Soylent Meal Replacement, Food of the Future? Not So Fast

Some of us love to eat. Some of us just eat because we have to. For that second group, there’s nothing more appealing than the sound of a product that could give you all the nutrients that you need, without the hassle of grocery shopping, cooking or putting food on the table. And that’s why the Soylent meal replacement has a crowd of followers.

The Soylent meal replacement is the wunderkind (wunderfood?) of the Silicon Valley world, a neutral colored drink that was developed to get you all your nutrients that a plate of food normally would. Because when you’re busy coding the next mind-blowing app, you don’t have time to buy food or cook dinner. Or chew, for that matter.

But if this alternative to food was too good to be true, maybe that’s because it is. Recently researchers at Tohoku University in Japan found that mice existing on a diet of powdered food developed some serious health problems, like “hyperglycemia and related systemic signs of illness, including increases in serum adrenaline, noradrenaline and corticosterone, higher blood pressures (especially diastolic) and increased social interaction behaviors.”

What caused these health problems? Since the mice were fed the exact same food, one in pellet form and one crushed into powder, the researchers think it has to do with the fact that the mice eating the powder weren’t chewing. Popular Science’s Francie Diep writes that research on the link between chewing and metabolizing food is limited, especially when it comes to humans on an all powdered food diet.

Soylent is probably missing a few things science isn’t yet aware the human body needs. But it’s also probably okay for you. Throughout history, humans have survived on worse. Nobody really knows what will happen if a healthy person chooses to consume a non-chewable diet, in part because it’s not well studied,” wrote Diep.

But there are some studies that would lead us to believe that chewing is an important part of being healthy. For example, in Japan, one study found that when food was harder to chew it resulted in smaller waist sizes.

The Soylent meal replacement isn’t the only powdered food alternative on the market. There’s Ambronite too, marketed as an “organic drinkable meal.” The ingredients include oats, almonds, coconut, apple, maca root, stinging nettles and spinach, making it more of a “real food” alternative to Soylent. If you can call a powdered mix “real food.”

And for those who think the powdered food game sounds ludicrous, consider this: Nestlé is currently developing a nutrient Nespresso; yes, a capsule that will give you all the vitamins and minerals that you need to survive.

Will we all be existing on powdered food in the future? If that’s where we’d like to go, let’s make sure we do a lot more research first. For now, keep chewing.

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Image: Vincent Huang