Do meal replacements measure up nutritionally?

As US company Soylent prepares to enter the British market, nutritionist Dr. Laura Wyness looks at the pros and cons of the product.

19 September 2018
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Meet the Expert

Who: Dr. Laura Wyness

What: Independent registered nutritionist

 

What is Soylent?

It’s a meal in a bottle! Established in the US in 2014, the start-up is now moving tentatively into the British market with its Soylent Drink, which will be available in three flavours: cacao, cafe mocha and original. From tomorrow (September 20), the range will be sold on Amazon UK in cases of 12 at £39.99 (£3.33 per 414ml bottle). Each serving provides 400 calories.

Food Spark has written before about the rising consumer interest in meal replacements, including British Huel and French Feed. So how does Soylent stack up?

The pros

The stated aim of Soylent is to act as a convenient, nutritious meal option for when a person is on the go, or when there’s limited access to healthy food options that are affordable. While the company has purportedly tweaked its recipes slightly to comply with EU regulations, its website states that each serving includes 20g of soy protein, 21g of healthy fats (including monounsaturated and omega-3 fatty acids) as well as some slow-release carbohydrates.  

Soylent Drink is also designed to provide about 20% of an adult’s requirements for 26 essential vitamins and minerals – so quite a nutritious choice! It is also nut free and vegan, so likely to appeal to the growing number of consumers seeking these credentials.

The cons

There can be quite a bit of variation in the ingredients, additives and nutrients of meal replacement drinks generally. Although the nutritional profile of Soylent is impressive, it only provides 3g of fibre per bottle. The current average UK fibre intake of 19g a day falls well below the recommended 30g we should be aiming for, and it doesn’t look like Soylent will be helping solve that issue.

For some people with gut conditions such as IBS or Crohn’s disease, some meal replacement shakes may result in uncomfortable gastrointestinal side effects. Common dietary advice for a healthy gut is to include a wide variety of foods in the diet. Over-reliance on meal replacements would limit this variety, as well as lead to a rather boring subsistence.  

Food provides much more than fuel and nutrients. Eating a meal is an opportunity to experience a variety of flavours and textures, and chewing food will also help start the digestive process. Sitting down to eat a meal can be great for physical and mental health as well as helping connect consumers with real food. It can provide us with some headspace, a chance to practice some mindful eating, or an opportunity to socialise with others. 

To drink or not to drink

Setting aside time to eat food and plan out healthy, nutritious meals can provide many benefits for our physical, mental and social health. However, Soylent has carefully avoided suggesting that it is intended to replace meals regularly – a mistake it made in its early American days. Instead, it targets ‘food voids,’ hoping to help Brits cut down on the occasions when they skip meals.

To that extent, Soylent does offer a convenient and nutritious on-the-go meal option for those occasional situations that we may lack the time or ability to access a healthy meal. 

The major question remaining is: does it taste good?

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