Juice junky: Three days, 21 bottles, zero solid food

The Juice Laundry owner Mike Keenan presses fresh, organic pineapple for the next batch of juices. Photo: Elli Williams The Juice Laundry owner Mike Keenan presses fresh, organic pineapple for the next batch of juices. Photo: Elli Williams

Last week I gave up all solid food for three days.

I never realized the vital role that chewing played in my life until I didn’t do it for 72 hours. For three days, with some help from The Juice Laundry, I ignored the office lunchtime aromas of take-out pizza and leftover chicken stir-fry. I declined invitations for post-work beers and appetizers, and muted my laptop at the first sign of a Chipotle commercial on Pandora. I traded my morning boiled egg and string cheese for liquid kale, snacked on red pepper juice instead of Goldfish, and slurped a cringe-inducing beet beverage while I enviously watched my troop of fifth graders munch on this year’s new Girl Scout cookies. On the bright side, I had an excuse for not doing dishes between Tuesday and Friday.

These cleanses are all the rage among health food nuts. The shelves at Whole Foods are stocked with every cayenne, agave, spinach, and apple combination imaginable, with labels that promise to revamp your energy reserves and leave you feeling clean and refreshed both physically and mentally. Most cleanses are cut from the same cloth, offering at least six varieties, including a deceptively fruity-looking bright red beet juice, and an intensely vegetable-heavy green concoction. Raw organic fruits and vegetables are cold-pressed through a pulverizing method that extracts more nutrients and allows less oxidation than the traditional process with at-home juicers. Each bottle boasts an almost obscene number of vitamins and minerals. The problem is, the ones found in most health food stores have long shelf lives.

“Raw juice is meant to be consumed quickly, within a few days,” said Mike Keenan, founder and owner of The Juice Laundry, a local company that hit the scene last spring and gained instant popularity among health food lovers at the City Market over the summer. Here’s what juicing local looks like:

With each bottle comes strict instruction from Keenan to consume it within about 72 hours. Bottles of cold-pressed fruit and vegetable juices are available individually at Bikram Yoga and Rebecca’s Natural Food, and cleanses, which include six juices and a protein-rich nut milk, are delivered to your doorstep on the first morning of your cleanse. For either $9 per bottle or $60 a day, you can try your hand at cleaning out your system with some fresh, organic, cold-pressed juice.

After I cleared the top shelf of my fridge to make space for a 21-piece rainbow of 17-ounce glass bottles on Tuesday morning, I popped open the bottle labeled number one, said “well, cheers” to no one in particular, and took a swig of the Gentle Green. It’s a combination of kale, spinach, cucumber, grapefruit, and apple. Not bad, I thought, but not quite as “gentle” as the name indicates. The fruits’ sweetness disguises some of the bitter vegetable flavor, but there’s no question that those are dark greens I’m consuming at 8am in lieu of Frosted Flakes.

Everyone told me the first day would be the hardest, and to some degree they were right. As a grazer who keeps almonds, grapes, and the occasional (okay, frequent) bag of kettle-cooked jalapeño chips at my desk for snacking, it felt unnatural to not reach for a handful of this or that throughout the workday. The first day’s juices were mostly fruity, and I found myself sucking them down pretty quickly, leaving me nothing but water to consume over 90-minute intervals all day. My stomach made an audible growl during our Tuesday afternoon staff meeting, and while I was updating C-VILLE’s food and drink Instagram account, a co-worker laughed and asked if I should “really be staring at a picture of a delicious looking pork sandwich right now.” He had a point.

I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting, but 24 hours in, I didn’t feel especially different. I already don’t drink coffee, so the lack of caffeine didn’t faze me, and my lunch usually consists of a salad and an apple anyway. I didn’t experience the surge of energy I’d read about, but on Keenan’s suggestion I cracked open the chai hemp milk around 3pm for a protein boost to get me through the mid-afternoon slump.

By day two, I had pretty much come to terms with the fact that I wouldn’t be doing any chewing until Friday morning. (Though Keenan advises anyone taking on the cleanse to swish the juice around and even emulate chewing, which eases digestion by activating the saliva’s digestive enzymes.)

Keenan said he encounters a surprising number of adults who turn up their noses at most of the juices because they don’t like vegetables, and those who don’t already incorporate much fresh produce into their diets are far more likely to struggle with the cleanse.

According to the 2013 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s program of studies that assesses the health and nutritional status of U.S. children and adults every five years, nearly 23 percent of adults report consuming vegetables less than one time daily. More than 37 percent of American adults report consuming fruit less than one time daily.

“Consistently since the 1940s, vegetables and fruits are the food groups we’re all low in,” said local registered dietitian Susan Del Gobbo, of Charlottesville Nutrition.

The Juice Laundry’s seven daily bottles offer about 1,100-1,400 calories per day, and Del Gobbo said she’d be wary of a cleanse any longer than three days. But a 72-hour break from solid foods is “probably completely innocuous,” and could do the body some good, especially for those who tend to see more of the drive-thru menu than the produce section. The juices offer a tremendous amount of potassium, which Del Gobbo said most Americans don’t consume nearly enough of. Del Gobbo said she’s partial to the juices with a significant amount of pulp, which retains higher levels of vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes.

“I don’t think it’s a sustainable way to eat, but I also don’t think three days that offer 119 ounces of fluid per day would harm anyone,” Del Gobbo said. “A lot of things that are cold pressed don’t have the fiber of the original produce, but if they can retain the fiber, it’s more beneficial.”

Because I opted to try one day each of the light, normal, and heavy cleanses offered by The Juice Laundry, I was consuming more nutrients than I knew what to do with by day three. The “heavy wash cycle” includes four bottles of the Green Agitator, an intense grass-colored juice made of kale, spinach, cucumber, celery, parsley, apple, ginger, and lemon. After a tentative first sip I found myself longing for the Gentle Green that I had taken for granted in the days prior, and getting through all 68 earthy ounces proved to be my biggest challenge. Luckily, by the time I finally drained the last Green Agitator, all I had left between me and solid food was a bottle of creamy, sweet cashew milk and a few hours of sleep.

Despite Keenan’s advice to ease my way back into solid foods with just fruits and vegetables, I treated myself to two fried eggs with cheddar cheese and hot sauce first thing Friday morning. Which I regretted immediately.

During the cleanse itself, I didn’t feel a drastic change in my energy level or overall health. But now that I’m back to chewing, I’ve found that I’m more intensely in tune with what’s going on with my own body. I may not have necessarily felt better while drinking nothing but juice, but after introducing solid food back into my diet, I’m more aware of what makes me feel worse. I won’t pretend that I’ll never spend a Saturday afternoon gorging on pizza and beer again, but I’ll be likely to turn to a couple bottles of juice to refresh after a particularly indulgent weekend.

“And that’s what it’s all about,” Keenan said. “It’s about being able to listen to what your body’s saying, and adjusting to maximize the benefits.”

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