The first time Lauren Montelbano embarked on a juice cleanse, she jumped in for a whole week.
New to the practice but optimistic, Montelbano maintained an intense running schedule even though she’d stopped eating whole foods.
“I didn’t realize that wasn’t something you could do. I was in a caloric deficit almost every day,” Montelbano said. “I felt awful. I felt like my muscles were deteriorating.”
Montelbano, a chef and nutritionist at Surya Café inside Perennial Yoga, has learned a lot since that first cleanse three years ago. She now leads cleanses for groups several times each year, offering vegetable-forward juices and counseling over email ($200 for three days).
“I try to set people up for success,” Montelbano said. “There’s a lot to know about cleansing. If you’re not using all of the tools and you’re not educated, it can be really hard on your body.”
Many dieticians are skeptical about the beneifts of a juice cleanse. But with the opening of spots like Bowl of Heaven in Hilldale Shopping Center, La Nopalera on Schroeder Road, Salads UP on State Street and Saints Juice Company on Williamson Street in just over two years, health-conscious Madisonians have more options than ever to try a post-holiday juice cleanse.
“For the new year, everyone’s thinking about their resolutions,” said Saints co-owner Joanna Um shortly before the holidays. “We’ve already got people planning to cleanse starting the second (of January), but we also get a lot of last minute cleansers. We’re hoping to be really prepared.”
As a health-conscious trend, juice cleanses have been on a bumpy rise for a few decades. Master cleanses of lemon juice, maple syrup and cayenne, popular in the 1990s, gave way to a proliferation of pasteurized sugary juices from Jamba Juice, Naked and Odawalla (the latter two were bought by PepsiCo and Coca-Cola respectively).
Technology has been improving, too. Juice companies like Evolution Fresh and BluePrint, available at the Willy Street Co-op and Whole Foods respectively, use a method called high pressure processing (HPP) to extend their shelf life. As part of the $228.72 three-day “OG” cleanse (including overnight shipping), BluePrint will send blended bottles of kale, beets, pineapple and ginger directly to your door.
In early November, Madison-based “Bachelorette” contestant Peter Kraus of Worth Personal Training teased a collaboration with Jus by Julie, an artisan juice company founded in Brooklyn.
Some call juice a fad, but it’s one with legs. Entire offices have used juicing as a team-building technique. In a December 2016 Forbes story about why “the juice cleanse trend (has) survived so long,” Juice Generation founder Eric Helms observed that people want their nutrition “faster, quicker, better.”
“Fresh juice has become especially effective with today’s fast-paced lifestyle, where dining trends are veering toward healthy to-go instead of time-consuming sit-down options,” wrote Karen Hua for Forbes. “Helms hopes juices can be a new snack alternative to junk food, or even a meal substitute in moderation.”
What’s in a cleanse?
Cleanses vary, but most preset cleanses include four to six juices and/or smoothies made from raw fruit, vegetables and add-ons like ginger, turmeric, spirulina and activated charcoal.
A typical cleanse offers between 1,200 and 1,400 calories. The emphasis is on vitamins, minerals and living enzymes over protein and fiber, of which there’s usually little to none.
“Entry level” cleanses incorporate additional fruit to make the juices more palatable and lessen the intimidation factor of intensely green juice.
“We steer people toward the apple based juices,” said Dustin Skelley, the Willy Street Co-op’s juice bar manager. “That’s more agreeable. The good thing about juicing is it’s quick and easy to access nutrients in your body.”
Montelbano recommends easing in and out of a cleanse, focusing on plant-based whole foods both before and after going all-juice-all-the-time for a few days. Smoothies, which contain fiber and can make a person feel more full, and drinks with nut milk can help with hunger.
Even though it appears that drinking is all you do during a cleanse, adding water between juices is essential. Montelbano tells each cleanser to consume an additional gallon of water a day, “to help their organs flush themselves.”
“Some people ... can actually dehydrate themselves if they’re not also drinking water,” Montelbano said, “which is another way your body can get fatigued.”
Registered dieticians don’t love the juicing trend, calling it extreme and “a fad diet.” Krista Kohls, a registered dietician at UnityPoint Health-Meriter’s Wellness Center, was skeptical.
