Interview with Darin Olien, The Inspiring Ingredient Hunter

Interview with Darin Olien, The Inspiring Ingredient HunterDarin Olien founded Darin’s Naturals in 2005 as a means to integrate the numerous concepts related to health, nutrition, and exercise gained while acquiring a BA in Exercise Physiology/Nutrition, an MA in Psychology, and over a decade of experience working in several health-based industries.

Since 2005, Darin has traveled the planet on behalf of Darin’s Naturals, discovering new and underutilized herbs, superfood, and medicinal plants. Darin’s complete immersion in the indigenous cultures found across the globe have helped to expand his knowledge as a formulator and environmental initiator.

In 2006, Darin began working with Beachbody, in Santa Monica, California, to formulate the now popular whole food supplement, Shakeology.

Christine Christensen had the awesome opportunity to sit down with Darin recently to discuss the fabulous wonders of superfoods and intuition, both of which Darin is a very well versed.

Christine: I was first introduced to your work from the recent O Magazine. I was so excited when I opened it. I just saw these really amazing pictures of you with amazing super foods & herbs. Something inside of me just said, “ I need to interview this amazing person.”

Darin: It’s all about following the knowing, isn’t it?

Christine: Yeah, it seems like you kind of just of follow what you’re lead to do. So let’s talk about your journey. It seems that you have had quite the beautiful adventure. Can you tell us how it all began and how you’ve come to be a world traveler?

Darin: Sure. Well you know, being a Mid-Western, Minnesota-born kid, I grew up in a small town and played conventional sports and loved it for what it was. I went on to play college football, and my sophomore year, I was starting lineup. I was so excited, but during the second game I went down with a back injury. In that moment it was this boyhood dream that came crashing to an end. That spun me into what I would call a depression. It just threw everything off. You know, you have a certain plan, a certain idea, you’re young, and you’re doing what you want to do, or so you think. When that happened, I had to stop playing and I went to the conventional methods of physical therapy and doctors and all of that stuff. It wasn’t actually getting me on the field. Again, I was going back to what I wanted, what I thought I wanted to do. So I decided to basically come to the understanding that it wasn’t happening and when that wasn’t happening and I had to sit with that. It brought me one of the greatest epiphanies. I was always very physical and I was always fascinated with the body. Recognizing this, I made the decision in my mind that other people couldn’t fix the injury for me. So I thought, I’m going to take this on. I transferred schools, I transferred majors. I studied exercise physiology and nutrition. It opened me up to that fascinating world and I basically healed myself. From that moment, it’s been a forever growing curiosity – every day. It hasn’t stopped. I did physical therapies professionally for years. I worked individually with hundreds of people—athletes and celebrities.

Christine: So you have worked from the other side of physical therapy?

Darin: Yeah, because that personal experience is so powerful. You learn about yourself and you learn about nutrition and physiology and power of choice and all of that stuff. In working with all these hundreds of people, I then became completely fascinated with, as I called it then, the psychology of it all. I could go through the methodologies of things, but yet, the outcomes weren’t the same. It became increasingly obvious to me that there were a ton of X factors happening.

Christine: Yes, we are all very intricately unique to our own personal journey and challenges.

Darin: I then started asking questions and started getting more curious about the inner working of mind, body, and spirit.

Christine: Are those the X factors that you feel contribute to someone’s recuperation time after an injury?

Darin: Yeah. I think it’s what you call the deep voice within all of us that knows what to do on our next action. It’s our intuition. It’s such a feather touch and it’s so easy to blow off. The courage of saying yes to it, I think it’s a growing muscle and every time you say yes to it, it grows.

Christine: Absolutely.

Darin: Almost like the universe is smiling to you and saying ‘oh you got that? Here’s a little more.’

Christine: (laughs) Yeah. And if you pay attention, you can actually hear them kind of applauding on the other side, like: ‘Hey, you actually picked up on it or you actually listened to it.’

Darin: Yeah. I mean, you know, then it comes down to receiving. You just said yes to that so then you’re in a position to receive more of what the energies of the universe have to give. I think that is maybe one of the greatest muscles I am willing to work. I never at three years old said I’m going to go around the world and hang with indigenous people and find superfood, and I now do that.

