Soylents: a comparative review of future foods

An introduction to “future food”

soylent_2-0A few years ago, a man called Rob Rhinehart got annoyed with the state of food. He was fed up with spending time and money on just staying alive.

Sure, food can be super enjoyable. Nothing is going to tear me away from the many pizzas in my life. But his point holds firm: much of the time, food is just nutrition, just fuel to keep us alive. Why have we not made it cheaper and simpler?

His answer to that question was Soylent. It’s powdered food that contains 100% of the vitamins, the minerals, the calories, the carbs, the proteins; every tiny thing we need to survive and flourish. Not only that, but its super convenient – simply add powder to water.

Soylents in my life

In my work day, lunchtime is not a time for sitting down to a tasty home cooked meal. Midday is a time when I want the absolute minimum hassle, and soylents, or “future foods” are a great solution to that. I’ve found them to be very helpful from many perspectives:

  • low cost: much cheaper than grabbing a sandwich every day
  • fast: much simpler than defrosting or buying and eating a meal
  • low hassle: I can drink it at my desk as I work, no down time needed. If I want some down time, I go outside for a walk, trading time on eating for time on exercise and fresh air!
  • a weight management technique: future foods have a very known calorie portion, and I find them satisfying to the degree I’m not tempted to snack – and not needing to shop reduces temptation.
  • more stable energy release: I start drinking one around 11:30, and finish it around 2:30. Drinking it so slowly keeps me satiated, and avoids the desire to nap I often hit an hour after I wolf down a medium sized meal at lunch.

Soylent is not available in the UK, so I’ve been experimenting with some of the available options, and thought I would review them for others interested in the concept.

Disclaimer: I was sent free samples of many of these products. Several of them have had changes to their recipe over the year I’ve been testing, so your mileage may vary. I’ve tested all of them for at least a week, usually several weeks.

A “meal” is ~700kcal, I’ve noted if the supplied sizes vary from this. The price per meal is for a starter pack, and then the cheapest bulk price available is in brackets. Cost of postage, if applicable, is included. 

Joylent

joylentPrice per meal: £1.79 (£1.49 bulk)

Joylent was the first future food I tried. I was attracted by its pretty packaging, range of flavours and cheap pricing.

I found all the flavours enjoyable, none of them too sweet or too artificial. The texture was a little gritty – which I actually came to enjoy, after a little adjustment. It did mean the mix was prone to seperating out over time, so you’d need to shake it up fairly regularly. Not a big problem for me, it’s in a shaker already for a reason.

The effect on my body of switching to Joylent was entirely amicable. No exciting flatulence, and stable energy levels throughout.

The pretty packaging is an interesting plus point as well: I genuinely looked forwards to each meal more than with some of the blandly bagged future foods. Eating is not purely about nourishment, and there’s something to be said for taking steps to replicate the aesthetic enjoyment of food…

All in, I’d definitely give Joylent another go!

Positive: range of flavours, good prices, vegan option, pretty packaging.

Negative: slightly gritty.

Queal

QuealPrice per meal: £2.10 (£1.88 bulk)

After Joylent, the next inviting range of packages I opened was Queal. I say “inviting”; what I mean is “a little bit amateurish”.

Whilst the Joylent branding might be a bit colourful for some, the Queal logo was in underlined Ariel. My immediate impression of the packaging was that my mum could have designed it in Word.

Also, “Queal”? I know they are getting at Quick-Meal, but the first thing that jumped to mind for the three people I asked? “Queasy”. To be fair to them, over the last 6 months they have a new logo that is both prettier, and includes a “Quick Meal” tagline. I imagine their packaging will update in time.

The strength of Queal is twofold: texture and range of flavours.

It has a finer powder mixture than Joylent, resulting in a smoother, creamier mix that separates less. The downside of this is the mixture can clump together on mixing – imagine adding flour to water compared to adding sand to water. The sand will be gritty, but the flour might form lumps. That said though, the lumps are rare, and when well mixed or even blended, not a problem at all. I quite enjoyed chewing the odd bit of tasty Queal lump anyway – if textures are a deal breaker for you, something to be aware of.

Queal is available in 10 flavours currently, including such treats as “Crazy Chocolate Peanut” and “Banana Mania”. I found the flavours a bit hit and miss. Whereas every Joylent was nice enough, but not distractingly so, Queal had some overly sweet flavours – especially Berry – and some tasted overly artificial at points. Still, the benefit of 10 options is you are found to find some that suit you, and the entire range is available in Lite, Standard, Plus and Athletic, allowing a varied mix of calories and macros.