“What are we really accomplishing here?” Kohls said. “Are we really removing toxins? Our body does that on its own. If you want to reduce toxins don’t eat a bunch of junk. Eat whole foods that aren’t full of preservatives and processed.”
Sarah Van Riet, a dietician at UW Health, sees no long-term benefits to doing a juice cleanse. Neither she nor Kohls would recommend it to patients, though they understand the appeal of a quick fix.
“People tend to like simple, direct approaches: ‘Just tell me what to do,’” Van Riet said. “The bummer is that those kinds of plans don’t last long term for people. As a nutritionist trying to counsel healthy food choices, I steer people away from regimented plans.”
Van Riet also takes exception to why many people decide to cleanse.
“The idea of a cleanse is this diet mentality,” said Van Riet. “You don’t think about your health for a long time and then you take three days and try to fix everything.”
Still, she said, for most healthy people a three-day cleanse is likely not dangerous.
“It is true we need to put healthy things into our body,” Van Riet said. “If we’re constantly eating unhealthy food and junk and drinking lots of alcohol and not taking care of ourselves, it makes it harder on the body to handle things.”
Belly up to the juice bar
Cold pressed juice may separate quickly and loses efficacy fast, so having more juice bars nearby is a boon for Madison juice enthusiasts. Companies like Saints ask that those wanting to do a cleanse order a few days in advance to allow the juices to be as fresh as possible.
“We have regular customers who come every day,” said Hugo Galvan, who runs La Nopalera with his wife, Karina Galán. “We can sell by the liter but most people come every day. We have one or two guys who buy five at a time.”
At Salads UP, a Michigan-based franchise that recently opened on State Street, managing director Kyle Dixon said juice cleanses are available for pickup on Tuesdays and Fridays with pre-order. Salads UP
“The idea of a juice cleanse is simply to stop eating the bad stuff for a certain amount of time and promote good health by only putting good stuff in,” Dixon said. “You’re giving your digestive system a break for the day.
“If you do it for a few days it’s even better. At three days, you feel the most benefit from doing a juice cleanse.”
All juices but one in the Salads UP six-juice cleanse are 190 calories or less. The Hulk UP includes avocado and coconut milk and weighs in at 330 calories. The Strawberry Dream gets protein from almond milk and is meant to feel like a dessert.
“We chose our six healthiest juices,” said Dixon. “You’re not going to find something that tastes like lemonade in our cleanse.”
While Saints says it’s been adding new converts, juice cleanses have been relatively slow to gain momentum on State Street. Salads UP started offering juice cleanses in March 2017 and sold a few dozen around spring break.
But Dixon said the salad-centric only spot sold about 12 total over the next nine months, usually to groups of two or three women doing a cleanse together.
“A lot of it has to do with marketing,” he said. “We’ve never done (Snapchat) stories or Instagram around it.”
Forage Kitchen had five juices on its menu when it opened on State Street in 2015. Making them was “extremely labor intensive,” according to co-owner Henry Aschauer, so the owners dropped all but two juices.
The Willy Street Co-op pulled back on the range of juices it offers about three years ago, setting a uniform menu for the west and east side stores. Skelley, the juice bar manager, said he wants to “grow the menu back out again” with additional options.
“We’re using all organic stuff and locally sourced whenever possible,” he said. Our prices are reasonable ... our carrot juice is a pound of carrots. It’s $3.49, so you’re paying us a dollar to juice carrots, which I feel like is reasonable.”
Chew and grind
Before PT Bjerke and Jamaal Stricklin opened SuperCharge! Foods and Community Juice with TJ DiCiaula in 2015, they decided to start with a series of personal juice fasts.
“I was doing all the regular farming at the house and then going out to do remodeling,” said Bjerke, who runs the company’s microgreens greenhouses. “Not only did I have energy to make it through those extra long days ... I found that if I had my snack juice when I got home, I couldn’t go to sleep. I was amazed.”
“It was five days of no food and just juice,” Stricklin said. “We still had energy. We still had the ability to get up in the morning and work all day.”
Stricklin, the first juice bar manager and current director of sales for SuperCharge!, turned the juices they drank for breakfast, lunch and dinner into the menu for Community Juice, the customer-fronting business at 1902 East Washington Ave.
