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A human version of Science Diet?
October 13, 2006 9:21 AM   Subscribe

Is there a human equivalent to premium cat food? That is to say, a single form of synthetic food that will serve all hunger and nutritional needs? If not, why not?

My cat subsists quite well on his cat food, Science Diet, and the occasional treat. It fulfills all of his nutritional and hunger needs. He's healthy and active. It seems like this should at least be a rarely used option for humans. When I don't have time to cook a nutritional meal but want to stave off hunger and keep my blood sugar in line, I'm kind of jealous. I wish I could just measure out some human kibble and know my nutrition was being taken care of until I can cook something tasty again. So what gives? It wouldn't be glamorous to eat, but it sure sounds useful.
posted by ontic to Food & Drink (40 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
Previously
posted by mattbucher at 9:23 AM on October 13, 2006


Why not eat Premium Cat Food? It's good enough for the cat right? There are also a ton of different instant meals you can microwave in 5 minutes or less.
posted by JJ86 at 9:29 AM on October 13, 2006 [1 favorite]


You don't have to go synthetic. Potatoes are nutritionally complete for humans. We can live on potatoes and nothing else whatever for years at a time.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 9:29 AM on October 13, 2006 [1 favorite]


Seconding potatoes. I didn't know they were nutritionally complete (really?) but they do have a lot of nutrients and they are easy to stab, throw in the microwave and nuke, and then eat with a bit of butter or cheese on top. Simple, fast, filling. And not fattening, despite their bad rep - what's fattening is what we typically put on them, and how we typically cook them.
posted by joannemerriam at 9:34 AM on October 13, 2006


(FWIW, a friend of mine spent 3 months eating only one meal a day + as many Otter Pops as he wanted. He said he was fine.)
posted by muddgirl at 9:36 AM on October 13, 2006


How about that gloop from the Matrix? Or maybe Tasty-Wheat a second best!

I'd be inclined to think some shakes, especially protein/vegetable mixes are a good way to encompass all the daily nutrients and vitamins you'd need to sustain.
posted by PetiePal at 9:39 AM on October 13, 2006


You could take everything from the worlds healthiest foods list and put it all in a blender.
posted by rdurbin at 9:39 AM on October 13, 2006


Soylent Green? or Space Food Sticks or Carnation Instant Breakfast, which is apparently good for kids.
posted by Gungho at 9:46 AM on October 13, 2006


I remember reading an article where they tried this - I believe it may have been NASA-related, and it definitely was in the late 50s-early 70s era - by giving some volunteers some nutritionally complete goo as their only meal for 30 days. Their biggest problem was boredom, and no one really wanted to continue living out of packets of goo with no variety. There might be more information in the article "History of Tube Feeding: An Anthology of Advances in Enteral Tube Feeding Formulations" by Sheila M. Campbell (Nutrition in Clinical Practice, Vol. 21, No. 4, 2006 411-415,) or at least references to earlier studies.

(As for potatoes, I remember hearing it was the combination of potato + milk = will keep you alive)
posted by cobaltnine at 9:47 AM on October 13, 2006


Monkey chow?
posted by uncleozzy at 9:58 AM on October 13, 2006


actually, guiness is nutritionally complete too, isn't it? i mean, 40 pints or so a day would be. that's a lot of calories though.
posted by luriete at 9:59 AM on October 13, 2006


There's also high-calorie food bars. I tried something similar to this once, from a Homeland Security Emergency Pack (that also had a nice little radio and a sweet poncho), and it was simultaneously incredibly dry and weirdly greasy.
posted by one_bean at 10:02 AM on October 13, 2006


Steven C. Den Beste writes "Potatoes are nutritionally complete"

Have you got a cite for that? Wiki shows potatoes having a lot of different nutrients including vitamin C. However there seem to be quite a few missing or in minor quantities. Most obviously salt (a lack of which makes you stupid), zinc and vitamin E.
posted by Mitheral at 10:03 AM on October 13, 2006


Ensure or Boost. That's what they're designed for.

I do think, though, that there are a couple of different assumptions embedded in your question (even though you think you're addressing them) which obviate it a bit:

1) Humans with developed palates crave a certain amount of variety. Who the hell knows what a cat craves. If you're really just talking about short term nutrition-getting foods, most things will work just fine. A powerbar or an apple will tide you over, for several days if need be, until you can eat a complete meal. But, once you start talking about something more than a stopgap, it seems like what you're really after is something you'd want to eat solely, in the way that your cat just eats cat food. In other words, not something that's just a stopgap. Psychology is what gets in the way then, as people who are used to variety crave it.