Overall, I enjoyed Queal, but I found it a slightly less good product that Joylent, at a slightly higher price.

Plus sides: Smooth texture, range of flavours, decent price, 4 different calorie mixes available.

Downsides: basic packaging, inadvisable name, flavours a little more sickly/artificial, can form lumps.

Ambronite

Price per meal: £12.10 (£8.05 bulk, but that would cost you £322 for 40). Plus the meals are only 500kcal. For a comparable 700kcal portion, the numbers are £16.94 and £11.27 bulk!

Wow. That was my first thought on seeing the price on this bad boy. One of my significant motivating factors for using future foods is the cost savings, compared to buying lunch. At the rate I use future foods, I could feed myself on Joylent for a month of workdays for the same price as a single meal of Ambronite.

Or indeed, for the cost of a Ambronite meal, could head to Subway and buy a 2 footlong Veggie Patty subs, 2 large side salads, 2 drinks and 3 cookies, for a total of 2,200 calories.

Or indeed, head to Aldi, and buy 10.8 kilos of butter, for a total of 73,800 calories.

If you can get past the price, Ambronite is clearly a quality product. None of the other foods on this list feel, look or taste so clearly like natural ingredients. Here is the full list: Oat protein, almond, oats, apple, agave syrup, oat fiber, nettle leaf, spinach, flaxseed, chlorella, spirulina, cranberry, bilberry, black currant, sea buckthorn, nutritional yeast, mineral salt, natural aromas, guar gum, vanilla. 20 items, all of which have grown and lived. If trees-are-our-family values are dear to you, Ambronite may be your – very expensive – friend.

As long as you don’t mind the flavour. Because, no doubt about it, Ambronite tastes… healthy. Healthy like a good walk up a mountain. In October. In pouring rain. In Scotland.

The finished mix is a textured greenish colour – much as one would imagine true Soylent Green, I suddenly realise. It tastes very earthy; a little bitter, a little bland; with a soft but slightly gritty texture. It definitely has a sour aftertaste – when I first tasted it, my immediate thought was that the packet must be past its sell by date.

After a few more sips though, I started not to notice the negatives, and became aware of just how satiating it felt. In fact, it didn’t take long for me to decide that its probably my favourite flavour of futurefood. I like to barely notice I’m drinking the stuff, and Ambronite quickly fades into the background, leaving you feel surprisingly refreshed. That said, I can imagine 60-70% of people just deciding its disgusting.

Plus sides: Organic. Fruits and nuts and berries and seeds. Wildly satiating. Flavour doesn’t linger.

Downsides: Crazily, ludicrously, never-gonna-buy-it expensive. Tastes “healthy” ie. possible a little bit horrible.

Jake

Price per meal: £2.69 (£2.08 bulk subscription).

Jake has solid branding, and they know what message they want to get across. Futurefoods have a battle on their hands regarding who they are for, and why. Jake make it clear that this is a product for people who value quick, healthy and cheap nutrition.

I like their claim “Jake is made from real food”. I was regularly finding little pieces of slightly gooey texture, which were quite tasty. At first I assumed they were some kind of processed ingredient to supply healthy fats, but on closer examination I realised they were whole flax seeds. Tasty regardless, but somehow more appetising than artificially generated components.

Satiation is good with Jake, and I feel that it gives me a nice even energy flow throughout the day. That said, every future food has impressed me with its stable energy release: my habit of slowly drinking a shake over 3 hours is likely a key contributor, but that’s still valid, as there’s no way I would be that self controlled with a sandwich.

The vanilla flavour is a little strong for me, possibly slightly sickly. It certainly sticks around in my mouth many minutes after I’ve last sipped it. That said, its fairly unassuming, and it hasn’t stopped me being satisfied with the product; I just prefer milder flavours in my soylents. I also miss the opportunity to try other flavours; whilst Jake offer a Light and a Sports mix, they seem oddly proud of being available in “Only Vanilla”.

On eating Jake for a week, I feel like I’m in the ideal “natural” territory that Ambronite want to inhabit. Whilst I don’t believe in the “non-organic food is poison” mantra, its undeniable that oats, pea protein and flaxseed have a certain appeal over emulsifying agent Z3004 and flavouring E382-AB. And I may even be willing to pay for that appeal, to an extent. That extent is where a premium of £1-per-meal is reasonable… and £11-per-meal is not.

