Nutrient-dense wheatgrass gaining in local popularity

Have you sipped your anti-oxidants today?
By Lisa Kelly, Sun Correspondent
Article Last Updated: 12/20/2007 11:31:48 AM EST

LOWELL -- Sick from all that gift-wrapping? Nauseous from holiday music overload? Let the healing powers of chocolate and coconut nourish your senses. "The coco loco is amazing during winter," says Heidi Feinstein, owner of Live Alive where the winter elixir is being concocted. "It gives you lots of energy and digests and assimilates fats, which helps manage weight and cholesterol."

If you're slurping down this delish drink teeming with anti-oxidants there's no excuse to be putting on extra Christmas pounds. Filled with refined coconut, the highest quality of pure dark cocoa and soy milk blended with French roast coffee, makes this our favorite drink of the year. No sugar is used in any drinks at the organic cafe. Enjoy it hot or iced for $3.65.

For more vitality try the swami, a blend of tamariroasted almonds, flame raisins, shredded carrots,
broccoli flowers, dark greens and spring onions atop brown rice with miso-curry sauce. A filling bowl is
$8.45, wrap $8.95. "Meals made for winter should be comforting and warming. Our healthier options satisfy your hunger, without keeping you down," says Feinstein. Keep the extra weight and holiday stress at bay this season and cozy up with these health-conscious alternatives.

Life Alive. 194 Middle St., Lowell.

Mon.-Wed. 10am - pm, Thurs. and Fri. 10am - 9pm, Sat.10am - 7pm and Sun. noon - 7pm
(978) 453-1311.

Root Awakening; Ginger is the key ingredient to summertime refreshers

Root Awakening; Ginger is the key ingredient to summertime refreshers


LOWELL -- It increases circulation, fights inflammation and aids digestion. It can also reduce cramps, protect the liver and wake up your sex life.

It isn't the new Prozac or Viagra, it's ginger. The Asian root that's the least expensive spice in the supermarket aisle is not only good for you, it's become a summertime refresher.

At Life Alive on Middle Street, ginger crush is selling as fast as iced lattes around the corner. Served in a mason jar, this thirst quenching drink will make you forget about caffeine at least for the afternoon.

A blend of fresh ginger, lemon juice, organic honey, water and ice, the holistic pick-me-up was invented by cafe owner Heidi Feinstein, who constantly introduces her favorite healthy foods to her customers in innovative ways.

I love ginger and lemon together. It's great to get it into your diet. Why not do it deliciously?" said Feinstein, herself a petite picture of health.

The recipe for the crush, which tastes like a tart ginger freeze, gives you a boost of energy without the jitters or post crash of iced coffee or tea. And it's easy to make.

The many benefits of the spice from the Asian tropics have been touted, both professionally and as homespun wisdom, for centuries. Like cayenne, turmeric, cardamom and cinnamon, ginger is used liberally in Chinese medicine as a purifier. But like most pungent herbs, it is not for everyone. Ginger has a warming effect and is not recommended for people with heat conditions or gallstones, said Feinstein, who is certified in naturopathy and nutrition.

While warming drinks may sound contradictory in the summer, hot liquids actually cool the body down faster than cold beverages, health experts say. "When you travel south of the equator the food gets spicier. By eating these foods our bodies get warmer and brings us over the edge quicker," said Feinstein.

When crushed ginger is folded into vanilla ice cream at Sullivan Farms in Tyngsboro, the result is a cooling, sweet and refreshing change from the ubiquitous Moose Tracks. It's also a perfect guiltless pleasure. Remember you are eliminating anti-oxidants with every lick. Sullivan adds a crushed ginger and corn syrup concoction into his 14 percent butter fat milk ice cream. The flavor has won fans, but it was a hard sell. "The first couple of times I tried making it, I thought no one would eat it at all," said Sullivan, who runs the popular ice cream stand in the shadow of the Tyngsboro Bridge. Now ginger ice cream is one of his top selling wholesale flavors, which he sells to Asian and Japanese restaurants in the area. "I think its a flavor that can grow on you," he said.

