MealSquares

UPDATE 3/15/14

As Mr. Stevens points out in the comments, MealSquares has made a lot of changes to their nutritional content since I wrote this – I didn’t expect it to become outdated so quickly, but I guess that’s startups for you. I ordered a second batch recently, and I’m happy to say I’m expecting a third any day now. The fat, sugar, and cholesterol contents have all been appreciably reduced, and the FDA is revising their stance on cholesterol – which just goes to remind me how little we understand dietary issues – and MealSquares even added chickpeas! Not that you can really taste them, or should particularly care, but I like chickpeas…

Anyway, I’ve revised the contents of this post to remove the nutritional comparison chart between Soylent and MealSquares (rather than try and maintain it). You can find information about Mealsquare’s current nutrition content here, and Soylent’s here (they don’t have a specific page for up-to-date nutrition facts). Thanks to Romeo Stevens and all the other guys over at MealSquares for listening to feedback and making these improvements. I expect to be back for more :)


I promise I’ll get back to technical stuff eventually. I have a draft on Full Disk Encryption with Gentoo that’s guaranteed to bore you to tears :P. But today, you get more thoughts on alternative foodstuffs. MealSquares is another “Nutritionally Complete Food”, similar to Soylent, but in solid form. Also, their FAQ says, “In taste tests people assume they are eating a dessert until we tell them otherwise”. Well. This could be great!

Testing Note

MealSquares, unlike Soylent, do not recommend being used exclusively (“Could you live for years on just MealSquares? Yes, but this likely wouldn’t be 100% optimal for health.” (I wish I could link into sections of their FAQ, but I can’t)). There’s a philosophical issue here on the health thing, we’ll get to that. Anyway, the point is that I’m not eating these exclusively – unlike with Soylent – because they told me not to. Mainly breakfast and dinner, as a supplement to whatever restaurant we go to for lunch at work. This ends up meaning about 2.5 squares (1000 calories, or approximately half my diet) are coming from these squares each day, which is consistent with Romeo Stevens (cofounder of MealSquares) internal testing (and presumably recommendation).

Packaging and Shipping

It comes in a 6 day’s supply (12000 calories in 6 2k packages), with each day individually vacuum sealed. Ordered on Tuesday night, arrived Saturday afternoon. After waiting 10 months for Soylent, this is fantastic! Let’s try one!

Taste

First impressions: Hmm… we’ll it’s not fantastic…
A little later: I’m concerned about keeping this down…
One down: Well… hmm… I’m going to finish this package, because I’m stubborn like that, but what am I going to do with the other 5?
A few minutes later: Those people eat really crappy desserts.

The second one was fairly uneventful though, which surprised me after the fact. See, I was paying attention the first time I ate one; “savoring” the flavors, evaluating it as, well, a dessert. Bad idea. Don’t do that. The secret to MealSquares is to not pay attention to eating. Read the news, watch a movie, talk with friends, do anything but think about eating. And then it’s pretty good!

But their testers still eat crappy desserts.

Notes on Nutrition

First off, let’s just admit that nutrition is complicated, and it’s hard to know what some of these numbers mean. Is x% more sodium bad? Soylent thinks less than 100% is bad… Does extra fiber have any benefit? Is there any benefit to having more than 100% of the vitamins? I have no idea. For what it’s worth, I contacted MealSquares and mentioned that their sugar and cholesterol numbers seemed rather high. UPDATE: They’ve lowered both cholesterol and sugar! Here’s their response from cofounder Romeo Stevens:

“Sugar content is a tough one as the vast majority comes from an ingredient and not from added sugar (only the chocolate chips have added sugar, and they contribute about 2g.) One thing to keep in mind is that Soylent misrepresents their sugar content. Maltodextrin is absorbed as fast as glucose, meaning their first ingredient is essentially sugar.

WRT to cholesterol, we diverge from the FDA here. The largest studies on egg consumption find no harm from 3 per day (the amount in 5 mealsquares). Specifically, the idea that blood “cholesterol” (actually several compounds) and dietary cholesterol are the same thing is false. We’re working on adding the citations for this to the site.”

Remember how MealSquares aren’t “100% optimal for health”? So, the MealSquare people are on the whole food bandwagon (not to be confused with the Whole Foods(TM) bandwagon). Basically, Soylent is bad because it’s processed foods, and MealSquares are better because they’re not. Is this true? We have no idea. In an article talking about fish oil (which Soylent and MealSquares also disagree on), Howard LeWine, M.D., Chief Medical Editor or Harvard Health Publications said:

“How food, and its component molecules, affect the body is largely a mystery. That makes the use of supplements for anything other than treating a deficiency questionable.
….
Experts will surely remain divided on their opinions about fish oil supplements for the general population. And don’t expect any clarity about what to do any time soon. I expect other studies with flip-flopping results in the future.”

Clearly we still have a ways to go before we can understand what a nutritionally complete food even means, but hopefully products like Soylent and Mealsquares and the studies that they’ve commissioned will help enhance our understanding.

Conclusion

For my part, I’m still waiting for those cholesterol citations before ordering more MealSquares UPDATE: They lowered it, AND the FDA agreed that it’s not so bad after all. But, if I didn’t have concerns with their health beliefs, I’d be halfway through my second shipment now – UPDATE: I’m waiting for my 3rd shipment. If you just eat the things (and don’t think about it too much), they’re really convenient. And they’re probably an improvement over my pizza-based diet regardless…

Know of any other meal replacements? Mention them in the comments! I might even review them :)

About Bion

I'm a software developer at Modo Payments, a mobile payment provider. When I'm not hacking away the office, you I'm usually at home hacking on something else. Or practicing Aikido. Anyway, I just post things here that Google couldn't help me with, so maybe it'll help you in the future. Since you're reading this, I guess it worked :)
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4 Responses to MealSquares

  1. Thanks for the extensive review! Our latest version is only about 25% of your RDA for cholesterol. So 5 would still be 125%, but this is hopefully more palatable than 225%.

    Cheers,
    Romeo

  2. You can link to arbitrary paragraphs within a page such as the MealSquars FAQ, using http://www.linklink.io/

  3. Clay says:

    To me it tastes like a compressed version of a banana nut bread you might buy in a store. I don’t find it offensive at all. Great for road cycling, or getting digestible food down relatively quickly before a morning workout.

  4. Neil Brandom says:

    You are spot on about not focusing on the taste when eating. The 2nd one is way more palatable than the first. I wish they used raisins rather than chocolate – just personal preference but would make it less messy to eat.. For me there is a very slight fishy aftertaste. I just convince myself that’s a healthful ingredient and ignore.

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