Local juice and smoothie makers tap into health-conscious crowd

Dark, leafy greens have long been symbols of good health. These days, many don't just eat their greens — they drink them.

Over the past several years, cold-pressed juices and smoothies made with fresh fruits and vegetables have become increasingly popular; juice and smoothie bars are a $2 billion industry, according to market research company IBISWorld, and juice bars and juice-making companies are popping up across Baltimore.


Juice and smoothie purveyors and their customers praise the drinks as nutrient-rich additions to healthy diets, though they, along with nutritionists, warn that would-be juice and smoothie drinkers should educate themselves before jumping headfirst into the juicing "lifestyle." The popular but controversial juice cleanse is generally not recommended by health professionals, and they caution that the lack of fiber in juices may limit their nutritional benefits. For people with allergies and diabetes, the drinks may cause or exacerbate health problems.

Still, fans of juices and smoothies swear by them.


In 2009, after having her second child, Kerri Namvary was low on energy and knew she needed to make some changes. She read the book "21 Pounds in 21 Days: The Martha's Vineyard Diet Detox" by Roni DeLuz, and went on a three-week cleanse that she describes as "amazing," leaving her pounds lighter and feeling great.

After the cleanse, Namvary kept drinking juices. A few years later, she opened Jukai Juice, first making juices at the farmers' market in Lauraville, then expanding to other markets, opening a storefront in Hampden and relocating to Glen Arm last year.

She has a group of dedicated regular customers that includes Guilford resident Steve Buettner, who drinks two juices a day, three or four days a week. He has a favorite: Jukai's "In My Tree" juice, which includes kale, spinach, cucumber, celery, lemon, parsley, turmeric and ginger.

"It really has enhanced my life tremendously," he said, explaining that he eats a regular diet — including the occasional burger — and drinks the juice to increase his nutritional intake.

Jukai Juice products are juices, not smoothies. Though both drinks are made with fresh fruit or vegetables, cold-pressed juices, as the name suggests, are made by pressing the liquid out of fruits and vegetables, while smoothies are made by pureeing the foods. The juicing process separates the liquid from the fruit or vegetable's pulp, which provides fiber, resulting in a thin drink. Smoothies, on the other hand, retain the fiber.

Juice proponents say the lack of fiber allows the nutrients in juices to be absorbed directly into the bloodstream, though this claim has not been backed by conclusive scientific evidence.

For some, the juice versus smoothie debate comes down to a matter of taste and texture.

"I just can't finish a smoothie," said Dana Sicko, the founder and CEO of Gundalow Juice, a Baltimore-based wholesaler whose juices are pressed and packaged in New Jersey, then sold directly to customers online or via retailers. "It's too thick for me. I love this because I get all the great benefits, and I feel the hydration."

Some experts, though, insist that of the two, smoothies deliver better nutritional value.

With juices, "You get a lot of sugar but leave the pulp behind. It's sugar in liquid form," said registered and licensed dietitian nutritionist Diana Sugiuchi, owner of Nourish Family Nutrition. "When you remove the pulp from the veggies, you're missing out on all the fiber and that regulates how the body absorbs sugar."

Fruits in smoothies are often good sources of fiber, vitamin C and potassium, said Kevin Grodnitzky, a registered dietitian nutritionist, certified diabetes educator and owner of Nutrition Coaching Center in Lutherville-Timonium. Vegetables can also add fiber, plus folic acid and vitamin A, among other nutrients, he said.

"Smoothies can offer a great opportunity to increase a person's intake of whole fruits and vegetables, which generally lower the risk of developing heart disease and many cancers," said Grodnitzky.


Juice makers also claim certain ingredients have properties that can help manage overall health. For example, turmeric, a spice added to some smoothies, has been shown in some studies to have anti-inflammatory properties.

The promise of turmeric's benefits was one of the factors that encouraged Buettner to start drinking juices.

"My recovery from working out is better than it used to be. I don't get that lactic acid buildup that makes muscles ache," he said. He also noted that his cholesterol has been lower since adding juices to his regular diet.

Daniela Troia, the owner of Zia's in Towson and Plantbar in Belvedere Square, and Plantbar managing partner Celeste Corsaro think of juices and smoothies as one part of an overall approach to healthy, plant-based living. At Plantbar, they offer not just individual juices and smothies but also multi-day juice cleanse packages and overall raw food dietary guidance.

The concept of juice cleanses — dietary programs during which people abstain from regular food, getting their nutrients from juices alone — is a controversial one. Troia, Corsaro and Namvary praise the process, saying they have personally had good experiences, but experts raise concerns.

"This whole idea of doing a juice cleanse and how it can rid your body of toxins and impurities is not based on anything scientific," said Sugiuchi. "People will overdo it. I get a lot of questions about if it is a good idea to do a juice cleanse, and the answer is usually no. There's no protein, and you're going to lose muscle mass."

Even as a proponent of cleanses, Jukai Juice's Namvary suggests talking with a physician before starting one or incorporating juice into your diet. She notes that people with diabetes and allergies should be especially careful.

Nutritionists agree that smoothies and cold-pressed juices made with fresh fruit and vegetables are often healthier than most products sold on the grocery store shelves. Many cold-pressed juices are made without water, preservatives or sugar. By contrast, most mass-produced juices available in grocery stores have significantly higher levels of sugar, along with preservatives and, in some cases, only a small percentage of the total liquid is actual juice from the fruit.

Not all local juice products are the same, either. For wholesalers like Gundalow Juice, the FDA requires products to undergo high-pressure processing, a cold pasteurization technique that removes or significantly decreases pathogens.

It doesn't change the nutrition or color, but it increases the shelf life of a juice or smoothie from about four days to 45.

Conversely, Troia said she likes the idea that even Plantbar's bottled juices have a short shelf life; she likes knowing that the juice she's drinking has just been made.


Individual juices aren't inexpensive. At Plantbar, 16-ounce juices and smoothies start at $5.50, 10-ounce Gundalow juices cost about $6 and 12-ounce Jukai juices cost $6.

The prices are based on the high cost of raw materials. At Plantbar, a 16-ounce "Glow with It" ($6.50) requires about two pounds of apple, cucumber, kale, celery, parsley and lime.

Juicing at home is also an option, with juicer machines ranging from about $80 to many thousands of dollars.

Juice and smoothie makers understand that if something doesn't taste good, people won't drink it.

"With our ingredients, I wanted things to be approachable," said Sicko. "I like each juice to have enough sweetness, enough tartness and then some other element — like celery can make things a touch salty, or ginger adds a little spice."

Juice and smoothie makers agree that creating the drinks allows for boundless creativity.

Novices should experiment, says Corsaro, starting with flavors they know they like and adding new fruits and vegetables from there.

"The produce section becomes a whole new world," she says.

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