MP recently spoke with Demir Vangelov, CEO of Soylent, the original food tech company that has made it its mission to make complete and sustainable nutrition accessible, appealing, and affordable to all. Previously, Vangelov was the CFO and COO of Califia Farms, where he helped steer Califia Farms' expansion domestically and globally, including launching into the UK, Canada, and Australia. Before joining Califia Farms, he was CFO and Interim CEO at Oberto Brands, where he supported the company's growth to become the second-largest meat snack manufacturer in the US.
What is Soylent, and why is it unique?
Soylent means complete nutrition—innovative, science-based, and sustainable. We engineer our ever-evolving products to deliver complete plant-based protein, healthy fats, and essential nutrients in convenient and affordable formats that are both good for you and the planet.
Soylent was born out of the desire to use science and technology to offer sustainable and nutrient-dense products that could be accessible to everyone. We know there are people near and far that cannot afford healthy food and are food insecure. To make sure they have access to complete nutrition we have developed our #SoylentForGood program that has donated millions of meals to date!
We are committed to being a plant-based company that does not compromise sustainability in our effort to provide accessible, appealing, and affordable nutrition to all. Researchers have shown that one way to reduce the impact of global warming is to restrict the consumption of animal products, and through our products, we’re doing our part to help. Even within the plant-based space, Soylent outperforms our competition by using US Grown Sustainable Soy, reducing our carbon footprint by an additional 25%. Our products went from one mixable powder to a suite of ready-to-drink meals, and we won’t stop there! The sky's the limit for innovating and creating more efficient and plentiful food sources. We believe these innovations will change how the world looks at food and the role food plays in our lives.
Why was Soylent started?
Soylent started with the idea that complete nutrition shouldn’t be difficult or expensive. Hence “Simplify food, make it sustainable.” Our co-founders met in 2013 in Silicon Valley, working under the same roof and eating the same diet of frozen meals and ramen noodles. After a lot of frustrating meals, they developed Soylent as an experiment. Their hypothesis: Food can be simplified for the better. They were software engineers, after all, so they wanted to engineer better food for themselves.
An interesting “fun fact” about Soylent is that the name pays homage to the novel “Make Room!” “Make Room!” by Harry Harrison. It’s a dystopian sci-fi novel that explores population growth and world resources. The book was later adapted into the notorious movie “Soylent Green,” but we promise our ingredients are fully plant-based!
What does it mean to have a plant-based diet?
A plant-based diet does not mean you must be vegan or vegetarian. You can instead have a plant-based diet and still consume meat and dairy. A plant-based diet doesn’t mean axing animal products altogether but rather consciously adopting a diet that places more plant foods at the heart of what you eat. Another popular way to describe this diet is being “flexitarian” and we see more and more of our consumers who have adopted this lifestyle. Food choices don’t have to be all or nothing to have an impact. Small changes add up.
By rethinking the portions on your plate and carving out space for plant-based meals throughout the week, you can gently ease into eating plant foods without jarring your routine or turning your current eating habits upside down.
What are the five key health benefits of a plant-based diet?
Plant-based diets have been proven to reduce cancer risk and boost the immune system. Plants have essential nutrients that you cannot get from other foods. The vitamins and minerals, phytochemicals, and antioxidants in plants help keep your cells healthy and your body balanced so your immune system can function at its best.
Secondly, plant foods reduce inflammation. Plants’ essential nutrients work to resolve inflammation in your body. The same tiny phytochemicals and antioxidants that boost your immune system also go around your body, neutralizing toxins from pollution, processed food, bacteria, viruses, and more.
Thirdly, a plant-based diet helps maintain a healthy weight. Staying at a healthy weight is one of the most important things you can do to reduce the risk to your health, including cancer. Regarding cancer, the only thing more important than maintaining a healthy weight is not smoking.
Fourthly, eating a plant-based diet improves the health of your gut so you are able to absorb nutrients better from food that supports your immune system and reduces inflammation. Fiber can lower cholesterol and stabilize blood sugar, and it’s great for good bowel management.
