While there are many quick breakfasts—buttered toast, granola bar, banana—cereal reigns supreme. But a new contender has climbed the ranks: Soylent, the nutrient slurry marketed to busy Millennials. Both are convenient, but neither is very natural. Which is a better option on a rushed morning?
A bowl of Cheerios: Normcore cereal. Processed oats fortified with 10-25% of most essential nutrients, plus 1 gram of sugar. Made for little hands. Cheerios are the default cereal, the most popular brand, an all-American choice.
A bottle of Soylent: SlimFast for nerds. Soy milk fortified with 20% of your recommended daily intake of every essential nutrient, plus 9 grams of sugar. Soylent is the best-in-class meal replacement product, and its marketing flaunts its science-experiment vibe.
Cheerios: As Real as Fake Food Gets
Cheerios feel like an old American standby, in that Normal Rockwell way. Like most old American standbys, they were invented around World War II. The original variety came out in 1941, followed by Honey Nut Cheerios (the most popular variety, thanks to 9 grams of sugar) in 1979.
Cheerios feel natural because you’ve eaten them since childhood, but you know they have less sugar than pretty much everything but corn flakes and wonky adult cereals. General Mills pushes the health-food narrative, claiming Cheerios reduces cholesterol, which got it in trouble with the FDA in 2009.
Plain Cheerios are made of whole grains, low in sugar and free of GMOs, a relatively healthy option among cereals. Bu they’re still a processed starch, with vitamins added. Food writer Michael Pollan says, “Few, if any, health-savvy breakfast-eating people would make Cheerios a frequent choice.”
Plans to eat healthy can fly out the window when you step into a grocery store. Maybe you add junk…
Still, it’s not terrible for you, and it’s extremely convenient: The only prep work is throwing it into a bowl along with some milk. Eating time is pretty quick, but you do need to remain stationary. And including the milk, it costs under 50 cents a bowl.
Soylent: Convenience at a Cost
The name, packaging, and origin story of Soylent seem calculated to embarrass you for drinking this generic food replacement in public. Which is a shame, because public consumption is the best thing this drink has going for it.
While Soylent is marketed as a supplement to a diet of actual food, it’s calculated such that it could, theoretically, replace all your meals. Each bottle contains one fifth of all your daily required nutrients. While it makes for an inadequate and depressing dinner, it’s well-suited to breakfast, especially on the go. It’s about the size of a water bottle, and just as easy to drink during your commute.
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The taste is pretty great, so long as you’re cool with soy milk. That’s basically what this is, in its chemical way. It’s not organic, it has as much sugar as Honey Nut Cheerios, and it contains GMOs and natural and artificial flavors. So even measured against processed grains stuffed with vitamins, this isn’t hippie food. (The five other flavor varieties have the same sugar content, and three include caffeine.)
Most importantly, you pay quite a lot for that convenience: $2.69 a bottle ($3.09 for all the non-original varieties), shipped by the dozen. It’s still cheaper than most store-bought breakfasts, but if you have the time to eat at home, Soylent is a pretty hefty choice.
Verdict: Cheerios for Your Good Days, Soylent for Your Bad Days
Unless you’ve optimized your life to the second, Soylent just isn’t worth the five minutes you save by not eating a bowl of cereal, especially if you’re already spending some time with coffee or tea each morning.
But on those occasional mornings you’re really running behind, it’s nice to grab a bottle and head out the door, knowing you won’t pass out before lunchtime. The shame associated with drinking out of that science-lab bottle will feel like your punishment for failing to make time for a proper breakfast. As Cookie Monster sang, Soylent is a sometimes food.
About the author
Staff Writer, Lifehacker | Nick has been writing online for 11 years at sites like Urlesque, Gawker, the Daily Dot, and Slacktory. He lives in Park Slope with his wife and their books.