Christine: Yes, it is such a blessing to follow that guidance.

Darin: I think the greatest blessing for me in my life has always been the willingness to take what I thought of in the moment as the spark of my heart and do it full on, and then I opened that door. I only could open that door with saying yes to whatever was in front of me and over time just led me to the expansion of what I could never put as a goal.

Christine: Absolutely, every little step adds up to something greater.

Darin: That always blows my mind in terms of “how did I end up here?” It’s a series of choices rather than the singularity of a goal or a singularity of one choice. It’s in the act of showing up every day. When you show up every day… all of those choices lead up to either living a fulfilling life or a very unfulfilling life.

Christine: Yes, and being in the spirit of giving, the goal of being to continuously give so that you then can be led to the next step. It seems like that’s part of your mantra.

Darin: Yeah, I never set out to give. I only set out to answer the call deep, deep, deep within and it just so happens that that call always has had a giving to it.

Christine: It does seem to have that essence to it. With all of the projects that you’re involved in it’s really amazing how you are bringing so many different communities and ingredients and experiences together for film, for consumption and then also for publication. You are just on every level reaching out and creating this community.

Darin: When something hits me and I’m inspired by it and impregnated with the passion of it, there’s no choice at that point. Because I’ve said yes to that so often, it makes itself known so often.

Christine: Yes, it definitely begins to grow, once we begin to follow our guidance, it grows.

Darin: So you know, it’s like okay, let’s do it. Who would have thought I’d be doing a film on the country of Bhutan? Middle of the Himalayas. I never set out to be a documentary film person. Who would have thought I’d be running to Africa and helping the kids at school and hospitals get clean water? How did that happen? How did I end up finding certain foods and indigenous plants that have been forgotten for centuries? I’ve been in the position to get those to people here in the West for the first time. I mean, it’s just when I have someone in the middle of nowhere saying you’re the first person to ever ask these questions here in this position, to me it’s as baffling as someone else hearing it. I think that most people have an idea in their head that everything should have already been discovered by now.

Christine: How did that experience influence what you have created?

Darin: I think that got me basically to the first formulation I started doing. It was like, well, I don’t know why people are taking this left turn on these formulas and why wouldn’t they use this? And I just came to realize that, hey, they don’t know, maybe they’re not exposed to it, or see it. They just don’t have the awareness of it.

Christine: It’s like the grand illusion that everything has already been explored or already experienced or shared. Often people comment that your lifestyle seems like such an unreachable goal, for them. ‘Look at what he does for a living. Look at what an amazing life he’s created.’ And somewhere within there, there is the essence of ‘that’s something he’s done but I can’t do that for myself’ – which as you know, really, isn’t the truth. What would you say to that? What’s the first step in creating that kind of life that you’ve created?

Darin: Yeah. It is a great one and I love to try to dispel that because you know, as radical, deep, and as weird as it may sound, it’s those little things that ignite you. You don’t know where that’s going to go. That thing could be to read that book that you’ve been pushing off or call that person that you’ve been wanting to call, or call that university and find out about that class that you’ve been wanting to take for 10 years. I didn’t just show up and all of a sudden I get to travel around the world to all these places. It doesn’t show up like that.

Christine: Right.

Darin: It’s an illusion, like you said. When you have the willingness to say, “Yes” to every little thing you desire, because as you are involved in a holistic view of the world in what you do, you have to honor that. Any one blow- off, at any level is a blow-off to the entire level. It’s the entire being. I mean mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, financially, you name it. There is no separation. If we don’t honor all of that and everything that is who we are, what we want, you know, maybe in their heart, someone does want to be a movie star. It could be. Don’t blow that off. With that said, also don’t get fixed on what that is or how it looks.

Christine: Yes, don’t become fixed on the outcome.

Darin: Understand the essence of it. Because the essence could be clouded. It could be clouded into the conclusion of what you think it is, but maybe the spirit of that person has something to express, has something to ignite in the world and a voice and share. If you get caught into concluding that ‘I’m supposed to be a movie star’, then you’re going to fall into the category of what it takes to create a movie star and it has nothing to do with the spirit trying to get out and come through you and ignite your life.

Christine: Yeah, the experience that is wanting to be born of you.

