04 May The Future of Food?
This article was first published in BN1 Magazine – May 2019
Lunch in a mug
I live in Brighton & Hove; tech hub and wonderful bubble. No matter where you live, though – you probably know someone who has one of those meal replacement drink shakers in their desk, heck that might even be you. There’s a veritable diet tribe built around them ..but I don’t want to get into this bit; I wanted to take a look at the pros and cons of them in terms of overall health.
What are they?
For those who haven’t heard of them, these powdered meal replacement drinks are intended to replace all or part of our food intake. The big players at the moment are Huel (‘Human fuel’) and Soylent (Yes, like the film… hopefully not too much like the film). Most are nutritionally complete – meaning that you should technically be able to consume these powders alone and meet your nutritional requirements.
Why do people drink them?
For most people it appears to be about convenience and cost – they’re simple to prepare (mix powder with water) and replacing a meal with a shake costs just over a quid; a big saving compared to a store-bought lunch or dinner. Flavour isn’t usually listed high up there.
They’re marketed as a healthy alternative for those who don’t have the time, inclination or desire to eat actual food. Some tech companies even offer them as ‘perks’ for staff who’re working long hours at their desks.
Are they healthier?
It’s tricky to say. Whilst they may be nutritionally complete in terms of one ‘average’ person’s intake; they may not provide enough nutrients, satisfaction or energy for another.
- The science is new; there have been no long-term studies into meal-replacement drinks and how they might affect our health.
- Swapping your meals out for a few shakes may improve your nutritional intake for those days but may not improve your overall health.
- Restricting your intake to having a liquid meal replacement may also leave you craving other foods – increasing your likelihood of bingeing at a later time.
- How we eat and the whole foods themselves appear to have a big part to play in our health – just topping up with these shakes won’t balance out a nutrient poor diet.
What meals mean
Food is a massive part of our lives; for celebration, commiseration, relaxation – so many things. Taking the time to eat with friends, co-workers and family can also be a massive boost for our physical and mental wellbeing.
Besides the nutritional content of their meals, countries listed as ‘Blue Zones’ (places where people regularly live to 100 years or more) regularly sit down to enjoy leisurely meals together. Compare this with these aspirational ‘biohacking’ methods and meal-replacements touted by Silicon Valley’s finest and you have a very different set-up.
Is this the future of food?
I appreciate that some people genuinely do not have time or the desire to cook and prepare meals and so these powders may be a useful occasional alternative.
However, you don’t have to drink them to be healthy. In the overall balance of health, there are so many more important factors to consider – socioeconomic status, stress, mental health, sleep, activity levels, cultural microaggressions, alcohol, smoking.
In terms of food, some of the biggest barriers people report to eating a balanced, varied diet include time, knowledge and cooking skills. Having a quick shake for lunch when sitting at your desk is a great sticking plaster – but if we focused on improving our working lives could the future look less powdered for the next generation?
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