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April 3, 2014 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Malaika Kamau grabs a handful of spinach, kale and cilantro and sets them on the white countertop behind the bar at Main Squeeze. She takes the leafy greens and pushes them into the tube of a black juicer where juice is separated from pulp. It’s like a high-tech mortar and pestle. The process takes a couple of minutes. She uses another juicer to pulverize apples, celery and half a cucumber. Kamau mixes everything together and pours the deep-green liquid into a glass. The result is Regenerate Your Life, the restaurant’s most popular pressed drink.
The name is symbolic of the pressed juices trend because fans hope the drinks’ nutrition will improve their lives. More and more people are making juice part of their regular diet, says Tracee Box, the national nutrition manager at Lucky’s Market. But despite their popularity, not everything about these drinks deserves a toast.
An established juice veteran, Leigh Lockhart has been in the business since she opened Main Squeeze as a juice bar downtown in 1997. Lucky’s Market and Blenders have also started offering freshly pressed juice in town within the past year, which has helped put Columbia on the map for the trend.
“It’s a quick fix,” Box says, for people who are rushed but still want to get nutrients.
After the positively received 2010 documentary Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead, which is about a man’s 60-day juice cleanse to get healthy, Lockhart was happy to see a different demographic coming to her restaurant in search of these drinks, she says. Many more lower-income individuals were willing to pay for them even though they normally cannot afford to eat out, she says. A 16-ounce mixed juice is $6.25 at Main Squeeze and $3.99 at Lucky’s. At-home, cold-press juicers can cost up to $600.
As opposed to more conventional juicing methods such as high-pressure processing, cold-pressing retains more nutrients because the produce is not exposed to heat.
“You’re able to really maintain the integrity of the juice by it being pressed, so vitamins, minerals and enzymes are maintained during the process,”
Cold-pressing also allows non-traditional produce to be juiced, such as leafy greens. Right now customers are especially interested in green flavors because of its health benefits, Lockhart says. More than half of Main Squeeze’s juices are vegetable-based, and four of the five pressed juices sold at Lucky’s are a carrot juice mix. Main Squeeze also sells three green juice shots.
For some, pressed juices are a way to get their daily recommended servings of fruits and vegetables. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults in Missouri reported eating only one and a half servings of vegetables per day in 2013, well below the recommended four to five servings. Healthy eating habits should start early, dietitian Jennifer Polniak says, but pressed juices can help some get nutrients conveniently.
But juices lack the fiber from the actual produce that helps people feel full.
“It’s much better to eat raw fruits and vegetables,” Lockhart says. “I always tell people to try to eat them first.”
Juices can also have a high sugar content because of the natural sugars in the produce, Box says. Too much sugar can be dangerous for people with diabetes and can cause insulin resistance and other metabolic syndromes for some people. She recommends that people drink a combination of fruit and vegetable pressed drinks to avoid this problem.
“There is no one plan that is going to work for everybody,” Polniak says. “We all have to find out how to get what we need in a way that’s going to work for us over our whole lifetime.”
This scale lets you choose your juice based on nutrition or taste. We talked to Lucky’s Market nutritionist Tracee Box and Main Squeeze owner Leigh Lockhart to rate the taste of popular juice flavors.