Darin: I think one of the greatest things that I practice is completely letting go of those outcomes and going back into question, using question as the source of creation. It can be as simple as, “Hey what would it take to find the greatest cacao source in the world?” I’m not in conclusion, I’m in question, and that moves energy. Right? Now, I’m completely open to whatever answers come in instantaneously and what’s coming in a year from now.

Christine: Right. It’s the curiosity that sparks.

Darin: That curiosity and consciousness. They are not separate.

Christine: Yeah. Absolutely. And when you become curious about something and actually one of the major things that I teach my students is that when you become curious, you don’t have to be right or wrong, you don’t have to be attached to the outcome. You can just be curious about what this is or how I could do this or what that would feel like.

Darin: Yeah, and that’s a constant question. Hey, what about this? Hey, let’s check this out. Hey, is that the case?

Christine: Yeah. Exactly. It makes it playful and not so serious or scary.

Darin: Exactly.

Christine: You follow what’s in front of you as the next step. In fact, I believe you’ve created a production company. Was that also born of this moment to moment inspiration?

Darin: Yeah. I mean I’ve created it based on putting some things together and doing some documentaries for sure.

Christine: Right and so I’m sure, the idea of starting your production company was not in order to become the creator of that organization. It was more because it served the purpose of whatever it was that you were working on at the moment.

Darin: Bingo. And that’s a huge point. It’s like okay, cool. I didn’t see the calling of a documentary but what is it going to take for this to get out? So we’ll create a film and get the people that can help out.

Christine: It really speaks to that seeking and collaborative nature. It seems that you have a way of creating community wherever you are with the people around you and beginning something that can really open people’s minds and their eyes to some really, really interesting things. Can we discuss some of the projects you have done? For example your documentary on the Wild Horses, entitled, “The American Wild Horse.”

Darin: A buddy of mine, James Kleinert who created the film, has been working with the natives throughout the Dakotas and natives throughout the US for over a decade and has done many documentaries. He fell upon and became aware of the wild horse Bureau of Land Management Turmoil in the southwestern United States. Over the last seven or eight years in filming this, he quickly learned that there was a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes, including the reason behind the slaughter and the elimination of one of the greatest symbols of the US, the wild horses. James is such a dear man and he’s like a walking heart of a guy, he’s the lifeblood of that project and doing everything he can to save these horses. There’s a lot of mining that he’s now been exposing as the true genesis for why the Bureau of Land Management is eradicating these horses. He’s really done some gnarly stuff. He’s followed semi’s that were supposed to go somewhere and he saw them slaughter beautiful, beautiful horses, incredible animals. He’s lived on nothing in order to help save these beautiful animals.

So you know, my family is from the Dakotas. My family has been connected to horses. Being a kid I loved wild creatures. I just had to try to do anything I could to raise the awareness. I mean when I first saw the film, it was crushing to see what was actually going on, but it’s virtually the United States version of The Cove. It’s just like The Cove is to Japan. It’s that kind of gnarly stuff going on that is just not okay.

Christine: Wow, it really shows how when you follow the next thing in front of you, you’re not really sure how it’s going to affect someone, how involved you have to be and how that affects others. It’s like you do your little part and then it allows that to open for everyone’s eyes, it opens us up to something that most of us don’t know about.

Darin: Exactly. You know, and it’s that resonance that James is acting from—his truth. So when you feel that vibe, you know that someone is wholeheartedly doing that. The cool thing about James is that he’s actually not making anyone wrong.

Christine: Right.

Darin: Because a lot of times these activists are missing the whole boat because they are in judgment. It actually throws the whole message completely off and then it only attracts the very activist that for the most part just want to talk about it and don’t get anything done.

Christine: Right. But when you go into that judgment space, you close off the ability to see the whole picture.

Darin: Exactly.

Christine: When you’re in ego, which judgment is, it’s not intuitive whatsoever so you miss out on some really important aspects of it. That’s really amazing that he’s able to stay in that truth.

Darin: It’s hard. So you know, it’s a warrior’s path.

Christine: Yeah, it’s a lot to hold for one person. Yeah, it’s the driving force. It seems that you have that within you as well. I know I have it.

