Juicing picks up steam in Charleston area
Juicing fresh vegetables and fruits has been a part of the healthy fringe for decades. But as currents of the wellness culture grow and converge in the Charleston area, juicing appears ready to go mainstream.
From kids and college students to suburban moms, midlife health converts and seniors, enough demand has been demonstrated to spawn a series of new local start-ups.
Among them, the owner of healthy wrap hot spot Dellz Deli on Cannon Street downtown just opened up a juice bar, Dell'z Vibez, around the corner near King and Cannon streets.
The owners of The Juice Joint, which started operating at the Charleston Farmers Market this past spring, are looking for a permanent location on Folly Beach.
The owner of Green Wave Smoothies, which actually blends vegetables with fruit, started at the Mount Pleasant Farmers Market in the spring and is gravitating toward being a mobile business.
Meanwhile, Charleston's guru of juicing, Mickey Brennan of The Sprout, has seen juicing go from zero to 80 percent of his business in five years.
Though Charleston seems to be experiencing a renaissance in healthy living — from embracing locally grown produce to a burgeoning of fitness clubs, studios and activities — Brennan credits the growing popularity of juicing to media such as “The Dr. Oz Show.”
Brennan, a chef by trade, adds that he is intrigued by the “natural medicinal aspect of juicing” such as the claim that beet juice improves blood flow.
King of Carnivores
Among Brennan's fans is well-known chef Brett McKee, who describes himself as “the former King of Carnivores.”
“Three years ago, I was at the height of my medication. I had taken sleep medication for 14 years. I had taken Xanax for 10 years. I was on blood pressure medication, and I had heart issues,” recalls McKee.
He found his way to Brennan via his Pilates instructor and his acupuncturist. Brennan persuaded McKee to do a juice fast.
Today, as part of a comprehensive health overhaul, McKee lost 40 pounds and kept it off, takes no medications, sleeps better, is “a lot more chill” and gets compliments on his vibrant skin color, which he credits to the antioxidant-rich juices.
“Juicing works for me. My body is so used to it now that when I don't have it, my body is jonesin' for it.”
All juices aren't equal
But not all juices are the same. In recent years, fruit juices from apples, oranges and grapes have been lumped in the same category as soft drinks for being high in calories and sugar.
Healthy juicing primarily involves using low-glycemic vegetables such as leafy greens, only using higher glycemic fruits and vegetables to take the edge off.
Dr. Deborah Bowlby, a pediatric endocrinologist at the Medical University of South Carolina and an avid juicer, says one of her office mantras for patients and parents are “no soda, no sweet tea and no juice.”
But she adds the glycemic index on primarily green vegetable juices do not cause the spikes in blood sugar and insulin that fruit juices do.
Bowlby recalls that juicing was a solution to some vegetables, such as kale, included in weekly share of a community-supported agriculture program.
“I believe in a whole-food, plant-based diet, and green juice is not meant to replace other ways of eating vegetables, but it is a way to add more nutrients to my body. Kale can be challenging to cook, but maybe I can juice it,” says Bowlby, who now makes trips to the Vegetable Bin on East Bay Street to stock up on vegetables.
Whole is still better
Stacy Renouf, a registered dietitian at the Medical University of South Carolina, says eating whole vegetables and fruit is a better option than drinking juices.
“Juicing is not any more nutritious than eating fruits and vegetables whole. In fact, you still get the same vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. The major difference between juicing and eating whole foods is the fiber content. Most of the fiber, and its health benefits, are lost with juicing.
“The other down side to juicing is in the calorie intake. Because the fiber is missing and the effort of chewing is lost, juices don't provide the same fullness as whole foods do. This makes it easier to accidentally overdo on calories.”
The key to keeping juicing healthy, Renouf adds, is to focus on nonstarchy vegetables (not potatoes or corn) because of the lower calorie content and on getting a variety of vegetables.
“That being said, ideally, I always encourage people to eat their fruits and vegetables rather than drink them.”
The new bars
The Charleston area has a lively bar scene, but some avid fans of juicing say juice bars could offer a healthy alternative to them.
Like Brennan, The Juice Joint's Mike and Wendy Ezelle come from a food and beverage background and see their aspiration to open a juice bar on Folly as an alternative to alcohol.
“In Charleston, we've gotten so big on the bar and restaurant scene, but what remains missing are more healthy food and drink options,” says Wendy Ezelle.
And yet, she adds, mixing various blends of vegetables and fruits can offer the fun and variety that mixed alcohol drinks have.
“It's cocktail-like to make it taste balanced,” she says.
Maudell “Dell” Grayson, owner of Dell'z Deli, has been working on opening a juice and smoothie bar on upper King for nearly a year. Three weekends ago, Dell'z Vibez opened with Grayson's daughter, Nikki Brown, in charge.
“With all the bars downtown,” says Grayson, “we needed some place for people to get fresh juice in their system.”
Grayson says people have asked if they can get alcohol mixed into their juices. “I feel like we have too much of that (the bar scene) right now,” she says. “We need to get together to have good conversation and feel healthy. That's what I hope to get out of this.”
Grayson admits that healthy wraps and salads are her foremost passion and that she's letting Brown run with Dell'z Vibez. Brown, who hopes to become a health coach, is excited and already has developed a menu of juices including concoctions such as “Spicy Coco Boy” (spinach, banana, organic cocoa nibs, honey, almond milk and cayenne pepper) and “Rise & Shine” (carrot with ginger.)
Brown, like Brennan of The Sprout, is drawn to the possible medicinal benefits of juice.
“I want to introduce people to ways of healing themselves naturally, rather than going to drugstores.”