Health

Soylent-style powdered food shows bad long-term consequences in mice

Above: Food. Eat it. Image: Flickr User heipei

Image Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/heipei/44300341/sizes/l

Powdered food replacement Soylent is all the rage in Silicon Valley, but a new study shows that it could have serious adverse effects for mammals.

Newly published research from Tohoku University in Japan found that when mice lived on powdered food substitutes instead of pellets, they experienced a rash of consequences, such as “elevations of blood glucose, hypertension, and abnormal behaviors.”

It turns out that chewing solid food is important for a functioning digestive system. Unlike humans, mice have relatively short lifespans, perfect for testing long-term impact of behaviors. In 17 weeks, the team found that the higher blood glucose levels of short-term powdered diets resulted in all the nasty side effects described above.

The startup, Soylent, has raised more than $1 million, targeting its product at people who think they’re too busy to get nutrition from real food. Unfortunately, the state of food science is still pretty primitive; we really don’t know how the body absorbs nutrients or what certain nutrients do to the body in isolation from food.

The Atlantic has a superb piece looking at all the ways in which vitamin supplements can wreak havoc on the human body, or just be plain ineffective (such as fighting a cold with doses of vitamin C).

Vitamin E supplements, for instance, are tied to a high risk of prostate cancer. A more recent large study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine called into question the benefits of taking supplements at all, arguing “supplementing the diet of well-nourished adults … has no clear benefit and might even be harmful.”

Interestingly enough, Tim Ferris’s blog has the most fascinating and exhaustive experiment with Soylent I’ve seen. He found that the powdered food did not have many short-term negative effects on body composition, nutrition levels, or cognition. Unfortunately, because the experimenter had a terrible diet to begin with, the only reasonable conclusion is that Soylent may not be worse than the typical American diet in the short-term.

Personally, I only have one body, and it’s also attached to my head. So I’m taking Dr. David Agus’s advice and eating real food.


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37 comments
LukePeerFly
LukePeerFly

@drgurner seems really biased lol. I'm also not planning to eat Soylent exclusively.

Cyrus Draegur
Cyrus Draegur

Sensationalist and misleading.


They didn't prepare a mathematically precise nutrient balance; all they did was pulverize mouse pellets!

Soylent is NOT pulverized food. Soylent is NOT going to McDonald's, ordering the Big Mac value meal, freeze drying it, and then grinding it into dust to feed to people. If you DID do that, then I daresay you'd be seeing negative affects *right away* in humans. 

Until the original researchers do this right, this article deserves absolutely _no_ traction.

Shane Snow
Shane Snow

Aww come on my diet wasn't amazing but it wasn't TERRIBLE. ;) 
-The guy who did the Tim Ferriss Soylent experiment

Anthony Galligani
Anthony Galligani

A person who writes an article telling us about the ill effects of nutrition supplements and then posts a big fat picture of a slab of beef as "real food" undercuts their own credibility. Do you work for the Beef Council?

Alexander Pak
Alexander Pak

Roman fyi. BTW I am surprised such a research has been conducted at all, as there is no scientific value in it.

John Morelli
John Morelli

Please continue feeding this to the people in Silicon Valley suffering from USI (Unwarranted Self Importance) making the latest capital depleting sandwich-sharing app.

Richard Ivey
Richard Ivey

"plane ineffective?" Jesus, doesn't anyone edit this crap?

JC McMurray
JC McMurray

Haha.  This article is ridiculous.  Did you read the scientific study?  Here:  http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0024320514003610


The study clearly demonstrates the *reason* for "elevated" was that chewing wasn't needed.  Because it's in a powdered form, you more quickly absorb the nutrients and less of it is lost during mastication.  Rob himself has stated many times that because it's in powdered form, the nutrients are more effectively delivered to your body.  That's right, we won't need as many nutrients because we're not wasting as much.  


At least do your research.  I don't mind people opposing new things, we need someone to be cautious.  We cannot and should not blindly do something just because.


But what you've done is called lazy journalism.  That is unacceptable.

Vincent Albanese
Vincent Albanese

More hate from another foodie. Totally biased article using non-Soylent in non humans...plus idiocy about vitamins...and judgements about lifestyles (think they are too busy to cook)

The author reminds me of homophobes and bigots I've met...people who hate something that they have no experience with simply because they don't understand it, so they look desperately for facts, information and like-minded opinions that make them feel better.

I have intestinal problems...the less crap I put through my body, the better...so sorry, Dear Author, if I don't want to pay more for a GNC product, a medical nutritional supplement, or a diet plan that would put more money in some greedy CEOs pocket and not really give me relief, anyway...

Nobody is forcing you to eat Soylent, so mind your own business.

Piotr Korgol
Piotr Korgol

Oh my god! Who could have foreseen this?

Matthew Giacomazzo
Matthew Giacomazzo

The more something has a direct effect on our biology the more you need to respect the billions of years of evolution that put the current solution in place.

Jon Zobrist
Jon Zobrist

So they fed rats instant breakfast and you are comparing it to Soylent based on the fact they are both "powder"?

Andre Angelantoni
Andre Angelantoni

@Anthony Galligani You don't have to work for the Beef Council to know that animal products (with liver and shellfish topping the list) are the most nutritious foods available to humans. Now that the cholesterol theory has proved to be incorrect and researchers are no longer worried about total fat or saturated fat in the diet (since countless studies could find no correlation between fat consumption and cardiovascular heart disease), they can turn their attention to the real problem: sugar (carbohydrates) in all its forms.

Cyrus Draegur
Cyrus Draegur

Plus, they did it wrong. The researchers took existing mouse food and ground it up into powder; they didn't formulate ideal nutrition powder *from scratch*. 


What they did was essentially akin to, instead of testing how people fare on SOYLENT, rather, purchasing Big Mac Value Meals from McDonald's, freeze drying them, grinding them down, and then feeding people THAT. 


I guarantee you that'd have immediate ill effects in humans.


Soylent is not POWDERED FOOD. It's a mix of nutritional components that has been assembled from the ground up.

Cyrus Draegur
Cyrus Draegur

Nope! The only thing green about THIS soylent is its carbon footprint! No livestock and very little agriculture was used in the production of this stuff. It's not even made of people! 


...but when people have been eating it long enough, they'll be made of it! :D

Cyrus Draegur
Cyrus Draegur

@JC McMurray Hear hear! Well said, JC! Furthermore, what the mice ate was Powdered Food -- a WHOLE FOOD that was pulverized into a powder after the fact of already being a whole food. Soylent IS NOT Powdered Food; it didn't start as food, but was rather assembled from the ground up to be nutritional as a powder in the first place. The only correct way to have any scientific rigor here at all is if the scientists formulated a mouse nutrition source as a powder from scratch.

Vincent Albanese
Vincent Albanese

Jon, they don't get it, just hating what he doesn't understand...probably works for Boost or Nutrisystem...

LukePeerFly
LukePeerFly

@drgurner I appreciate it. There are definitely some concerns with it, but I'm willing to give it a shot. No "I told you so" either way! :)