Soylent: The debatable future of food and food hacking - KFVS12 News & Weather Cape Girardeau, Carbondale, Poplar Bluff

Soylent: The debatable future of food and food hacking

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Soylent creator Robert Rhinehart. (Source: Julio Miles/Soylent) Soylent creator Robert Rhinehart. (Source: Julio Miles/Soylent)
Is Soylent the food of the future? (Source: Soylent) Is Soylent the food of the future? (Source: Soylent)
The nutritional facts, as provided by the FDA. (Source: Soylent) The nutritional facts, as provided by the FDA. (Source: Soylent)

(RNN) - A California inventor believes he can change the way the world gets its nutrition.

Rob Rhinehart, a 25-year-old engineer and member of the Silicon Valley crowd, has raised millions of dollars in his effort to "lifehack" the new and trendy food alternative by asking, "What if you never had to worry about food again?"

His invention, Soylent, is a total meal replacement product that he claims can eventually replace the need for real food.

Who is Rob Rhinehart?

A Georgia Tech graduate, Rhinehart created Soylent to get the essentials his body needed without wasting time in food preparation. His invention, named after the 1973 movie starring Charlton Heston (but not made of people), has been dubbed "the food of the future," and touted as the eventual way to offset dwindling resources as Earth's population increases.

Rhinehart, who declined multiple requests to be interviewed, told other media outlets and wrote on the Soylent website that his creation is officially a food product as classified by the Food and Drug Administration.

In 2013, Rhinehart began to crowdsource his venture on Crowdtilt, with the aim to raise $100,000. According to Forbes, the fundraising met its goal in an hour, and within a month quadrupled its original goal. Soylow has 20,000 backers and has raised more than $3 million from crowdsourcing alone. Yahoo! Finance reports Rhinehart also received funding from venture capitalists Andreessen Horowitz, Lerer Ventures and Y Combinator.

Rhinehart said in his personal blog that he began to resent "the time, money and effort the purchase, preparation, consumption, and clean-up of food was consuming." After living 30 days consuming nothing but Soylent, he said his concoction "changed his life."

"I hypothesized that the body doesn't need food itself, merely the chemicals and elements it contains," Rhinehart said. "So, I resolved to embark on an experiment. What if I consumed only the raw ingredients the body uses for energy? Would I be healthier or do we need all the other stuff that's in traditional food? If it does work, what would it feel like to have a perfectly balanced diet? I just want to be in good health and spend as little time and money on food as possible."

Rhinehart said in a recent appearance on The Colbert Report that for the last year and a half, 90 percent of his food consumption has been Soylent.

What's in Soylent and where you can get it

The product includes more than 30 ingredients including various vitamin and mineral blends. The website boasts that Soylent will save time and money and provide superior nutrition.

The website says the product's key ingredients are oat powder for carbohydrates, fiber, protein and fat; Soylent also includes maltodextrin, grapeseed oil, salt, creatine and other ingredients. It also provides a DIY Soylent section, where people can mix their own.

The powder mixture is sold in varying amounts, beginning with seven bags that can make more than 21 meals. The powder is vegan, but the oil blend that comes with the powder is not, and vegetarians and vegans can opt out of using the product with a plant-based oil they purchase themselves.

Soylent can be purchased in bags of seven, 14 and 21 units and costs vary; if you buy seven bags, for example, you can make a one-time purchase of $85, or subscribe for $70 a month.

Soylent is currently only available in the U.S. through its website. But the interest is high for those who can't get their hands on it. Auctions for Soylent appear on eBay, with one 1-week supply going for $429.

Rhinehart told The Guardian that Soylent can replace between 50 and 90 percent of meals a week.

Several people who have tried Soylent experienced varying degrees of success. Motherboard's Brian Merchant tried Soylent for 30 days and concluded that while he may have different results after another month, he could see himself using Soylent to replace a meal or two - but he still wanted to chew his food.

Soylent has also developed a large following on Reddit and Twitter.

Rhinehart and his executive team, nicknamed the "Start-Up Bros," have taken some of the investment revenue to move their business from a dank, rat-infested former garment building in Oakland, CA, to Los Angeles. The privately held company operates with fewer than 10 employees out of Rosa Labs, according to its LinkedIn profile, and is having trouble keeping up with its burgeoning demand, according to its own blog

Rhinehart has conducted all his own research to determine the product's benefits. There's no supportive, independent scientific research to back his claims.

