I don't make New Year's resolutions, but if I did, I would make the same one every year: Eat. More. Vegetables.
When I was a kid, my mother would try to coax to me to eat salad. I'd reluctantly add a few bits of lettuce to my croutons, cheese and French dressing.
Mom won't recognize me now. Every day I put down two to three bunches of spinach, a couple of carrots, two cucumbers, and even a bit of kale.
My secret, of course, is that I’ve found a new and fun way to do it. I drink my vegetables.
I had always brushed off people who “juice” as crazy health nuts, which I definitely am not. But not too long ago, a drink in a particularly beautiful shade of emerald caught my eye. Curious, I had to try it, and it tasted like, well…grass. Fresh grass, but grass. Much to my surprise, I liked it. I was gulping down cucumbers, celery, parsley, and kale(!), and I liked it! Within days, I was craving it.
Juicing condenses all the taste and many of the nutrients of your favorite (or not-so-favorite) vegetables into a light, refreshing drink that goes down smoothly. Like any liquid, juice enters your bloodstream much faster than solid food, which probably accounts for the happy feeling I get when I’m juiced up.
I say "many of" the nutrients, because when you juice you lose the fiber contained in a vegetable’s peel. Some nutritionists don't like juicing, because it’s healthier to eat whole vegetables, and fruit juices are very high in sugar. But let’s be honest: My juice alternatives are not raw salads piled high with broccoli -- they’re candy, soft drinks, or my favorite "vegetables," french fries with ketchup.
I began trying vegetable juices every chance I got. On a friend's recommendation, I watched Fat Sick & Nearly Dead, a documentary about a man who went on a 60-day juice fast, lost a ton of weight, and saw incredible improvement in his health. I wasn't going that far, but I realized a glass of fresh veggies a day could be just the ticket.
Finding the right juicer
There are a ton of juicers on the market, and a ton of resources with which to choose one. Good juicers are not cheap. You can expect to spend upward of $200 to $400 even for a non-professional model. Juicers fall into two categories: centrifugal, which tend to be less expensive (sometimes less than $100), and masticating, which use a single or twin auger (think drill bit) to slowly crush and chew up the ingredients. Masticating juicers tend to be at the higher end in both price and size.
Fresh juice oxidizes quickly, causing it to lose nutrients from the minute it’s made. Centrifugal juicers create more heat while juicing, which speeds up oxidation. Juice from masticating juicers typically retains nutrients for one to three days, depending on the model.
Nearly all juicers are fine for hard veggies and most fruits, but masticating juicers are better at extracting the last bits of juice from everything including leafy greens. I chose the Omega VERT 350 ($379 at Amazon, but I got a holiday deal at Macy’s, so shop around). It's a masticating, single auger, upright juicer, and one of the most versatile for juicing both fruits and veggies. It's excellent for greens.
I also chose the Omega VERT 350 because it’s relatively easy to clean and often just needs a quick rinse at the end. I quickly learned tricks like pouring water through the juicer after I was done and using an empty produce bag to catch the pulp. Its upright design also takes up less counter space than other models.
Juicing at home isn't the quickest and neatest way to get juice, but until juice bars are in every Starbucks, you’ll get the most nutritious juice this way. (In 2011, Starbucks bought Evolution Fresh, and has opened a few standalone stores serving fresh juice, so it could happen.)
Here's my favorite green juice recipe:
3 stalks of celery (chopped into 1-inch pieces so the strings don't get stuck in the juicer)
2 cucumbers (peel on, sliced in fourths)
2-3 leaves kale (chop and scrunch up to maximize juice)
2-3 small bunches of spinach (chopped and scrunched)
2 carrots (peel on)
1 small apple (remove seeds) to sweeten
1 lemon (which I squeeze on top after, remove the rind and juice them)
From chop up to clean up, it takes me about 20 minutes to juice a couple of glasses of green goodness. I drink one glass at night when I make it. The second goes in an airtight container (oxidation!) for morning.
I’m not a doctor, and I don’t play one on TV. You know the drill: If you’re considering changing your diet or exercise routine, talk to your doctor first. But if you're not getting your American Heart Association recommended 4.5 cups of veggies and fruits a day, I'd think about fresh green juice. I know that I feel better and have more energy, and the fact that I crave less junk food is a huge plus. As for calories, who cares?! It’s mostly veggies, and I'm getting more of them than I ever would if I had to chew them myself. -- Jane Grey
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Photo courtesy of One Thing New contributor Jane Grey