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Twenty-four year-old Atlanta, Georgia engineer Rob Rhinehart got tired of spending a big chunk of his paycheck on food, so he invented a soy-based shake he calls Soylent (no people listed in the ingredients). Is he on to something?

Recently the Internet has been abuzz with stories about Soylent, the soy-based meal-replacement shake invented by Atlanta, Georgia scientist Rob Rhinehart.  Soylent is not just a nutritional supplement, but a complete diet with all the needed amino acids, minerals, vitamins, essential fatty acids, and carbohydrates revealed by nutritional research.

As this article is being written, Rhinehart has been on his total-diet replacement shakes for a few days short of three months, weighs less, feels good, and has mostly excellent lab results. Of course, some of this could have to do with the fact he's just 24 years old.

No People in This Soylent

Rhinehart got the idea of making a simple, inexpensive, total-nutrition diet shake one Christmas when he encountered an elderly couple who had to be admitted to hospital for malnutrition because they no longer had the physical strength to prepare food. The encounter made him just plain angry.

Food is the equivalent of fossil fuel, Rhinehart wrote in his blog. We organize our economies around it. In some countries people are dying of starvation, in other countries people are dying of obesity. Rhinehart recorded that he resented the time, money, and energy he expended in buying, storing, preparing, eating, and cleaning up after eating food, and maybe what people need to live isn't "food," anyway. Maybe it's just nutrients.

Reading a number of books and articles on nutrition,

Rhinehart prepared a liquid formula containing all the known nutrients needed for human life, primarily from chemical sources. No meat, dairy, grains, vegetables, fruit, fish, or condiments appeared in his new formula, other than a small amount of olive oil and whey for essential fats and complete protein.

Rhinehart named his formula, which also contains processed soy protein, Soylent, after the formula Soylent Green, mentioned in the book Make Room! Make Room! 

In the book, Soylent Green was advertised as plankton, and turned out to be otherwise. As a horrified character in the book mentioned, "Soylent Green is people." But Rhinehart's Soylent is not.

Feeling Great on No "Food" At All

Rhinehart blogs that he has been feeling mostly great on his Soylent diet. About three days into the experiment, Rhinhart says, his energy levels began to plunge. At that point he realized he had left iron out of the formula. 

He added an iron supplement and felt a burst of energy. His skin began to clear up, his cholesterol went down, he lost 13 pounds (about 6 kilos) in a month, and originally able to run less than 1 mile (1.6 km), in 4 weeks he was able to run 7 miles (about 11 km).

So is Soylent something everyone should try?

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Hemmingsson E, Johansson K, Eriksson J, Sundström J, Neovius M, Marcus C. Weight loss and dropout during a commercial weight-loss program including a very-low-calorie diet, a low-calorie diet, or restricted normal food: observational cohort study.Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 Nov. 96(5):953-61. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.112.038265. Epub 2012 Sep 18. PMID: 22990030.
  • LeCheminant JD, Smith BK, Westman EC, Vernon MC, Donnelly JE. Comparison of a reduced carbohydrate and reduced fat diet for LDL, HDL, and VLDL subclasses during 9-months of weight maintenance subsequent to weight loss. Lipids Health Dis. 2010 Jun 1. 9:54. doi: 10.1186/1476-511X-9-54. PMID: 20515484.
  • Photo courtesy of sifu_renka on Flickr: