SINGAPORE - Up to two months ago, bank employee Glenn Lee could not understand why his fiancee Britney Cheong was spending so much money on juices.
Ms Cheong, a 27-year-old public officer, would do something called a juice cleanse every few months, paying $180 each time for 18 bottles of juice to last her for three days. She would drink six bottles of these each day, in place of her daily meals.
"Since she was doing it regularly, I figured it had to be something good and I decided to join her on her third juice cleanse," says Mr Lee, 29.
The couple went for a three-day juice cleanse in May and Mr Lee says his body felt energised and lighter as a result.
This was Ms Cheong's third juice cleanse in nine months and she says her digestion, skin and sleep improved after every juice cleansing.
The couple are among a growing number of people who have signed up for juice cleansing programmes here.
A juice cleanse, which can last from one day to a week, replaces all meals during the cleansing period with cold-pressed juices made from fruit and vegetables.
A three-day juice cleanse programme typically costs between $180 and $340, with participants consuming six bottles of juice a day. That works out to between $10 and $18 a bottle. A partial juice cleanse, where only certain meals are replaced by the juices, is also catching on.
These juices cost a lot more than what you get at fruit juice stalls in hawker centres because the companies say they use the cold-press method to prepare the juices and the liquids contain nutrient-rich ingredients such as chia seeds and wolfberry.
Juice cleansing was made popular by Hollywood celebrities such as Salma Hayek, Gwyneth Paltrow and Owen Wilson. In the United States, especially in New York, bottles of cold-pressed juice are easily available at premium supermarkets and juice bars.
In Singapore, more than 10 providers of juice cleansing programmes have come on the market, with at least five of them launching from February this year.
These companies say juice cleansing is popular among people who are affluent and health conscious, although students in their early 20s have started making up a small percentage of their clientele. Some people are also influenced by their travels to the US, where juice cleansing has become trendy. However, a juice diet is not without controversy as its health benefits have not been proven.
Two new players, The Syndicate Juice Co. which started in February and Gorilla Press, which began operations in March, do not have brick-and-mortar outlets. They market themselves on social media and rely on word-of-mouth recommendations. This has not stopped orders from coming in.
"We get 10 to 15 juice cleanse orders weekly, even though our website is not up yet," says Ms Ann Loh, 44, one of the three women behind The Syndicate Juice Co.
They produce the juices in a central kitchen in MacPherson and hire a logistics company to deliver the juices to customers every day.
Gorilla Press is a slightly leaner outfit. Its founders Valerie Oei and Ong Weiquan, both 32, produce the juices in a central kitchen and do the deliveries themselves. They receive about 50 orders a month.
Mr Ong, who used to work as a bank trader, says: "We knew there were others in the market when we started but we decided to go ahead because we believe in what we do."
Mr Joel Lee, 28, business director for Mission Juice, says orders for juice cleanses have increased significantly, from about five a week in April to between 30 and 40 orders a week. He started selling cold-pressed juices in May 2012 but rolled out juice cleansing programmes only four months ago.
He attributes this development to people becoming more aware of the concept of juice cleansing, having read about it online or seen cold-press juice bars overseas.
Agreeing, Ms Loh says Singaporeans are becoming more receptive to leading a healthier lifestyle and the local yoga community in particular has taken to juice cleansing.
She adds: "We live a fast-paced life here and people end up going for fast food. With these juices, we show you how you can have fast, healthy food in a bottle and on the go."
Ms Rochelle Hogan, a 35-year-old Australian who founded Sana Cleanse in 2012, one of the first to offer juice cleansing programmes here, says: "When we launched, we spent a lot of time answering questions and educating people about our programme."
Now, however, the "fear factor" is virtually absent. Ms Hogan, who has been living here since 2005, says: "We get new people ringing up every week, telling us they are interested in the programme and want to try it."
The juice cleansing community is generally made up of working adults in their mid-20s to 40s, say juice cleansing companies.
Many of them are women like Ms Cheong, who "feel unhealthy" and want to detox via a juice cleanse. She says: "Juice cleansing also gets rid of my guilt after I have eaten a lot of ice cream, cakes and chips."
Others such as Ms Olyna Ong, 38, look to a juice cleanse to boost their health. "I kept coming down with the flu and was quite sick for a period of time, so I did a juice cleanse this year for a system overhaul," says Ms Ong, who runs an education consultancy.
"After the three-day cleanse, I felt a lot better, stronger and healthier, and I haven't fallen sick since."
Juice cleansing fans generally claim it makes them feel lighter, cleaner and more energetic.
Men are also jumping on the bandwagon.
Sales manager Mario Didier, 31, bought his own cold-press juicer a year ago so that he could make green smoothies. But he found it a hassle to buy, cut and wash the vegetables on his own, and to supervise his maid in preparing the juices. The homemade juices also did not taste good, so he decided to get them delivered to him instead.
He has been on three juice cleanses with Gorilla Press since March and says they increase his feeling of well-being. Apart from the cleanses, he also orders green juices in bulk to drink daily for breakfast.
He looks upon juice cleansing as a quick way to get his daily intake of fruits and vegetables. "It takes a while to chew vegetables. I'd rather drink my food because it takes just 10 seconds. I think I've spent a few thousand dollars on juices. My parents think it's ridiculous," he says.
Ms Gladys Wong, chief dietitian at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, says there is a lack of evidence to date on the effectiveness of juice cleansing.
She says: "No one can pinpoint exactly what toxins we are specifically detoxifying. As healthcare professionals, we would not condone short-term juice diets and we also would not recommend or endorse it."
Noting the different lengths of cleansing programmes, she adds that it is safe for one to live on juices and no solids for three to five days.
However, she cautions that a juice diet may not meet a person's daily energy requirements as it is a low-protein, low-calorie liquid diet.
"The person may feel more hungry and will need to really meditate to divert his attention from delusions of yummy food," she adds.
Nutritionist Alexandra Prabaharan, who works with local food delivery company Food Matters, agrees that the first two days of a cleanse can be difficult as one is used to eating solid meals. She cautions that juice cleansing should be done only once in a while.
"There is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Our bodies need balance and if we are eating only fruits and vegetables, we're eliminating a whole slew of nutrients that the body requires," she says.
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