Saturday, September 24, 2011

Making Juice: Remembering Jack LaLanne (1914-2011)

When I was a little kid my brothers and I sometimes read comic books.  The back pages included ads that promoted everything from sea monkeys to the Matachine Society, offering tantalizing glimpses into mysterious worlds beyond childhood.  Bodybuilder and fitness promoter Jack LaLanne made frequent appearances in this venue.  As I got older I used to see him on TV sometimes, demonstrating exercise routines impossible for me but simple for him.  In recent years he’s been featured, often with his wife Elaine, in ads promoting their juicers.  By emphasizing the importance of exercise and good nutrition Jack LaLanne was decades ahead of his time and I am grateful for his example.  Now that I am beginning to be old I follow three of his teachings:  lift weights, drink juice, and maintain a positive attitude.

According to the USDA’s, adults should eat 2 cups of fruit and 2-3 cups of vegetables daily.  As a practical matter, almost nobody does this.  Grocery shopping can be difficult for people with busy work schedules and children to care for.  Preparing and cooking vegetables requires time and energy that many people just don’t have.  Ten years ago I was probably better off than most.  I could usually manage a dinner with two vegetables; at lunchtime not so much.

What moved this issue to the top of my priority list was reading about a study by Qi Dai, M.D., Ph.D. of Vanderbilt,  Amy Borenstein, Ph.D., and Yougui Wu, Ph.D., from the University of South Florida and Eric Larson, M.D., Ph.D., of the Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound.  “In a large epidemiological study, researchers found that people who drank three or more servings of fruit and vegetable juices per week had a 76 percent lower risk of developing Alzheimer's disease than those who drank juice less than once per week.”

This news had an electrifying effect on me.  My mother, an intelligent and well educated woman who taught Latin in a Boston private school, developed Alzheimer’s in her late 60’s and died at 71.  If drinking juice might improve my odds against this horrible disease I would do it.  Then I started thinking about large piles of bottles and cans being lugged in from the store and ending up with the recyclables – not so good for the environment.   So we bought a juicer, not a LaLanne (sorry, Jack) but a Breville, which has worked well for a long time. 

At first we tried lots of different recipes but we settled on two:  a fruit juice with pineapple, orange, berries, grapes, and apple and a vegetable juice with tomato, celery, cucumber, and carrots (lots of carrots).  Sometimes we put in seasonal ingredients, like cranberries in winter.  To clean, cut up and juice ingredients for two pitchers takes about 45 minutes.  Because we don’t’ peel anything but the oranges and the pineapple we soak everything in vinegar and water and then scrub and rinse it.  This is the hard part.  The easy part is having delicious fruit juice to drink at breakfast and vegetable juice at lunch or dinner.  We still usually cook two vegetables at dinner but having the juice ensures that we're getting enough overall.  The fruit and vegetable pulp left over from juicing goes into the compost pile and eventually winds up in our garden.  An additional benefit is that for someone like me who has trouble digesting fibrous foods (no kale or spaghetti squash, thanks) more nutrients are probably reaching my system.

Jack LaLanne, I raise my glass of vegetable juice to you.  Thanks for everything!  

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