Ample vs. Soylent
About half the time, when I tell people in San Francisco what I’m doing, the conversation starts something like this:
Them: So you just got out of 500 Startups… what’s your startup do?
Connor: It’s (surprisingly) not tech. It’s a food called Ample. It’s a super healthy, complete meal in a bottle made of really great ingredients that pro—
Them: Oh like Soylent? Are you making a competitor to Soylent?
Connor: Well, not exactly…
Soylent is a meal replacement created by Rosa Labs, which was founded by Rob Rhinehart and others in 2013. Soylent has gained popularity in the software engineering community, especially within the San Francisco area. If you haven’t heard of, or don’t care about Soylent, feel free to skip this blog. But since Ample and Soylent markets overlap within this cohort, and I get a ton of questions, I figure creating a relatively comprehensive FAQ is the best way to field them!
We’re not trying to play an “us vs. them” game, since Ample and Soylent are actually trying to do different things. I think both can succeed over the long haul, so hopefully this FAQ will suffice! I’ll do my best to separate opinions from facts, but of course, all my writing is necessarily biased : )
Do you compete directly with Soylent?
I honestly don’t want to compete with Soylent. I have a completely different vision for Ample’s future than does Soylent (that you can read below). But of course, until we carve enough of our own path over time, we necessarily seem like a direct competitor. The key difference is our main value propositions—while Soylent solves for simple, affordable nutrition, Ample solves for simple, optimal nutrition. Below, you’ll find how this difference in values manifests in the product itself.
Does Ample taste better than Soylent?
I think so, but I’m clearly biased! Soylent 2.0 is smoother than Ample. Ample tastes more natural. A nutty, savory flavor with subtle sweetness from sweet potato with a bit of cacao flavor. To me, Soylent 2.0 tastes too sweet, like the milk at the bottom of cereal bowl that I find takes a learning curve. I prefer Ample because of the flavor, as well as the customizability in that I can mix it with milk or water.
How do the two products differ?
Form: Ample comes as powder in a bottle, while Soylent 2.0 comes in a ready-to-drink container. Ample is more customizable with milk, water, or additional supplements, while Soylent 2.0 is more readily convenient.
Cost: Ample is more expensive than Soylent. Ample is $4.58 per meal for a 12 pack, vs. Soylent’s $2.42. Until government subsidies are lifted on the commodity crops that Soylent uses, Ample will likely continue to be considerably more expensive.
Sugar: Sugar causes obesity, diabetes, and leads to many chronic inflammatory diseases. Ample has 4.5x less sugar than Soylent: 2g compared to Soylent’s 9g per 400 calorie serving.
Saturated Fat: Saturated fat has been unnecessarily demonized for the last 30+ years. Current science shows that it is necessary for proper health, providing benefits for cell membrane stability and brain health, in contrast to outdated FDA guidelines. Ample has 13g of saturated fat per serving from coconut oil to stay consistent with what current science shows about the benefits of saturated fat. Soylent has chosen to stay consistent with conventional wisdom with just 2g of saturated fat.
Protein: Ample contains 7 more grams of protein than Soylent. Ample’s protein comes from grass-fed whey, pumpkin and grass-fed collagen vs. Soylent’s from soy. In Ample X, a paleo- and vegan-friendly alternative, the whey and collagen are substituted for sprouted brown rice protein.
Fiber and Prebiotics: Fiber and prebiotics support healthy gut bacteria and increase micronutrient absorption. Ample contains 7g of fiber, and 6 additional grams of prebiotics in the form of resistant starch and inulin to support a healthy gut microbiome. Soylent contains 3g of fiber and no resistant starch or other prebiotics.
Probiotics: The health of your gut microbiome is critical to absorbing nutrients, producing neurotransmitters, minimizing inflammation, and optimizing hormone production. Ample includes a probiotic stack designed to seed the gut with healthy microbes, plus prebiotics for them to thrive off of. Soylent does not.
