This post is in honor of my friend David, who I met on a Sierra Club hike in San Francisco when he was 72 and I was 27. We became fast friends.
David was the first raw vegan in the United States. Just kidding, but he’d been vegan with a mostly raw diet for 40 years when he passed, so he was definitely a pioneer. Even in San Francisco, where there were a few avocado-based vegan restaurants in the 90s he was very much an outlier because he wouldn’t eat out at all. He packed snacks wherever he went, and he went all over the city, by bus.
What did he have for breakfast every morning, you ask?
David was not a refined-carb-eating vegan, so no cereal. Also not pasta. And obviously no yogurt or eggs or bacon. I soon learned that he juiced every morning. He’d already been doing it for a decade when we met and he continued to do so until he died 20 years later.
Well, so many reasons. These are my top ten:
- Vitamin infusion. Fruits and vegetables contain soluble and insoluble fiber. Juicing removes the insoluble fiber which allows the soluble fiber—containing the health-promoting phytonutrients and enzymes— to be easily absorbed through the intestinal wall. This juice is bursting with micronutrients.
- Lose weight. You get tons of nutrition while feeling full. Also, juicing appears to reduce a certain kind of bacteria (Firmicutes) in your gut which is associated with weight gain.
- Easy to consume lots veggies. Juicing almost guarantees you’ll consume an optimal number of vegetables—it’s hard for most people to get the recommended 5-7 servings.
- Raw veggies are vital to health. Cooking/baking/sautéeing/steaming–anything that heats the vegetables destroys some of their valuable nutrition.
- Convenience. Unlike with smoothies, there’s no need to peel (if organic), slice, or cut most things (no pits or tough rind). Simply wash and toss in.
- Energy kick. Juicing gives you a quick energy boost. This is most effective on an empty stomach.
- Fight Alzheimers. Studies show that juicing 3x/week is correlated with lower incidence of this crippling, terminal disease.
- Repair gut and bowel. Juicing has a positive impact on your microbiome, increasing the good bacteria and microflora in your gastrointestinal tract and supporting a healthy immune system.
- Can prevent and cure cancer. Did I really say that? Yes, there’s decades of research….
- Makes you feel good! Juicing seems to give people a positive, overall sense of well-being.
What did David juice?
Carrots and celery. That’s it. Actually, after about 10 years he added in some bok choy.
Was David skinny and gaunt?
No, he was skinny and robust, full of energy, sharp as a tack, sang and danced, and didn’t stop hiking the 3,000 food ascent to Mount Tam till he was over 80. He hiked with 20-year olds and they had trouble keeping up with him (myself included).
He called me once bursting with excitement and laughing (which was unusual because he was a very serious, sensitive person, also a Holocaust survivor who had been arrested on Kristallnacht).
- -Nina, guess what?
- -What, David?
- -I went for a colonoscopy and afterwards I got the best compliment ever!
- -Yes, the doctor said I had the colon of a 17-year old!!!!! (no amount of exclamation points could capture his elation).
David was over the moon—it was like being told that he’d won the lottery. And he sort of did win the life-lottery. So we joked about that for years to come.
Later, when I researched some of the pitfalls of being vegan, I pressed him for more details. “Do you really survive on just carrot and celery juice, salads, and a little oatmeal? The answer was unexpected but explained everything:
“Actually, I eat sardines once in a while”. So that was his secret. An important secret, because you can’t get everything you need from a vegan diet! Turned out he might sneak a thing or two at the weekly reception at his synagogue, as well.
But mostly plants…really. That’s how he survived, and for a long, long time.
So back to me. I purchased a professional grade juicer at a huge discount on Cyber Monday. My husband said he wanted to do a cleanse, and that’s hard to afford if you’re drinking 5 glasses of juice per day at your local juicery for $10/each. Much better to buy a grocery cart full of fresh veggies (and some fruit), bring it all home, and feed it into the machine…
What are the ideal vegetables to juice?
It’s important to “eat a rainbow”, so you should include carrots, beets, and ginger, but make sure that the lion’s share is green: celery, kale, swiss chard, spinach, brussels sprouts, broccoli.
Green juice is an acquired taste for most, but as soon as you reduce sugar in your diet, you will find it more palatable. Don’t give up on yourself! Keep tweaking the juice to find a combination that you like. If you’re just starting out, use mild veggies, like celery and cucumbers. If you’re willing to be more adventurous, try red leaf and romaine lettuce, spinach, and escarole, parsley and cilantro. Once you’re in the swing, you can experiment with kale, collard, dandelion, and even mustard greens, which are quite bitter. Start with just a few leaves and combine them with some sweetness, like pineapple or apple. Limes also help mask bitter flavors
Can juicing really save my life?
The nutrients in foods such as blueberries, cabbage, broccoli, celery, and carrots, prevent the growth and spread of cancer cells. Fresh raw juice contains concentrated doses of these anti-cancer nutrients, so it is more effective than eating the fruits whole. You’ll be able to consume large quantities of veggies with cancer-killing nutrients in a shorter amount of time and with a lot less effort.
