Can we go beyond food?

People have long sought pre-prepared foods with a long shelf life; for example, Native Americans in North America created pemmican, a mixture of dried meat, tallow and berries, which colonists later found useful for long journeys and military expeditions. Fast food looked quite different in the 1990s, when millions of people replaced meals with SlimFast drinks in the hope of losing weight quickly. Sales declined in the early 2000s as they were eclipse by other dietary options.

The latest iteration of practical consumption: In 2014 and 2015, the companies Soylent and Huel introduced powdered drinks with Silicon Valley types in mind – people who want to extend their hacking beyond computers and into their diets, consuming all the nutrients needed via several daily shakes, no need to shop. .

Diet products like SlimFast predated the craze for hipper, millennial-friendly drinks like Soylent and Huel. (Credit: Diana Vucane/Shutterstock)

Online you can find people who claim to have survived on powdered drinks such as Soylent and Huel for weeks (as Soylent founder Rob Rhinehart did) or same month and years on the end. While neither company recommends this tactic, some social media users view it as a welcome challenge and hope their personal experiences will yield compelling results, including boosted fitness.

It was the brainchild of Jason Hooper, a physical therapist and YouTuber who endured a 30 Day Huel Diet in which he got most of his calories by mixing powder into drinks. He has found it useful for his busy schedule, which can include multi-hour climbing sessions. “It kind of simplified what is a big part of our lives…this very important factor became very simple, which allowed me to focus my energy elsewhere,” he says.

Regardless of liquid of choice, decades of mealtime consumption are ushering us into unprecedented territory. Research shows that most people naturally desire a varied diet that provides a range of sensory experiences.

“It seems very difficult. You’ll crave texture, basically,” says Paul Smeets, a senior researcher at Wageningen University in the Netherlands who studies eating behaviors. “Of course you can have all the nutrients you need intubated or ingested, [but] this may not be satisfactory.

Lacking variety (and chewing)

Scientists haven’t fully understood how our diets have evolved or what exactly happens to our bodies when we snack on burgers or dip into salads. Corn research has shown that meal diversity, including things like texture and taste, is important to our health. Experiences to have demonstrated that we tire of specific foods and tend to move on to new ones soon after – think about why you might have room for dessert after a big, tasty meal. Humans may have developed this behavior to ensure adequate nutritional intake.

Researchers have even observed this phenomenon, called specific sensory satiety, in animals and children (who haven’t exactly memorized the food pyramid). So choosing to turn entirely to liquid meals when not otherwise necessary means overriding our hard-wired instincts. While meal replacement drinks may come in an increasing variety of flavors, you may experience relatively similar consistency and miss the crunch and flavors of a wider range of foods.

Eliminating this basic variety research that we have is not a good thing,” says Barbara J. Rolls, a nutrition scientist at Penn State University, who coined the term sensory-specific satiety and has studied the process for more than four decades. “It’s so ingrained in all species and from an early age.”

It has been found that liquids make us feel like satisfied as solids do. One possible explanation: “complex” liquids like smoothies and protein shakes to leave the stomach in 40 to 60 minutes — literal “fast food,” says Smeets — while solid meals high in protein and fat can linger twice as long.

Horace Fletcher (also known as “The Great Masticator”) took the benefits of chewing to an extreme at the turn of the 20th century, when he advised dieters to snack on foods until they were eaten. they have reached a liquid consistency. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Slurping exclusively on SlimFast or Soylent also means you’ll miss out on the fun of chewing. It turns out that chewing is rewarding even in the absence of food – think of why some people tear open packets of gum. The most important, snack signals the body to prepare for digestion and to chew longer could even help us eat less.

Lindsey* suffers from several chronic illnesses and disabilities, including gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which can make eating and cooking difficult. They add supplements to protein shakes for most breakfasts and other occasional meals while waiting for processing, and sometimes add ice cream or coffee to mix things up. But that doesn’t always make up for the lack of chewing. “It’s definitely not the most satisfying,” Lindsey said. “It’s not the same as sitting there and chewing and eating slowly.”

