Juiced up

Food The latest health trend to go mainstream extols liquified fruits and vegetables | Sophia Lee

Juiced up

Yohana Bencosme is seen chopping carrots in the Liquiteria juice bar in the East Village section of Manhattan.
Associated Press/Photo by Robert Mecea

LOS ANGELES—The drizzly rain splatters over the hooded heads of customers who line out the door of Beverly Hills Juice, a closet-sized juice bar in Beverly Hills.

About five customers manage to squeeze into the shop while one employee revs bananas and vegan “ice cream” into a Banana Manna Cacao shake. The other employee, a petite lady with huge plastic pink glasses, stuffs bunches of green strands into a gadget that churns out frothy wheatgrass juice.

The man who ordered the wheatgrass hands over a crumpled dollar and weaves his way out of the crowded space, gingerly holding his cup of bright green juice over his head. The girl who ordered the Banana Manna Cacao shake sticks a straw into the vapor-coated cup and sips deeply. She nods, smiling widely. “Right?” her friend yelps, “I told you it’s good.”

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Beverly Hills Juice, a grab-and-go family-owned juice bar, has been gathering a loyal following since it opened doors in 1975. That customer base has ballooned during the last few years as juices have turned hip and trendy.

Owner David Otto is no pioneer. Juicing became popular when Dr. Norman Walker created a device specifically for juicing in the 1930s. Otto fell into the business by experimenting with his Champion juicer at home, after he turned vegetarian 40 years ago. But when he started selling juice, the kind of raw, fresh juices he made still qualified as a niche product identified mainly with zealous housewives and hippie health nuts.

Now, juicing is the next coffee. Just in Los Angeles alone, more than 20 new juice bars have popped up during the last three years.

The celebrity-endorsed Pressed Juicery, cold-press juicing since November 2010, burgeoned into a eight-storefront mini juice empire in two years. Plans for two more San Francisco storefronts are in the works and its front-door delivery service ships all over the country. Kreation Juicery, “kreating” custom juices since 2011, has already expanded to three stores in Los Angeles. Silver Lake Juice & Tea founder Baba Ji, who claims juicing reversed his Type-2 Diabetes, recently declared plans to open 20 more juice cafes throughout Southern California within the next 12 months. Juice trucks now blend kale and parsley on the streets.

Even Starbucks has hopped on the juice bandwagon, opening its first juice bar in Bellevue, Wash., and serving bright-colored bottles alongside Frappuccinos at most West Coast stores.

In other words, juice is getting as mainstream as caramel macchiatos.

These juices aren’t to be confused with supermarket cartons of OJ. First of all, they come at about $6 to $12 a 16-ounce pop. Sign up for one of the cleanses, an all-day stringent diet of juice and nothing but juice, and you'll fork over at least $70 to $100 a day for a small box of pretty liquids. They also come with a short expiration date—three days max—because they lose their nutritional potency the longer they sit.

But loyal customers believe the health benefits outweigh the hefty price tag. Juice fanatics stick many health benefits on juices: they enhance nutrient absorption and digestion, cleanse out toxins, clear up complexion, promote mental clarity, and blast excess weight. Many swear by their anti-carcinogenic properties, listing patients with cancer-curing testimonies.

Diana Par-Due, a 26-year-old homemaker in Kansas City, Mo., is one of those converts. Sick of struggling with endometriosis and digestive issues, she started juicing with a Breville home juicer in early 2008. She went on two six-day juice fasts and a 10-day Master Cleanse (a strict diet of just lemon, maple syrup and cayenne pepper) within a seven-month period. That December, she became pregnant. She’s now the mother of two and a firm believer in the power of juices.

“People make it to be a miracle thing, which I disagree with,” she said. “But personally for me, because my system was so damaged, it helped me feel amazing.”

Some nutritionists, however, are skeptical about such assertions. Gina Casagrande, a dietitian and wellness coach based in Columbus, Ohio, said she would “never recommend juice to clients. Ever.”

Casagrande said it’s great that people are more conscious about getting in a daily serving of vegetables and fruits, but not if that’s all they’re drinking for days. What about the pulp and fiber that are squeezed out and discarded? What about protein? She poo-poos the idea of juice as a detox: “I think your skin, lungs, kidney, liver do that for us.”

The way she sees it, juice is just another business-savvy diet fad: old delivery, new face. People just want a fancy miracle pill that produces instant gratification, and the idea of drinking a pretty, clear glass of delicious, salubrious juice “all sounds so healthy and cool. And if the celebrities are doing it, we must all do it as well.”

Pressed Juicery co-founder Carly Brien tells a different story: “There’s nothing trendy about juicing. It’s the most natural thing you can do: just fruits and vegetables, all raw.”

She said juicing’s surge of popularity reflects society’s growing interest in “physical and mental well-being” while pursuing a health routine that isn’t “super expensive or unrealistic.” After decades of feeding the pockets of multi-million dollar diet industries, the people have given up fads and returned to what is “most simple and basic.”

But making your own juice at home can be time and cost intensive, Brien said. Sure, $7 for juice sounds ludicrous, but that bottle equals pounds and pounds of produce that costs more than $6.50.

Brien started Pressed Juicery with co-founders Hayden Slater and Hedi Gores when she couldn’t find a decent juice bar around her neighborhood. At the time, Pressed Juicery was one of the few juice bars in Los Angeles to use a hydraulic press. The tremendous pressure the hydraulic press exerts extracts as much substance out of the produce as it can, while preventing oxidation to prolong refrigeration life without losing nutrients. Today, most new juice bars also use the hydraulic press method.

Their business boomed mostly through social media and word-of-mouth, she said, although publicized photos of celebrities (such as Nicole Richie) toting their bottled juices helped.

“Right now California is definitely having a big moment for juices,” Brien said. “It’s something people want. There’s a need for it.”

Brien, who was battling a few days’ flu when she talked to me, said she still drinks some form of juice every day. Right now, she’s going heavy on the apple, lemon and ginger combo to combat her illness.

In Kansas City, Par-Due is counting the days when she can start juice-cleansing again. The only drawback she dreads in juice fasting is its anti-social qualities—and not just because you spend a chunk of the day on the toilet.

“Eating is such a social thing,” she said. “So juicing can be extremely isolating. Even though you feel amazing, you start craving that human connection.” Then she paused and said with a laugh, “But now it might not be so hard because you can just meet at Starbucks for juice.”

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