Hong Kong's fine-dining and drinking lifestyle is an integral part of Claire Blackshaw's life, as the director of public relations for a five-star hotel. "It's a wonderful position to be in, but equally agonising for the waistline," she says.
Eager to make amends for her health, she signed up for a juice detox after chancing upon a Twitter post by local company Genie. For three days she replaced her three meals with six fresh-pressed juices delivered to her door. The detox worked, she says. "No alcohol, cigarettes or caffeine, no processed food; I felt lighter and less sluggish, even though I was tired, and I didn't have to make food decisions either."
The juice detox is not a new phenomenon and two local companies have recently given the concept a 21st-century facelift. As a result, there's something of a juice renaissance in Hong Kong.
Punch Detox punchdetox.com and Genie thegenieconcept.com deliver juices to your home or office in little coolers with mini bibles of information. Both claim to have consulted nutritionists in devising their six-juices-a-day diet. Both say their juices are produced by a state-of-the-art hydraulic cold press to retain the maximum concentration of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and enzymes from the produce.
There is value in a juice detox, says registered dietitian Gabrielle Tuscher - if positive aspects of the detox can be carried forward into everyday life once the programme is over. But she has reservations when it comes to their general efficacy and benefits, especially if followed for more than three days.
Juicing is an easy way to flood your body with concentrated amounts of vegetables and fruits, vitamins and antioxidants, she says, while lowering the things you want to avoid such as toxins, fat, salt and sugar. But following a programme for more than a few days "come at a price, as most commercial plans leave gaping nutritional holes in your diet".
Detoxers ingest most of their calories from carbs, with high levels of natural sugars from the fruit and sweet vegetables such as carrots and beetroot, while missing out on vital proteins and fibre that is lost as pulp, Tuscher says. "The high carb, low protein, low fibre diet can cause dramatic spikes in blood sugar levels, resulting in headaches and mood swings. A commercial juice cleanse can include up to 45 teaspoons of sugar in a day. That's a lot, even though it's natural."
Angela Cheng Matsuzawa and Ann Cha at Punch became obsessed with detoxes after they had their children. They started juicing for themselves and their friends, and by the end of 2009 were incorporating a three-day detox with 10-day Pilates and yoga programmes. They launched Punch in January, and recently started working with Pure Yoga on "Yoga Juicing weekends".
"Our juice detox is really a kick-start," says Cheng Matsuzawa. "Other programmes seem scary, full of things our clients don't understand. But fruit, vegetables and nuts for three days, they understand that."
Genie's Cara Grogan and Melanie White, who launched in April with a store in Sheung Wan, estimate they juice an average of 50 kilograms to 60 kilograms of fruit and vegetables a day. "A lot goes into our green juices - up to 1.3kg of produce per bottle," says Grogan.
Roger Chan, founder of local chocolate brand Vero, is a Punch regular. His health-conscious wife introduced him to the concept and they have racked up seven three-day courses (HK$1,680 each) over two years. "It is eye-opening," says Chan. "I drink a lot [of coffee] every day, and it shows me how reliant I am on coffee and sugar, too. After doing the detox I think twice about having that extra cup, and ask myself if I'm really hungry or if I'm eating for the sake of eating. Basically, I listen more to my body."
Tuscher says your body is fully equipped to detox on its own if you nix the junk and focus on clean eating. "If you want to try juicing, skip the full-on liquid diet and focus on green juices. Drink these with or in place of one of your meals and continue to fill your day with powerful proteins found in beans, lentils, nuts and lean meats."
Tuscher recently started consulting with Genie, and as a result Grogan and White have made some changes, adding chia seeds (pure protein) and psyllium husks (soluble fibre) to the daily juices. "These two new additions will add two key nutrients for a truly balanced juice fast," says Grogan.
Chan Cudennec, founder of SOL Wellness, orders vegetable-only juices from Genie for clients with serious health issues, such as cancer. These green alkalising juices, she says, helps cleanse them of toxins, high acidity, chemicals, stress and pollution.
Punch and Genie list symptoms that can be aided by a juice detox, including low energy levels; digestive, skin and weight issues; an addiction to sweet foods; foggy brains and headaches; and low quality of sleep.
While Miles Price, a nutritionist at Life Clinic in Central, appreciates that Punch's founders have nutrition certificates and have clearly been reading into the subject, he worries that both companies are trying to provide a catch-all solution to something that might be much more metabolically complex.
"Detoxes can have a place if you are basically medically sound, and it is always good to stop the build-up of excessive cooked proteins, bad fats and alcohol, giving the liver a break and increasing the bile flow of toxins coming out into the gut. But if you're dumping toxins into the gut are you getting enough fibre to take them away?" he says.
"During juice cleanses there are a lot of carbs and fructose going into the body which can make the sugar levels spike. This is not a problem if you can manage insulin. Basically, is the detox suiting the individual, or is the individual suiting the detox?"
What the experts say, however, is unlikely to rattle the detox trend. The recent Punch/Pure Yoga "Juicing Yoga weekend" attracted 25 participants, and another event is set for October.