I Drank Soylent For a Day, Here's What You Should Know

If you’ve ever used a protein powder or a nutritional shake, chances are you’ve heard of meal replacements. Meant to substitute or take the place of a regular meal, meal replacements are often touted as a convenient and simple way to get a meal’s worth of nutrition in one scoop of powder, or one bottle of “delicious” nectar. But many meal replacements aren’t capable of living up to their hype; especially those which market themselves as vegan. In today’s world, where convoluted ingredients lists are slapped on “health” products with child-like abandon, it’s hard to decipher whether a nutrition product can really live up to its own claims.

Enter, Soylent. 

Photo source: Soylent

Photo source: Soylent

In the event that you’ve never heard of this “miracle” product before, you can count on seeing it plastered across social media. I first discovered Soylent thanks to numerous Facebook ads which would not let me forget this product was “suggested” for me. After finally giving in out of sheer curiosity, I clicked on the ad and was taken to Soylent’s website, where for one hour I was taken down a rabbit-hole of “whole body nutrition.” Having never heard of the product before, I was interested in reading more about the meal which has long been peddled as one of the best meal replacement products on the market.

Here’s the thing: Soylent isn’t a meal replacement. But it sure as heck is marketed as one. One look at the brand’s website will have you convinced that the beverage is meant to be treated as a replacement or substitute for an actual meal. Soylent is actually a “whole-body nutrition” beverage which supposedly contains all of the ingredients you need to substitute any meal. The website states that “Soylent is a food product (classified as a food, not a supplement, by the FDA) designed for use as a staple meal by all adults. Each serving of Soylent provides maximum nutrition with minimum effort.” The site’s FAQ section advises that you can consume the product however and whenever you’d like; though my friends, boyfriend and many online sources tell me you are meant to eat healthy food items along with the Soylent drink. 

If it isn’t a meal replacement, then what the heck is Soylent? 

Photo source: Soylent

Photo source: Soylent

Simply put, Soylent is [sorry, claims to be] an affordable drink which provides your body with everything it could possibly need to function, including (but not limited to) carbs, fats, protein, minerals, etc. It comes in either liquid or powder form, and can be ordered online either by subscription or one-time buy. 

The Founder/Creator of the beverage, Robert Rhinehart, first developed the drink in 2012 when he got fed-up with real food whilst working on a tech-startup in San Francisco. He DIY’d his own nutritional meal replacement after reading textbooks and FDA website articles; he later posted the recipe for the drink online after consuming it for 30 days (in place of food). A 2014 article by The New Yorker describes Rhinehart’s humble beginnings in-depth. 

A nutritional shake or two isn’t so bad, but a DIY version of a meal replacement that took the tech-world by storm seems a bit much. Many have concluded that Soylent is nothing but a gimmick, especially considering the product is apparently not GMO-free, not gluten-free, not allergen-free, not kosher and not organic. Despite it’s name, the beverage isn’t made entirely of soy, though it does contain the ingredient (one of the world's most popular monocultures and often genetically modified). The drink once contained fish oil, but has since [apparently] removed the ingredient and now dubs itself “vegan.” 

Regardless, so many have bought into the Soylent con that few bother to actually check the ingredients list. And that’s a problem because, among other things, Soylent contains Vitamin A Palmitate, a synthetic vitamin & palm-oil derivate which really has no place in beverages or meal substitutes. 

The drink also contains a sugar called maltodextrin, which is most often derived from GMO corn, in addition to sucralose (an artificial sugar) and gum arabic, which gives shelved-foods their long shelf life. But gum arabic can also cause bloating, gas, and flatulence, and is likely the aspect of Soylent which inspired many a hilariously frightening Amazon review; some of which had people claiming they “seriously s*** themselves” and that Soylent gave them such brutal flatulence that it helped stress-test their marriage. Funnier than hell, the reviews still scared me enough that testing Soylent for myself wasn’t something I was eager to do. 

I have a day-job, a writing career, a boyfriend, an active social life - I wasn’t looking to add flatulence to the roster. 