2) Humans have nuanced nutritional needs, more nuanced than cats. For instance, SDB's example of potatoes is just fine until you get pernicious anemia (the term is used loosely here) and die from the lack of B12. It takes a while, but it happens. Again, you can go for a long time on almost anything which gives you sufficient calories and water, before eating a regular meal again, which is what you claim to want. If you're gonna live on it forever, however, the formulation is gonna have to be more nuanced than cat food.
posted by OmieWise at 10:24 AM on October 13, 2006


Have you got a cite for that?

I read it in a book by Stephen J. Gould.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:26 AM on October 13, 2006


Artificial Hydration and Nutrition may be what you want. And no chewing required!
posted by Monkey0nCrack at 10:30 AM on October 13, 2006


Most kinds of animal food won't serve for humans for long-term nutrition. Most mammals have the ability to synthesize Vitamin C, but primates and, oddly enough, guinea pigs, have lost that ability and must get Vitamin C from their diets.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:30 AM on October 13, 2006


If not, why not?

Insufficient demand to warrant the cost of developing and producing it.
posted by mendel at 10:50 AM on October 13, 2006


Whatever you do, WATCH OUT FOR VITAMIN OVERDOSES.

Some meal replacements have lots of vitamins. Some, like C, won't hurt you. Others, like A, can cause very serious damage.
posted by callmejay at 10:50 AM on October 13, 2006


The wafers/crackers/supplements designed for use in Civil Defense fallout shelters might be a good match for this...
posted by sad_otter at 11:02 AM on October 13, 2006


My wife appears convinced that cereal, specifically, Joe's Os, are the human kibble.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 11:27 AM on October 13, 2006


What about those Army MREs? I've got a bunch in my Red Cross emergency bags. I'm tempted to try one sometime, just to see if I could even live a few days on them.
posted by Cog at 11:44 AM on October 13, 2006


Who the hell knows what a cat craves.

Well, if my cats are any indication, they crave the hell out of Iams Weight Control formula.

But the thing they love, the thing that they will risk serious injury for, the thing that they would sell us out in a heartbeat for, is shrimp. Specifically, the dried shrimp that you can get in an Asian grocery.

There must be something that people can eat, that is so wonderfully delicious, that they would be willing to eat forever. Or at least something that has enough methods of acceptable preparation that it would be able to maintain interest.

I'm thinking of some sort of soy patty that you could fry, boil, bake, etc.
posted by bshort at 12:03 PM on October 13, 2006


Taters - boil 'em, mash 'em, stick 'em in a stew?
posted by RobotMonkey at 12:06 PM on October 13, 2006 [1 favorite]


The wafers/crackers/supplements designed for use in Civil Defense fallout shelters might be a good match for this...

Not really. I've seen and eaten the stuff. The biscuits are just biscuits, and the "Carbohydrate Supplements" are just hard candy, with normal ingredients. The biscuits could have been fortified with a couple vitamins or minerals - I don't remember the ingredients well enough - but there certainly weren't enough there for it to be a completely nutritional human kibble. Basically the biscuits were supposed to fill you up and the candy give you a sugar rush, but you couldn't live for years on the stuff.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 12:10 PM on October 13, 2006


I was going to suggest cereal. There are several varieties out there advertising themselves as "complete". Me, I'll have a bowl of Cheerios when I'm hungry and nothing seems particularly appetizing and yet I know I need to eat something (I'm diabetic).

There must be something that people can eat, that is so wonderfully delicious, that they would be willing to eat forever. Or at least something that has enough methods of acceptable preparation that it would be able to maintain interest. Pizza!
posted by deborah at 12:45 PM on October 13, 2006


Sometimes I go with superfood from odwalla and a piece of jerky from primal strips. When I want to snack there's always almonds and banana chips.

Of course, I have little self control so I do this for a couple days then get a huge, greasy baked potato.
posted by nadawi at 12:50 PM on October 13, 2006


bshort writes "There must be something that people can eat, that is so wonderfully delicious, that they would be willing to eat forever."

