Can a Drink Replace Food for Good?

While meal replacement shakes are nothing new, most are meant to be your breakfast, lunch, or dinner—not all three of them. But one man who's been subsisting on an all-liquid diet for the past two months says it can be a healthy plan.

Rob Rhinehart, a 24-year-old software engineer from Atlanta, says he created Soylent not to lose weight but to maximize efficiency in all areas of his life. "It became clear that food was a massive drain on my schedule, finances, and peace of mind," he told SHAPE. "I also love to experiment and was very curious to see what something like this would do to me."

After researching, Rhineheart came up with a list of essential nutrients (click here for the full list of ingredients in Soylent), purchased them all in raw form, and started experimenting until he found a combination that seemed to be just right. The odorless, beige, smoothie-type drink includes almost no food (save for a few tablespoons of olive and fish oils), but Rhinehart is confident that it includes all the nutrients necessary for surivival.

"It's not very exciting; I measure a large panel of powders I keep in my kitchen with a precise scale and standard measuring spoons and cups, and then I add water," Rhinehart says. "There are a lot of ingredients, most you would probably think twice about eating once you see the name—such as riboflavin or panthothenic acid—but they're already used as food additives in many products."

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Rhinehart's been getting regular bloodwork done and wrote in a blog post that he feels like the "six million dollar man." "Over the weeks, I've noticed a massive boost to my focus, stamina, physique, and free time," he says. "The biggest improvement has been sleep, which I always struggled with." Additionally, he says his memory, skin, and teeth have improved, and he's lost weight.

However, because Rhinehart says his previous diet was "probably poor, but on the better end of average for an American," Cynthia Sass, R.D., believes it's possible that many of the positive side effects he feels are simply a result of improved nutrition and have less to do with the shake itself. "He may be feeling great because he's in a better balance nutritionally speaking than he was before," she says.

Soylent has met raised eyebrows and mixed reviews from the healthy living community. Some experts argue that there's nothing basically wrong with what Rhinehart is doing—after all, medical food already exists and has been used to keep patients alive for years—but he’s missing out on the social aspects of food and overall experience.

Sass agrees. "In addition to there being dozens of antioxidants and phytonutrients beyond the ones he's listed, with each one performing a unique function, research also suggests that colors and aroma positively impact satiety," she says.

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Plus, she adds, "For many, experiencing the flavors and textures of food, from the crispness of a fresh apple to the juiciness of a ripe peach, is one of life's greatest pleasures."

Despite the critics, Rhinehart thinks his formula could improve health around the globe. "Health is a huge part of this, and clearly the existing options for being healthy are not suitable for everyone, or else everyone would be healthy, he says. “Having something that is cheap, convenient, and tasty means more people will choose it. Soylent also alleviates many of the logistics issues around food storage, production, and distribution, so I really think this has potential to help people worldwide who have hunger or malnutrition issues."

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