Serious Eats on a Juice Cleanse: We Try Out Cooler Cleanse
New Year's Day brings with it all sorts of predictable behavior. Joining gyms and keeping up an ambitious exercise regimen... for three or four days. Pledging to stop spending so much money, at least until that mid-January sale hits. And vowing to really, really lose those ten pounds this year. (Really.)
Juice cleanses are touted by believers as a means of detoxing the body, gaining energy, and generally feeling dance-around happy about life. But let's be honest. Most people do them to lose weight. Sure, it's easier to say that you're forgoing solid foods for X or Y impossible-to-quantify health benefit, but whole legions of people aren't slugging down kale juice because they're looking for that elusive "inner glow". And we've heard from plenty of people considering January juice cleanses.
But which one to do? Earlier this year, Maggie, Erin, and Carey did a three-day BluePrint Cleanse, trying out one of the most popular programs. Overall, we were reasonably happy with the juices themselves, if not always with the way they made us feel, and not exactly sold on the merits of attempting this type of thing at all.
What about other cleanses, then? We were intrigued by "Cooler Cleanse," a very similar program to Blueprint, priced slightly lower. Even if cheaper, though, $58/day is an awful lot. So in the grand tradition of Pop-Tarts World, Taco Bell Triple Steak Stack, and terrible commuter-baiting Mexican restaurants, we're trying it for you.
Just like BluePrint, Cooler Cleanse gives you six juices each day, all of them fresh and perishable. Just like BluePrint, there's a predictable order: green, something fruity, green, something refreshing, green-or-root-vegetable, fatty nut milk. It's a rhythm you grow used to, though we started to resent it when we felt weak and substance-deprived halfway through the morning (leading us to crack open our nutmilks prematurely more than once.)
As with BluePrint, these juices are quite filling. We never felt hungry throughout the day, even if we did occasionally feel food- or energy-deprived in other ways. And with some exceptions, they taste pretty good. "Sweet Greens" makes celery and parsley juice more palatable through apple and ginger. Fresh watermelon and pineapple juices, no complaints. Spicy lemonade is pretty delicious.
The Pros of Cooler Cleanse
Just like BluePrint, a three-day juice supply can be delivered to your door (in certain cities) or shipped (everywhere else). True to name, each six-pack of CC juices came in a soft-sided cooler. It's cute, but it's useful, too. Toting juices around last time grew cumbersome, and we learned quickly that these things taste an awful lot better cold.
What's more, whereas BluePrint gives you the same six juices every day, Cooler Cleanse mixes things up a bit. Pineapple-ginger one day might be grapefruit-mint the next. Dinner might be almond milk, hemp milk, or Brazil nut. The monotony of BluePrint was definitely a bit of a killjoy, so points for variety.
And while the price differential is only about $10/day, that's still something.
Sweet Green: Sweeter than it looks. Lots of apple juice. At first you taste the kale and parsley, then it's all apple on the finish. Peppy, fruity day-starter. Recommended: an added squeeze of lemon juice.
Pineapple and Ginger: Very easy to down this. Tropical sweetness of pineapple complemented by spicier, biting ginger. Lots of ginger. Tastes like a brunch cocktail we'd order.
Essential Green: Much greener than Sweet Green. Not sweet at all; you really taste the stringy celery and dark green kale roughage. More like a vegetable soup. Erin added some sea salt to make it a bit more savory and was tempted to pour in some olive oil, too, but resisted. (By the time day three came, Erin went for it and added some sambal sauce to make it spicier, more interesting, and distract from the blaghhh-green-ness. We don't believe this is officially endorsed in the Cleaner Cleanse rulebook. Oops.)
Essential Red: Sweet from all the carrots and beets; one of our favorite juices in the pack. Not thick but substantial enough to get you through the afternoon fuzzy-headed lulls.
