Canadians won’t have to wait for a far-off dystopian future to try the controversial Soylent meal replacement product, as the inventor says the company is eyeing Canada as its first international market after it begins shipping to U.S. customers on March 1.
CEO Rob Rhinehart was as an electrical engineer at a start-up in California, with insufficient time and money to eat well, when he decided to create something that fast and cheap that contains everything humans need to survive.
Soylent comes in two packets, powder and oil, that are mixed with water to form a grayish liquid. It contains no people and costs less than $10 a day.
“Traditionally, healthy food can be very difficult to prepare and very expensive,” said Rhinehart. “If someone starts doing this to simplify their lives, they don’t have to spend as much time eating well and just by default will end up getting a lot healthier.”
Soylent has a nutrition label that shows a full complement of nutrients, along with carbs, protein and fibre.
“It’s very important to us,” said Rhinehart. “There’s a lot of regulation in food. We have gone through all of the hurdles and testing and labelling and process control.”
Rhinehart said the label doesn’t tell the whole story — it doesn’t include that Soylent has a complete amino acid profile and, according to the company’s tests, a low glycemic index.
Rhinehart was Soylent’s first test subject and he lives “90 per cent” on Soylent today, eating only the occasional social meal. He’s gone through long periods of eating only Soylent, and “beta testers” — a tech term for people who try out a new product before its wide release — have done the same.
Soylent raised more than $2 million in pre-orders and found venture capital support. It has a community of DIY Soylent makers working on their own Soylent-like food hacks.
It also has many critics.
Two Canadian doctors who are experts in nutrition recommended that consumers wait until Soylent undergoes clinical testing.
Dr. David Lau, a professor of medicine biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Calgary and the president of Obesity Canada, said Soylent’s ingredients “appear very complete,” but he’s concerned about how well they will be absorbed.
Gut flora, the microganisms that live in the digestive tract, are essential to human health but are still not well understood and the effect a Soylent diet would have is unknown, he said.
He said using beta testers is “hocus pocus” that couldn’t replace clinical trials that could determine the long-term effects of Soylent.
Dr. David Jenkins, a University of Toronto professor and the Canada research chair in nutrition and metabolism, said he’d like see testing on the product’s glycemic index. How the body absorbs Soylent and its post-meal effects are essential to understanding how useful and healthy it is, he said.
Rhinehart has dealt with similar concerns in the past and has said that none of the testers have shown any nutrient deficiency. “If this becomes a problem the amounts can be changed to compensate,” he wrote in a post on his site that counters his critics.