Like the raw food craze, juicing may have started as a West Coast trend, but it’s gained plenty of traction in Chicago, with companies like Peeled, JuiceRx and BluePrint promising to clean out your internal organs with their colorful concoctions. This spring, Chef Jared Van Camp and Element Collective (the team behind Nellcote, Old Town Social, Leghorn and Kinmont) join the fray, opening cold-pressed juice bar Owen + Alchemy in Logan Square (2355 North Milwaukee).
The newest player on the local cleansing scene is Cleanse Culture, founded by Nicole Kasal, formerly of JuiceRx. Cleanses can be as short as one or two days to as long as a week or more for the deepest cleanse. Standard cleanses are three days and that’s what I tried.
Eating is such a pleasurable part of my life, so I was skeptical and a little nervous to try cleansing. Skipping delectable wine dinners and dessert tastings was painful. But I was very curious as to how I would feel and how my body would respond. Would cleansing feel like deprivation or would I feel energized with radiant skin like models in advertisements would lead me to believe?
Cleanse Culture offers a multitude of cleanses, from a seasonal juice theme to a chakra juice cleanse that correlates with the body’s seven primary energy centers. Superfood-smoothie and raw-food cleanses contain more protein and fiber and are described as gentler cleanses recommended for beginners. The website is easy to navigate and describes each option and individual juice, including a nutritional profile and ingredients. You can even cherry-pick juices and put together your own custom cleanse. Compared to other juice cleansing websites, I liked how approachable Cleanse Culture is, with a detailed FAQ to address concerns and ease newbies into cleansing.
I opted for the most intense option, a green juice cleanse. These have the least sugar, least calories and the least variety. All the juices, save for the nut milk and spicy lemonade, are various shades of green. By the end of the three days, I wasn’t looking forward to drinking the juices at all. Scrolling through food photos from chefs and restaurants I follow on Twitter and Instagram probably didn’t help, but I did feel virtuous that I stuck (almost) entirely to the cleanse. I cheated a little and had an apple and a few blackberries on the second day when I found myself quite hungry by early evening. I was rationing my last nut milk, fearing that I’d be hungry by the time I went to bed and have trouble falling asleep if I drank it too soon.
The nut milks at the end of the day are like desserts. Compared to the green juices, these are decadent milkshakes to look forward to. Plus, they have the most protein and are most satiating. I loved the grittiness of the raw cashew milk, which reminded me of horchata.
These various juices are loaded with vitamins and nutrients, but is it possible to have too much of a good thing? I’m not sure it’s necessary or beneficial to consume 770 percent of my recommended daily values for vitamin A in my “liquid lunch” juice. It’s actually possible to overdose on fat-soluble vitamins, an excess of which can be toxic in the body. I wasn’t afraid of hypervitaminosis but if I were on a juice cleanse for a week or longer, this might be a concern.
Missing Masticating and Sodium
When I studied abroad in Germany, my favorite food was bread, specifically volkornbrot, a dark rye bread studded with pumpkin, sunflower and flax seeds along with ryeberries. I loved buying a loaf and letting it get just a little stale, then toasting it, slathering on Nutella or almond butter and gnawing on the slightly crunchy, unapologetically dense hunk. It was a jaw workout, but one I relished. The two things I missed most by the end of three days of juicing were chewing and salt.
I thoroughly enjoy kale, bok choy and other veggies but I love chewing them. Give me a hearty salad, roasted root veggies or charred brussels sprouts and I’m in heaven. But merely sipping a grassy concoction like The Hulk feels like I’m missing out on all the texture and flavor. It might be an efficient way to get nutrients into your system but it’s by no means a sensory pleasure.
I will readily admit to having a major sweet tooth, so I was surprised by how much I missed savory foods. All of the juices, save for The Hulk, which contains only vegetables and no fruit, were quite sweet. Most of this sugar seems to be from fruit, although a couple of juices, like the spicy lemonade that began each morning and the nut milks to end the day, include Vermont maple syrup as well.
For somebody trying to turn his or her diet and lifestyle around, cleansing could be a great boot camp. Cleanse Culture’s website recommends cleansing each season or as often as once a month. I’m not sure I can handle that; I generally try to eat a healthful diet and believe in enjoying everything in moderation. I like the idea of enjoying juices in addition to real food though. A liquid lunch can be just the thing for nights when I know I’m going to have a multi-course dinner.