Detox is radical first step to reprogram my life . . .
This month, I turn 60.
I see 60 as the turning point between denial and reality. I can no longer live in denial and pretend I am middle-aged. The years I have left are finite. I want them to be good years. I want to feel good and look good. But I don’t.
My life is comfortable, my career successful. But I am so, so tired. If I followed my internal clock instead of dragging myself out of bed, I’d sleep more than nine hours a night. In the morning, I am so stiff, I feel like I’m 90. A thyroid condition has slowed my metabolism, and contemplating the amount of weight I have to lose fills me with despair. For a food writer, none of this is good news.
So this is the month I reboot my life. I have purchased a juicer, loaded up on produce and launched my extreme detox. For the full 28 days of February, I plan to nourish myself exclusively on juice made from fresh vegetables, fruit and herbs, plus tea, mineral water and additive-free coconut water. Nothing processed – not even commercial juice, as tempting a shortcut as it may be. Then I will spend March as a vegan and April as a vegetarian. Gradually and carefully, I will start cooking again. I have, however, faced the fact that I may never again be able to cook and bake with abandon – and am already mourning that loss.
It all starts today.
I’m the kitchen tool queen of Toronto. I’m well stocked with appliances, too. If you looked in my cupboards, you’d find most every kind of small appliance. But I had never added an electric juicer to my collection until recently.
I prefer the pleasure of biting into an apple or pear, and value the fibre. Whole produce is not as sweet as juice, either. There’s no convincing evidence that fresh juices are any healthier than whole foods. On the upside, as juice gurus point out, the nutrients in juice are concentrated, easy to digest and quickly absorbed into the bloodstream. Up to 70 percent of the nutrients in fruit and vegetables are found in the juice. If you’re trying to choke down 10 servings every day or you’re on a cleanse regimen (like me), juice is the kinder, gentler, more practical option. One large glass of freshly extracted juice can be the equivalent of a pound of produce.
After seeing my new juicer in action, I have fresh respect for these little powerhouses. Yesterday, I marveled at way a big, tough beet was separated into neon ruby juice and dry, granular pulp.
My juicer purchase was a painless decision. In the old days, on the job at the Toronto Star Test Kitchen, I could request and try a variety of appliances. Nowadays, I must trust research, and prefer browsing online to browsing in stores. Cook’s Illustrated is a trusted source of equipment reviews. So is Consumer Reports. Both give top rankings to electric juicers in the Breville line. I like the brand, and already own a high-end Breville blender and toaster oven. The Australian company has been making kitchen appliances since the Dirty Thirties. Its juicers got a ton of free publicity in the film Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead, which documented how Australian Joe Cross turned his life around with a juice diet.
Juicers are probably today’s trendiest small appliances, and there are a lot to choose from. Breville alone has six models. I bought the Juice Fountain Plus, with 850 watts and two speeds. This centrifugal-style juicer was the winner of a Cook’s Illustrated test in 2012, outperforming a masticating-style juicer that listed for more than twice the price. Testers described it as a fine appliance for first-time juicers, praised its large feed tube and relatively quiet operation, and noted it was easy to assemble and clean. Bingo! I found mine on sale via Amazon for $140, plus taxes. You could spend 10 times as much on an electric juicer.
There are two basic types:
- Centrifugal juicers are equipped with a basket with sharp teeth and fine mesh. They shred vegetables and fruit, and spin to separate juice from pulp. The pulp lands in a container (and splats all over the cover and into the crevices). The juice whizzes through a strainer and funnels into a jug. For home use, a good-quality centrifugal juicer will do just fine.
- Masticating juicers employ an auger that crushes and grinds produce, and presses it through a strainer. They are generally more expensive and versatile than centrifugal juicers, and may also be used to extract nut “milks” or make baby food, for example. Juicing gurus say they extract more juice, especially from leafy greens, herbs and even grasses (such as wheatgrass) that centrifugal juicers tend to struggle with. Masticators are slower, which is annoying but also less likely to overheat produce, tainting the vitamins and antioxidants. Thus, they are also called cold press juicers. The extracted juice is not as foamy and less likely to separate. A subset of this category is the twin-gear type of masticator, considered the Rolls Royce of electric juicers.