Soylent and lifehacking

Lifehacking has been called any way "to help improve all aspects of your life … [lifehacking] describes any advice, resource, tip or trick that will help you get things done more efficiently and effectively."

Soylent joins other meal replacements like Ensure and SlimFast that have been around for decades, and it isn't the only game in town among trendy new products. Jevity is similar, and an all-natural product Ambronite was profiled by Time as Rhinehart's main competition.

What is new is the premise that purchasing and preparing food is an inconvenience. The idea of creating foods that are as simple, cheap and easy to prepare is why Soylent is the current darling of foodhacking enthusiasts.

"Healthy food can be expensive and tedious," Soylent writes on its corporate fact sheet. "Soylent is affordable and easy."

Soylent claims a one-month supply, or 28 bags, provides more than 84 meals, and equals savings of $256 a month over buying real groceries.

What do health professionals say about Soylent?

People interested in trying a Soylent regimen are encouraged to consult a physician, as they should before adopting any new health and diet program.

Rhinehart has no background in health, nutrition or dietetics and says his only insight into his product's efficacy comes from his own research. An expansive overview and trial of Soylent by blogger Tim Ferriss raised concern that no scientifically legitimate health testing had gone into a product that has raised millions of dollars.

Rhinehart told The New York Times in May that a study would be conducted on Soylent, but gave no other comment on what the study would entail.

In the May 2014 edition of Life Sciences, a study conducted on mice by Japanese scientists studied the long-term effects of powered food, compared to pellet food, and likened the powered product to Soylent.

The study found that powered food is more likely to cause elevated blood sugar levels and "other systemic signs of illness, including increases in serum adrenaline, noradrenaline, and corticosterone, higher blood pressures (especially diastolic), and increased social interaction behaviors" after long-term use.

When asked about the study's findings by Smart Planet, Rhinehart impled that his product is safer than one the ones evaluated in the Japanese study.

"Obviously not all powdered foods are identical. This study specifically demonstrates (in the first part) that the powdered version of the mice's food is more quickly digested and absorbed. In other words, the glycemic index is higher, which would explain the systemic health effects. Soylent is deliberately designed to be easily, but not quickly, absorbed."

A Soylent supporter told Yahoo! contributor Nicole Goodkind that the market for Soylent was targeted at a "29, male, engineering degree" market and was "not woman-friendly." To answer this concern, Soylent says in its FAQ that after studying the sexes, both men and women can use it, "adjusting the caloric requirements as needed."

The dietitian who owns the self-named Abby Langer Nutrition wrote for the Huffington Post that all nutritional trends and "new age" products should be studied and researched, not just followed as fads.

"People are more interested in nutrition than ever before, and are concerted in a different way about what they're putting in their body," Langer said. "Nutrition isn't only about trendy diets or losing weight any more – the culture of nutrition is changing to involve new foods going mainstream, a push for families to cook together, and far more awareness about where food is actually coming from."

Health professional Russell Saunders, in a piece for The Daily Beast, voiced concerns about an all-liquid based diet created by someone with no background in nutrition.

In some trials, subjects on a Soylent diet said they couldn't go out to eat at all because it was just too hard.

Rhinehart discussed "social implications" in his initial post, saying the money saved by using Soylent could positively impact one's social life, based on the fact that the average American spends around $151 a week eating at restaurants, according to Gallup.

Most doctors say Soylent is not the answer, but Reinhardt insists it is much more than just another meal replacement.

"The body is a complex machine. There are a lot of substances and chemicals required for its optimal operation. However, it is also extremely robust. Many people aren't getting the recommended amount of any of these substances, but the body is able to compensate via complex regulatory systems," Rhinehart said. "This hurts in the long run, though. In fact, turning food into energy is the primary process that ages the body. By giving it only what it needs, and nothing it doesn't, I am optimistic about the long-term effects. The short-term effects are already clear."

Despite the resistance from the scientific community, many are buying into Rhinehart's thought process – and loading up on Soylent. But in the future, not even he can say if humans will miss chewing their food.

Follow me on Twitter @TanitaG_RNN.

Copyright 2014 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.

  • Would you use Soylent or any other total meal replacement product?

  • Thank you for participating in our poll. Here are the results so far:

    Yes
    54%
    147 votes
    No
    19%
    51 votes
    Not without a lot of research and a doctor saying it's totally safe.
    27%
    72 votes
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