Processing: The type of processing affects the way the body can incorporate ingredients. Heating food above a certain temperature (which varies depending on the chemical) creates advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs) through Maillard reactions, which are detrimental to health and have been linked to premature aging, as well as a reduction in nutrition. Ample does not engage in high temperature processing. Soylent’s manufacturing facilityuses aseptic UHT (ultra high temperature) processing.
Antioxidants: Ample contains 15x the antioxidants (as measured by total ORAC) than a cup of spinach from wheatgrass, barley grass, spirulina, and chlorella. Soylent contains no plants, or plant-based nutrients.
Bioavailability: Bioavailability refers to the body’s ability to properly absorb nutrients. Generally, bioavailability decreases when the chemical form is adulterated from the biological form that humans have evolved to incorporate with. Ample uses “natural” ingredients in their most whole food form to optimize proper absorption. For instance, we prefer to derive our folate from spirulina, whereas Soylent uses folic acid, which converts to folate poorly, andcan be dangerous, especially in those who have the MTHFR gene mutation.
GMOs: Genetic modifications can alter the way the organism interacts with someone’s microbiome and health. Ample is GMO-free for several reasons, which are detailed below. Soylent believes “genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can be a safe and economic option for industrial food production”.
Sweetener: Ample’s subtle sweetness comes from sweet potato, chicory root and stevia [not included in Ample X]. Soylent is sweetened with sucralose (Splenda), which has been shown to reduce colonies of beneficial gut bacteria.
Anti-nutrients: Anti-nutrients are molecules that inhibit the body from absorbing nutrients or damage the gut lining in some way. An example of this is gluten, which is a lectin that disrupts the permeability of the epithelial membrane. Ample does not contain gluten. Soylent does.
Allergens: Ample contains whey, macadamia nut, and stevia, which some people have an adverse reaction to. Ample does NOT contain gluten or soy, which Soylent does. Ample X, a lactose-free alternative version, substitutes sprouted brown rice protein for the whey and collagen and removes the stevia. Soylent is nut-free.
Dietary Restrictions: Ample contains whey and collagen. Ample X, an alternative version, is paleo and plant-based/vegan. Soylent is vegan.
I know people can survive off Soylent for 30 days. How long can I live off Ample alone?
Wrong question : )
The goal of Ample is not to replace all foods. I built Ample for the moments when you just don’t have the time or forethought to make a healthy meal. Except for severe medical cases, we should think of meal replacements as replacing meals, rather than whole diets. I personally use Ample 2x per day at most, and make my own food (like brussels sprouts, greens, coconut oil, ghee, and grass-fed steak) when I’m not out to eat with friends. The goal is not to replace food—it’s to make healthy convenient and easy.
Soylent 2.0 delivers exactly 20% of daily recommendations of vitamins and micronutrients based on a standard 2000 calorie diet, but Ample doesn't. Why?
Most meal replacements add a vitamin blend to check the boxes for exactly “the right” amount of every micronutrient that the FDA has recommendations for. And while the FDA may do its best to approximate passable nutrition, its recommendations are scientifically outdated and politicized. In fact, daily values for vitamins and minerals were established in 1968 and haven’t been updated since.
Secondly, adding a multivitamin blend would provide nominal benefits in some cases, and be potentially harmful in others. Here are a few examples.
- Calcium and iron compete with each other for absorption, so adding 20% of both does not actually deliver the promised amount.
- Magnesium usually comes as magnesium oxide or stearate, both of which are absorbed at a rate of 50-60% at best. So 20% DV really equals 10-12%.
- The FDA doesn’t require brands to specify between Vitamin K1 and Vitamin K2. Thus, when you see Vitamin K, you usually see the cheaper K1, which converts poorly into the more usable Vitamin K2.
- The FDA allows Folic Acid on a label to count as Folate (what your body actually needs), though there are 4 biochemical intermediaries. People who have the common MTHFR gene mutation can’t convert folic acid to folate, and can develop a very harmful buildup of one of these intermediary chemicals.
These are examples that we know of, and many others could exist. I believe that adding a synthetic multivitamin blend creates a false sense of security that gives us permission to not eat vegetables and high-nutrient foods. It glorifies what we have metrics for, while downplaying the known and unknown benefits of real food that don’t show up on a nutrition label, like the thousands of phytonutrients present in natural ingredients.