Root Awakening; Ginger is the key ingredient to summertime refreshers

Nutrient-dense wheatgrass gaining in local popularity


Several members of the Lowell Police Department use grass on a daily basis. Don't worry -- they haven't been hauled in for questioning or lost their badges. The grass they are ingesting is wheatgrass -- a harmless, healthful supplement that is growing in popularity. When Eric Wayne started doing shots of wheatgrass at organic cafe Live Alive on Middle Street, the Lowell patrolman was not only making himself feel better, he was turning the stereotype of officer-fueled coffee and doughnut binges on its head.

"It makes me more energetic and alert through the day," said the wiry officer. Gulping down shots of the sweet-tasting, grassy-smelling green liquid has become a daily regime for many city dwellers.

According to nutritionists, a shot of wheatgrass juice can be an easy way to boost daily nutrient intake, since the juice from the embryonic shaft of wheat offers an intense dose of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and chlorophyll, which is reputed to have other benefits. A study done at Loyola University, for instance, found that chlorophyll breaks down unfriendly bacteria in the digestive tract.

And nutritionists say a 1-ounce serving of this pick-me-up is packs the same nutrients as 2.2 pounds of vegetables. People who have undergone heart surgery, suffer diabetes, or just want to feel better have taken note of its reputed benefits.

"It has been around a long time. It's not something the average person gets into, but it helps clean the blood. It's very detoxifying," said Eric Reardon, supplemental buyer for the Natural Market in Groton, where you can find wheatgrass in a powder form.

The freeze-dried powder can be added to recipes for an added boost or diluted with water for a drink. Most people do a shot of pure wheatgrass to get the best benefits. Still, there isn't much hard data to support some of the bolder claims for wheatgrass and there are few clinical studies, according to the Web site of the Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, in an otherwise laudatory take on the supplement.

The site quotes Dr. Andrew Weil, the Harvard-trained physician and alternative health expert, who believes that although wheatgrass is a good source of vitamins and minerals, it's "no substitute for 21/2 pounds of vegetables." Even so, the appetite for the juice is so strong that Life Alive owner Heidi Feinstein recently had to triple her order.

"I used to buy three pounds a week; now, I'm buying 10 pounds," said Feinstein, who laces her raw juices and vegetable smoothies with wheatgrass. Finding wheatgrass in its purest form, squeezed from a special juicer, is not as easy as it used to be. Most health food stores have stopped selling it this way for financial reasons, but for Feinstein, who's a believer in its nutritional benefits, it's an essential part of an organic diet.

Kathleen Deely's e-mail address is

Cities Backing Restaurants as Lures; Lowell Takes Chance on Cafe to Attract People as Well as Investment

Boston Globe Review
By Robert Gavin, Globe Staff  |  October 9, 2005

Cities backing restaurants as lures
Lowell takes chance on cafe to attract people as well as investment

LOWELL -- In a city of blue-collar traditions and meat-and-potato appetites, Heidi Feinstein wanted to open an organic restaurant offering a signature dish of smoked tofu, brown rice, steamed vegetables, and dark greens -- with a recommended side helping of flax oil.

Alley Trela (left) and Kim Hall made vegetable drinks
at Life Alive, a Lowell cafe that got a loan from the city.
(Bill Greene/ Globe Staff)

Local skeptics had warned her: ''This is a drinking town." But Feinstein took a chance, and she found a lender willing to take one, too.

Today, about a year after opening, sales are running 20 percent ahead of projections, and her Life Alive Urban Oasis & Organic Cafe bustles with artists, students, health-conscious baby boomers, and even police officers.

Feinstein's adventurous lender is the city of Lowell, and her cafe provides an example of why restaurants are becoming a tool in development. Restaurants are not only job providers; they are also increasingly seen as amenities to attract people to cities, particularly the educated, affluent, and entrepreneurial.

As a result, cities are finding ways to do what banks have traditionally avoided: They finance these notoriously risky businesses. Boston, for example, has provided about $500,000 in grants and loans to 22 new or expanding restaurants as part of a year-old initiative to increase activity in business districts.

In Providence, city and state agencies provided about $750,000 in financing to help a popular restaurant to leave Federal Hill to anchor revitalization efforts in the old shopping district.

