Georgia Straight Interviews our CEO

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Darlene Higbee Clarkin believes her Vancouver-based startup’s line of iPhone apps will help people live healthier lives. She’s a registered holistic nutritionist and the founder and CEO of WholeLife Holistic Nutrition, which has so far released two apps but plans several more.

On October 23, WholeLife’s Blood Sugar ($2.99) debuted in Apple’s App Store. It’s aimed at people with Type 2 diabetes and anyone concerned about their blood sugar levels. The company’s first app,Quick Tips (99 cents), came out in July. WholeLife incorporated earlier this year.

Born in Montreal, Clarkin has a background in information technology. She helped build the platform for Canadian Airlines’ loyalty program in the 1980s. Later on, she cofounded and served as chief technology officer for, whose platform allows people to exchange points between multiple loyalty programs.

The Georgia Straight reached Clarkin at her home office in Vancouver.

Why did you found WholeLife Holistic Nutrition?

One of the big motivations was that I went back to school to learn more about nutrition because of my dad’s health issues—being diagnosed with diabetes and he’s become a double amputee. So I went back to school to learn more about nutrition, and quickly within the program I realized how powerful the information that I was learning was, and realized that given my background in technology that I can actually get this information out to the masses and help educate more people on how to manage their health and be preventative. So taking a very traditional offline business and bringing it online.

Who is the Blood Sugar app designed to help?

It’s actually going to help everybody. It’s very preventative as well as therapeutic. From a therapeutic approach, it’s more geared toward Type 2 diabetes. But it’s about prevention. It’s got the top 100 foods in there that balance your blood sugar. It’s educating you on how to balance your blood sugar, so it can be used by the everyday person.

How exactly does someone with Type 2 diabetes use the app?

What we’ve provided them with is guidelines for diet, supplements, and lifestyle—on all of the things that they need to incorporate into their diet and into their lifestyle to help balance their blood sugar. What we’ve done is we’ve provided them with the top 100 foods that help them manage their blood sugar. You can go into the diet section and see the whole list under various categories. We’ve categorized everything under your fats and oils, your beverages, so you can see a list of “Here’s all the beverages I should be drinking.” For each of those items, the science is written behind them and what they do to help balance your blood sugar. So we educate you on why we’re recommending that food item or that supplement or that lifestyle change—what it does—and everything is backed by science. That’s the one thing. We take a very integrative approach. We ensure that the research is behind everything that we’ve recommended.

Also within the app, it tells you the “avoids” and why you should be avoiding them and how it spikes your blood sugar and what the impact is. With every avoid, we give you an alternative. So you’re not left trying to figure out, “So if I can’t have that in my diet or if I can’t do this, what am I to do?”…

The other component of the app is we’ve actually reached out to chefs that are trained in holistic nutrition and therapeutic approaches. There is a seven-day meal plan in the app with 21 recipes that you can follow to help you start balancing your blood sugar. Those meal plans incorporate our top 100 foods.

What does the Quick Tips app you previously released offer?

Quick Tips is basically nutritional quick tips that are backed by science as well. They will vary from day to day, so they come out everyday. There could be a tip on, for example, probiotics. “Did you know probiotics will help you lose weight?” We give you the research behind that, and then we offer two little suggestions on how you can get your probiotics. Tomorrow’s may be on autism. It varies. From day to day, you don’t know what your little tip will be. It can range from ADHD to cardiovascular to a specific supplement to speaking about antioxidants that day.

What apps do you have planned for the future?

Right now, we’re working on a series targeting the epidemic that’s out there today, which is metabolic syndrome. To be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, it means you have three or more of the following: blood sugar issues, high blood pressure, weight is an issue, cholesterol levels, triglycerides. If have three of those in combination, you are considered to have metabolic syndrome. Your risk of heart disease and diabetes and all of that is elevated. So we’re launching a whole series leading up to the ultimate Metabolic Syndrome app. Those are the first five that we’re launching. Then there’s more after that. We’re going to be tackling inflammation, Crohn’s down the road.

So those are just the apps. That’s only one part of the business. Our real goal is to bring on the web services, which we’re just working on now—customized. The apps are very generalized. We’re actually bringing online customized health assessments, where you as an individual can come online, create a profile, fill out exactly what’s going in on your life, what your health concerns are, what your medical history has been, what your family history is—answer a whole series of questions. Through all those questions, we’ll be able to determine things that may be going on based on the symptoms that you’re experiencing. We’re going to be looking for the root cause and making recommendations that are very personalized to you and what you have going on. We are working on launching a free health assessment for January—just to give everyone a test drive and let them see a smaller version of what’s coming with the paid online health assessments.