In the last handful of years, a group of young programmers have popularized a new kind of nutritional shake that is hitting the market. The name is Soylent, and whether in powdered form or ready-to-drink liquid, this ‘nutritionally complete’ formula has been touted by many as an easy way to nourish the body without having to spend a lot of money and effort.
Oral nutrition supplements are frequently recommended by dietitians and doctors for patients with increased nutritional needs for healing (for example, from a wound, or from cancer treatment or dialysis), or those looking to gain or maintain weight healthfully. These supplements, such as Abbott Nutrition’s Ensure products, typically contain a mix of vitamins and minerals, protein and calories. They are intended to supplement meals, to be taken in addition to food.
Many patients find these nutritional shakes easy to sip and tolerate. Others have turned to making homemade smoothies and milkshakes with added fruits, vegetables, nut butters, oats, and/or protein or vitamin powders.
So what is Soylent and can we give safely give it to our sick friends and relatives?
What is Soylent?
The Soylent recipe is based on the recommendations of the National Academy’s Health and Medicine Division (HMD) and is regulated as a food by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It was developed under the guidance of a medical doctor who acted as the nutritional advisor.
The makers of Soylent say that while not intended to replace every meal, Soylent can replace any meal. They encourage customers to calculate their own nutritional needs and figure out their own mix of Soylent and food that meets their individual needs and preferences. They refer to a nutrient profile calculator on their website that is based on the Mifflin St Jeor formula for calculating basal metabolic rate (BMR) and multiplying by an activity factor depending on exercise level.
Soylent is an engineered staple food designed to provide maximum nutrition with minimal effort. Its nutritional makeup is comprehensive and includes protein, carbohydrates, fats, fiber, and vitamins and minerals such as potassium, iron, and calcium.
Both Soylent Powder and Soylent Drink are considered Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) by the FDA. They are both vegan products, which means they contain no animal products such as dairy, meat, or eggs. Soylent Powder and Soylent Drink are not certified Kosher, organic, gluten-free, GMO free, or allergen free (they contain soy and gluten).
The Soylent Powder contains 500 calories, 23 grams total fat, 57 grams carbohydrate, 3 grams dietary fiber, 15 grams sugar, and 20 grams protein in ¼ of a pouch or about 115 grams.
Soylent Drink contains 400 calories, 21 grams total fat, 37 grams carbohydrate, 3 grams dietary fiber, 9 grams sugar, and 20 grams protein per one 414ml bottle, which is about 1.7 cups.
So how does it taste? Neutral, pancake batter-esque, or like a not-too-sweet protein shake, to some of the responses by Internet reviewers.
Soylent has a neutral taste profile by design. This gives people the ability to easily adjust Soylent flavoring based on their personal taste preferences.
The cost of drinking Soylent comes to around $3 per meal, according to the website. The smallest quantity of product available for purchase on the Soylent website is 28 meals (7 bags) of the powder or 12 bottles of the drink.
Can I make my own?
There is a community of D.I.Y.-ers who are tinkering with their own recipes and mixes and customizing them to their particular nutrition profile and flavor palate.
One can also whip up smoothies and shakes at home with household ingredients, or add in a scoop of protein powder for an extra boost.
Soylent for the cancer patient?
After surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy, extra protein is usually needed to heal tissues and help fight infection. Sometimes it can be difficult to pack in the extra protein with food alone, which is why an easy to sip nutritional shake can be helpful in meeting a person’s extra needs. We recommend Enu and Orgain nutritional shakes.
The neutral taste of Soylent and similar products may be also beneficial for some cancer patients with aversions to strong flavors or textures. For someone with symptoms of nausea, this type of drink may be easier to stomach than a full meal. Others, however, may be offended by the subtle grit that Soylent contains, and may find the taste and smell to elicit nausea rather than subdue it.
And still others may find that Soylent can cause gastrointestinal discomfort, which could possibly have stemmed from the initial batches of formula before the developers figured out the right proportions of certain minerals like sulfur, or possibly from the oat fiber in the product.
A person who eats a balanced diet with enough calories and protein usually gets plenty of vitamins and minerals. But it can be hard to eat a balanced diet when undergoing treatment for cancer, especially with the side effects. A doctor or dietitian may suggest a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement to make up the difference in the diet.
Some substances can be harmful, especially when taken in large doses. And some patients, like those with kidney disease, have to watch their intake of certain vitamins and minerals like potassium, phosphorous, and sodium.
Before starting any new dietary regimen or making changes to your current routine, be sure to speak with your physician, dietitian, and healthcare team.
For more Soylent reads, check out this piece from the New York Times and this article in The New Yorker.