Life Food & Drink

Sunday 21 September 2014

The big vegetable cleanse

How Gillian Fitzpatrick learned to stop worrying and love wheatgrass

Gillian Fitzpatrick

Published 18/03/2014 | 02:30

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Gillian Fitzpatrick

An apple a day, the saying famously goes, keeps the doctor away. But fast-forward to 2014, and the doctor is increasingly being fended off neither by Granny Smiths nor Pink Ladies – but rather by chartreuse-green shots of wheatgrass.

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Like many folk similarly seen shuffling around at this time of year, winter hasn't been too kind to me.

Spring may finally be in the air, but we've all had to weather our fair share of chill, wind and rain over the last three months. I am sluggish, bloated and prone to a shameful level of laziness unbefitting of my age and circumstances.

The good news? A sheepish step onto the bathroom scales reveals that I've actually managed to make it through gaining only a negotiable amount of weight.

More's the pity then that I also sport an unattractive pallor that sadly no strategic layer of tinted moisturiser can conquer. I am, to be blunt, a bit of a mess – it's clear that winter has had the upper hand and I am suffering from a bad case of seasonal lethargy.

"Oh you simply MUST try wheatgrass," one in-the-know friend tells me enthusiastically after I lament my haggard state over Tuesday evening Pinot Grigio.

"I've even managed to kick my caffeine-habit since I started."

She further informs me that, despite the name, wheatgrass has little to do with wheat – and lots to do with super vitamins and a host of fantastic, naturally-occurring properties that will, I am promised, banish all feeling of stupor.

While it remains something of a specialist product in this country, our nation's enduring love-affair with juicing, juice detoxes and juice-based diets has certainly helped wheatgrass find its way into Irish fridges.

And a quick look online reveals that it is often associated with exciting – albeit rather vague – phrases such as "detoxify"; "energy-enhancement"; "turbo-charge", and "purifying nourishment".

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But behind the jargon there is no denying that the science is tempting: wheatgrass, or more accurately the young shoots of the wheat plant, is packed full of vitamins including A, C, E and B12; minerals such as calcium, iron and magnesium, as well as plenty of protein and amino acids. For good measure, wheatgrass also boosts your white blood cell count so you can ward off a winter cold more effectively. Gram-for-gram, in fact, there is nothing quite like it nutritionally.

There is a problem, however, and that's the taste. Politely described as "acquired", following my debut sample I would more accurately label it "ghastly".

A bit like stewed lawn trimmings. Luckily, even the experts agree that it's far from palatable in its natural state, meaning you're more likely to find it added to vegetable and fruit juices, as well as filtered water.

Late last year, I took the plunge with my first ever juice diet, emerging after 72 hours not, as I feared, crazed with hunger, but instead invigorated and energised.

It was the perfect pre-Christmas pick-me-up that ensured I was festive party season ready. And taking a long, honest look in the mirror more recently, I recognised that I was once again in need of a juice kick.

This time, however, rather than wanting to squeeze into a little black dress, I was instead hoping to shake off the remains of wintery apathy – a goal better attained through a vegetable-only programme complete with wheatgrass.

Darragh Buckley runs the Punnett Health Food Store in south Dublin's Glasthule. And although it opened its doors less than a year ago, it's already proving popular with health-conscious celebrities including Niall Breslin, Rosanna Davison and Roz Purcell. Its shelves and fridges are packed full of delicious-looking coconut waters, shakes, dried fruits and specialist teas, but altogether more eye-catching are the dozens of bottles containing colourful fresh juices. And luckily for me, the store now provides the country's first vegetable-only detox programme, and the only one to include freshly-grown wheatgrass juice.

"Our three- and five-day programmes are hugely popular," Darragh tells me. 'Sure, they're tough going, but I always think the first day is the worst – make it through that one and the rest is far more manageable."

I know vegetable juicing will be more challenging – the fruit used in most alternative plans certainly helps to sweeten the deal – so I decide to opt for the shorter, three-day arrangement.

Still, I'm pleasantly surprised at the generous size of each helping, and am encouraged by the five portions daily I am allowed indulge in – a happy upgrade from the four bottles I survived on last time.

