People who think Super Body Fuel has nutrients missing that are somehow in “real food” have it exactly backward.
I had an interesting conversation about this with a long-time customer, after talking about probiotics and the emerging science of gut bacteria. So I posted about it on r/soylent and it turned into my post popular post yet! :O Even got my first Platinum Award (thanks u/chrisbair!) and spurred even more fascinating discussion in the comments. :)
Here it is:
Do you ever wonder if we’ve missed some essential nutrient that’s in real food, but not accounted for in meal replacements? I mean, not discovered some vitamin, protein, or other essential nutrient yet? I do. And I guess the problem is potentially worse, given the microbiome that we’ve barely started to explore.
Do I idly wonder or worry about it? No. Am I constantly investigating new and lesser-known nutrients and compounds that may turn out to have health benefits? Pretty much, yes. Do I add them all to the formula? No. But there are some that I have, like the DHA and Myo-Inositol, after careful consideration of the research and survey feedback.
I don’t think about this as a comparison between a hubristically engineered attempt at playing god on the part of humans, versus a perfect, divinely ordained natural diet that completely and optimally meets the body’s needs. If those were the two choices, I would not be wasting my time with this business, and you would not be a customer.
Instead, we have a comparison between a deliberate, thoughtful diet plan depending largely on supplements for micronutrient content, and a largely naive, haphazard diet based on learned behaviors and impulses within a food landscape overwhelmingly shaped by market forces that have no regard for nutritional content whatsoever. Traditional pre-industrial diets, as Michael Pollan describes, are somewhere in between, but are largely dying out (tragically) and our customers are not generally coming from that background. If they are, the forces pushing them are due to the long-term societal effects of colonialism and capitalism, and Super Body Fuel is merely an attempt to ease the pain, not itself the cause.
Milk Fuel has the exact same amount of “real food” as a bowl of oat-based cereal in milk, and all of Super Body Fuel has more “real food” than a bowl of oatmeal. And yet most people would reflexively assume that the bowl of oatmeal has some mysterious nutrient that is somehow lacking in Super Fuel. Sadly, in fact, it is the opposite. The bowl of oatmeal is definitely – measurably – deficient in over a dozen nutrients that you will suffer known medical problems for lacking, and eventually die without. And many of these nutrients you cannot get in a multivitamin pill (fiber and electrolytes are too bulky to fit, and most multivitamins also include only cheap forms of vitamins and minerals that are not absorbed well).
This extends to the entirety of the diet. Americans as a population are known, as documented in government reports, to be clearly deficient in many nutrients (even by the minimal standards of the FDA), including insoluble and soluble fiber (back to the gut bacteria!), potassium, magnesium, vitamin K and vitamin D, to a degree that causes significant health issues to individuals and incurs significant healthcare costs to society.
It’s almost infuriating how backwards this is – it’s easy to get worked up about this if I let myself. :p
Do you see what I’m saying? It’s not traditional pre-industrial diets and Cheerios with milk, grouped together as “real food” against the “fake food” of Super Body Fuel. Cheerios with milk has much more in common with SBF than it does with any pre-industrial diet. And SBF does everything better than Cheerios. Except marketing. ;) It’s just the next logical step in making industrial food less terrible – indeed, taking it into the realm of (hopefully!) optimal.
Believe me, I wish we didn’t have to do this – I came to SBF from a Paleo diet. But this is where we are, as a society.
Seems we’ve gotten very far from the track, and you’re very right that SBF only needs to be doing better, overall. It’s certainly succeeding in that for me. Aside from all the capitalist marketing of food for questionable reasons, I love to think I could grow my own food, raise my own animals, and somehow really nourish my body on every level, but I just don’t have the right skills, resources, or time for it. And I’ve plenty of other things to deal with.
Are you aware of Bikini, the island where a huge nuke was set off? These days, the natives live almost entirely on processed food: I guess because local food is questionable or non-existent, and everything is shipped in from the US. It has the highest rates of type 2 diabetes in the world. I guess that’s what happens when you nuke the land and sea, nuke a traditional, energetic way of life, and then people live on canned crap :(
It’s worth a read if you haven’t already. Part 3 is about ‘lents (complete foods, or what he calls “Nutrifoods”).
Apparently phytochemicals are important, and absent from ‘lents. Maybe that would qualify as a missing nutrient?
I think that is the most reasonable complaint, and the most easily addressed.