If you are in the market for an electric juicer, look for these features:
- Easy clean-up. This is major. Cleaning a juicer can be onerous, especially if you are using it several times a day. However, you’ll end up with a fine mess if you don’t clean the appliance after each batch. Sticky, dry pulp can clog the machine, reduce its efficiency and even cause it to stall. Make sure the juicer you buy has few crevices where stray pulp can lodge. Dishwasher-safe components are another plus.
- Powerful motor. Wattage can range from 200 to 1,000. Juicing is hard work. Look for the strongest, most efficient juicer in your price range.
- Cool runnings. Fruit and vegetables should not overheat during juicing. This is a selling point, so it will be noted in the machine’s advertising bumpf if significant. The box that came with mine, for example, stated that it doesn’t increase the temperature of produce by more than 1.8F (1C).
- Variable speeds. Hard produce, like beets or carrots, should be juiced at a higher speed than soft produce, like tomatoes or oranges.
- Wide chute. Less cutting means less fussing and faster gratification.
- Roomy pulp container. You don’t want to have to keep stopping to empty it.
- Froth separator. I like frothy juice. If you don’t, this feature is a bonus. The lid on my juice jug is designed to hold back froth when pouring. I just take the lid off.
- Secure base. Some cheaper models are notorious for jumping around the counter as they strain to grind and shred. Mine has a heavy base with suction cups to help it hold still.
- Easy assembly. How often are you going to use your juicer if you need a degree from M.I.T. to put it together?
I’m on my fifth day of non-stop juicing now, so I’ve rounded the learning curve at top speed. Here are some tips and tricks for getting the most out of an electric juicer. (These apply particularly to centrifugal machines.)
- Shop, shop, shop. You’ll go through a lot of produce, so buy more than you think you’ll need. If you’re on a lengthy juice detox (like me), it might be worth your while to connect with a discount/wholesale greengrocer.
- It is vital to unplug your appliance before assembly or disassembly. Otherwise, if you accidentally turn it on, the blades can shred the skin off your fingers. Also, clamp on the cover before switching the juicer on, then switch it off before unclamping.
- Use juicy, ripe, fresh vegetables and fruit. Never try to juice frozen produce.
- Juice soft vegetables and fruit on low speed. Switch to high speed for harder or very fibrous produce. Otherwise, you will strain the motor. Low speed is fine for peaches, berries, cucumber, grapes, kiwis, mangos, melons, oranges, plums, tomatoes and leafy greens. High speed is best for apples, beets, carrots, celery, fennel, pears and pineapple.
- When preparing a juice blend, the general rule is to start with softer produce, then move on to harder vegetables and fruit. However, I do reserve a soft, juicy ingredient, such as part of a grapefruit or cucumber, as the final addition. This helps flush the strainer.
- Herbs add delicious flavour accents, but are tricky to juice. You can include the stalks of moist herbs, such as parsley and basil. Use the leaves only of herbs with dry or tough stalks, including mint, rosemary and thyme. Press herbs into a bundle and layer them between firm ingredients when juicing. You can also core an apple or jalapeño and stuff in herbs before juicing.
- Keep your hands away from any blades. Don’t stick your fingers down the chute. Always use the pusher.
- If the juicer becomes sluggish or stalls, release pressure on the pusher and the produce will usually jump free. If that doesn’t work, turn off and unplug the machine, then use a fork to loosen the chunks in the chute.
- Press the pusher down slowly, gently and carefully to extract maximum juice. Slapdash or vigorous juicing can increase splatter and pulp build-up under the cover, cause juice to leak between the cover and pulp bin, or even stall the motor.
- If switching speeds or adding ingredients, first allow the basket to stop spinning.
- Do not overfill the pulp bin. Save the pulp for compost or, as some people do, add it to soups and stews for extra fibre. For easier cleanup, you can line the pulp bin with a compost bag or a plastic produce bag.
- Before pouring a juice mixture, always stir or shake, as the ingredients separate into layers.
- Be patient. Juicing is a process. Taking the time to prep your produce and clean up properly will pay off in the end.
Minimal prep work is one of the joys of juicing. Many vegetables and fruit can simply be scrubbed. There’s no need to peel ginger, carrots, parsnips, apples or tomatoes, for example. Other produce is normally just peeled or pitted. However, a bit more advance trimming, peeling, seeding and cutting into chunks has its advantages. For one thing, the less hard your juicer has to work, the more juice you end up with. For another, there’s less pulp, which reduces clogging and makes the cleanup less onerous.