Darin: Yeah, it’s a charge for sure, you know. It really comes down to, the more I get clear about who I am and what I care about, I just charge. It’s like this is it, it’s my life. At the end of the day, I can theorize and philosophize about what happens after this life, but you know what, I’m here. I’m going to give it a go and go as consciously and aware and as powerfully and as potent as I can.

Christine: So what’s your next step now? I know that you just returned from Southeast Asia.

Darin: Yes. Southeast Asia, Philippines and Indonesia. I made some amazing connections to some groups and new alliances down there. It has sparked an organization that we’re going to create, an international organization of quality assurance and guidelines for agricultural, superfoods, all of these things.

I’m back now, and I’m working on about 15 different superfood formulas right now.

Christine: How exciting to have the backing to continue to create more and more sustainable blends.

Darin: I never thought I’d be working for a half-billion dollar company because I worked for many of the guys in the superfood world. But when I got connected with Beachbody, it didn’t take much time for them to understand what I was doing on a whole other level with the farmers and the social aspect of it. When you have the bandwidth, you can actually prove to them that everything from their bottom line to their customers’ mouths is going to be beneficial if you do it correctly from the beginning.

Christine: Yeah.

Darin: You know, we’re really, really aggressive in terms of helping the farmer. Instead of going wide trying to squeeze prices, we find a good relationship and we go deep into the relationship. Everyone knows what’s going on, everyone is transparent, the trust is built, everyone knows what everyone’s margins are because we’re not out to squeeze anybody, we actually have them tell us what’s fair margin.

Christine: Building trust, creating a foundation.

Darin: So that is a continuous project because there are a lot of foods that I am working on. There are about 300 super foods that I have a pulse on and I’m in touch with every aspect of it, from the packaging, to the manufacturing, formulating, to the farming, the soil.

Christine: Have you ever looked into branching out beyond? I know that you have really focused on exercise nutrition, but have you ever felt a pull towards creating something more toward the therapy side, addressing conditions such as autism or ADD?

Darin: The interesting thing is, if you knew what I know about what I am working on, you would be nodding to all of this stuff.

Christine: I am nodding. You forgot what I do for a living.

Darin: You’re already tuned in. I’m actually working on a kid’s formula right now. If you want to know where a society is, just look at the kids. There’s a lot of confusion out there.

Christine: So tell me, what are some ingredients you are looking at for children?

Darin: A crowd favorite of mine is Yacon. It is a tuber out of Peru and it has the highest FOS content of any known food. FOS is fructo-oligo-saccharides. They’ve known about FOS for a long time and FOS has even been put as an isolate in baby formula. The research even on the isolate is very positive for the stabilization of ADD and ADHD. I think that we know so little about the disaccharide sugars.

Christine: Yeah.

Darin: We only talk of the macro and then maybe, we’re getting into sucrose and fructose and dextrose and all of these things. There’s actually a whole world, a microscopic world of sugars that are complete alchemist in a lot of functioning of the body. FOS and Yucon are hinting at some of that. So I want to put formulas together basically in whole food and then measure the effect that that can have. If the isolates have an affect then what kind of affect will the whole food have? It’s this philosophy that I take. I look at science of course, but then I back into it or go into it based on the synergistic effect of what nature has already created. I am very excited in the next coming year to be working with some individuals who are doing one-of-a kind research into synergies and whole foods, looking at disease markers. It will be scientifically based in whole foods that are all peer-reviewed and all of these researchers will not be able to dispute it. So we’re being very systematic about that because if you want credibility, then you have to be aware of how people are hearing messages.

Christine: Yes. Absolutely.

Darin: You know, so those are exciting things and I just take basic principles in mind. I go back into question. I start with, ‘What are kids lacking?’ So then I back into that question, I start with basics. It’s got cumulative amino acids, helping out with every neurotransmitter that the kids need. You’ve got fiber and fibers, you know, a fourth or a fifth of what it needs to be. So then I look in the minerals. What is the mineral uptake ability of certain foods? And I go into that because it’s the root of all disease, like Dr. Linus Pauling says, it’s the lack of minerals. So that’s my approach really, to come and do the formulas like this. I expose myself to what the concerns, the macro skills, the kids, and then I go into it based on research and also just field knowledge of the foods.