"Everyone working in the store has given this a go at some stage," Darragh tells me as he waves me off with my haul of fresh juices. "And without exception, everyone is on cloud nine afterwards. After 72 hours you'll feel – and look – fantastic."

Nevertheless, Dr Eva Orsmond, who runs her own chain of Irish clinics and is well-known to television audiences for her work on previous seasons of RTE's Operation Transformation, remains cautious.

"On one hand I don't have an issue with somebody occasionally saying 'I need to juice!' but I would worry that by blending all those wonderful ingredients, you're actually removing all of the lovely fibre too.

"And because most people in Ireland don't have adequate amounts of fibre in their diets that alone would concern me."

Dr Eva adds that she wouldn't recommend a juice programme for

"Therefore if someone came to me and said they needed to lose weight, a juice diet isn't the way I'd go about helping them."

"Another danger," Dr Eva continues, "is that you're liable to crack. Your body will crave high-fat, high-sugar foods if you're not consuming solids – and if you don't see out the detox programme as planned, you could end up binging on day two and feeling heavier than you did at the beginning."

However, she does recognise the attraction: "For someone who is already at a healthy weight and fancies giving themselves a boost or whatever I don't see the harm.

"But I do smile when I hear of people wanting to be 'bikini-ready' in five days through a juice-based programme. The way I look at it is – if you're not bikini-ready five days before you hit the beach, then you're simply not bikini-ready! In terms of fat-loss, you cannot achieve a whole load in that time-frame.

"But yes, there is a psychological boost certainly. And that gives you more confidence which in turn should make wearing a swimsuit more appealing."

Thankfully, my schedule is swimsuit-free for the foreseeable future – and after trying the first of Darragh's juices, a Morning Sunshine, I'm quietly confident I can escape the pitfalls Dr Eva warned me of. Filled with carrot, chia seeds, beetroot, ginger, red pepper, avocado and hemp protein, it tastes delicious and – almost – gives me as much of a lift as my usual espresso.

Best of all, I don't even miss the fruit as the red pepper adds just enough sweetness.

My Wheatgrass Wonder is next: two full shots of that magical wheatgrass, as well as cucumber, lime, celery, avocado and spinach.

The lime adds a sharpness that offsets the taste of the wheatgrass – and before I know it, it's time for round three in the form of a Green Glasthule.

Made from celery, cucumber, broccoli, lime, avocado and kale, it is a gorgeously refreshing way to banish lingering winter cobwebs.

The Afternoon Boost – cucumber, carrot, lemon, yellow pepper and spirulina – is followed by a Dinner Delight of carrot, broccoli, cucumber, spirulina and lime.

By the end of day one I can feel a spring in my step.

Inevitably, every morsel and scrap of food – soggy cereal left behind by my 10-month old; a yogurt and, worst of all, fresh soda bread – seems tantalising but I also fill up on endless rounds of herbal, caffeine-free teas.

Day two is, well, hellish – but I concentrate on the next potion and find the waves of doubt and bouts of wobbly resolution soon pass.

By day three, I do notice that the taste of the juices has begun to diminish.

Perhaps it's because, like all juices, these ones are best drunk as fresh as possible, or perhaps it's simply because my taste buds have been dulled by a lack of food.

But I power through and what really amazes me is just how raw veg can be entirely tasty when you balance the right quantities and flavours.

Secondly, I'm surprised at how much more straightforward I find the programme.

I am fuller and less distracted than I was during my fruit and vegetable combo diet.

The portions are generous and although yes, real food was never far from my mind over the 72 hours, I also don't feel hungry in the way I expected.

By the end, I feel nothing short of fantastic.

It's been testing certainly but the regular concoction of antioxidants, digestive enzymes, minerals and vitamins has allowed me to stay active throughout the three days and care for my baby daughter without capsizing in the sitting room.

My skin is also brighter and my eyes clearer – the goal wasn't on this occasion weight-loss, but I was understandably down 5lb as an added bonus.

Best of all, I feel like I've shaken off the final remnants of a dreary winter and am better prepared to take on the new season ... it's enough to make me stomach a regular shot of wheatgrass.

The three-day vegetable only juice programme from the Punnet Health Store costs €85. See thpunnethealthstore Also see orsmondclinics.com for more information on Dr Eva Orsmond's clinics.

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