Soylent Sickness

Food Quality

Story at-a-glance -

  • Developed by a technology entrepreneur, Soylent has produced a nutritional product claiming to meet all your daily requirements in a powder or bottle
  • Now facing their second production problem in the three years they’ve been in business, Soylent denies any issue with contamination or flaws in production
  • Soylent proudly uses as many GMO foods as possible, increasing your toxic load of pesticides and ignoring independent research demonstrating significant health effects

By Dr. Mercola

Life hacks are designed to be simple and quick solutions to some of life’s complex problems. Sometimes it’s a tip or another way of looking at a problem that makes it easier to address the challenge. In the case of Rob Rhinehart, serial entrepreneur, he decided to hack his food supply.

Having spent $100,000 without success from the $170,000 he and his partners had received from Y Combinator, Rhinehart stopped looking at technological advancements.

He had become fascinated with the idea of reducing his food bill and the time it took to cook and eat. Without any education in nutrition, food preparation or biology, he used the last of the money to start Soylent.1

While his new company has a large fan base, the product will have difficulty living up to the hype based on the nutritional premise behind the product line and the manufacturing foundation of the product.

Although using a meal replacement may allow you slightly increased productivity, eating meals with friends and family has a distinct emotional and psychological benefit to your health.2,3,4

In recent weeks their newest product line, Soylent Bar, has been recalled as consumers are suffering from hours of vomiting, dehydration and diarrhea, some requiring hospitalization. The first health issues were reported September 7, and the company is still struggling to determine the source of the problem.5

Can You Drink Your Daily Nutritional Requirements?

The primary premise behind Soylent is that you can drink your complete nutritional requirements and never have to eat food again. Taking advantage of a large community of people who continually strive to find more hours in their day, Rhinehart hit upon a marketing strategy that launched his company and built a strong fan base.

Other companies have produced liquid nourishment they claim are supplements to your regular food intake, reportedly designed to improve your vitamin intake without compromising taste and quality.

However, manufactured liquid food cannot adequately replace the nutrients and micronutrients your body extracts from organic, whole foods.

Ambronite, a self-proclaimed “supermeal” in a bottle, marketed as a meal replacement drink, has a similar idea about natural food sources. Founded in 2013 and carried in 35 countries,6 co-founder Simo Suoheimo told International Business Times:7

"The main thing with longer space voyages that we're currently seeing, the trend in this sort of research, is stemming from the fact that we haven't really solved nutrition science.

We're still very much in the beginning of understanding what nutrients play a part in human survival and indeed optimizing performance.

The fact is that with the current knowledge it's really hard to create a complete product with synthetics because we don't even know yet what we have to include in there. Whereas products based on real actual foods solve this pretty well."

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Soylent Soy Not Soylent Green

In the 1973 science-fiction film “Soylent Green,” an overpopulated futuristic society was reduced to living on wafers, called Soylent Green. Only at the end of the film do consumers learn the wafers have been made of human flesh.

In the early months, Rhinehart was encouraged to change the name of his company, but said he liked the self-deprecating nature of the name. His idea was to poke fun:8 “The general ethos of natural, fresh, organic [and] bright — this is the opposite.”

The early recipes used canola oil for lipids and fats, maltodextrin (another name for sugar) and oat flour for carbohydrates, rice for protein and sucralose (key ingredient in artificial sweetener Splenda) to mask the taste of the vitamins.9

It is outwardly apparent from observing dietary habits that you can survive on less than optimal nutrition. But the resulting poor health, obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancers and other illnesses make it less than an ideal choice.

Scientists are not yet aware of how your body uses phytochemicals and other nutrients that have not yet been identified. Dr. Walter Willett, Harvard School of Public Health chair of the nutritional department, was quoted in The New Yorker, saying:10

“It’s a little bit presumptuous to think that we actually know everything that goes into an optimally healthy diet. [You can live without plant chemicals.] But you may not live maximally, and you may not have optimal function. We’re concerned about much more than just surviving.”

Proud to Use Genetically Engineered Foods Despite Overwhelming Evidence of Risks

In this documentary you’ll discover some of what happens when we use genetically engineered (GE) foods. Scientists are only beginning to uncover the long-term effects of splicing the genes of one living creature into another.

However, Soylent isn’t convinced by independently funded research and has relied on information from the American Medical Association (AMA), World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Commission, claiming no credible evidence exists that genetically modified (GM) foods are unsafe.11 However, even WHO admits that:12

“Different GM organisms include different genes inserted in different ways. This means that individual GM foods and their safety should be assessed on a case-by-case basis and that it is not possible to make general statements on the safety of all GM foods.”

Then, in 2015, 19 of the 28 countries in the European Commission decided it was in the best interest of their citizens to say “No” to genetically modified organisms (GMOs) within their borders, and all 28 countries require labeling of foods containing GMO products.13 According to Soylent:14

“All of our products use bioengineered algae as a source of lipids and essential omega fatty acids. Produced efficiently in bioreactors, rather than on farmland, these single-celled organisms require far less resources than traditional agriculture.”

