I’ve been getting lots of great questions about my potentially-obvious juicing rituals; why I’m drinking juices (don’t they have SO much sugar?), what I put in them (don’t they taste icky?), when I drink them (meal replacements?), and how I’m making them. I love this ritual so much, I’m happy to share here — starting with the lowdown on my Great Green Juices.
First things first: how did I come to start the ritual? Real talk – my work/life schedule is totally not ordinary. In any given day, I’m leaping from the kitchen, to the bike, behind the camera and then to the computer; developing recipes, testing recipes, cooking up a storm, typically riding or running or yoga-ing or something, and then fitting in emails, writing projects, recipe writing, shooting photos, editing and sharing the finished products with clients. I am pretty bad about sitting down to a proper meal in the middle, even though I’m cooking all the time and cooking most things from scratch. And when I DO have the time, I don’t always feel like eating; recipe testing means recipe tasting and my stomach sometimes starts to do backflips with all the tastes, being on my feet, and being under stress.
But, skipping a mid-day meal is no good. It means I’m STARVING by dinner time, and makes me feel sluggish on the bike and grumpy all day. And, because I’m asking myself to do a lot in the middle of the day, I need some good fuel to fire it up. Enter, a tall glass of vibrant green juice; it balances my stomach, soothes my digestive and nervous systems, and is essentially a mainline of vibrant nutrients my body needs and is the cleanest snack I can think of to tide me over until I can sit down and eat something more substantial. Drinking these bright, low-glycemic green juices makes me feel like the super-hero version of myself, not only because my body loves the superfood dump, but because I’m making an easy, logical, inexpensive choice instead of eating another sandwich (or something like that.) Maybe you’ll feel that way too.
So here we go.
What’s the difference between juicing + making a smoothie?
We all are familiar with the smoothie; all sorts of delicious stuff tossed into the blender and made into a lovely sippable slurry. When you blend up a smoothie, you also blend up the fiber and pulp of the fruits and vegetables. When you make a juice, you’re literally alchemizing vegetables, fruits and leaves into medicinal nectars. Juicing requires a machine that squeezes, or macerates fruits and vegetables, extracting the juice and leaving the pulp. What’s left are the most nutrient-dense fuels around, packed with enzymes, vitamins, trace minerals and other vital elements. Sometimes pulp is great to have. If you’re drinking your fruits and vegetables as a meal replacement, you’re gonna want the pulp for its valuable fiber. If you’re just looking to boost your body and give your digestive system a break, you may want to leave that pulp behind.
Why not just eat a salad?
Why not eat a salad ALSO? There are a couple of reasons that a salad and a juice are not created equally. The first reason is all that fiber. Your body needs fiber for lots of reasons and we all are familiar with a few of those reasons. (Ahem.) But, over the course of the day, we eat a LOT of fiber-rich things (at least I hope we all are!) and your body has to break down all of those foods and fibers to then absorb the nutrients from the things we eat. Depending on how strong your system is, how much stress you’re under, this can be pretty exhausting. Drinking a juice instead is basically mainlining those nutrients; your body doesn’t have to break them down – it just has to drink them up. To be clear: I’m not drinking juices instead of eating salads. In fact, I’m consuming both almost every day. (And sometimes at the same time – gasp!)
Do I really need to mainline nutrients?
The broad answer is probably. The answer I tell myself is YES. The scariest truth about our commercial agricultural system is that the nutrients in our soils are desperately depleted. “As early as 1936, the US Senate recognized that our soil quality had been so eroded and become so devoid of minerals that even if people ate huge amounts of vegetables, they would be literally starving for proper nourishment,” says Dr. Steven Gundry, a celebrated heart surgeon whom has transformed his career to help autoimmune patients reverse their conditions. “Our ancient ancestors ate approximately 250 different plants on a rotating basis,” he tells his patients “and these plants were growing in six feet of loam soil. The animals they ate were also eating those plants. Now, if we think we can duplicate that huge number of minerals, vitamins, and plant phytochemicals by eating an organic diet of about 20 fruits and veggies, then I’ve got some ocean front property here in Palm Springs to sell you. It simply can’t be done.” Touché.
