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posted: 8/13/2012 6:00 AM

Drinking fruits, vegetables has its benefits

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  • Juicer or blender? Either way, a glass of fruits and vegetables is a good way to start the day -- and use up what you've got in the refrigerator.

    Juicer or blender? Either way, a glass of fruits and vegetables is a good way to start the day -- and use up what you've got in the refrigerator.
    Photo by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post

By Bob Carden
The Washington Post

WASHINGTON -- Julian Thomson is juiced. He moves fast and talks faster. That's what kale -- along with spinach, carrots and apples -- can do for you. This morning, the same as just about every other day, the Washington videotape editor churned those foods in a five-speed Breville Elite Juicer, dumped them into a glass and chugged it all down in no more than three gulps.

"I feel great, man. Really great. My head, my skin, my energy. It's all because of the juice," he says in rapid sound bites.

As a 44-year-old home juicer (and vegan for more than two decades), Thomson is passionate and uncompromising: "Smoothies, blenders, that's all wussy stuff. Posers who think they're doing something healthy. Juicing is juicing, man, not blending. You have to yank the juice out of the veggies. You want to blend? Then go drink a margarita."

Juicing has been around forever, but the latest craze seems to have a lot to do with baby boomers' fixation about remaining young and hip. Norman Walker, who invented the first modern juicer in the 1930s, lived to be 100. Jack LaLanne pitched them relentlessly in the '70s and '80s. He died at age 96.

It's hard to turn on late-night or early-morning TV without seeing an infomercial for some sort of juicer. In fact, I stumbled onto juicing about a month ago after an evening at an Irish saloon. Couldn't sleep, grabbed the remote. Saw an earnest guy with thick hair, big pecs, a bigger smile and an adoring studio audience.

He was shouting about something called the NutriBullet. Or was it a Ninja Master system? There was a lot of healthful, visually appealing food on his table. Apples, celery, carrots, kale.

I wanted it all: the hair, the physique, the fans. Detoxing after a night of Guinness on tap sounded so right.

The health benefits of juicing are clear, and the coolness factor is intense. But which equipment would work best? The marble and soapstone countertops in upscale kitchens scream for something hipper than a Hamilton Beach blender, and espresso machines are so, well, '90s. Research was required.

A blender pulverizes veggies and fruits, and makes for a thick, fiber-filled drink. A juicer separates, so all you get is pure juice. It comes at you with a slow hand and an easy touch, lovingly churning that apple while extracting its juice. Blending's more of a one-night stand, while juicing's a long-term affair.

People who get paid to think about this stuff will tell you juicing provides a pure, unadulterated flavor. "Juicing gets rid of the bitter stuff we don't like: seeds, stems. It comes out in a smooth texture," says Matt Wallace, manager of a Williams-Sonoma store in Rockville, Md. "Blending is mushy."

Until I started juicing, mixing cucumbers with bananas or parsley with peaches seemed pretty nasty. Now I'm hooked -- even on raw kale and spinach. I never thought that would happen.

Blended juices "are great for masking the taste of kale and other greens," Wallace says. "Throw some ginger in with the kale, maybe a banana. It will come out green but taste really good."

My friend's kid is a terrific athlete. Like most teenagers, he prefers Cheetos over carrots. But the kid downs a juice made from leafy greens, carrots, bananas and berries every morning. And loves it.

Experts worry that people can get carried away with a juice craze. "Juicing is supplemental. It should not replace balanced meals," says registered dietitian Rebecca Scritchfield. She says those new to juicing tend load up on fruit at the expense of vegetables.

"You want to make it taste good. But if you put too many apples, grapes or bananas in there it's like drinking a cup of sugar. Three apples have about 90 grams of sugar. You have to watch that."

Juicers aren't only for making juice, of course. They are also a high-tech version of the old-fashioned food mill. Think fresh tomato sauce and sorbet and any sort of purée.

Good juicers require patience and deep pockets. Cleaning them takes commitment. Parts have to be removed and washed after each session. Blenders are a lot easier to maintain. A good juicer costs from $300 to more than $1,000. Lower-priced models are built with more plastic, have a bit less power and are often even harder to clean.

I went with a machine made by Breville. Its midlevel Elite models cost about $400 and look impressive on a kitchen counter: die-cast steel housing, titanium cutting disk, 1,000 watts of power. Other well-known models include the Omega, Jack LaLanne and Hamilton Beach.

So far, my pecs haven't tightened and my hair's still thin. But I do feel better.

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