Genetic Engineering Is Not Clear Cut

Although many organization claim that “GMO foods are safe,” this statement is far from the truth for two different reasons. In the first place, genetically engineering any plant or animal is not as clear cut as moving one puzzle piece from one plant or animal to another.

This is a laboratory-based technique that has produced unexpected and toxic results when scientists begin tampering with the DNA of living organisms. Manipulating the genetics of a plant or animal is very imprecise.

Pesticide-producing plants designed to increase crop yield, and an inability to adequately predict the long-term effects of GM plants and animals in the food supply chain, only increases your risk of illness and disease.

In one 90-day trial researchers were able to detect organ disruption in the kidneys and livers of laboratory animals that “could be the onset of chronic diseases.”15

The researchers noted that at that time there was no time limit for studying the effects of GMO food on humans and suggested it should be made compulsory to study these effects longer than 90 days, and should include multigenerational studies to assess long-term health and fertility issues.

This is plain common sense, since no one alive today will eat GMOs for mere months unless they’re eating a wholly organic diet from birth until death.

Toxic Chemical Exposure Increases When Total Food Supply Is GMO

Soylent promises their customers that the drinks and bars they sell can meet all your nutritional needs. Some of their customers have taken this to heart and completely eliminated other food sources. This may be a very dangerous choice, as plant-based GMO products are genetically manipulated to withstand powerful pesticides allowing farmers to use higher and higher doses to kill weeds that are becoming resistant to chemical control.16,17 

This means you are exposed to greater amounts of toxic chemicals with the increased number of GMO products you consume. If your total nutrition comes from a product using mostly GMO-based nutrients, then it stands to reason that unless those ingredients are first completely cleansed of pesticide residue and pesticides bred into the plant are removed (which is currently not possible), you are increasing your toxic load with each meal.

Current Bar Recall Is Not the First Problem Soylent Has Experienced

Soylent’s new bars are being recalled due to their causing severe illness, but this isn’t the first problem this company has faced since its inception in 2013. In 2015 they introduced 2.0, their signature drink in a bottle. Whereas before customers mixed a bottle of lipids with powder and water, the 2.0 drink came premixed in a slick white plastic bottle.

Mere weeks after the product’s introduction, shipments were delayed.18 Amid customer complaints, the company admitted that some of their bottles were growing mold on the exterior surfaces. However, images sent to Motherboard clearly show mold growth both on the exterior and interior of their bottles.19

The current problems with the Soylent bar will not disappear quickly. One Reddit user has compiled 58 reports of gastrointestinal distress since September 7.20,21 The original report in Ars Technica listed 33 reported illnesses on October 10, but the list jumped to 58 by October 16. Rosa Labs, manufacturers of the Soylent bars released this statement:22

“After these reports, we have retrieved remaining bars from our consumers and have personally consumed many of the remaining bars without adverse effects. We have also sent them for further microbiological testing and all tests have come back negative. Based on this we remain very confident in the safety of the bars.”

Soylent has theorized the problem results from an intolerance or sensitivity to one of the ingredients in the bars. Although Soylent said the manufacturing facility, Betty Lou’s in McMinnville Oregon, is inspected annually, an online U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) database indicates the last inspection was done in 2014 with a “voluntary action indicated” result.23

Is Artificial Sweetener to Blame?

BuzzFeed quotes sources close to Soylent’s production who believe the gastrointestinal problems may be related to the amount of sucralose in the bar, but the company has no current plans to reduce the amount.24 Each bar contains 30 milligrams (mg) of sucralose, the key ingredient in the artificial sweetener Splenda.25

Despite the company’s interest in laying responsibility for the vomiting and diarrhea at the doorstep of sucralose, Diet Coke and Pepsi One both have 40 mg of sucralose in one can of soda, 10 mg more than a Soylent bar.26

That said, sucralose does come with other health concerns. In 2013, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) downgraded sucralose from “safe” to “caution” after preliminary findings suggested sucralose consumption caused leukemia in mice.27 The study was finally published in early 2016, demonstrating male mice who consumed sucralose had a greater potential of developing leukemia and malignant tumors in their lifetime than did the female mice.28 The researchers concluded:

“These findings do not support previous data that sucralose is biologically inert. More studies are necessary to show the safety of sucralose, including new and more adequate carcinogenic bioassay on rats. Considering that millions of people are likely exposed, follow-up studies are urgent.”

Lisa Lefferts, senior scientist at CSPI, addressed concerns that in this study mice received doses of sucralose higher than currently recommended by the FDA. She was quoted by saying:29

"[E]ven if you consume less, that doesn't mean there's no problem. When something causes cancer at high doses, it generally causes cancer at lower doses, the risk is just smaller."

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