Plus sides: Has real life seeds! Good branding, nice energy release, mostly whole foods.

Downsides: If you don’t like texture, you might not like tasty lumps, only one flavour, vanilla a bit strong.

Richard, about our bikes…

Dear Mr Branson.

I write this as a huge appreciator of magnificent beards, and of your tie-less philosophy. I’m a GP, who generally appears rugged and agile (read, “lazily unshaven and unwilling to iron his shirts”). I do own a tie, but I’m not sure where it currently is.

virgintrainsI also write it as an avid bike user, who feels a little like an unwanted guest on your trains. On the Virgin Trains website, its mentioned that VT is looking for “new and innovative ways” to improve on their green credentials. If you want to be a green company, encouraging people to travel carbon free after their train arrives is a key one.

Here’s a few simple things:

  • Are you aware that its not possible to prebook a reservation for a bike on your train online?
  • That one has to ring a phone line after buying your non-refundable ticket online to add on the bike?
  • That there’s only 4 spaces for bikes on an 10-11 carriage train? East Midlands regularly fit 6 on a 2 carriage train.
  • The space for bikes has enough vertical space that you could hang bikes above the ones currently there, easily doubling space.
  • People can hop on a train with 2 Great Danes, 3 huge bags and a triple pram without pre-booking. Wouldn’t a green approach allow this for bikes?

Recently I was at a conference where someone advised “If you haven’t got a seat at the table, you are probably on the menu”. I’ve definitely felt a bit gnawed on my recent bike travel on your trains.

If you have a task force for this stuff, are there cycling advocates at it? If not, I’d be keen to offer my services. I’m a local GP, on the board of Active Warrington, Health Improvement Latchford, and team doctor to Warrington Town FC, so I have a range of applicable experience.

Thanks for reading. If you feel like rewarding me for my passion with a free trip to the moon on Virgin Galactic, or even a free pass on the trains, that’d be awesome, but ultimately I’d like to help you guys help people to travel better.

Thanks,

Chris

PS. Wasn’t lying about the tie. No idea.

Half Marathon Chris

imag0171I’ve been steadily getting more interested in fitness, running, and healthy living. Over the last couple of years, I’ve lost a decent chunk of weight, and started running and cycling a lot more. I still sweat like a geriatric horse, unfortunately.

In the last 18 months I’ve completed my first Triathlon, my first 10K road race, and this weekend, my first Half Marathon…

Location

ehm-course-mapI pretty much got pushed by circumstance into doing the race. A newly fit, running enthusiast friend told me I had to sign up around 6 weeks ago, but it wasn’t until I discovered another friend was travelling over from Sheffield that I decided to give it a go.

Warrington’s slightly pompously titled “English Half Marathon” is a mildly hilly course with total rise and descent of 110m. Click the course map on the left for more details. Its 21km, obviously.

Training

I did better than with my 10K. Not hard, because my training for that was close to non-existent. Sure, I didn’t run quite as much as I’d have liked, but I have been running at least 5km twice a week for the last couple of months, and I even did a training run of 16km!

As usual, 10 days before the race I rang my sports performance specialist friend Jon, asking “How do I train for an event that I should have already trained for”. He remained unimpressed with me.

I settled on trying to run 6km most days for a week, including one longer 16km route. Then, in the week running up to the race I ran 3 times:

Monday 4K
Tuesday 3K (limited by children)
Wednesday 6K before work, 8K after
Thursday Long walk
Friday 8K (up a Welsh hill)
Saturday 5K (personal best 22:50 mins)
Sunday Rest
Monday Rest (planned to run, failed)
Tuesday Rest
Wednesday 5K (slow pace with child)
Thursday 7K before work, 9K after
Friday Rest
Saturday Rest and carb load

Regarding nutrition, I planned to carb load on the two days before, and managed to suck down quite a lot of pizza. Unfortunately, my family caught a nasty virus that gave them nausea and abdominal pain. That hit me a little late on Saturday evening, but thankfully only hit me full force the day after the race.

