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Two Stacys Equals a Great Juicebar

Some things are just meant to be. Like when two women meet, one a successful entrepreuner making almost $60 million on an innovative spin on baked pita chips, and the other, a world renowned respected nutritionist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the featured nutritionist in the award winning documentary Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead. It just works out that they're both named Stacy. Stacy Kennedy and Stacy Madison opened Stacy's Juicebar on March 1 this year in Needham, MA, with a concept that has perfect timing. Cleanse diets and "clean" eating are trendy right now, and juicing has become more accessible thanks to NutriBullet and Ninja infomercials, along with a resurgence of the Cadillac of blenders, Blendtec and Vitamix. More Americans are drinking juice but not just freshly squeezed orange juice. We're talking about 5-10 different ingredients that may include whole fruits, vegetables, seeds and herbs pulverized into one 12-16 ounce serving. Nutritionists and health experts preach to people to eat 5-11 servings of fruits and veggies daily, and this is one way to reach that intimidating number.

Kennedy (left) and Madison (right)I worked with Stacy Kennedy when I was at Dana-Farber and have always respected her vast knowledge but that didn't mean I wasn't skeptical of a new eatery offering a healthy menu. I just haven't found a healthful menu that I've been super impressed with. It seems that restaurants want to cater to the demand for something healthier, so they use the right ingredients but don't know how to fuse them into something tasty. Example: Many of the take-out vegan/vegetarian entrees at Whole Foods are bland unless they're loaded with nuts and oils, and a vegetarian restaurant I reviewed last fall left me wanting.

I love Needham though, where many of my favorite small businesses are located, so I asked Stacy K. for an interview. A recent Boston Globe article hinted that the juicebar was Stacy M.'s brainchild with Stacy K. coming aboard later. Stacy K. said that it was more of a simultaneous effort as she and her husband Dr. Russell Kennedy, a wellness psychologist, had already been developing a juicebar concept. Stacy M.'s business savvy and Stacy K.'s nutrition and fitness expertise combined with their intense work ethic birthed a mutually beneficial partnership.

I think I said "wow" at least three times after stepping into Stacy's Juicebar. My first wow was seeing the decorbright and hip with a lot of energy. The baristas were bustling, serving customers and constantly cleaning and stocking items. There was a take-home case with a variety of quinoa blends, garden salads, wraps, panini, soups and their special raw veggie lasagna. If you can't find your favorite variety in the case, they'll make it fresh on the spot for you.

My second wow was seeing both Stacys present on a weekday morning, bustling just as hard as the others, looking like Energizer Bunnies. They were both extremely hands-on, stocking items and conversing with the baristas, chefs and customers. Stacy K. said that she is at the juicebar for 8 hours 5 days a week, in addition to still working at Dana-Farber once a week. When I asked how she balances work life with her young family, she admitted, "It's definitely a challenge." She shares that her husband is very supportive with the children, who often make appearances at the juicebar (I actually did see the whole family in one corner on a second visit, which I thought was very cool!). 

The Stacys discussing the day's work under their menu board of freshly made juices and smoothies.

I ordered several items to take home: The Grasshopper Power Smoothie (one of Stacy's favorites; the other being the Sweet Beet Juice), Sweet Lime Quinoa, Roasted Veggie Wrap with Hummus, and the Sweetheart Cookie. I was impressed when Stacy said that all of the recipes were her own. Her younger son has food allergies, which encouraged her to create many of the recipes now on the menu. There are many vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free items but there is also chicken, turkey, salmon, eggs and cheese.

My third wow was after eating these items! I was seriously surprised by the Grasshopper Smoothie. I've had green juices and at best they're tolerable. This was a truly delicious thick and creamy shake (see the ingredients below), tasting really fresh with little chunks of sweet dates that got caught in my straw. I could taste every single ingredient (except maybe the aloe and spirulina because I have no idea how they're supposed to taste). The first bite of Lime Quinoa with veggies and honey avocado dressing was simply yummy. The quinoa was cooked perfectly and the dressing added just the right amount of flavor. I ate the Sweetheart Cookie to refuel after teaching a Zumba class and it was very moist and sweet with a satisfying richness from the nuts. The Roasted Veggie Wrap with Hummus was filled with lightly roasted chunky beets, onions, spinach, broccoli and sweet potatoes that were still crunchy. I noticed how filling all of these items were, probably because of the high fiber content. 

The prices were a bit scary with the juices and smoothies ranging from $7.45-9 for a 16-ounce cup but as I said they are high quality and filling, not something you will gulp down quickly. The salads and sandwiches range from $7-10 with the salmon dishes costing $13. I noticed a variety of customers, ranging from young male bodybuilder types to moms with kids to older men and women. Brandon Bass from the Boston Celtics walked in to purchase two P'nut Butter Cup smoothies. He said that he often makes smoothies at home but doesn't like the mess so he's become a regular customer.

