Is Soylent healthy for children

No feast: liquid food in the test

Food is great - at least for most people. Some spend much of their life baking the best bread, grilling the perfect steak, or traveling the world to find the most fermented kimchi. For others, however, eating is nothing more than the annoyance of ingesting food. For example for software developer Robert Rhinehart. In his 2013 blog entry, "How I stopped eating food," he describes his deep aversion to food. For him, eating is "fossil energy" for the human body - inefficient, harmful to the environment and completely out of date. Isn't that possible better?

Rhinehart quickly mixed himself a drink that should offer everything the body needs. Based on the dystopian film Soylent Green, he named his creation Soylent. It turned out to be a multi-million dollar idea: Soylent not only wowed venture capitalists, but also a growing community that Soylent sent millions of meals to. The media were already asking about the "end of the meal" in their titles.

Eight years later there is still normal food. Soylent, on the other hand, has lost its shine. The company is said to stumble, and Rhinehart has also withdrawn from the day-to-day business of his company and only attracts attention by spreading absurd conspiracy theories.

What remains is the desire for so-called meal replacements. More and more companies are entering the market with their own powders and drinks. The principle is always the same: fast, uncomplicated meals, balanced and affordable. They should give the body everything it needs without the consumer having to worry about balance or messing around with dishes - food for those who are not interested. DER STANDARD tested three products: Mana from the Czech Republic, Huel from England and the Austrian ready-to-drink drink Saturo.

The ingredients

What the three products have in common is that the nutritional table that every food item has to carry covers a large part of the packaging - after all, the alleged wholesomeness of the "Complete Foods" is the number one selling point. From protein to carbohydrates and fat, vitamins, minerals - everything is exactly balanced to 100 percent. In almost all products on the market, vegetable protein, for example from soy or peas, plus oil and maltodextrin, act as basic substances. The latter is often used by the food industry as a filler for low-fat products; in liquid food it provides carbohydrates. Only at Huel does crushed oats provide the "carbs". In addition, there is a long list of added artificial vitamins and minerals that should make the additional consumption of fruit and vegetables superfluous.

The taste

Mana and Huel are supplied as a powder in a sealable plastic bag. After you have mixed a specified number of measuring spoons with a specified amount of water, you have to shake it first - quite vigorously. Because the stuff clumps so much that you even have to help with a spoon (don't mess with dishes!). Saturo comes pre-portioned in a quarter-liter Tetra-Pak.

The three products tested vary in color from gray-yellow to gray-brown. None of them look really appetizing - but that shouldn't be the whole point either. The first sip is also disappointing: Saturo is reminiscent of cocoa with little sugar, while Mana tastes neutral and slightly sweeter. Huel is closest to "real" food - namely, oatmeal that is too watered.

The price

In view of the cheap ingredients, the liquid fun is not that cheap: Mana costs around 1.50 euros per meal, Huel costs just under two euros. Saturo, which has also been available in Austrian supermarkets since it appeared on the start-up TV show 2 Minuten 2 million, costs around three euros there. Mind you, a serving is around 400 kilocalories - to get to the recommended level of 2000 kilocalories per day, you cost around ten euros.

The environmental balance

The manufacturers of liquid meals are committed to sustainability: powder meals would produce far fewer CO2 emissions than almost any other food. According to Huel's own calculations, it comes to around 0.6 kilograms of CO2 per serving - that's about as many as the same amount of calories in bananas. It is irritating that many of the pre-portioned meals come in mini-Tetra-Paks. "But from a sustainability point of view that is practically irrelevant," says Saturo founder Hannes Feistenauer. The packaging makes up only a small proportion of the total footprint. Since his product, like the others tested, is vegan, there are only few emissions. Compared to the Leberkässemmel, the liquid alternative actually looks good.

Health

"Do you want to keep your teeth?" Says Susanne Lindenthal when asked about substitute meals. The nutritionist and nutritionist has little interest in the idea of ​​liquid food. With the jaw muscles, be it like with a foot or arm that, after being in plaster for a long time, is "just a stick with skin over it". Regular exercise is important for all muscles, including the mouth, which is underemployed from liquid food. The teeth themselves also regularly need something to bite in order not to deteriorate.

Much more serious, however, is the fact that the drinks pass the digestive tract much faster than solid food. Because the liquid food stays there for a shorter time, it cannot absorb all the nutrients, which can lead to deficiency symptoms - even if the nutritional table on the products is supposedly perfectly balanced. This would namely suppress the bioavailability of the nutrients. "Our body is made to absorb its nutrients from real food," says Lindenthal. Incidentally, the same thing with the artificial nutrient mix also applies to vitamin pills and smoothies.

If you dump a whole meal in a matter of seconds, you are also overwhelmed by your body. Because digestion begins in the mouth, where the food is saliva. For the enzymes to work, you would have to spoon the liquid food slowly like soup. If, on the other hand, you pour the mush directly into the digestive system, the digestive system has more to do - which in turn could trigger abdominal pain.

Liquid food has its justification, believes Lindenthal - for example, when someone has problems swallowing due to illness or cannot eat normal, solid food for other reasons. She recommends "real" food to everyone else, also for the sake of personal well-being. Because ultimately, food is also linked, due to evolutionary biology, to our reward system in the brain, which supplies us with hormones such as dopamine, which bring us feelings of happiness. In the case of the quickly sipped nutrient drink, these will not occur.

The hype

Nutrition psychologist Christoph Klotter believes he knows why there is still a hype about the dreary gray matter to drink. He has been observing the trend towards so-called "superfoods" for a long time, ie foods that are said to have special health-promoting effects. Because healthy and balanced alone is no longer enough today, many are looking for the absolute miracle food that takes our body to unimagined new levels.

It is almost a "spiritual desire for immortality" with which many are chasing after the new superfoods such as chia seeds or algae powder. "We expect too much from food these days," says Klotter. We could just be content with being able to choose from thousands of different foods in abundance, at least in Europe.

In the whole of human history, social groups have also been defined by who their members eat with. The quick choking down of gray mush at the workplace is without a doubt the antithesis of this. (Philip Pramer, 3.2.2021)

Note in terms of the editorial guidelines: Some of the product samples were provided by the manufacturers.