For the sake of SB readers everywhere (and much to my family’s amusement) I bit the bullet and tried Soylent. I drank it for one whole day, substituting my regular three meals with the beverage in the hopes of determining whether the product lived up to its hype as a complete, nutritional meal. 

Photo source: Soylent

Photo source: Soylent

It was not a good time.

For starters, my Soylent beverage came in plain [beat up] white bottles with the logo just visible enough to indicate that this wasn’t a mystery drink. Though the colour of the beverage sure looked mysterious enough to me. It’s this sort of off-cream/salmon colour that I imagine strawberry yogurt would look like if you left it in the fridge too long. I decided to drink it straight from the environmentally-friendly bottle because looking at it through a clear glass would have likely ended my experiment pretty early. 

So, it looked disgusting. But what about the taste? To be perfectly honest, it tasted like flavourless oatmeal. The best way I can think of to describe the flavour, is ground up oatmeal in really thick soy milk. Whilst it didn’t taste horrible, I’m not sure I could pull a Rob-Rhinehart and chug these suckers back 3 times a day for the rest of my life. Also, I like ice cream and stuff, so what would I really do on a Soylent life-diet? Die of boredom? Possibly turn into a bowl of oatmeal?

I’ll admit that I did feel pretty full each time I drank the Soylent, and I didn’t feel the necessity of eating other foods along with it. I felt slightly more energized than I have on other days when eating typical [healthy] meals, but I can’t be sure this was a direct result of the beverage. Could this have been the Soylent, or was I simply experiencing the effects of a placebo?

The experiment with drinking Soylent for a day wasn’t necessarily the worst, but I feel the low point of the whole thing was having to spend most of the day near a bathroom. My stomach constantly felt like it was rolling, and like other consumers whose reviews literally made me tear up from laughter, I experienced flatulence like nothing I ever have before. Too much information? Sorry. But I firmly believe this is something you should know before you venture into the world of white-bottle euphoria that is Soylent. I purposely worked from home that day to ensure that I would not embarrass myself at work or fall into a flatulence-induced stupor in the workplace. Needless to say, my Soylent experiment was not my proudest moment. 

Do you need Soylent? In my opinion, no; you do not require a drink like Soylent in order to obtain optimum nutrition. Despite what the founder claims. Like many meal replacement products, there is no quick fix to optimum health through pre-made powders, or liquids sold to you through the internet. But if you’re still convinced that Soylent is the product for you, ask yourself not whether you can drink your way to health through Soylent but rather, should you?

Photo source: Soylent via NYT

Photo source: Soylent via NYT

Let’s consider a few factors. Early on this month, Soylent stopped shipping its nutritional gloop after it was found to be contaminated with mould, though business is now back to usual. The product’s main sources of protein are rice and soy, which unfortunately do not provide enough of the essential protein our bodies need to properly function. In addition to the sugars, lacking protein and a synthetic vitamin derived from palm oil*, Soylent also contains soy lecithin, suggested to be extremely estrogenic — meaning, it may function like estrogen and can cause hormonal imbalances in the body. Hence why many people avoid soy milk. But Vitamin A Palmitate isn’t the only synthetic vitamin in this beverage, which leads me to question why a whole-body nutrition product like Soylent would need to use synthetic versions of anything. Why

If the hilarious reviews aren’t enough to make you run away from Soylent laughing (likely towards a bathroom) then hopefully the long, convoluted list of synthetic vitamins, insufficient protein and my own experience will help you in determine whether Soylent is the miracle meal replacement for you. I do however urge you to always keep in mind that, as I mentioned before, there is no method of drinking yourself to optimum health. But, if you’re truly a glutton for punishment (like I am) then order a pack of Soylent for yourself and please make sure to pass on an honest Amazon review once you’re through day one!

Note: Soylent has declined to comment regarding the sustainability or traceability of said palm-oil. We will update as new information becomes available.

LifestyleJacalyn Beales+