One of SuperCharge!’s most popular juices is the Marquette, a green juice that includes kale, spinach, cucumber and green apples.
“It’s a super tasty drink,” Stricklin said. “It’s very energetic — ginger and lemon in there gives you a little jolt. It tastes better than most green juices I’ve ever had.”
SuperCharge! uses an auger style juicer, which grinds veggies and fruits together. It takes four to five minutes to make a single juice. At Surya, Montelbano uses a Breville Juice Fountain donated by a patron. A centrifugal juicer, the Breville works faster. It spins and chops the veggies, then shoots pulp out one side and juice out the other.
Juicing method is a point of controversy. Some claim the friction and heat produced by centrifugal juicers, as well as the oxygen introduced in the process, reduces enzymes and health benefits in the juice.
Auger and hydraulic presses, Bjerke said, “don’t have that heat component,” resulting in “a better tasting product (that) has a longer shelf life.”
A similar argument about nutritional quality has been raised about high pressure processing, which BluePrint and Evolution Fresh use to extend their juices’ shelf life. Most everyone agrees that the faster you drink a fresh juice, the better.
At Saints Juice Company, open since late summer on Willy Street, Joanna Um and Joyce Cullen invested in a 700-pound hydraulic press juicer, a cold method that introduces minimal oxygen into the juice. They estimate that each juice can have two to three pounds of vegetables and fruit in it. Each is at its best for a few days.
“We’ve been expanding our audience and seeing a lot of fresh faces,” said Cullen. “Education is still a very vital part of the business, of people understanding what the product is.”
An entry level, single day cleanse at Saints involves five cold pressed juices and one “nut mylk,” a smoothie made with cashews or almonds and sweetened with dates.
Um cautioned that a cleanse is “not a crash diet,” while Cullen said it’s important to know the body’s hunger signals.
“I think there’s a valuable mental reset to doing a cleanse,” said Cullen. “People get into this habit of low grade comfort snacking. It’s a good thing to remind your body, ‘This is what it feels like when I need sustenance.’
“If you’re used to eating all day long and eating too much ... then yeah, you probably are going to have some hunger pains.”
Um insisted that the idea that cleansing makes you “mean and hangry” is a myth.
“Some days we’re hungry and some days we’re not,” Um said. “Some people supplement with food, some people don’t. A cleanse can look like whatever you need it to look like. It’s not a punishment.”
Drink your detox
Most people cleanse for two reasons: to “detoxify” the body, a task generally accomplished by the liver and kidneys, or to kick start a new weight loss regimen. Cleansers may report improvement in their energy level, mood and complexion.
On her first, unnecessarily difficult cleanse, Montelbano lost 10 pounds in seven days. She knows now “it was super unhealthy.”
“Some people do do this to lose weight,” Montelbano said. “But if you jump right back to eating the way you were eating, any weight you lost will just immediately (come back). I don’t promote this as a way to lose weight.”
At Saints Juice Company, Cullen said she does a cleanse for two to three days each month, occasionally supplementing with raw nuts or vegetables. How she feels during the cleanse is mostly affected by “how I behaved before I started cleansing,” Cullen said.
“If I’ve been eating out a lot, if I’ve had too much wine, I will notice a much steeper change in how I feel when I’m cleansing,” Cullen said. “I’ll feel significantly better. If I’ve been pretty healthy leading up to the cleanse I notice it less.
“Sometimes I don’t realize I’ve been feeling bad until I start juice cleansing.”
On Saints’ website, certain juices are referred to as “a protein powerhouse,” labeled as anti-inflammatory or promoted as good for immunity. Yet the owners are wary of making too many nutritional claims.
“We have people coming in and saying, ‘I have this medical diagnosis, what’s going to help me?’” Cullen said. “That’s not an appropriate conversation to have with us. That’s a medical conversation.”
Dixon at Salads UP is similarly cautious about juice cleanse promises.
“It’s not going to reset your system and not going to keep anything permanent,” Dixon said. “Your liver, your kidneys are the best purifiers that can ever be made. As much as a juice cleanse can be good, it doesn’t really detoxify your body. That’s what your liver does ... and it does it better than any juice could ever do.”