Here are some of the powerful cancer cell killing nutrients in raw vegetables:
- Carrots are the centerpiece! (alpha carotene, falcarinol, beta carotene,
- Broccoli and cauliflower (sulforaphane/isothiocyanates)
- Cabbage and watercress (isothiocyanates)
- Kale, spinach, collard greens, romaine (glucosinolates, here too)
- Asparagus, Garlic (saponins, sulfur, arginine)
- Beetroot (proanthocyanidins)
- Turmeric (curcumin).
- Blueberries (ellagic acid, anthocyanins, proanthocyanidins)
- Raw pineapple (bromelain)
- Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries (ellagic acid)
- Purple grapes (resveratrol, here too, proanthocyanidins)
- Tomatoes (lycopene)
I’ve provided links to a small sampling of cancer studies. In summary, the phytonutrients in fruits and vegetables have an impact on cancer because they:
- Protect cells from DNA damage and enhance DNA repair
- Inactivate cancer-causing substances
- Possess antiviral, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties
- Induce apoptosis of cell (cell death)
- Reduce cell proliferation (metastasis)
How long can I store this Elixir of Life?
Ideally you want to drink it right away. But if you need to save some for later, pour into a glass jar with an airtight lid. You can even buy a Food Saver vacuum pump to suck out the oxygen from a mason jar to prevent oxygen from damaging the juice.
Can I just buy juice from the store?
NO! I will roll over in my grave and I’m not even dead yet. Almost all bottled juice is heat pasteurized to kill pathogens and extend shelf life, but this process also kills vital nutrients and compounds. Even fresh juice at your grocer has lost some of its nutrient and vitamin content—it happens as soon as juice is exposed to air. Meanwhile, bottled juices retain all of their sugar, and most have far more than you want. If you’re on a cleanse but don’t have access to your juicer, look for a juice that is cold pressed, or “high-pressure-processed” (hpp). This is a relatively new technique that keeps the nutrients and enzymes mostly in tact. Here’s one company that makes a nice range of juices, but they’re not cheap.
What about cleanses. Are they a good idea?
Research shows that it is good to give your kidneys a break from protein every now and then. Fresh veggie juice is easy on the entire digestive apparatus, so you’re giving your body a rest. Here’s some more info on cleanses. If you’re pregnant or nursing or under 17 or are on medication, check first with your healthcare practitioner.
Are juice cleanses okay for kids?
Not a great idea. Kids need a lot of fat and protein. So unless you are supplementing the drink with a serving of whole milk yogurt or a handful of nuts, it’s not balanced. Still, it’s a great breakfast.
Can I just juice with no cleanse?
Fresh raw juice is great to add to any diet as long as it’s mostly veggie with a splash of fruit (think 80/20). If you are juicing apples, carrots, and oranges, you are getting too much sugar and this can disrupt your blood sugar levels and lead to sugar crashes, frequent hunger, and irritability. Fruit sugar is still sugar. If you prefer fruit and don’t want to venture into vegetables, juicing is probably not right for you. Better to stick with good, wholesome, whole fruit—its fiber prevents the sugar from getting absorbed too quickly into your body.
What’s the best juicer?
There are two basic kinds: fast-spinning centrifugal juicers and slow-moving masticating juicers. Each has its benefits. The centrifugal ones are quick and efficient and easy to use and clean. Masticating juicers can easily grind down the toughest vegetables and they process produce slowly without “heating” so that more nutrients are preserved. Check out this handy reference to learn more about the styles of juicers and some top picks. I, myself, purchased a Breville and am very happy with it.
The downside of long cleanses (3-5 days is enough for most people)
- If you aren’t getting enough calories, you could feel weak and get headaches.
- You tend to lose water weight first, and this is also first to come back once you return to your normal diet.
- If you’re taking in more sugar than you’re used to, your body will produce insulin which will make your blood sugar drop. Too much fructose overloads the liver and could damage it.
- Lack of protein results in decreased muscle mass and reduced energy. Also, decreased brain function.
- Good fats are essential for the proper functioning of your body, and your brain isn’t getting enough. Omega-3s influence serotonin levels, so you may feel depressed. Many vitamins—like A, D, and E—require fat to be absorbed.
Try 3-5 days. If you’re embarking on a longer cleanse, consult a juicing expert. If you have cancer, do some more research and find a practitioner who is familiar with juicing before committing to a juice regimen.
And back to the upside (cleanse or no cleanse):
One glass of juice provides a staggering amount of minerals and vitamins. Many more vegetables fit into a glass than onto your dinner plate. And gulping is faster and easier than chewing.
Back to my friend David…
David died at age 93 from an infection. He was compassionate and honorable and a devoted friend. But his wisdom—which touched so many—will live on forever.
Here is David performing O’ Sole Mio at age 89.