In Lowell, where developers are converting old mills into loft-style condos, the city and its partner, the nonprofit Lowell Development and Financial Corp., launched a loan program four years ago aimed at enlivening the downtown area.

So far, the program has provided about $1.5 million in low-cost financing to almost a dozen restaurants and cafes.''We're trying to change demographics," said Matthew Coggins, Lowell's assistant city manager for planning and development.

''Instead of saying, 'How do we get companies to come here?' " he added, ''we're asking, 'How do we get people to live here?' "

Lowell's efforts reflect the latest thinking in urban development, which increasingly is focused on making cities attractive places to live.

Richard Florida, a professor in the School of Public Policy at George Mason University outside Washington, D.C., and author of the best-selling ''Rise of the Creative Class," has popularized this idea. He argues that in a global economy, where brainpower is a precious commodity, cities that attract and hold onto a smart, entrepreneurial ''creative class" are likely to prosper.

Edward Glaeser, a professor of economics at Harvard, made similar arguments in a paper that was published in 2000, about two years before Florida's book appeared.

In the paper, Glaeser coined the term ''consumer city" to describe the demand for urban living -- illustrated by rapidly rising housing prices -- even as more people worked outside the city.

Glaeser and coauthors concluded that the futures of cities will increasingly depend on their ability to lure well-off residents, whose spending on goods and services spur activity. And places likely to succeed are those that can offer high-quality amenities, from mild climates to safe streets to ''restaurants, theaters, and an attractive mix of social partners."

As Boston's soaring housing prices have made Lowell an affordable alternative, this one-time center of textile and, later, minicomputer production fits the profile of an emerging consumer city.

For example, fewer than one-third of Lowell residents worked in the city in 2000, compared with more than half in 1980, according to the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute.

Meanwhile, Lowell has worked to improve its consumer appeal over the years, upgrading and adding performance venues, creating an arts district, and attracting museums and professional sports teams, including a minor league affiliate of the Red Sox, the single-A Lowell Spinners. Adding more restaurants to the mix was considered another critical piece.

''People were coming to the theater, or a game, and then leaving," said James Cook, executive director of the Lowell Development and Financial Corp. ''We wanted to keep them here," Cook added.

Seeded with about $750,000 from a federal community development block grant, and supplemented by the Lowell Development and Financial Corp. and several local banks, in 2001 the city established a revolving loan program for local businesses. That effort has become known as the Downtown Venture Fund.

The program offers restaurants or retail shops up to $200,000 in financing, a 6 percent interest rate, and a one-year grace period before payments are due. About two-thirds of $2.5 million in loans have gone to restaurants, from sandwich shops to coffee shops to an upscale Italian eatery.

Among those that are opening: Caffe Paradiso, which also has locations in Boston's North End and Cambridge's Harvard Square. Still, some specialists said, Lowell has embarked on a risky strategy, since restaurants have very high failure rates.

About 60 percent of restaurants fail in the first three years, according to studies, compared with less than half of all new businesses, restaurants included. On the other hand, said Stephan Weiler, an assistant vice president and economist at the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank, local governments sometimes have to take risks.

In a paper published in 2000, Weiler credited the revival of a blighted section of Denver's downtown in the late 1980s in part to the city's willingness to use a revolving loan fund to help a brew pub, which included a restaurant, to open in that area.

As the brew pub succeeded, and attracted people to the area, others followed, including retailers, artist galleries, and housing developers. ''Restaurants are notoriously difficult businesses, and a lot of whether they work has to do with timing," Weiler said. ''But they can be a piece of the puzzle."

In Lowell, where hundreds of downtown condominiums are coming onto the market, some with prices reaching $500,000, officials and restaurateurs think their timing might be right, too. On a recent warm day here, Oscar De Stefano, owner of the Caffe Paradiso, looked out on busy outdoor tables, where customers sipped espressos and capuccinos, and lunched on a variety of Italian specialties.

''The North End thrives because of its amalgam of restaurants," DeStefano said in an interview. ''Lowell is just at the beginning, but the wheel is turning."