Christine: Wow. I’m really excited to hear about it. I personally have just really strong passion for all things, nutrition and things that can enhance your life and especially with our children, because when our children struggle with their health, it’s really difficult to live a vibrant life if your child is not living vibrantly as well.

Darin: Exactly. I mean, it’s already a challenge. When you’re getting pulled from every direction not to do the right thing.

Christine: How can we stay updated with your work, Darin?

Darin: I have a newsletter that you can sign up for on my site and I send that out monthly.

Christine: Awesome. Well thank you so much. Thank you for your time and for all your work and everything that you’re doing, and I’m really excited to hear more about everything that you’re creating.

Darin: Well, thank you. Thank you for your time Christine.

Sweeteners

Sugar
In this tip, we’ll look at sugar and fake sugar, and then try to come up with a reasonable strategy to deal with our sweet teeth.

Sugar
Remember, this class is the ultra basics, so instead of using words like saccharide and galactose, let’s just say that sugar is the simplest form of carbohydrates. It’s sweet, yummy, and easy to crave. In nature, it’s found in plants. As you recall from Part I, plants have fiber, and this minimizes sugar’s impact on your system by causing it to be digested slowly. Carbohydrates, whether from potatoes, lentils, or bananas, all break down into sugars in your body, and you use these sugars as fuel when you do stuff. So, if done right, eating carbohydrates is a good thing, especially when you’re active.

Refined sugar, the white grainy stuff you’ll find in gummy bears, chocolate, Coke, and most desserts, is sugar minus the fiber that surrounds it in nature. What you’re left with is a sweet but highly caloric food that your body absorbs very rapidly, causing a “sugar rush.” This “rush” is a temporary imbalance in your system that your body tries to regulate—a spike of energy followed by a lull.

But your body hates the lull, so to bring you back up, it’ll crave, you guessed it, more sugar. It’s an ugly cycle, considering refined sugar’s only nutritional value is similar to a nitrous injection in a race car—a quick burst of energy that burns right out. This might be a good thing if you’re in a drag race (or, in human terms, if you need an extra burst of energy during a workout), but it’s a bad thing any other time because, if you don’t put that excess sugar to use, it gets stored as fat.

Bottom line: Refined sugar is okay for sports performance (while you are skiing, bicycling, running, and so on), but it’s bad at all other times. Unfortunately, we tend to want it at all other times. Therefore, straight sugar consumption should be limited. Now you’re probably wondering, “So the best time to eat gummy bears would be during a marathon instead of at night in front of the TV?” The answer is yes, absolutely. And now you’re probably thinking, “But I want dessert after dinner!” Right, we all do. Something sweet after a meal is pretty darn ingrained in our society.

Artificial Sweeteners
I’m not going to do a breakdown of the artificial sweeteners on the market—because we already have. I recommend that you read “Sweet Nothing,” issue #58 (refer to the Related Articles section below), which will only take you a couple of minutes. Essentially, there are a bunch of different artificial sweeteners to choose from. Most are made of various chemical reactions that your taste buds think are sweet but aren’t used by your body and have zero calories.

There are also some, called sugar alcohols, which have fewer calories than regular sugar because they’ve been combined with an artificial fiber that you can’t digest. These have “-tol” at the end of their names, like “xylitol.” One, Stevia, or “sweet leaf,” is natural. It’s basically a, well, sweet leaf that you can chew on or that we can grind into a powder, like sugar. Now you might be thinking, “This all sounds great! What’s the catch?”

