Soylent Has Arrived In The UK, But Are Meal Replacements Any Good?

Can a shake really be as good as a plate of food?

Soylent, the meal replacement shake that has become hugely popular in the USA, is launching in the UK this week. But can it replace real food?

Meal replacements usually come in either a pre-made shake, or as a powder that you mix with water to make the drink. They differ from protein shakes, as they are meant to provide the full nutritional content of a meal.

Joining an already-crowded market (British alternative Huel has seen huge success this side of the pond), are they something to celebrate?

Soylent

Are meal replacements good for you?

The idea behind meal replacements is that if they were all you consumed you’d still have all the nutrients you need for a healthy diet. But, nutrition experts don’t recommend people should do this.

“I would never recommend you rely on these products as your whole source of nutrition,” says Nutritionist Lucy Jones tells HuffPost UK.

Productivity Coach Grace Marshall says these products are better considered as a way of improving nutritional balance for people who are busy.

“They make the routes to being healthy easier, you don’t have to plan a whole new diet, you just have the shake,” says Marshall.

They can also top up nutrients we don’t consume enough of. Jones said: “We know younger women often lack calcium and iron, which affects energy levels, they’re really important nutrients, and meal replacements can replace that.”

But the body can struggle to adapt to the highly processed nutrients. Dietitian Anna Groom says some of her clients pays lots of money for the products to then find their body cannot tolerate them: “[It is] giving them wind and bloating potentially due to the highly refined protein in them.

“I would not recommend them as a sustainable long term option. Some people find them useful to temporarily break bad eating habits however this should only be temporary.”

In summary the products are made up of the ‘building blocks’ of food, but they lack plant compounds and other components which are key to a healthy diet.

<strong> Many of the products are only available as powders that need to be mixed with water</strong>
AFP via Getty Images
Many of the products are only available as powders that need to be mixed with water

Can they help with weight loss?

On Soylent’s website, they say their products do not aid weight loss and should not be used as a weight loss tool, but LighterLife claim otherwise.

Several studies have suggested that replacing one or two meals per day with a healthy meal replacement shake may speed up weight loss.

One study suggested obese people swap to a shake based diet to lose weight. But this was part-funded by the Cambridge Weight Plan UK so is worth taking with a pinch of salt.

The majority of meal replacement drinks contain between 200–400 calories, so in theory consuming them as a meal make it easier to ensure you don’t go over your recommended daily calorie allowance.

Jones said: “If you took your least healthy meal of the day and replaced it with Soylent you would lose some weight.”

Why do we need meal replacements then?

The idea behind Soylent was to target those who don’t have enough time in their day to prepare and eat three meals. With many of us skipping meals (63 per cent of students say they don’t eat breakfast) there is a gap in the market.

Huel co-founder James Collier says: “If you’re rushed in the morning, then breakfast would be a good choice. Or, if you’re fed up with spending £5-6 on a low nutrition sandwich, snack and drink for lunch, then Huel can fill those gaps.”

And Marshall says theoretically “we would see an improvement in cognition” if we drank a meal replacement like Soylent instead of not eating at all.

What else do we need to know?

Soylent was banned from Canada in 2017 when their food standards agency for not being a suitable alternative to food if you swapped to it full time.

These products are also a nightmare for certain allergies as they are usually soy based and also full of complicated proteins that can be difficult to digest.

However, most meal replacements are completely vegan and extremely environmentally friendly using much less resources than a farm animal requires and last for up to a year without needing to be refrigerated.

Soylent is entering the market at £39.99 for 12 bottles, which is £3.33 per meal, but as they’re sold as only part of your diet that can add a lot to your weekly food bill.