- Remove pits, large seeds, thick rinds, leathery skin, hard stems and tough ends. You should peel the waxy rind of garden cucumbers, but the thin skin of English cukes can simply be scrubbed. Beets can be scrubbed; however, I sometimes peel them because they are very dirty and the peel makes juice taste earthier. Peel off the leathery skin of sweet potatoes. Remove seeds from peppers. Discard the stems of apples and pears, and shake off any loose seeds after cutting. Buy seedless grapes and discard the stalks. Peel melons, pineapples, mangos and kiwis. Refrigerate citrus fruit before juicing, then discard the rinds (which contain bitter oils), tease the fruit in half and pull off excess pith (but not obsessively).
- Leaves are usually trimmed, but I am loath to discard nutritious edible greens. For instance, I’ll trim off carrot or strawberry leaves, but beet, radish and turnip greens are fine additions to juice.
- Halve or quarter produce, or cut it into chunks that will fit through the chute.
Keep It Clean
Clean as you go. Fastidious cleanup is vital. Dried or sticky pulp is not only disgusting and messy — it can reduce juice extraction. Immediate washing also prevents discoloration from beets or other vivid produce.
- Rinsing off pulp, then washing with hot soapy water usually does the trick. Do not use bleach or harsh/abrasive cleaners on any part of your juicer.
- Since I am using my juicer nonstop nowadays, I rinse the plastic parts right away and run a soapy sponge over them, but the basket I leave to soak. If you give your juicer more downtime, note that most of these appliances have dishwasher-safe parts (top shelf only). Consult your manual.
- With a centrifugal juicer, cleaning the stainless steel cutting and filter basket is job one. Debris clogging the fine pores of the basket’s strainer can cut the efficiency of your juicer. Rinse the basket, soak it for 10 minutes in a bowl of very hot soapy water, then scrub it. (I use the brush that came with my machine.) First, brush the exterior, rinse, then brush the interior and rinse again. Hold the basket up to the light to check that the pores in the mesh are not clogged. Do not touch the blades in the basket or you will nick a finger.
- Before washing, a clogged filter or discolored component can be soaked in a mixture of nine parts hot water to one part lemon juice or vinegar.
Is Veuve Clicquot considered juice? It’s my birthday today, and I say yes. I’m drinking champagne to celebrate. I can’t have cake. But then I don’t really crave cake.
This all-juice-all-the-time diet makes me feel like a kid with her face pressed against the window of a candy shop. But it’s not sugar I crave, either. I’m surprised by the food I don’t crave: cake, chocolate, salt and vinegar chips. And why don’t I miss my morning coffee?
Some things I do covet: hot pepperoni pizza, blue cheese and runny brie, bloody beef, spicy mortadella and genoa salami, crusty baguette and buttered challah, french fries, fat sandwiches, curry, lasagna, hummus with olives and soft, warm pita. The neighbour’s Chinese cooking smells make me salivate. A supermarket blitz takes willpower: I attack the produce section, then race past all the temptations, toward the cashier. Last time, however, the live lobsters entangled in their tank stopped me dead. I stared one down as I imagined biting into it whole. The non-stop food ads on the TV make me feel sorry for myself – even when I do not yearn for yogurt pitched by dancing cows, or cardboard subs with picture-perfect fillings, or heaping plates of fat and salt disguised as chain restaurant meals.
This juice regimen is physically easier but mentally harder than I thought it would be. I am radically reprogramming my body. I feel empty, puzzled, forlorn – like I did back in September of 1997 after going cold turkey to quit a two-pack-a-day habit. However, eating is not a habit that can be eliminated. We all gotta eat. And I gotta cook! I dreadfully miss cooking. My stomach feels hollow, but I am not ravenous. My vague hunger reminds me of a tinny radio playing in the distance. Every once in a random while, like Days 3 and 9, someone turns up the volume. Mild persistent headaches bothered me the first week, but have abated. I feel cold all the time, and admit I am far gone when a Slanket seems like a fine invention. In the evenings, you’ll find me watching television swathed in a blanket, like a little old lady.
But there’s good news, too. When I woke up on Day 2, my face was glowing. On Day 3, I could see my ankle bones – the foot swelling that has plagued me for years has disappeared. On Day 5, I found the energy and motivation to start exercising again. By Day 7, I had lost eight pounds. I am perky and chatty.
