The ethical undertones of the New Year implore us to take the temperature of our overall health and issue a progress report. But as the weeks tick on, we grow accustomed to scrawling 2017 in the corner of our proverbial notebooks. Timeworn routines sneak their way back into our lives (they were only hiding in our dirty laundry) and expectations for reinvention are quickly replaced by the resolve to eat more veggies, try CrossFit and go easy on the white wine (insert your own anti-vice goals here). If only a physically fit and booze-free lifestyle were so easy. Each day we wake with this powerful, biologically implanted impetus to stay as warm, safe and well fed as possible. In a postmodern world where our basic needs are excessively met, negotiating this narrative can feel like taking your enemy as a bedfellow. Is there a solution to this very central, very American issue of battling overindulgence?
Must I juice? I sit squarely in the all things in moderation camp. I've never given up my nightly glass(es) of wine, I smoke the occasional cigarette and I've never, ever completed a juice cleanse. Most days I'm comfortable with my dispositions, balancing my mental health needs (as I said, wine) with a consistent yoga practice and diet largely comprised of organic, gluten- and dairy-free foods. Those are simply my personal give and takes — where you aim your bow on the spectrum of health is a very personal choice, pinned to culture and upbringing. Yet some days I'm easily shamed by nimble yogis who show up to class with glowing skin and gossiping about the virtues of their juice cleanses, various formulas of which carry the tenets of forgoing sugar, processed foods, meat, dairy, caffeine and alcohol. Rigghhht. Still with me?
In addition to giving up everything holy, the biological concept behind juicing is that fruits and veggies are already broken down and readily digestible. Therefore, the nutrients within are immediately absorbed in the blood stream, writes Cherie Calbom, author of The Juice Lady's Guide to Juicing for Health. Whether you replace a meal per day with juice or totally abstain from solid foods, advocates argue that a juice fast prevents your body entering starvation mode, a key criticism of water fasts. The layman's medical school (aka the Internet) is chockfull of articles debating the actual health benefits of a juice fast, which many argue are zilch. Rather than side with the white coats or your yoga teacher, personally dabbling in the juice arts will give you the best beta. How does 16 ounces of freshly juiced beets, carrots, spinach and ginger make you feel? If your answer is something akin to a show pony with a freshly plaited mane, sod the reports saying juices cleanses are rubbish. Maybe it's enough that it feels like Mickey Mouse's Fantasia happens on your insides when you drink fresh-squeezed juice, with spicy particles of ginger merrily brushing your intestines and fairies sprinkling droplets of antioxidant beet juice on your overworked organs.
It's that second word: fast. Sometimes cleverly disguised as juice cleanse, the concept is not merely incorporating nutrient-dense juices into your diet, but substituting juice for meals. As the eloquent Amy Schumer responded to her Hollywood personal trainer's diet recommendations, "I kind of have to stop you here. It's sounding like at times I will be hungry?" Amen Amy, amen. Yes, juicing can make you feel wonderfully energized and focused (with the fringe benefit of feeling superior to the sloth forms around you eating), yet that lifetime habit of waking, eating three times a day and sleeping really kicks in after your 15 minute juice buzz fades.
So what's the solution to the polarizing forces of temperance and temptation? I believe choices that honor balance will continue to serve your mind, body and spirit, without needing to dabble in deprivation. Despite multiple attempts at fasting at various ages, I have never once banged out a cleanse and looked back saying, "Nailed it!" Rather, such attempts made me pay more attention to food than psychologically appropriate and question my own "gut" instincts of how to nourish my body, a very personal choice.
Whether you're emerging from Dry January or just trying to stay healthier in 2017, I'm sure nutrient-dense and Fantasia-like qualities of fresh-squeezed juice won't lead you astray. Incorporating a shot of spirits embodies my personal health mantra of maintaining the essential balance between body, mind and spirit. Knowing the liquor in these recipes are out of bounds for some, I still preach the virtues of treating yourself to healthy drink — just hold the gin or Bourbon. Try incorporating these fiery, fresh-squeezed libations to your routine and soak up the benefits of your very own juice (not) cleanse.
My Juiceman Junior cost about $100 in 2001 and is still going strong. It does not render "cold-pressed" juice via a hydraulic press, which you can purchase at the Co-op or Wildberries for more than a microbrew would run you. Advocates of cold-pressed juice claim it's of better quality and contains higher levels of nutrients without introducing the heating qualities of a centrifugal juicer (like my man, Juiceman Jr.). Personally, I don't doubt these facts but find cold-pressed juice cost prohibitive and enjoy creating my own custom blends at home. No juicer at all? Purchase bottled carrot and apple juice at the store and consume within 2-3 days of opening.
Gin and Carrot Tonic
A perfect après-yoga cocktail.
1 ½ ounces gin
*3 large carrots, juiced
1-inch piece ginger, juiced
4 mandarins, juiced
¼ teaspoon turmeric
Apple Bourbon Elixir
Try this in lieu of dessert after a winter dinner.
1 ½ ounces Bourbon
1 large lemon, juiced
1 ounce simple syrup
*2 apples, juiced
2-inch piece ginger, juiced
For each: Juice the fresh apple or carrot and ginger into a cocktail shaker. Squeeze the citrus and add it to the shaker with the remaining ingredients, including the booze and a handful of ice cubes. Shake vigorously. Pour into coupe or martini glass, and enjoy. Cheers!