Incomplete diet?

Beyond boredom and perhaps hunger and frustration, what are the health effects of consuming only your meals? While weight loss trials to have judge As month-long liquid meal replacement plans are generally safe under medical supervision, there isn’t much data on the safety of a diet filled with newer drinks like Soylent and Huel (apart from small trials carried out by the companies themselves).

Another challenge with eating most (or all) of your food: it can be hard to get enough fiber, which helps regulate hunger and blood sugar levels. Brands vary in their fiber content. Huel and Soylent powders offer a considerable amount per serving, while Boost and Ensure drinks offer little or none. Meanwhile, drinks in the latter category can contain extremely high amounts of sugar, which add up if you chuck several of them a day. Drinking your food can also affect drug absorption, as thick liquids can delay the dissolution of drugs.

Liquid diets are also ironically associated with dehydration, probably because people forget to drink enough water and don’t get much from food (which provides about 20 to 30 percent of the H2O we need). Hooper says he did well except for one day when he felt “pretty awful”, which he attributes to dehydration. A lab test revealed he had high levels of potassium, which can results due to lack of liquid. Additionally, he consumed more than the recommended daily amount of potassium via approximately 2,700 daily calories from Huel products.

(Credit: Dan Léveillé/Wikimedia Commons)

And while some brands claim to put all the necessary nutritional components in one bottle or powder, Rolls and Smeets say that feat may not be possible. We haven’t necessarily identified all of the compounds that make certain foods healthy and how they might work together to produce specific effects.

“As much progress as nutrition has made, we don’t understand all the complexities of what’s in different foods,” Rolls says. “Fruits and vegetables, for example, contain all sorts of phytonutrients that aren’t necessarily defined yet.”

Without forgetting that the act of eating is intrinsically social. While his companions were digging into Domino’s pizza one evening, Victor Nevarez sat looking dejected with his bottle of strawberry Soylent. Nevarez, a video producer who makes cooking tutorials under the internet username Shaquille, try a week-long diet of just Soylent – he says he often felt exhausted and may have suffered digestive issues from drinking so much fat at once (sipping slowly is advised).

He sees a voluntary departure from whole foods to Soylent as veering into antisocial behavior. “Someone saying, ‘No thanks, I’m not eating because I’m using Soylent for all my meals,’ that’s not going to be easy to understand,” he says.

A useful alternative

During the three months of 2019 that Bethany* drank all of her meals, she had little choice in her lack of attendance at group meals.. After catching a virus two years earlier, she had developed gastroparesis, a condition that causes partial paralysis of the stomach and can slow or stop the movement of food through the small intestine. It made it difficult to eat without vomiting and she had few options until she saw a specialist.

So she trusted on Boost and Ensure beverages for nourishment, as well as Gatorade and saltines – while working for his doctorate. “I don’t recommend it,” she says, and the routine has left her with “crappy” energy levels and barely enough nutrition to survive.

Contrary to popular opinion that consumers of liquid meal replacements are seen as overzealous software engineers or fad dieters, these products may serve as a last resort for people who cannot eat solid foods for various reasons. Nevarez says he was surprised to learn from comments in his Soylent video that people have used it while recovering from surgery and eating disorders.

While more diverse options have emerged in recent years for liquid meal replacements, Lindsey and Bethany point out that people with disabilities and chronic conditions would benefit more from beverages free of common allergens like soy and dairy. , which are prevalent in these countries. products, as well as reduced sugar levels.

In the future, Bethany also hopes to see more rigorous evidence behind the various products that help bridge the gap when solid foods aren’t an option. “You try to get stuff for a medical reason, but then you end up having to step foot into the weight loss culture of toxic dieting or the wellness realm of pseudoscience,” she says.

*The surnames of some sources have been omitted to ensure anonymity.

About Walter Bartholomew

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