This year, when I returned to student life after a six year hiatus, I was shocked to learn that dietary habits of 18-to-22-year-olds have changed very little since my undergrad days (way back at the start of the 21st century). Perhaps my surprise was naive; kids will be kids, right? But given that our food “zeitgeist,” if you will, has evolved dramatically in the last decade–with farmers’ markets, CSA’s, and organic markets taking hold of the national consciousness–I imagined more students would be excited about plant-centric eating. While many students do use words like “local” or “organic” in conversation, few of them eat enough of the vegetables and greens that are so vital to good health, disease prevention, and nutritional adequacy. In a 1998 survey at a state university, 10% of students were determined to have critical vitamin C deficiencies. In spite of the fact that our culture is getting “greener,” the dismaying truth is that many of our diets have not yet caught up.
This isn’t only a problem for students: it’s a problem for anyone who is short on time, money, or both. It is a major challenge for all people with demanding careers, families, and serious obligations. Even I, self-proclaimed vegetable addict, understand why it’s so hard for so many people to eat fresh produce. You come home. You can either a) rifle through loose vegetables in the fridge, peel them, chop them, and then figure out what the heck to do with them, and how to incorporate them into a legitimate meal, or b) yank something out of a box, a bag, the pantry, or the freezer. What would you do?
Well I hope you’d eat the vegetables. But I also realize that I’m asking you to put a lot more thought, time, and creativity into your meal than you would if you were to nuke a burrito. And what happens when a fridge full of produce gets passed over for the pantry or the freezer? The produce goes bad, and you start to question whether all those veggies are a waste of money.
They’re not. I promise. But if you’re seriously short on time, you may need to find ways to harness a lot of veggie power without a lot of cooking. Because sometimes, life gets in the way. This is where juicing–that is, using a home juicer to make all sorts of vegetable and fruit concoctions–can be such a tremendous lifesaver.
I’m probably not the first person to tell you all about juicing. Juicing is tremendously popular these days, thanks in part to pre-packaged “cleanses” like the Blueprint Cleanse. But the truth is that you don’t have to stop eating to get juicing–in fact, most people find that juicing becomes more meaningful when it’s a daily or regular habit, rather than a bi-annual form of meal replacement.
So what are the real benefits of juicing? Well, to begin, juice offers us a flood of vitamins and minerals: juicing extracts these key nutrients from vegetables while discarding the fiber, so that you can absorb and assimilate them without any strain on your digestive system. Juicing also enables volume of micronutrients; most people could never consume in a day the amount of vegetables that can be easily put into a cup or two of juice. Lastly, juicing is a great way to consume vegetables and fruits if one happens to be outlandishly busy. A cup of nutrient-rich vegetable juice can be sipped quickly and on the go, or throughout the day. It allows you to take in a ton of nutrition without having to slow down. Think of it as functional food: it’s no stand in for the tastes, pleasures, and benefits of solid food (which offers you far more protein and starch than juicing ever will), but it is a great way to get nutrition with minimal fuss.
There’s another important benefit here: fresh juices can often render vegetables more appealing to those of us who are, well, a little squeamish about them. Carrot, apple, and romaine juice can be served to kids who won’t touch greens, while a heavy green juice (think kale, cucumber, celery, spinach) can persuade even squeamish eaters to get their green veggies on, provided there’s a little lemon, ginger, and apple in the mix. It’s as if juicers were invented to fill in the gaps that many of us have (understandably) allowed to form in our diets.
And the best news is that juices are as delicious as they are efficient. Here, for your sipping pleasure, are my top 5 favorite juice recipes.
The Green Lemonade
1 green apple
1 inch knob ginger
5 large stalks celery
1 large handful parsley
5 stalks kale
The Pink Lady (inspired by Cafe Blossom in NYC)
1-2 inches ginger
1 ½ cups pineapple, in chunks
Carrot Cayenne Elixir
5 large carrots
2 navel oranges
Dash cayenne pepper
Sweet & Sour
1 large cucumber
1-2 cups grapefruit
Salad Through a Straw
3 large carrots
4 large stalks celery
1 large handful of spinach, parsley, or other dark green
2 broccoli florets
1 small cucumber
1 inch knob ginger
All juices serve 1-2 people. And instructions for all are the same: simply run ingredients through your juicer, and get going!
Juicers, by the way, might sound like a huge investment, but trust me when I say that you’ll earn it back in juice very quickly! Surf eBay for a Breville Juice Fountain. It’ll be in a reasonable price range, and you’ll never regret it!