Well, if that's all your talking about, there's always ambrosia. But you have to be an Olympian to get any of the stuff.
posted by OmieWise at 12:53 PM on October 13, 2006


From The Economist:
YOU can, if you have to, live on a very simple diet, Elsie Widdowson said, and said it often. She worked out that bread, cabbage and potatoes contained all the nutrients for healthy survival. For three months she and a number of her companions ate nothing else, and, to test their fitness following this bleak regime, went on a rigorous course of cycling and mountain climbing.…
The rest of the article is subscription-only, but I remember from reading the print version that this lady was a British dietician charged with research into rationing during WWII, and she lived well into her 90s.
posted by randomstriker at 1:04 PM on October 13, 2006 [2 favorites]


"In fact, potatoes alone supply every vital nutrient except calcium, vitamin A and vitamin D."
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:14 PM on October 13, 2006 [1 favorite]


I suspect the simple diet recommendations can work longer, if not indefinitely, for people who are also taking balanced multi-vitamin supplements regularly, as have been widely studied and available since the 1950's. Adults without developmental problems can typically survive for months on pretty thin rations, if they aren't required to sustain great stress or physical work at the same time. And the nutritional deficiencies that do catch up with people on long term restricted diets can often be reversed with little long term damage, if the deficiency is recognized and corrected before becoming severe.

Potatoes and pill, or brown rice and a pill may not be optimal nutrition, but I doubt such regimens would be truly harmful for an adult over the course of 3 or 4 months.
posted by paulsc at 1:16 PM on October 13, 2006


Plumpy'nut might be close. It says it is for famine relief and malnutrition rehabilitation, but those are pretty hefty nutritional needs. So maybe it could in theory be a long term thing.
posted by kookoobirdz at 1:35 PM on October 13, 2006


Several of the people I lived with in university seem to have survived for several years exclusively on ramen, toast, and beer. Blend those and you're set.
posted by meehawl at 1:41 PM on October 13, 2006 [1 favorite]


If you can live without meat products, V8 claims to have 2 complete servings of vegetables per can . . . not sure how well the nutrients survive the manufacturing process, though.
posted by treepour at 2:22 PM on October 13, 2006


If the site that DevilsAdvocate linked to is to be trusted, then what Cobaltnine said is correct; potatoes plus milk can keep you alive pretty much forever. Milk provides vitamin A and D and calcium, and the potatoes provide everything else you need.

But gaah! Talk about bland and boring!
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 5:22 PM on October 13, 2006 [1 favorite]


What about those Army MREs? I've got a bunch in my Red Cross emergency bags. I'm tempted to try one sometime, just to see if I could even live a few days on them.

When I was a kid living on the army base my father came home one day and mentioned how someone from his unit had missed a few days after going on sick parade. Doctors found out he'd been eating swiped IMPs (canadian MREs) non stop for over six months to save money, and it finally caught up on him...I guess his stomach was a mess. Of course this is all anectdotal.
posted by furtive at 6:55 PM on October 13, 2006


From what I've seen about MREs the only real problem you might have is that they are designed for active people, and the 3600+ calories a day they provide you might be too much.

Apart from that, they seem to be pretty varied (a couple of dozen different meals, including vegetarian options). I can't see why you couldn't live indefinitely on them, although they don't meet the criteria of being a single food. They seem no worse than regular meals people might cook, and certainly better than fast food.

I've heard that avocados rank pretty high on the `complete food' scale. Anyone know about that?
posted by tomble at 6:15 AM on October 14, 2006


Milk provides vitamin A and D and calcium, and the potatoes provide everything else you need.

I suspect the fat in milk is also a critical factor. For example, A Little Fat Helps the Vegetables Go Down.

Also, the lack of fiber seems like a problem..
posted by Chuckles at 6:49 AM on October 14, 2006


If you just want something you can grab and eat without having to cook anything, get a tub of whey protein powder and chuck some in a blender with some fruit when you get hungry. Add flax oil if you want to get fancy.

You got your protein, carbs, fiber, EFAs...

Even easier than that, pick up a box of protein bars. It won't get you all the way, but pretty damn close. Just make sure you're getting enough fiber.

Eat too many potatoes and you'll end up looking like one.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 2:14 PM on October 14, 2006


How about tofu? I know it's pretty healthy stuff (and not bad, but a pain to prepare imho, although I've onlyh done it once) but don't know how nutritionally complete it is.
posted by JamesMessick at 6:59 PM on October 14, 2006


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