On the morning of the race, I had two crumpets with loads of jam on them, approximately 80g of carbs, two hours before start time. That’s a bit less than the Runner’s World recommendation, but I was feeling a little queasy already. I also drank around 400ml of decaf coffee, keen to avoid dehydration, but also avoid weeing too much. I find that caffeine can make me feel nauseous on an empty stomach, so I felt it best to give it a miss…

Experience

It was a lot of fun. As has become my habit before parkruns, I started with the group behind where I hoped to finish, joining the 2 hour timing group at the start line. I did this for two reasons: firstly, I hoped their early pacing would be a little slower, and encourage me not to wear myself out in the first 3km, drained prematurely.

The second reason I like to start further back, is that I find gradually overtaking people throughout a race is a huge emotional boom.

Being fairly run fit, and concentrating early on my pacing was key to having a good time.

I kicked off at around a 4:45min/km, consciously slowing myself down, checking my phone for my pace fairly frequently over the first few kilometres. After that, I relaxed into the pace, and didn’t worry too much about going too fast, just used my muscle memory to keep me on track.

Just after 2km I needed a wee, and you can see my detour into Black Bear Park for a desperate pitstop on the GPS route (check the graphs and map further down the page). Immediately following it I sprinted to catch up, so probably made up most of the lost time, although the adrenaline hit was a bit draining. This coupled with my slightly upset stomach to give me some tummy cramps, but luckily a few sips of water settled this before it affected my pace.

The main uphill was between 3 and 8km, so things became a little harder work there, but I actually maintained my pace fairly easily. I got out the other side feeling pretty great – mostly because lots of people around me seemed to be struggling a bit, which helped competitive Chris feel like a winner. From 11km onwards, I felt very energetic, and clocked up 3 sub-5-minute-kilometres in a row. My legs started to cramp up a little from 17km onwards, but, by then, the end was in sight, and my brain forced me through (see me running the final 100m in the video).

Frustratingly, some little niggly plantar ligament in the sole of my foot decided to randomly go on the spritz around 19km. Like a lot of these things, it hurt a bit at the time, but didn’t properly flare up until the next day. 4 days later, its still hurting enough to limit me walking, which is also rather annoying.

Nutrition wise, I’m sure carb loading was the reason my legs retained plenty of bounce past the halfway mark. My glycogen stores only noticeably ran low towards the end. This was not helped by the placement of the carb gel stands on the run – I got one gel at around 7km, and didn’t get another one until I hit 18km – waay too late, although I managed to grab some powerade (off the floor) at around 14km which probably helped a bit…

Results

imag0172I had no particular expectations, nor any frame of reference for this run. One of my sponsors refused to pay up unless I beat 2 hours, so that was my key motivation. Using the Runner’s World Race Time predictor from my 10K result, I was given an estimation of around 1 hour 43 mins. (Although this does assume appropriate training for the distance…)

What did I manage? A respectable 1 hour 47 minutes and 47 seconds (according to my timing chip)I came 619th out of 2,204 (28th centile).

All in all, I had a good time. My thoughts on the event are marred by the fact I still can’t walk due to the foot pain, and I’ve been in bed for nearly two straight days with a stomach bug. That said, I think I’m a long way away from ready for a full marathon. My next plan is to do a bit more trail running, perhaps another 10K race, and see where to go from there.

As ever, most importantly, I got to eat 5 mini pizzas following the race. Win.

10K Chris

Beacon Medical Practice running teamFollowing on the heels of my determined decision to become fit, slim and healthy a couple of years ago, I’ve been running pretty regularly. Since then, I’ve clocked up roughly 700km of sweaty boring hours, and have even begun to find it less boring, if no less sweaty.

Last year I completed my first Triathlon, and yesterday I managed my first proper 10K road race, running with some of my colleagues from The Beacon Medical Practice. I thought I would share a little about it below…

Location

City Of Lincoln 10K Route MapMy friendly local medical practice, as part of encouraging holistic healthy living, offered to book anyone who wanted to run onto the Lincoln 10K. Nine of us ran it, ranging from an ultramarathon runner to first timers, so the pressure was nice and low.

The City of Lincoln 10K is a very flat course, running two squares around the Cathedral quarter slap-bang in the centre of historic Lincoln. Click the route on the right for a nice big version.

Training

I… didn’t do any. I meant to, but this year has been pretty rough so far. I’ve been ill quite a few times, had a scary exam to prepare for, and suffered from a fair bit of stress/tiredness. Looking back over my fitness log, I’ve been managing around 2-4 shortish runs a month since the new year. Probably enough to maintain fitness, but definitely not improve.