Compare this to a Dunkin Donuts counter: Instead of fountain sodas there is vanilla and chocolate almond milk; instead of dozens of donuts there are dozens of fruits and veggies!

For me nutrition is key, and a big reason I'd come here over other health food joints is because Stacy is a top notch dietitian. She's not just using healthful ingredients but considering total nutrition. Complete nutrition info will eventually be available for every menu item, but she emphasized that it's not just calories that are promoted but the entire nutritional value. For example the Sweet Beet juice contains 70% of one's daily iron needs. When I asked Stacy how she felt when dietitians often spout out, "I prefer to eat my fruits than drink them," she replied that both are beneficial; one is not better than the other. "There are different options for increasing fruit and vegetable intake. Juicing concentrates a large volume into a small amount, and removing the insoluble fiber can actually improve digestion and absorption of nutrients in the produce. Both whole foods and juicing have benefits. You don't have to choose one or the other." She says that the pulp removed when juicing is put back into their soups and smoothies so the whole food is used. 

Stacy also provides private nutrition counseling and complimentary on-site workshops on juicing, weight loss, superfoods and sports nutrition. This place is a must-see! Visit them at 1257 Highland Avenue, Needham, MA. Open every day except Sundays and holidays. There's a good chance you'll catch me there sipping my Grasshopper Smoothie!


A Nutrition Shake for Expecting Moms

I don't usually review supplements on this blog as I try to promote whole foods as much as possible. However I considered the new Mommi 3-in-1 shake very carefully as a useful alternative to taking prenatal vitamins. If you're expecting, your OB/GYN will advise you to take a prenatal vitamin every day to supply additional nutrients for the growing fetus. 

When I was pregnant I was scared to death of becoming nauseous, so I chose to forego that single large prenatal vitamin and take the necessary nutrients (iron, calcium, vitamin D, folic acid) separately throughout the day (as approved by my doctor). Prenatals also have higher amounts of B vitamins and certain minerals that can promote nausea; add those to all of the other nutrients jammed into one pill. I personally feel that this megavitamin hitting your stomach can cause immediate stomach upset, especially when your hormones are constantly fluctuating and possibly creating a sensitive gut. Thankfully I didn't experience any nausea throughout my whole pregnancy, which may or may not have been helped by my self-prescribed vitamin regimen.

Mommi 3-in-1 shakes were created by CEO Erin Schurtz who, prior to her pregnancy, had always drank a protein shake daily and wanted to continue using them but could not find one deemed safe for pregnancy. She created these shake mixes to contain the recommended nutrients for a healthy pregnancy, as well as 15 grams of whey protein and 200 mg DHA (300 mg daily is recommended during pregnancy). DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid that has been shown to support the development of the nervous system and vision of the fetus, as well as lower the risk of pre-term labor and delivery, pre-eclampsia and postpartum depression. The shake ingredients are GMO and gluten-free.

I blended up the shake mix with one cup of skim milk for a taste-test, and enjoyed the mild flavor. It was frothy and not too rich nor too sweet (and no fishy smell!), perfect for an expecting mom with a sensitive stomach. I did not experience any stomach upset or nausea after ingesting the high dosage of vitamins. Another plus is that one shake made with 10-12 ounces of 1% milk provides the 300 extra calories recommended during pregnancy; many women overeat calories believing the baby needs this—a common myth that causes excessive weight gain and increased risk of gestational diabetes. This shake is portion-controlled and provides just enough calories. Keep in mind that if you're having the opposite problem of not eating enough calories because of nausea, these quick-digesting shakes are useful to maintain your calorie/nutrient intake. The website has several shake recipes that provide more calories if needed.

Erin took the time to answer my additional questions about Mommi 3-in-1:

Q: What inspired you to create Mommi 3-in-1, and in shake form?

A: When I was pregnant I couldn't swallow or stomach large prenatal vitamins and fishy-tasting DHA. In addition, all the protein powders I bought had warning labels for pregnant or nursing women. I knew there had to be something on the market that combined all three in a tasty shake but there wasn't! So I created it with the help of a wonderful team of nutritional scientists and Dr. Yvonne Bohn, a well-known OB/GYN.

Q: Does one serving of this replace a daily prenatal vitamin?  

A: Yes, one serving of Mommi 3-in-1 has a full prenatal vitamin, 200 mg of DHA and 15 grams of protein; it replaces your prenatal pill and is taken every day with a healthy diet while pregnant.

Q: What is special about your product that someone should purchase it over drinking a shake made with regular whey protein and taking a prenatal vitamin?  

A: The benefit of taking Mommi 3-in-1 over a whey protein and separate prenatal vitamin is that it also includes DHA, which doctors recommend women take every day while pregnant. It is vital for fetal brain development. It is also beneficial over a prenatal vitamin because in Mommi 3-in-1 the vitamins are coated so instead of sitting in your stomach as a large prenatal and slowly disseminating into the blood stream, the vitamins are easily digestible, preventing nausea or gagging. Our protein has also undergone intensive testing over the last year to ensure it passes every regulation for safety during pregnancy. Not all protein powders are safe for a developing baby.