When people talk about cooking and eating, the focus is usually on flavour and nourishment. We don’t talk much about the relationship between food and mood. Scientists have studied this extensively. As it turns out, diets rich in fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and extra virgin olive oil are happy diets. People with happy diets are generally more content, alert and energetic. Anxiety, depression and lethargy are the lot of those who overindulge in calories, saturated fat and sodium – especially desserts, pop, fast food and processed foods.
Nourishing whole foods feed the body as well as the soul. They give new meaning to the term “soul food.” When I emerge from this hard month of deprivation, cleansing, detoxing, reprogramming and renewal, I’m putting more soul food on my menu.
The number one rule of juicing: If you’ve got it, juice it. Most anything can keep the electric juicer humming, so there’s no reason to let fruit and vegetables languish.
I know a bit about experimentation. I’ve been on my juice fast (interminably it seems) for 24 days now. It’s been a pleasant surprise to discover what can be tossed in the juicer. Some ingredients not to overlook: Celery and fennel impart lovely anise flavours (no wonder there’s such a thing as celery pop). Starchy sweet potatoes and squash (butternut is easiest to peel) make juice velvety. Parsnips and beets add earthy accents. Some recipes even call for green beans, cauliflower or asparagus (which I confess I have yet to try). Although tempting, creamy avocados and bananas are exceptions to the rule – they are more suitable for smoothies than for fresh-pressed juices.
More important that what to juice is what combinations of fruit and vegetables to juice. The goal is to strike a balance: The juice should taste good and be good for you.
Fresh-pressed pink grapefruit juice is a revelation – delightfully superior to the stuff sold in cartons and bottles. So is fresh juice from berries, melons, grapes, pears, plums and tropical fruit. These juices make perfect brunch beverages, patio coolers and cocktail bases. But they are treats, best enjoyed in small doses. To maximize the nutritional kick of your juice, think green. Leafy greens and vegetables add plant proteins to juices, satisfy hunger and prevent fructose overload. Fructose is fruit sugar, and excessive sugar of any kind can make you feel shaky. Green juices are essential on a juice fast or detox regimen.
Although straying is tempting and inevitable, I’ve been trying to stick to this juicing formula: no less than two-thirds veggies and no more than one-third fruit. Here’s a guide to mixing and matching produce, and creating delicous juice recipes.
- The vegetable kingdom offers a cornucopia of choices. Leafy greens, roots and juicy veggies are complementary categories, although there’s no need to combine all three types in one drink. Leafy greens are ultra-healthy, but yield a relatively small amount of juice. Some people may find them unpalatable in larger quantities. Ironically, antioxidants and other nutrients that make greens so healthful also impart assertive, grassy or bitter flavours. Watercress can be astringent, kale grainy and chard briny. Spinach and cabbage are relatively mild; the latter is juicy but can become pungent with age. For best results, balance leafy greens with creamy, starchy roots such as sweet potatoes and/or sweet ingredients such as beets or carrots. Also, to volumize your juice, consider adding very moist veggies, including tomatoes, cucumber, romaine lettuce or celery.
- Drinking fresh juice shouldn’t be a chore. Fruit sweetens and mellows. You can use any kind you like. Apples and oranges are good all-purpose additions to juice. Berries are a treat – they are expensive and can get lost in the mix if added in small quantities.
- Finish your juice with flavour accents. Ginger root adds a spicy kick that will warm you to the core. Don’t forget about herbs: Mint is a good all-purpose herb, compatible with almost all fruits, while basil is especially good with peaches. Lemon or lime can be added for tang; in addition, the citric acid reduces oxidation and thus discoloration of, for example, apple juice. Finally, spices may be stirred into your juice. A pinch of sea salt and perhaps freshly ground pepper can redeem a savoury juice that tastes flat, especially one that includes fresh tomatoes. Cinnamon may be sprinkled on sweeter, creamier drinks.
Ideally, for juicing and eating, you should choose nutrient-dense foods. Nutrient density is a measure of the amount of nutrients per given volume. Getting the most nutrients for the least amount of calories is the bottom line for health-conscious weight watchers. Nutrients include vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory compounds, fibre and essential fatty acids. Nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables are prominent among the so-called superfoods. Topping the list are leafy greens, with kale often cited as the most nutrient-dense food. (In a chart compiled by American nutrition guru Dr. Joel Fuhrman, kale is 1,000 times better than cola, for example.) Other highly ranked foods are watercress, collards, mustard greens, microgreens and sprouts, followed closely by chard, bok choy and spinach. Also nutrient-dense: carrots, cruciferous veggies (including Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage), berries, tomatoes and citrus fruits. All of these are fodder for the juicer.