I’d hoped to put in some serious practice, but instead, a week before the race I found myself texting my sports performance specialist friend Jon, asking “How do I knock 5minutes off my personal best for 10K in a week”. I settled on the following plan

Monday 10K at race pace
Tuesday 5K at race pace
Wednesday Rest day
Thursday Long walk
Friday 10K at pace
Saturday Rest day

Regarding nutrition, I ignored this in the days leading up to the race, but on the morning of, I had a quorn and halloumi omelette, plenty of protein and fat, with some carbs in the form of a pack of mints.

I had planned to eat a slice of toast with jam as well, but felt a bit full following the omelette, and felt longer acting carbs vs running whilst overfull was a difficult call. Should have got up earlier, and kicked off with some porridge…

Experience

On the starting line, waiting for kick-off...I had a great time. I slotted myself into the sub 45 minute group at the start line, more to avoid the crush of people slowing me down further back.

It was a great race overall, and my first real experience of the need to pace more carefully.

The first kilometre, I got much too excited by the atmosphere, and the people around me to overtake, and pushed a bit too hard. My earphones fed back to me that I’d managed a 4 minute 11 km, so I made a conscious effort to slow down over the next 2km, picking slightly slower people in the field and keeping pace with them.

I settled into a rhythm, and generally just found 3-5km great. However, I hit the halfway mark, and hit a mental wall, struggling to keep my pace, which was apparent by around 7km, where I’d started to drop from 4:30-4:40s to nearly 5min per kilometre.

Talking myself out of the doldrums, I was able to pick up the pace again at 8km, but then hit more of a physical wall – I’d been pushing pretty hard for 35 minutes by now, and there weren’t any reserves left in my legs. Over the final 2k, I didn’t get my usual burst of energy with the end being in sight, and clocked up my slowest times, at 5:08 and 5:16.

It was a great race overall, and my first real experience of the need to pace more carefully. I think that if I hadn’t had a pacing reminder early on, I’d have carried on pushing a bit too hard, and really crashed later on around 6-7k, almost certainly harming my time overall. As it was, I probably ran it a bit too much as a 5K, with a PB for my 5K time too!

I wonder if fitting in some complex carbs in the morning would have sustained me a little better – difficult to say, I suspect it wouldn’t have made much difference either way.

Results

I was aiming for a sub 50 minute time, solely to beat my brother’s time from his 10K last year. On Monday, 6 days before, I ran a practice run in 55 minutes, which was not terribly encouraging.

What did I manage? Not just one, but two personal bests! New PB for 5K at 22 min 44 seconds and for 10k at 46 minutes 46 seconds. I came 717th out of 4,682 (15th centile).

Even more importantly, we bonded as a team, and I got to eat 2.5 pizzas in the 7 hours following the race. All in all, a total win.Having a well deserved pint to celebrate a combined 90 kilometres of running

Review: Snood

Me in a snood, looking excitedIt’s reached that point in the year where its getting horribly cold. Pretty enough on a Christmas card, much less appetising when its 1 degree outside, and you are heading off to work on the bike at 7am.

This year, I treated myself to a snood. I would recommend it.

It feels like still having the duvet wrapped around you, even as you brave the icy streets. The one I have even has airholes for your mouth, so you can breath through it without feeling like you are suffocating.

I do whole-heartedly advise you to splash out on one, if you do any winter cycling. However, I have a long history of complaining about cycling, so it would be remiss of me not to complain just a little bit…

Problems with a snood:

Reduced peripheral vision

It hardly seems much, but the snood overlaps the edge of my face by around 1cm. It’s amazing how much this affects my view of cars, especially when peering over my shoulder for overtakers.

If possible, try to peel back the edges just parallel with your eyes, since the feeling of being cosy is definitely diminished a bit by being run over by a lorry.

The terrors of snood condensationCondensation

As soon as you stop moving, the warmth of your body and the steam from your breathing rapidly cloud your vision.

Once you set off again, the flow of cold air sorts it out, but I have gone almost completely blind at traffic lights a few times!

Looking like a serial killer.

I have not problem with looking like an idiot – see lycra trousers – but there’s something a little bit bank-robber-esque about covering ones mouth and nose. More than a few people have commented on my sinister appearance.

 

Problems aside, I love my snood, and I wish you all well in your snooding over the rest of this winter!
Have an emotional snood story? Why not share it below…