Juice on the loose: The business of squishing produce

The phrase “cold-pressed” has lately begun to connote “healthy,” but isn’t juice, like, sugar? SOMEONE DECODE JUICING FOR US, PLEASE.

Photo by: The Travelling Bum

With the New Year comes health resolutions, or at the very least, an effort to consume something that does not consist entirely of cheese, chocolate, or alcohol. Enter juicing–the seemingly benign trend that has blown up the last few years, but not without some debate.

Something as simple and healthy as fruit and vegetables in liquid form–who can argue with that? But nutritionists are mixed on just how much better, if any, cold-pressed juices are for you. Better than a danish? Sure. But some juicing fanatics can get carried away, and good marketing will sell most people, especially those of us feeling guilty from a season of overeating.

When renovating their café, local organic market Ellwood Thompson‘s included a juice corner alongside the normal cappuccinos. Café Manager Laurie Peterson, exceedingly cheery even while I asked her questions in the middle of several complicated recipes on a busy Saturday morning rush, weighs in. “With juice, your body doesn’t have to work to process all the ingredients,” she says.

“It’s hard to ignore the benefits when you see [happy] customers every day.” She offers me a Whole Body Detox, 16 ounces, $6.99, made of strawberries, pineapple, cilantro, celery, and lemon. It tastes like, well, a combo of those ingredients, all of which I like. It’s good, though murky, and surprisingly room-temperature, which I can’t tell if that’s on purpose or if I’m allowed to chill it (which I do with the rest later and finish in one sip). I can see how this can become an expensive habit.

In New York and LA, $12 and up is the norm for a bottle of cold-pressed juice. Luckily, our prices haven’t reached that range yet. Lumi Juice out of Charlottesville sells a 16-ounce bottle for $7.99 and Richmonders can order through Relay Foods or their online subscription service. Ginger Juice in Richmond has 16-ounce bottles for $8.99, with cute names like Glamour, Glitzy, and Glee. Their new retail and production space at the Village Shopping Center opened last fall at 7019 E. Three Chopt Road and includes freshly prepared meals from Goatocado. Ginger Juice does sell cleanses, with two levels, varying lengths, and a branded, insulated tote. They also offer a one-day cleanse, which, for that short of a time, really seems like just a day of drinking juice. Though, I suppose if you replace doughnuts and takeout with organic vegetables and fruit, that’s still a better health choice.

I press Peterson back at Ellwoods about the use of juice in a cleanse and she tactfully responds with “I’m a big fan of time and place. It’s nice to relax the system every once in a while.” They use the centrifuge method–which first smashes the veggies and fruit into pulp and then they’re spun in a regular blender. This works fine if you drink it right away, but if it’s going to bottle, it will need some way to fight off bacteria. Raw foodies tout the cold-press method, used by Ginger Juice and Lumi. Both use high pressure processing (HPP), which applies extreme water pressure to eliminate microorganisms. This extends the shelf life, and for a product with no preservatives, that’s already pretty short. According to Hillary Lewis, owner of Lumi, HPP has been around since 1890 and was founded at the University of West Virginia. She says the first commercial food processing application of it started in the late 1980s.

Says Lewis, “Personally, I did a cleanse to truly understand the market, and it completely changed my metabolism–not in a good way. Cleanses are not one size fits all–everyone’s body is unique. I believe in a combination of food and juice diets that utilize raw, unprocessed foods to give your digestive system a break. If you are going to do a completely juice diet, I encourage you to do so under the guidance of a registered dietitian or doctor who understands what your body needs.”

Even without added sugars, nutritionists caution against the amount of naturally occurring sugar in fruit, and thus in juice. Lewis stresses that consumers should read the label, and fewer, natural ingredients are better. Many heat-pasteurized juices that are bottled add flavoring after processing. Since her juices are never heated, she says the sugars are allowed to be more naturally occurring, not caramelized. Still, she tends to make juices that are heavier in the greens and lower in the fruit for optimal energy. “My favorites are Lumi’s three nutrition shots and our ten-ounce sizes,” she offers.

For Ginger Juice owner Erin Powell, she started juicing for her son, who wouldn’t eat vegetables but would deign to drink them. She has a new nutrition group that started in January that meets periodically to discuss healthy choices, begin juice cleanses, and discuss grocery shopping and food choices under the guidance of a Nutrition Coach.

All of this to say, it may be a good reason to do your basic homework and not worry too much about the latest trend or machine. Stick to the basics: fruit and vegetables are good for you (although your emphasis should be on the latter). Eat them. Drink them, too. Listen to your body. You don’t necessarily have to spend hundreds of dollars on new technology or squished-just-for-you health foods. Perhaps we just remember Peterson’s adage: “Don’t knock it ’til you try it.” After you consult a medical professional, of course.

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Holly Gordon

Holly Gordon spends her days working with Richmond’s hearty nonprofit community and her nights singing in a community chorus. She loves her feminist book club, and is always distracted by shiny things.

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