, but getting the right nutrient balance may not be sufficient.