Q: Can a pregnant woman use this as a meal replacement or should she take it in addition to her usual meals?  

A: While pregnant, a woman should take Mommi 3-in-1 as a supplement to her regular healthy diet. Mommi 3-in-1 was designed to contain the approximate amount of extra calories pregnant women need to consume daily. When mixed with milk or milk substitute it adds the extra 200-300 calories (depending on the recipe used) pregnant women should be adding to their daily diet.

Q: Did you continue to drink the shake after giving birth as a snack or meal replacement to help with losing the baby weight? Or should it only be used during pregnancy?  

A: Right after I gave birth I tried replacing breakfast with Mommi 3-in-1 to lose the baby weight until I learned that you actually need even more calories than while you are pregnant, for a healthy milk supply when nursing. So I continued to use it as a supplement and it helped curb my appetite for less healthy snacks. Once I am done nursing I will drink it as a meal replacement.

Mommi 3-in-1 is available for purchase on their website. FitMamaEats readers may use the coupon code 3icecream1 at check-out to receive a 20% discount, valid through July 31, 2014. Check it out!

Disclosure: I received shake samples for my honest review of the product.


Getting Hot at the Barre!

DanceFIT Studio hosted a fun event one week ago for Boston-area healthy living bloggers. DanceFIT has two locations; the Brookline studio opened in 2006 and its Natick location opened this past December. The owner is Gina Fey, a dancer most of her life who trained at prestigious ballet schools in California and France but eventually shifted to teaching dance to both children and adults. BalletFIT is her signature class that was inspired by her need to shed baby weight (her two boys are now 3 and 4 years old). The class incorporates barre work with pliés, relevés, and even développés (think straight leg extended high) that are intended to tighten the gluts and thighs, firm the abdominal muscles, and increase flexibility. 

Gina sharing with us the evolution of DanceFIT studios. Photos courtesy of Rebecca Hildreth Photography and myself.

The blogger event in Natick was introducing a variation of this class called HOT BalletFIT, which employs similar exercises but in a 90-degree studio! I've taken hot yoga and survived, so I invited Fen my fitness contributor to try it out with me. I have to admit that ballet intimidates me, even though interestingly students new to my Zumba classes often ask afterwards if I have ballet training. I took ballet off and on for a few years as a child but always dropped out. I loved barre work but hated going "across the floor" as I could never quite get the jumps and intricate combinations. I also always felt like a clumsy giant in my leotard, next to everyone else who seemed to fall into the petite category.

But when we arrived at the event, I was immediately put at ease as Gina rushed over to greet us and was incredibly sweet and friendly. She looked like a ballerina in her off-the-shoulder sweatshirt, legwarmers, and impeccable bun. Some of the other attendees had taken classes here before and wore legwarmers and tights, so I knew this was not a Zumba crowd! 

I have to say that I greatly enjoyed the traditional barre moves, as I had in childhood ballet classes. The room was hot but not overwhelmingly so, and it felt good when doing the slower movements. However, there were some cardio segments of jumping where the heat did not feel so great, as your heart and breathing rates increased and gulping the hot air was not comfortable! I also hesitated to do the high-impact jumping without sneakers (the class is taken with bare feet or grip socks) since I'm always hounding Zumba students to wear proper shoes. I know that certain dance classes encourage bare feet so this may just be an accepted practice that I'm not used to. An option to modify the movement to a lower impact version would have been helpful. In addition to traditional barre exercises, the workout also included use of a weighted ball to add resistance to moves such as pliés. One segment incorporated rapid bicep curls with an extended arm; I used a 1-pound ball which I felt didn't offer enough resistance, whereas Fen chose the 3-pound ball but felt it was too heavy to do the movements quickly with good technique without risk of pulling a muscle. We agreed that a 2-pound ball (not available) would have been perfect. 

I loved the sweating and that this was a total body workout. I also loved the unusual playlist (who knew there was a classical music remake of Britney Spears' Toxic!). We ended with floor work of abdominal exercises and stretches. I would have liked more abdominal exercises, but Gina said that every class is different so that sometimes there may be an extended focus on abs. To note, much of the barre work automatically incorporates core muscles as you have to tighten them to maintain balance and good form. Overall I was glad to finally have the chance to experience DanceFIT, meet Gina, and mingle with some great Boston bloggers. I hope to try the other classes that DanceFIT offers. One cool option is their Skype virtual classes. If you're a busy mom who finds it difficult to leave home to take exercise classes and misses the social aspect, check that out. Also be on the lookout for a special BollyX class that Fen will be teaching at their Brookline studio in June!

Believe me, everyone was drenched in sweat after class even though you can't see it here!