Young Coconut Water: Nice change from the sweet, juicy, appley and greeney flavors. Refreshing with a little more body and flavor than water. Coconut water isn't for everyone and might have a turn-off quality if you're hungry or light-headed and craving real food, but we didn't mind it.
Spicy Hemp Milk: Though we occasionally still have nightmarish flashbacks to this alterna-milk tasting, this hemp milk wasn't as hempy as we feared. It has a diluted grassy-milky flavor with a mild sweetness from dates and earthy spice from ginger. Not particularly rich or creamy, but at least there's some heft in there, which the body appreciated after a long day of juicing.
Watermelon and Lime: Tastes like summer and makes us realize we miss watermelon the rest of the year. There's a bit of texture from the melon meat but it's not gritty. Watery-sweet with a little lime squeeze in the background, not overwhelmingly citrusy.
Grapefruit and Mint: You get a big tangy bite from the grapefruit. Puckery, in a good way. Refreshing, minty finish. Really like this one—in our top three of favorites on the cleanse.
Almond Milk: When you're building up all day to the dinner nutmilk, you really look forward to that nutmilk. Like, staring-at-your-watch-at-5pm-look-forward-to-it. But this one wasn't satisfying. It didn't feel like the pat on the back (you survived, kid!) reward at the end of the day. Something off about it. Rubbery and synthetic, like licking basketballs. We was craving richer, smoother, fattier, but this wasn't restorative. It made us want to go to bed earlier.
Brazilian Nut Milk: By far the richest of the dinner nutmilks that Cooler Cleanse offered, with contains 54 grams of fat in the bottle and almost 600 calories; in each sip, you really feel like you're swallowing a couple Brazilian nuts. This stuff is filling. You're not tempted by people eating solid food around you. Each swig is rich and strengthening.
The Cons of Cooler Cleanse
We appreciated the variety of the Cooler Cleanse program, but variety didn't always result in better juices. BluePrint's staple green juice, for example, was somewhere on the vegetal-sweetness scale between Cooler Cleanse's apple-y Sweet Greens and bitter Essential Greens. When we started a morning with Sweet Greens, we appreciated that extra apple, but Essential Greens is honestly a bit tough to get down.
Another concern is the nutmilk. When it's your richest "meal" of the day, you start craving it by mid-afternoon. BluePrint's cashew milk did feel like a reward at night, but two of Cooler Cleanse's (the thinner hemp milk and strangely synthetic-tasting almond milk) didn't. And while we really liked the Brazil Nut Milk, the calorie balance of that day is so late-skewed (almost half of your calories coming in that single drink at the end) that, that day in particular, we really noticed feeling weak during the day and almost unable to drink something so rich at night.
We can both say that a juice cleanse is much easier the second time around than the first. And many of the same effects apply: it helps you ease out from under a coffee dependence, disposes you more favorably to healthy solid foods (it's amazing how powerfully you can crave a salad after three days), and gets you thinking twice about what exactly you're eating every day.
As for weight loss? You certainly might shed a pound or two (Carey "lost" two on Cooler Cleanse) but it's possible that's just the absence of solid food from your system. It does have a way of setting you on a lighter, healthier track afterward, if only because rich food looks so scary after you've been juicing. But a get-skinny-quick method, it's not. At least not in just three days.
Overall, while we liked some of the Cooler Cleanse juices better than anything on BluePrint, the average BluePrint juice was a little easier to drink (whereas we had a hard time with some of the Cooler Cleanse juices, like the Essential Green and the Almond Milk). And when all your nutrition comes from six little juices, it's hard for one of them to be a dud. Still, if you want to do a juice cleanse but feel like monotony is a dealbreaker, then Cooler Cleanse might be for you.
Our Future 'Cleanses'
Having tried this sort of thing twice now, it really just gets us itching to try our own "detox"—a veggie-heavy eating plan that would leave us with the same lighter feeling, without the energy depletion or large bill at the end. What are your favorite "lighter" foods? And are you ringing in the New Year with them?