Obviously, something like Cheerios has no more phytonutrient content than Super Fuel (both have certain beneficial compounds from the oat flour). But what about fruits and veggies? Like, for people who actually do eat somewhat healthily.
One point is that Super Fuel (but not Soylent) has phytonutrients not only from meager grains like oats or brown rice, but from superfoods like monkfruit and cocoa powder (or Ceylon cinnamon, or freeze-dried strawberries, depending on the flavor) which are rich in antioxidant phytochemicals. That’s one of the reasons we use real spices for the flavors, not isolated flavor compounds (and one of the reasons that people historically have used spices in cooking!).
Another point is that it’s possible to actually include phytonutrients in ‘lents, like u/IcyElemental of Genesis Foods does with PhytoGenesis. I’ve tended to move a little slower and cautiously in terms of adding things, but there are some science-backed phytonutrients and other things that are not strictly vitamins or minerals that I’ve started adding, and more that I’d like to add in the future. It’s just a matter of time, and there’s no reason why ‘lents can’t include them just as easily as they include vitamins and minerals.
But the biggest thing is this.
Even if ‘lents are lacking in crucial phytonutrients, your average meal, even a “healthy” meal with phytonutrient-packed veggies, is still lacking in even more crucial actual vitamins and minerals.
The phytonutrients are not considered vitamins because they have never been shown to be necessary in patients on long-term parenteral nutrition. If and when they do cause issues by being absent from parenteral nutrition, they will become upgraded to vitamins. That’s more or less how choline went from being a B vitamin, to not, to basically becoming one again, according to the FDA.
The kind of medical problems you get from lacking vitamins and minerals are the kinds that are severe and obvious. The kinds of medical problems that may or may not be reduced in likelihood by phytonutrients that have not yet passed the “vitamin” test are by definition not as critical.
So, imagine your ‘lent and your healthy salad, or your grilled steak, or whatever, as two gladiators in the ring, fighting to the death. Who is healthier?
Your favorite ‘lent has a helmet, a shield, a sword. He’s got all the bases covered, all the essentials. But he forgot to put on sunscreen. He’s missing his sunscreen – that’s the missing phytonutrient in this analogy. His skin is going to be uncomfortable tomorrow after a hard day of fighting in the Mediterranean sun. :/
But your healthy salad has his sunscreen. Great. But he’s missing his helmet. His shield is cracked. His sword is too short. These are the essential vitamins and minerals that are deficient or just straight up absent from the meal. You’ve got vitamin K1 in that salad, but how about K2? And where’s the B12? How much of that zinc or magnesium are you actually absorbing from those seeds? How much potassium or magnesium are you actually getting in that steak?
Who do you think is going to win?
Unless you are actively applying a systematic, nutrition-first approach to your “healthy” meals (like the Perfect Health Diet, maybe) I can almost guarantee that you are going to be deficient in something important. Even if you take a cheap Costco multivitamin at the same time. Still not getting that potassium or magnesium, not getting that K2, not getting enough omega-3 fats relative to your inflammatory omega-6, not getting enough fiber to keep your gut bacteria happy.
Phytonutrients are great, but they’re no substitute for essential nutrition.
This is a very thoughtful post and I wholeheartedly agree. Complete foods are not necessarily replacements for nutritionally balanced whole foods diets. But it would be extremely naive to believe that’s what is being replaced here.
I also think the way ‘lents started out was quite beautiful because of the open source recipes and ingredient transparency. A lot more intentionality has gone into making ‘lents than the majority of the breakfast cereal industry.
On a side note, the marketing machine behind the breakfast cereal industry is unbelievable, because it has somehow made us think that eating bowls of predominantly sugar and processed carbohydrates every morning is somehow healthy and great for children.
The world would be better off if we replaced all breakfast cereals and instant ramen with ‘lents.
And that’s what the messaging should be: take a typical diet of what people actually eat every day and compare it to a complete food diet, not the pie in the sky ideas of what people think would be healthy, but what people really put in their mouths every day.
Someone who eats a muffin or bagel for breakfast every day should switch to ‘lents. Someone who eats a sandwich from most fast food restaurants for lunch every day would almost certainly be better off with ‘lents instead.
Like it or not, this is a topic that we’ll have to keep addressing over and over until ‘lents gain mainstream acceptance. And it’s a worthwhile question to ask, in my opinion.
It’s a question we should be asking of all of our food.
What is missing? And how do you know?