The Superfood Sleuth: An Interview with Shakeology Co-Creator Darin Olien

Shakeology BannerBy Denis Faye

Darin Olien knows more than you do.

Or at least that’s what it feels like when you sit down with Shakeology’s master architect to discuss the best-selling Beachbody supplement’s latest formulations. One minute he’s telling you about the benefits of sourcing moringa from Senegal. The next minute he’s taking you on the tour of how konjac travels through the human digestive system.

While intelligence obviously plays a role in Darin’s knowledge base, another reason that he knows so darn much what goes into Shakeology is his over-the-top passion. Traveling the world to discover the healthiest, most ethical way to source ingredients and then figuring out how to combine them in synergistic, beneficial ways isn’t just something he does for a paycheck. The man loves his job.

Darin OlienThis month, Beachbody adds a new product to the Shakeology line: Chocolate Vegan Shakeology. Taking cues from its sister vegan Tropical Strawberry Shakeology, the new drink features several groovy new superfoods, including moringa, coconut flower nectar, luo han guo, Himalayan salt, and konjac. In order to tell you all about them, we took a page from Darin’s playbook and sought out the best possible source: Darin. But unlike the Shakeology Hunter, we didn’t have to traverse the globe to do it. Here’s what he had to share.

Tell us about the fancy new stuff that’s been added to Shakeology.

I’ll start with the wonderful miracle tree, one of my favorite rediscoveries, the moringa oleifera. It’s possibly one of the greatest superfoods I’ve ever come across. It can grow in a lot of different places because of its ability to uptake nutrients from soils. So you get high chlorophyll, you get about 35 active antioxidants and up to 96 active phytochemicals, and then you’ve got some of the fun micronutrients like really high vitamin C, vitamin A, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and—here’s the kicker—it’s got all the essential amino acids.

It’s one of those things that makes formulation really easy because it’s so full and it’s got all of the data on it. Johns Hopkins has studied it for a long time. I’ve been looking into it for about 4 years—every day a new country pops up where they can grow it because it’s turned into a cash crop opportunity.

Why do you think it took so long to be discovered?

I don’t know. It grows really easily but it’s hard to process if you want all those constituents. You have a 30-minute window to capture all of those nutrients in it to the best of your ability. As soon as you start whacking off those leaves, you have to get it washed and dried like that.

You mentioned how it absorbs from the soil quite a bit. That obviously means you need to be pretty careful because you can absorb bad things too.

Absolutely. With our industrial world, it’s very tricky. You always have to test the soil. In these kinds of areas that Beachbody sources from, often in the middle of nowhere, you don’t have to worry about that, but certainly as moringa—or any other commodity—comes up, everyone’s going to jump into the game. You can put a moringa plant next to a railroad track in India and it’s going to grow fine, but it’s going to pick up all kinds of bad stuff.

Why did we choose Senegal for sourcing moringa?

We’re kind of going off the heels of moringa expert Dr. Lowell Fuglie. He found out that the soil qualities, the mineral qualities, the temperature, and the climate are the best in Senegal—and he went all over the world! Also, the labor issues in Senegal are solid and the relative cost is cheaper for us, but they get a higher wage than in the other commodities. So you’ve got all those things.

Let’s talk about coconut flower nectar next.

Coconut flower nectar—the blood, basically, of the coconut tree. So it’s not coconut water powder; it’s from the tree itself, coming off the flower of the coconut. You literally cut where the flower would come out and this liquid comes out. The interesting thing about coconut flower nectar is its very low glycemic index. It has amino acids, it’s got brain activators, and so it’s got this whole array of other qualities. It’s just incidentally a sweetener.

The great thing about formulation is that you find these things that have pleomorphic effect, not just a linear effect. So you’re not just using coconut flower because it’s sweet. You’re also putting it in there because it has other synergistic qualities. It’s doing other things; it’s able to create and have a different effect on the body than just a sweetener.

So when you’re putting all these ingredients together, you’re trying to find combinations that work synergistically?