Ultimately, I see the addition of a synthetic multivitamin blend as a form of marketing rather than a true attempt at optimal nutrition. I don’t believe that supplements in and of themselves are bad, but they should be present in a healthy and absorbable form, and for a reason other than to look good on an FDA label.
Why all the hippie 'natural, non-GMO, organic' garbage? I thought you were supposed to be about science!
Nutritional biochemistry is a nascent science. Years of nutrition study have led me to the conclusion that FDA food requirements are not only general and outdated, but also provide a false arrogance that we’ve “figured it out”. Ample takes a cautious, humble approach: we use natural ingredients, because we simply don’t yet understand the exact mechanisms underlying the thousands of phytonutrients in food that interact with our bodies. Food isn’t just the sum of particular molecules, but an interaction between many. Using natural, non-GMO and organic food is not only the best hedge against our own ignorance, but also ensures that we benefit from the yet unknown aspects of real food.
Soylent supports using GMOs but you don't. Why?
This question is usually coupled with the statement: “no evidence exists that GMOs are bad.” This may be true, but I think it’s wise to remember a few things:
Absence of evidence ≠ evidence of absence. Something that’s new bears massive burden of proof so “no evidence GMOs are unsafe” doesn’t prove they are safe.
Nutrition studies take time. The dangers of smoking and sugar took decades to uncover, and for these, we had the benefit of knowing who smoked or ate sugar. With GMOs, we have no idea because they’re not labeled.
Risks are unknown and unknowable. If after decades, they turn out to be harmless, then I took a needless precaution. But if they are harmful (even if the probability is low), then we’ll have subjected ourselves to decades of harm needlessly.
The term “GMOs” is a catch-all term. Each year, new genetic modifications are added to our food. By saying “yes” to one, even if they are harmless, we’d open the door to future modifications that may be more extreme and harmful. And regulations companies aren’t required to say which genetic modification was used.
The opacity of GMO industry and policy makes me feel uncomfortable trusting the quality of food, or potential geopolitical issues.
I have a responsibility to every single consumer, and have to be more conservative.
Ultimately, whether or not GMOs are harmful to us and/or to the environment, we’re being conservative until proven wrong.
What do you think about Soylent?
If I were introduced to Soylent for the first time today, seeing it next to other junk in Walgreens and GNC, I’d say it was fine. Certainly not optimal, but better than your average burger.
Unfortunately, I’m still recovering from the terrible first impression I had of Soylent when it first came out in 2013. Back then, I was working in surgery seeing patients at the end stages of life who landed in the OR for a lifetime of poor dieting decisions. I was honestly horrified to find that Soylent’s crowdfunding campaign invited people to replace the entirety of their diets with a food modeled completely off the FDA nutrition label. Food is the most powerful drug there is, so I felt it was irresponsible for anyone (especially a software developer with no biological background) to tell people to never eat real food again. I’m happy for their pivot away from this claim, though I admittedly still harbor resentment when I think of the friends who had serious gastrointestinal issues that resulted from heeding Soylent’s call. I’m trying to get over it : )
How does your vision differ from Soylent's?
I can’t speak to Soylent’s long-term vision because I haven’t talked to the founders about it personally. I believe they are attempting to create a world in which affordable, passable nutrition can be obtained without much hassle.
Where we differ is the belief that there’s a huge difference between “passable” and “optimal” nutrition. If all of us are to give the world our best, we need optimal fuel. To provide optimal nutrition, Ample needs to be customized to address the wide variance in people’s nutritional needs, use the highest quality natural ingredients possible, and play a massive role in advancing the nascent nutrition science.
And if our mission is to get people optimally healthy, we’ll be fostering a supportive community to educate people on how to eat natural, nutritious food for their non-Ample meals.
The way we start towards this all is by releasing the two versions of Ample during the Indiegogo campaign, then releasing both a ketogenic and high-carb version in late 2016. Together with citizen science groups, technology, and traditional studies, we’ll uncover what optimal nutrition looks like, then deliver that to people in the most convenient way possible.