Soylent Month Three
After three months I should be finding deficiencies, and I did. I started having joint pain and found I fit the symptoms of a sulfur deficiency. This makes perfect sense as I consume almost none, and sulfur is a component of every living cell. Sulfur is hard to miss in a typical diet so the FDA would have little reason to recommend it. A typical male physique has 140g of sulfur, making it the sixth most abundant element in the human body. Ten grams of sulfur from Methylsulfonylmethane cured me right away, and I now consume 2g/day. Sulfur is also what gives flatulence its characteristic odor. Most gas is just Hydrogen, but humans have evolved to be extremely sensitive to Hydrogen Sulfide, which is by the gram as deadly as cyanide, and produced by the bacteria in our colon. Before this change my gas was odorless. Releasing the equivalent of deadly cyanide gas from our anuses is a questionable design decision, nature. I have not experienced any other deficiency symptoms and am quite confident I am now getting everything I need, but I will keep testing.
I have been keeping better track of my physical traits. I'm holding steady at 180 lbs, and my muscle mass is about 46%, which is optimal for my lifestyle. I have 6.4lbs of bone mineral mass and am 63.8% water by weight, both normal. My body fat is currently 9.6%, which is a little too low for a non-athlete. Because of this when I do take the time to eat I converge towards bacon, which serves as an efficient source of fatty acids and happiness. Bacon is high in Oleic acid, the principal component of adipose (fat) tissue so it is great for increasing body fat. While the environmental effects of livestock farming do bother me, I think eating meat as rarely as I do is completely sustainable. However, bacon also has Palmitic acid, which is closely associated with cardiovascular disease so moderation is still in order. By the way, an acid is anything that donates protons. Only a few have corrosive properties like sulfuric acid, and bases can be corrosive too. Additionally, I track my sleep now, using a device called the "Zeo", an EEG headband that measures characteristic patterns of different sleep cycles. According to this device, I sleep like a baby, with an average "ZQ" of 104. Typical 20 year olds score 84.
I spent a week in L.A. to appear on a TV show and film the Kickstarter video. This served as a good control since I went without soylent almost the entire week. Though leisure food is fun, with no soylent in my diet the difference was clear. Cognition was the first to go. Patience shortened, attention dulled, curiosity waned. Socializing was more taxing, my inbox more foreboding. The physical effects took another few days. It was harder to wake up, the gym seemed much less inviting, and I gained a few pounds. Upon returning and going back to soylent I quickly bounced back, no harm done. I now refer to this as "low power mode".
Soylent has changed my relationship with food. Before I probably craved pizza and cheeseburgers because that was the easiest way to provide my 6'3" frame with the calories it needed. Now that my nutritional needs are always met I am able to appreciate food more for its flavor, and started really enjoying sushi. Sushi is especially interesting because there is such range and intensity of flavors, and it is so difficult, yet rewarding to make well. This makes it pricey, but I spend so little on food I can enjoy nice sushi once or twice per week. Fast food restaurants look laughably obsolete to me, like a Blockbuster.
I made a rather significant change to the formula, now on major revision 7. I've replaced half of the maltodextrin carbohydrates with oat powder, which has a much lower glycemic index. Oat powder is quite nutritious, and while not a raw chemical (I had to adjust several other ingredients to compensate), is very stable and inexpensive, should be fine for celiacs, and dramatically increases the fiber content, without interfering with the absorption of the maltodextrin. I underestimated the importance of fiber in a diet, and went from consuming 1.2g / day to 40g / day. The maltodextrin kicks in quickly, providing energy almost immediately, and when it runs out the oat powder takes over as an energy source. It also seems to improve the feeling of satiety, and affects the taste to be less sweet, which I actually prefer. I also added creatine, spurred by this study1, and Coenzyme Q10, a component of the electron transport chain with preliminary evidence for a variety of benefits. I made the decision to use whey isolate rather than the slightly cheaper concentrate / isolate blend. I am glad I did not just because my skin looks a little better and soylent is now lactose free, but crucially whatever was causing it to congeal after a few days must have been in the extras of the concentrate. My test has lasted in liquid form for 2 weeks now and is still holding steady. The flavor has dulled but it's still very drinkable. Flavor chemicals tend to be very volatile so it's hard to make them last, but they can always be added back in before consumption. I use ethyl vanillin, a synthetic form of vanillin that is more potent. Having soylent stable in liquid form could prove very useful. I'm currently working on kegging it.
I was intrigued to find that on nootropic days I craved about 15% more carbohydrates. This got me thinking, and researching. Our brain requires glucose and ions to operate, just like our muscles do. Perhaps processes and traits like learning, analysis, optimism, and self-control consume more calories than their lazier counterparts, and if the brain doesn't have easy access to them, they will be impaired. Neuroscientist Gregory Bems writes about how our brain optimizes itself to reduce its energy consumption as needed. One of the ways it does this is by framing new things in terms of old. Those who cannot form new pathways rely on old information, insisting that nothing is new. "Imagination," says Bems, "stems from the ability to break from categorization". Remapping takes effort. Asking someone to change deep-seated beliefs like political or religious viewpoints is asking them to run a mental marathon, and the vast majority of people cannot be bothered. Often only the youth, with healthy energetic minds stay in a state of flux in their viewpoints. However, the youth know so little in general it is often a trade-off versus our older, more experienced, conservative selves. It would be really nice to have both though, and I have met enough open-minded older people to know it's possible. Perhaps the real value of efficient food is not in making us skinnier, but having better fuel for our brains.
We no longer live in a hunter-gatherer society. I have no use for bulging biceps. No one in the United States plows fields or hammers steel by hand. It has all been automated. We need mental strength. We need creativity, patience, discipline, and humility. If people had more self-control obesity would take care of itself. Perhaps companies would be more productive if managers had more humility and employees had more discipline. These processes are abstract but they must have a physiological basis, and it seems intuitive that more difficult processes consume more energy. I fear many people who work primarily with their minds do not put much effort in to their health, and we are all missing out because of it.
The world has changed. We don't live anything like our ancestors. We don't work like them, talk like them, think like them, travel like them, or fight like them. Why on earth would we want to eat like them? Practically everything has gotten better over the past century but food has gotten worse. This is because food is a haven for reactionaries. Reductionism is not romantic, but everything can be improved once seen as the sum of its parts. If we can make transistors that are cheap, fast, and low power, surely we can make food that is tastier, cheaper, and more nutritious than anything that exists naturally. In the past food was about survival. Now we can try to create something ideal.
I promised that if I was still healthy after three months of soylent I would launch a Kickstarter campaign to bring it to the world. That time has come. The project is currently being reviewed and if approved I will post the link here, and tweet about it as soon as it is up.
edit: Since posting this I have heard from a number of additional platforms. I now realize crowdfunding has come a long way since Kickstarter coined the term 4 years ago. In light of this perhaps a different venue would be a better fit.