The catch is that a lot of recent science is showing us that calories might not be the only reason we’re fat. In fact, a handful of studies cited in “Sweet Nothing” concluded that those using artificial sweetener regularly tended to be more obese than those who used regular sugar. Then there’s the little fact that sweeteners may not be safe. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved some, but given their track record (Vioxx, etc.), we can easily—and should—be a bit skeptical. With a cursory search of the Internet, you can find both pro and con studies for each alternative sweetener. The FDA is highly influenced by lobbyists and does not accept all viable studies, meaning that you might want more than FDA approval before blindly trusting what you put into your body. So let’s use some logic to try to assess how best to choose a sweetener. By adding two and two together, we should be able stack the odds in our favor.
Time. Saccharin is the most maligned of this bunch, yet it’s been around for more than 100 years and is still on the market. Sure, there is some negative research out there, but it can’t be that bad! A lot of people consume a lot of different artificial sweeteners. If people were dropping like flies, we’d probably hear about it. In fact, sweet leaf has been used for thousands of years. FDA approval or not, that’s what I call time-tested.
Research. If one of these sweeteners were so good, why would other people keep trying to come up with better ones? From this fact alone, we know that at least some of those negative findings must have an inkling of merit.
Money. The influence of big business can keep need-to-know information from the public (again, Vioxx, etc.). Most sweeteners have become American staples, such as aspartame in diet soda.
Artificial or natural? “Artificial” sounds bad and “natural” sounds good. But just because something is natural does not mean it’s good. Tobacco and opium are natural. So, the claim that Stevia is good because “it’s natural” bears little relevance. Many very beneficial drugs are artificial. However, you generally don’t want to take them habitually, which is how some people use artificial sweeteners. Artificial doesn’t mean bad, but it should mean caution.
Anecdotal. I’m going to share two quick stories: First, my sister is a sweet leaf proponent. It’s time-honored and natural but lacks FDA approval. She lobbied Starbucks for a natural alternative to Splenda (chlorinated sugar). She got a long line of positive responses up the chain of command until, finally, they stopped returning her calls. A short time later, her local market (a chain that she used as an example for Starbucks) was forced to stop offering sweet leaf with their coffee and only sell it as a “supplement.” Coincidence or a blatant case of big business (Starbucks and/or the folks who bring you Splenda) using strong-arm tactics against someone who truly cares about your health? In the wake of the FDA scandal, it’s hard not to at least harbor a little suspicion.
Next is a female athlete whom I trained; she could not lose weight, despite being in great shape and eating a strict diet. Her vice was about 100 ounces of no-cal soft drinks per day. She would eye double Big Gulps like a junky does crack. When we were able to get her off the stuff—she even drank some sugared soft drinks to do so—she lost 15 pounds. This example is now being echoed with science. Two large-scale studies spanning many years have shown a link between artificial sweeteners and obesity.
Bottom line: There is no hard evidence that any one sweetener is better than the others. Most likely the stuff won’t kill you, at least not quickly. But given that we also know it’s not 100 percent safe, it would seem wise to limit your consumption as much as possible.

So now that we understand that sugar should be limited, let’s look at some ways to do it.
5 Ways to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth
So what’s a dessert-loving health seeker to do? Here are my five favorite ways to cut your sugar consumption without ruining all of your fun:
1. Portion control. I recently saw a sign in a Denny’s window saying, “Remember, an apple a day.” The sign was of an apple surrounded by about 2,000 calories of sugar and fat. Our society has gone crazy for “bigger is better.” After dinner, your body is not hungry. You don’t need 2,000 extra calories. You don’t need 200! If you savor a square of chocolate or a tablespoon of Ben & Jerry’s slowly, it will curb your cravings without a noticeable effect on your diet.

2. Don’t snack on artificial sweeteners. Gum is probably the worst snack because it creates a stimulus-response action that causes you to crave sweet stuff constantly.

3. Add some fruit to your sugar or artificial sweetener. Fruit is both sweet and good for you. However, I realize an apple might not be enough all by itself to satiate your sweet tooth. But you can dress up fruit with a very small amount of a “real” dessert and make it pretty darn decadent.

4. Make sure you have some complex carbs in your diet. This sounds boring, but complex carbs, like whole grains, sweet potatoes, rice, beans, ‘n’ stuff, all slowly break down into blood sugar. If your blood sugar is steady, you won’t crave sugar. You might still habitually crave it, but that’s a ton better than a sugar-crash craving, which will likely lead to bingeing.

5. The protein powder trick. Most protein powders have a small amount of sugar and a touch of artificial sweetener, and are 90 percent protein. If you can find one you like (our Whey Protein Powder is fantastic, ahem, ahem), you might be able to curb your cravings with a high-protein snack. Chalene Johnson, the creator of Turbo Jam®, uses chocolate protein powder as a base for pudding, and Beachbody® advice staff member, Denis Faye, sprinkles it on cereal. If you get creative, the possibilities may be endless.