Lastly, a plant-based diet has been shown to reduce your risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and some mental health illnesses.
A balanced plant-based diet will deliver all necessary macronutrients and an abundance of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients. What are macronutrients and phytonutrients, and why are they important to our health?
The word “macro” implies “big,” and “big nutrient” is a good way to start describing macronutrients. Macronutrients include proteins, carbohydrates, and healthy fats found in food. They are nutrients that provide calories (or energy) to the body and are the major food components by weight. Macronutrients must be consumed regularly and in large amounts to maintain key body functions, energy levels, and good health.
Phytonutrients are found in various plants (such as tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, peppers, etc.) and are believed to be beneficial to health and prevent various diseases.
However, we know that to get people to consume nutrition products, they have to deliver not only great protein and nutrients but also taste great. Soylent has been able to use science to create a sustainable, nutritious product. It delivers a flavor profile even better (according to consumer trials) than ones full of unhealthy ingredients and sugar. It is an accomplishment we don’t take lightly.
How does a traditional diet lack these nutrients?
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that 45-65% of daily calories come from carbohydrates, 10-30% from protein, and 25-30% from fat. However, everyone has a different calorie goal based on age, gender, activity, and weight. Macronutrients provide the calories in food. When someone is “counting their macros”, they are tracking how many of each macronutrient they are consuming to fit in their goal range. In addition to “counting” macronutrients, being mindful of micronutrient intake is also important to support a healthy, balanced lifestyle. We have to remind consumers that focusing on counting quality is equally as important to quantity - which is why we continue to use soy protein, to deliver a sustainable balance of both measures.
The word “micro” implies “small nutrient”. Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals present in food, but by weight make up much less of the food. Examples of micronutrients include sodium, potassium, zinc, calcium, Vitamin C and Vitamin D. Most Americans do not consume enough choline, magnesium, potassium, and Vitamins A, C, D, and E. Eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fortified foods can help increase consumption of these micronutrients.
What well-known and not-so-well-known plant-based foods can naturally provide the following nutrients in appropriate daily values?
Yellow fruits and vegetables are high in vitamin C. Garlic, kale, spinach, potatoes, blueberries, broccoli, mushrooms, and nuts.
Kale, potatoes, dark chocolate.
Kale, dark chocolate, beans, whole grains, popcorn, almonds, pecans, berries, oatmeal, and crunchy vegetables.
Sunflower Oils and Seeds, Avocados, Coconuts, Canola Oil, Olive Oil
Slow Burning Carbohydrates
Oats, Allulose, Quinoa, Carrots
Tofu, Tempeh, Edamame, Soy Protein, Spirulina
Found in various plants and believed to be beneficial to health and prevent various diseases.) Red, orange, and yellow vegetables and fruits, as well as dark leafy greens. Tomatoes, carrots, peppers, mangos, melons, citrus fruits, berries, spinach, kale, bok choy, broccoli, swiss chard, garlic, onions, chives, and leeks.
How can amateur cooks swap meat-based foods for more plant-based foods in their regular meals?
Foods like oatmeal and berries, smoothies, yogurt, and healthy bread are examples of nourishing plant-based foods you might already be eating for breakfast. Change the proportions. Instead of having the meat with vegetables, have vegetables with meat.
Soft tofu is creamy and can be used in dressings for salads, whereas firm tofu is best for frying and using as a meat substitute.
Nutritional yeast is vegan and has many nutritional benefits. The yeast is protein-packed, has all nine amino acids, and contains trace minerals like zinc and magnesium. Per .25 cups of nutritional yeast, you can add 60 calories, 3 grams of fiber, and 8 grams of protein to your diet.
You can use nutritional yeast as a spice sprinkled on your meals or stir and incorporate it into various dishes.
There are many other sources of protein for you to choose from, especially if you have an open mind. However, we do know that time is a precious resource, even more so now than ever before, so while all of the above are great options, they do all take time to prepare.
The best plant-based protein alternatives are Tofu, Edamame, and Nutritional Yeast.