Even if we had evolved to need fewer nutrients (which is unlikely,) wouldn’t we feel better if we were topping off our tanks? I’d like to believe so. So, I juice.
Aren’t juices full of sugar?
This entirely depends on what you put in your juice! Apples, oranges, pears and other fruits have more sugar than say kale and celery – not all fruits and vegetables are created equal, of course. Beets, carrots and sweet potatoes (that make a delicious juice, btw) are actually quite high on the glycemic index, making them great as recovery drinks but not necessarily great for balancing, alkalizing, mineralizing or resting your digestive system. Making a super sweet juice with lots of fruits will certainly make the juice taste better to your palate, but making a more tart or earthy juice will likely balance your system more. Juices are only full of sugar if you want and need them to be. Most of my green juices are pretty tart, pretty earthy, floral and refreshing (in my opinion) because I add little or no fruits to the blends.
Isn’t juicing expensive?
Juicing doesn’t have to be expensive – unless you’re drinking strictly juice and then it can get pretty expensive pretty fast. I typically make myself two big batches of juice each week. Each batch uses about $10 worth of veggies (a bunch each of kale, spinach, romaine, a lemon, an apple, a cucumber and a bunch of mint.) I drink about 8oz juice each day and when I compare the cost of juicing at home to the cost of buying juice (and the cost of drinking the sugary fruits they use to make it more palatable to a large quantity of people,) I find this to be a pretty good deal.
What about the fiber? Don’t I need the fiber?
Your body does need fiber – no doubt. But, in my case, I’m already getting a lot of healthy fiber from other things I’m eating. If you’re eating a big salad for lunch each day, you probably are too. Likewise if you’re an athlete consuming calorically dense meals with whole grains and lots of vegetables (especially leafy greens.) Our digestive systems are working around the clock trying to turn all the fuel we as athletes are putting in all day long, not just at mealtimes. The bottom line: more isn’t always better when it comes to fiber. More fiber from your foods means more work for your body to do so it can assimilate the nutrients in your food. Drink juices in addition to eating a high fiber diet to help your system assimilate nutrients faster.
What are the best fruits and vegetables to juice?
All fruits, vegetables and leaves are great for juicing. But, each ingredient has a different nutritional value and a different biological effect on our systems and this is valuable to consider when you’re making up a juice. I make juices with different ingredients for different purposes: I juice beets when I want to support my kidneys, carrots when I want to fortify my body or recover. I juice ginger and lemon with green apples for immunity, or melons in the summer to hydrate. But I make green juices on the regular; they alkalize and mineralize my body, and provide me with bioavailable calcium and protein.
What does alkalize mean?
Remember being in grade school, when your chemistry teacher taught you how to make a paper mache volcano explode? This was a practice in pH balance, in alkaline and acidic environments. Our bodies are always striving to keep a pH of 7.365. Stress, diet, and other environmental stressors impact our bodies and make them more acidic, resulting in weight gain, disease, and chronic illness if we don’t regain our balance. Our bodies will strive to regain balance on its own, by drawing nutrients from the bones. But by eating an alkalizing diet, we help our bodies out by providing them with the balancing components they need. Being in an acidic state also negatively impacts our digestive system. By now you’ve likely heard about how important it is to care for the health of your microbiome, right? All the healthy little bacteria in our guts need a slightly alkaline environment to survive so they can digest our foods, help us to absorb nutrients and ward off disease and illness. So drinking alkaline juices helps them too! Also, when your body is in balance you can feel it. Your skin will be soft and luminous, your eyes bright and your brain sharp. Your digestive system will feel balanced (not bloated,) and your joints and muscles will feel strong and ready for whatever lies ahead.
There are lots of kinds of juicers. What kind is best?
