GEM Founder Sara Cullen

GEM Founder Sara Cullen

While battling some issues with her health, Sara Cullen began looking into taking vitamins. The problem? The products that existed on the market were not offering her body what it needed. So, she decided there was an opportunity to reinvent the vitamin, to create something that wasn’t full of sugar, binders, or artificial stuff—just whole nutrients. Enter GEM: a vitamin made with 13 real food ingredients, built by and for women.

Inside the cute white container, find something that resembles an energy ball or snack more than a traditional vitamin. GEM comes in two flavours (lemon or peppermint) and is made in the United States.

Over email, Cullen discusses her daily rituals, what nutrients she recommends for women, and why algae (three different types of it, to be exact) is the star of the GEM formula. 

What inspired you to reinvent the vitamin?

It was inspired by my own personal health struggles and driven by my passion to change the way we nourish our minds and bodies. The “aha” moment came when I began experiencing issues with my health—from severe inflammation to breakouts. I wasn’t feeling well, and I couldn’t figure out why. I had always eaten well and exercised regularly. But the reality is that the food we eat today contains far fewer nutrients than it did 50 years ago. So even if you’re doing all the right things, you’re still not getting the nutrition that your body needs.

That’s why, theoretically, “vitamins” exist—to help fill the gaps in our diet. So under the encouragement of doctors to get more of certain key nutrients to help with the health issues I was experiencing, I naturally turned to the vitamin aisle. But here I was met with a shelf full of junk, sugar, and artificial fluff. There was not one multivitamin on the shelf I could take because all of them had an ingredient whether as a filler, binder, additive, or preservative that further inflamed my body.

It was at this moment I started asking myself, “What exactly is a vitamin? What’s inside of them? How are they made?” I found it interesting that we question the origins of our vegetables and our meat, yet we neglect to question the conventional notion of a “vitamin.” When I started digging into these questions, I was shocked—finding toxic ingredients, harsh chemical processes, and a host of other things that do more harm to your body than good. So I decided to make my own daily health solution.

For us, we want to radically redefine what a vitamin is: what it looks like, how it’s made, where it’s from, who it’s designed for. But more than that, we hope to change the way we think about our daily nutrition. It’s not just about adding more vitamins B, C, and A to your diet, it’s about diversifying it with key nutrients from different sources of whole plants and foods. GEM is our first product line that is taking 13 different real foods that are tough to get in your daily diet and providing more than 15 key vitamins and minerals that your body and mind need most for stress, energy, skin, and mood. We liken it to a multivitamin because that’s what it is replacing, but ultimately it is much more than just a vitamin. It’s an entirely new kind of daily health habit.

Why algae?

When I started to reinvent the vitamin, I first went in search of the most nutritionally-dense and sustainable plants on our earth. That’s when I found algae. We use three types of algae in GEM: spirulina, chlorella, and astaxanthin (red algae).

From a biological perspective, algae is one of the most ancient inhabitants on earth. It represents the evolutionary bridge between bacteria and plants. It is a plant system made up of seaweeds and photosynthetic single-celled organisms, with one of the most popular types of algae being spirulina. It contains the highest nutritional value being rich in all vitamins, minerals, protein, omegas, and other critical micronutrients. It also one of the most sustainable plants on earth, which is why NASA and the United Nations have recognized it as the most ideal food to invest in for the future of humanity.

For us, algae is the nutritional powerhouse behind GEM and is a big part of our mission in being able to deliver a product that is better for all women, including Mother Earth.

What are some essential nutrients for women?

When we designed GEM, we focused on getting the essential nutrients that are difficult for women to get in their daily diets and that they need for stress, beauty, energy, and mood. Here are some of our major players: 

  • Energy: all your vitamin Bs, from B1 and B6 to B12, plus iron and other key phytonutrients and minerals from spirulina and chlorella.
  • Mind and mood: Imbalanced hormones are most commonly expressed in women as PMS, but they also manifest in mood swings, skin breakouts, and poor cognition. Magnesium, Vitamin D, and omega-3s are the power trio for a calm mind, balanced hormones, and a boosted mood. Not to mention, getting enough of these key nutrients can really help with sleep. We also have key minerals from algae like iodine that play a critical role in the production of the thyroid hormone, and managenese which helps support sex hormones. For women specifically, we have folate and choline, which is critical for healthy reproductive functioning.
  • Stress: We have a functional dose of ashwagandha in every bite of GEM, which is a well-known adaptogenic herb that helps maintain a balanced stress response. (Ashwagandha has been shown to reduce those fat-loving cortisol levels as well.) Our rising stress levels at home, work, and the environment make ashwagandha a critical part of your daily health routine.
  • Beauty: Astaxanthin, a red algae, is our powerhouse beauty nutrient, being 150 times more powerful than Vitamin E and 6,000 times more powerful than Vitamin C. Fun fact, it’s also what crabs eat to give them their pretty pink colour. So it’s an incredible antioxidant that does wonders for your skin. We combine that with biotin, Vitamin K2, and chlorella (which is a heavy metal detoxifier) to help provide all the boost you need for healthy growth of bones, skin, and nails.

How many prototypes did you have to go through to land on the GEM formula?

We spent months and months in my kitchen prototyping, and after maybe 50 prototypes we finally landed on the formula we have today. I don’t think the prototyping ever ends; we’ll always be evolving.

What’s the best part about running your own business? 

The best part is building a community of women who inspire one and other and reframe the way we look at our health from a holistic perspective—from both the mind and body, and for both human and earth.

What are some of your daily rituals?

My mornings are my sacred time to preserve somewhat of a daily routine, because after 9, the day becomes hectic and completely unpredictable.

I try to wake up between 5:30 and 6 and first thing, move my body. Usually this is getting out in nature—whether that is a run, hike, or surf. I take my daily GEM right before I work out because it’s designed to give you no nausea on an empty stomach and it provides a great boost of energy to get me going. By 6:30 or 7, I am back at home and making a cup of coffee on my Bialetti. I always have fruit in the morning to start, whether that’s sliced-up bananas and berries or a smoothie bowl. I take 15 minutes during breakfast to sit down and journal as well. Pen to paper, whatever comes to mind. I find journalling first thing helps clear the cobwebs before the day starts.

Lemon or peppermint? 

Depends on your mood. Lately I’ve been on a lemon kick.

Favourite quote?

“As you start to walk on the way, the way appears.” – Rumi

This interview has been edited and condensed.