Yes. I think one plus one equals 13 when you formulate. You make sure that the macro perspective is being honored—the fats, the proteins, the amino acids, the carbs—and that they’re delivered in a synergistic way. Then you can continue to go down the rabbit hole and say things like, “I’ll add moringa because now that’s got 7 times the amount of calcium than milk does. I can add my camu in and that’s got 30% of vitamin C in it from its powdered forms.” And sometimes you don’t know, so you have to move along on the formula; get it and then test it. It can be quite daunting. Sometimes they come together, and now you’re getting a different effect. It can be surprising.

Let’s talk about luo han guo.

The Chinese have been using that for 10,000 years, not as a sweetener, but to regulate some of the systems of the body. It has a cooling effect on the body. Again, this is one of those things where it’s a digestive aid, a diabetic supporter, and oh, by the way, it’s incredibly sweet—500 times sweeter than sugar.

In the field, for every 100 kilos of it you get 1 kilo of powder. So it’s a very, very expensive process and challenging in that way, so it has a limitation as well. The challenge is how much you can push it. There’s no toxicity danger, but if you use too much, it will turn your body off to the sweetness. So you have limits and, again, even just the sweetening system alone has got so many healing properties to it. You’re not just throwing things in there to sweeten it, you’re going for what other effects it can have and contribute to the formula. That’s why the new Shakeology has a range of sweeteners. It’s like an orchestra.

How about the Himalayan salt?

Himalayan salt, oh my God, you’re going to have to rein me in. One of the greatest superfoods, one of the greatest things we need for our body, unrefined salt. Not to be confused with table salt, the stripped down, neurotoxic salt that causes people to say, “Don’t use so much.” They’re absolutely right; don’t use that salt on the table. Use unrefined salt. We need it for hydration. In this formula it’s an alchemist. It’s delivering over 70 trace minerals. We need those minerals, but we need them in the right form, in the food form, in the crystal form—in this form we’re talking about the size of the molecule—so that our cells can absorb them without your body needing additional mechanisms to break them down.

There’s also so much that can be said about salt itself. If you don’t have salt, your whole primary operating system will not work. We are a super conductor, our body is a superconductor with 70 trillion batteries, which are cells, and if you don’t have salt and electrolytes, those systems don’t work, and then you use glycogen in the cells and acidify. You don’t know it’s happening, you just know you’re not feeling so great; you get adrenal fatigue, your cholesterol goes up, and your immune system doesn’t work, so this is a very cellular alchemist necessity. And in the formula perspective, it’s really interesting because it stretches out sugars.

Stretches out sugars?

It enhances the sweetness and dampens the astringent. I even put salt on my salad, right? The negative reports have nothing to do with unrefined salt.

Is there any concern that Himalayan salt is a finite resource, since there’s only so much in the mountains?

Not in our lifetime, not in about a hundred million lifetimes. They’re big mountains.

How about konjac?

Initially, we went after it because it was a great replacement for the xantham and guar gum. But the konjac root fits right in because it has a multidimensional effect. It has a wonderful effect on the cholesterol of the body, it buffers and supports the digestive system as a whole, and in the formulation it creates the mouth feel; it blends, it pulls together. It also has a very functional effect in a digestive way.

How does it work, exactly, in your digestive track?

Konjac and its functional ingredient, glucomannan, are hydrophilic, meaning it likes water. When you add water, it will then absorb it and then bind itself to the other ingredients, creating a micro gel. And that’s what creates the smoothie effect and the thickening effect of Shakeology. It’s a very similar thing as it goes through the body. So there’s a lot of insoluble fiber action. It can help slow some of the sugar absorption down, and it can help coat the digestive system with a positive effect as opposed to the acidic effect of processed foods. In your mouth, it’s very supportive with the amylase and the digestive enzymes. In your intestines, it’s very supportive and helps replenish the mucosal lining.

So you’re happy with the new formulations?

Yes, but if it was up to me . . . well, it’s very hard to stop formulating.

You’re always tinkering.

I’m always tinkering.

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