Truth in juicing
Juicing has its drawbacks. So much produce goes into a single juice that a cleanse can quickly get expensive — at $4.99/12 ounces and $5.49/16 ounces for most juices, Willy Street Co-op is among the most economical. Salads UP charges $33 per day for six juices.
La Nopalera’s juices are a bargain at $8.65 per liter, and “if someone takes juice for a week we give a 10 percent discount,” Galvan said.
Saints Juice provides a daylong cleanse, five juices and one nut “mylk,” for $45. At SuperCharge!, juices cost $6 each and smoothies are $5.
At $66 per day ($200/three days) for five organic juices, the cleanse at Perennial is among the most expensive next to BluePrint ($228). It also involves more support than most.
“I loved that part of it,” said Jesi Hirsch, a 62-year-old patient advocate who did a Perennial cleanse with her partner last summer. “A group of us got together, it was most of the people doing the cleanse. It was fun because we got to know the other people.”
Hirsch’s partner, Kathy Mathes, did a cleanse to start a new weight loss regimen. She said she had good energy, but even more, “I felt really good mentally because I knew it was a great thing to do for myself.”
Physically, cleansers may feel nauseous or lightheaded. Some people get headaches, especially if they’re regular coffee drinkers. A major calorie deficit can lead to lethargy and brain fog.
“Some people want to kick caffeine,” Montelbano said. “I tell people, give yourself a week to wean yourself off it.”
Some people get cold sores. It’s not uncommon to be sensitive to cold, so some spend their juice cleanse shivering (herbal tea can help with this).
Juice cleansing is popular with gyms — Barre 3, a fitness center on University Avenue that combines ballet barre, pilates and yoga, recently did a new year’s promotion with Saints Juice.
But for those who exercise regularly, a juice cleanse may demand rest. At Monkey Bar Gym, owner Jon Hinds said it’s important to train “intelligently.”
“During a juice fast it’s OK to work out, but you would never go hard,” said Hinds. “You do mild workouts, body weight stuff or very simple strength stuff.”
It can be difficult to spend time with coworkers, friends and family who are eating and drinking when all you can have is bottled kale, pineapple, spinach and coconut water.
Some of Montelbano’s juicers have said they missed “community and ritual” more than being hungry. She’s talked to mothers who cooked dinner for their families, then sat down at the table with a green juice.
“This is not a moderate diet, and it's a diet that will disrupt your life,” wrote one woman who tried a BluePrint cleanse with her Serious Eats officemates. “Be sure to pick a week when you feel like being a bit of a hermit anyway.”
Then there’s the awkward part. Cleansers lose water weight, but they’re emptying their lower intestine too. Over the course of a cleanse, juicers are likely to spend a lot of time in the bathroom.
Dixon at Salads UP estimated using the restroom “no less than a dozen times.
“You definitely get rid of everything,” he said.
“You just have this really empty, but like squeaky clean feeling,” Montelbano said. “You just feel so much lighter and because your digestive system isn’t having to do all that work, you have all this energy to expend.”
Kohls, the Meriter dietician, questioned whether emptying the colon is truly beneficial.
“You want good bacteria in your colon, but fruits and veggies do that anyway,” she said. “You don’t need the juicing part of it. Stool, that’s what your microbes feed on. That’s a good thing.”
Like with any trend, there are those who say juicing is already on its way out, soon to be replaced by bone broth or a “soup cleanse,” which sounds nice during the coldest parts of the year.
“Souping is less likely to induce headaches, energy crashes and that weight gain rebound juice cleanses are known for,” one chef noted in a predictive trend piece from late 2016. “This makes it perfect for January when the cold weather hits and the idea of cold-pressed juice has officially lost its appeal.”
Even if a short-term cleanse doesn’t make for long-term change, Kohls hopes people learn something.
“The thing with juicing and diets is, did you learn anything about yourself from it?” Kohls said. “Be more aware of what your body needs. When you tune in and pay attention you’re steered in the right direction anyway. Your body wants healthy food if we tune in to how it makes us feel.”
“It’s worth the self-exploration,” agreed Montelbano. “A lot of people figure out things about themselves they didn’t know previously — maybe that they are mindlessly eating and all they want to do is put something into their mouths.
“They had to face a lot of issues they were hiding behind with food. A lot of people find it uplifting.”