Finally, remember that juicing is an adventure. Produce varies in size and juiciness, so even when following a recipe, your juice will taste different each time. The leftover pulp is mainly fibre and cellulose, but also nutritious. I find it dry, but if you are a waste-not sort, the pulp can be used in casseroles, soups, and even cakes and muffins.
Is resistance futile? Is my body programmed to get fat and stay fat? Can I fight my genetic destiny?
I’ve been on a psychologically grueling juice fast. Tonight, I cross the finish line, 19 pounds lighter. But I feel the weight of the odds stacked against me as I return to solid food.
It is possible to lose a massive amount of weight. This has been proven again and again – often by the same person taking it off and putting it on again. Indeed, the trick is to keep it off. According to the latest research, the minority who do so can’t eat like the average-sized person, even after they become average-sized. They don’t have an open, friendly relationship with food. They watch every morsel they put in their mouths, and exercise frequently and vigorously.
The Fat Trap
I’ve been brooding about all this since Dec. 28, 2011, when I read a New York Times article headlined The Fat Trap. In it, writer Tara Parker-Pope reports nothing but bad news from researchers.
- Taking it off: A full year after a significant weight loss, men and women remain in a “biologically altered state.” Their hormones work against them, leaving them hungrier while slowing down their metabolisms.
- Putting it on: When a group of subjects are put on exactly the same “binge” diet, some gain way more weight than others.
The U.S. National Weight Control Registry tracks 10,000 people who have lost 30-plus pounds and kept it off for more than a year. In the Times article, these 10,000 are described as “hypervigilant” weight watchers who “never let up” because they are at a “huge calorie disadvantage.” Scientists discovered that to keep the weight off, these people had to consume fewer calories and exercise more than a non-dieter who was naturally the same weight.
The Diet Trap
I hate hearing the dismissive advice: “Calories in, calories out.” Yes, eating less and exercising more will cut the pounds. But when your maintenance calorie allotment is skimpy, it’s tempting to give up. The end result is weight gain – and then some.
In a TED Talk posted in January, neuroscientist Sandra Aamodt slams yo-yo dieting. Her message: Don’t diet. It doesn’t work.
Aamodt says the brain works autonomically (like a thermostat you can’t adjust) to keep your weight stable. This so-called “set point” has a range of 10 to 15 pounds up or down. If you lose more, your brain responds as if you were starving. You become hungrier and burn less energy. Set points can go up, she says, but they rarely go down. If you stay at a higher weight for a few years, your brain decides that’s “the new normal.”
You may never end up much thinner, Aamodt says, but you can become healthier. Research shows that these four healthy habits will increase your lifespan no matter what you weigh:
- Eating the recommended servings of fruit and vegetables.
- Exercising three times a week.
- Drinking in moderation.
- Not smoking.
The Pleasure Trap
Many modern killers are diseases of excess: diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke. Once upon a time, these were the ailments of the rich. Now, we can all partake, thanks to overindulgence in processed, fast, calorically dense, additive-laden, ultra-fatty, extra-salty and/or super-sweet foods. For the sake of brevity, I’ll refer to it all as junk food.
In a taped lecture, psychologist Douglas Lisle, co-author of a book called The Pleasure Trap, compares junk food cravings to addiction: Junk food tricks the brain into flushing the body with dopamine, the bliss chemical. If you eat enough junk, it throws your neural circuits out of whack, and you don’t get the same pleasure from healthy, unprocessed, whole, natural, plant-based foods. Eventually, as with any addictive drug, you need more junk to get the same high.
To break the cycle and reprogram the body, Lisle prescribes “sensory deprivation” in the form of a day-long water fast, followed by a juice fast. Some diehards, however, undergo a full water fast. I was amazed to discover the existence of medically supervised water-fast clinics after reading a GQ article written by a guy who checked into one. He endured symptoms such as dizziness, headaches, insomnia and sadness for six days. Some hard-core water fasters last an entire month.
Lisle guesstimates that it takes six weeks to kick the dopamine habit and fully detox. Tomorrow, I cautiously ease back into the real world – and solid food – with a month-long stint as a vegan. Despite the odds, I’m not giving up. After doggedly fasting for 28 days, I feel like I can do anything.