Ok – so not all juices are created equal. Press juicers will get the job done by applying lots of pressure to fruits and vegetables. Basically, roots, leaves, and veggies are squeezed between two plates that break down cell walls without any oxidization (exposure to the air,) which retains the value of the nutrients and helps the juice to keep longer – again, because it hasn’t been exposed to oxygen. These juices will keep up to 72 hours. These juicers are more expensive than others, but not as expensive as hydraulic models.
You could also choose a masticating juicer, which crushes and squeezes fruits and vegetables through a tube, extracting the juice along the way. These juicers still have a great yield (though not as much as a slow juicer,) and still minimally oxidizes the raw ingredients so you get a juice that will last up to 48 hours.
A twin gear juicer (also called a slow juicer) costs a fraction of what a press juicer will run you. These juicers use interlocking gears at slow speeds to squeeze out nutrient-dense juice, resulting in little oxidization and undamaged nutrients so the juice has a longer shelf life (up to 72 hours.) I have a Hurom slow juicer and love it. And the investment has paid itself off over and over again. However, this machine requires me to feed each leaf into the machine, and to clean each part with a toothbrush after each use. I don’t mind the ritual and the clean up is faster than it sounds.
Lastly, a centrifugal juicer is the machine you’ll find in most juice bars. Food is pushed through a rapidly spinning mesh chamber with sharp teeth on the surface which flings juice away from the pulp. This is a very user-friendly machine and is relatively inexpensive so it is perfect if you’re just dipping your toe into juicing. These juicers work best with soft fruits and veggies, but less well with leafy greens or herbs that have lots of fiber. The centrifugal action oxidized the juice, however, so the juice has a very short shelf life. You’ll want to drink the juice within 10 minutes of juicing, to prevent spoilage.
What recipes are your favorite?
I have SO MANY favorites. Really, you can make a green juice with just about anything green and you don’t need a recipe. That said, some combinations taste better than others for my palate. (I strongly encourage you to use recipes as a jumping off point for your own experiments!) For the recipes below, know that I like the vegetal taste of these foods, and I think you’ll find that without the added sugar of fruits you’ll notice that these ingredients have their own unique flavors. Spinach, fennel and cucumbers are inherently sweet…but it may take your palate a little bit of practice to taste it. The same is true with elegant lettuces, grounding celery, earthy dandelion greens and kale.
Here are some loose suggestions to get your creative green juice juices flowing, followed by my favorite Greatest Greens recipe below. For all formulas below, I suggest you gather super-fresh, organic vegetables and use them as soon as possible. Add the ingredients to your juicer, alternating the ingredients often to prevent a backup of fiber in the machine. Then, store your juice in a clean glass jar with a lid and sip often and always!
10 celery stalks (leaves removed) + 1 1/2 cups tightly packed spinach + 1 cup kale + 1 cup parsley + 1 cup dandelion greens
1 head romaine, root trimmed + 2 english cucumbers + 1 cup tightly packed spinach + 15 sprigs mint + 1/2 lemon (squeezed into the finished juice instead of pushed through the juicer)
1 fennel bulb with fronds + 1 cucumber + 1 green apple + 1 1/2 cups tightly packed basil
Kitchen Sink Greens
1 bunch kale + 1 bunch romaine + 1 bunch spinach + 1 cucumber + 1 bunch herbs (basil, parsley, mint or cilantro) + 1/2 green apple + 1 lemon (squeezed into the finished juice instead of through the juicer)
- 1 head romaine lettuce, root trimmed
- 2 european cucumbers
- 1 head kale
- 1 bunch spinach, washed
- 15 sprigs mint or basil
- juice of 1 lemon
- Feed all of the ingredients into a juicer, alternating the greens and herbs with the cucumbers. Squeeze the lemon juice by hand into the finished juice and stir, (this prevents the very bitter taste of lemon peel) and enjoy or store in a glass container for up to 72 hours.