The area south of Fifth Street in Miami Beach is a chic one to reside in these days, but cross to the north side of the main drag and it's another story. Homeless push overloaded carts through the streets and live in the alleys between Sixth and Eighth streets and Washington and Michigan avenues. The residents are more working-class than party animals. Not exactly a place you'd expect to find a holistic health oasis.
But South Beach is famous for its ability to contradict itself. On the corner of Sixth and Meridian, Vita-Life vitamin shop and prepared food market (744 6th St., Miami Beach) and its neighbor, the Miami Life Center (736 6th St., Miami Beach), a traditional and holistic yoga studio, are healthy-living diamonds in the rough -- and fixtures for the young, health-conscious set that seems to be slowly creeping into the neighborhood.
Vita-Life moved in four years ago and finds its main clientele in local health nuts and athletes, many of whom stop by for a bite or a drink after an Ashtanga or Mysore class at the studio next door. Khalil Rahman, chef, smoothie aficionado, and clerk at the joint moved over from the Meridian Food Market (812 6th St., Miami Beach) next door to man the shop, and he's glad he did.
"It's very interesting to learn about the foods. And the customers here have no complaints. Everybody's happy and they love the food," he says.
Around noon at the store, a red-spandex-clad cyclist bursts through the door and exchanges familiar greetings with the counter man. His name is Arnaldo Salazar, and he's a 15-year semipro athlete, having competed in his native Venezuela as well as Colombia. He has just finished his weekly 100-mile trek around the county from Key Biscayne to Aventura. He lives across the street and comes in often for a coco-dream smoothie (banana, coconut water, and almond butter), shots of wheatgrass juice, and chats with the staff.
"They have good energy here; they're friendly," he says. He sticks to the prepared-food side of the store these days, although the aisles offer scads of protein powders and supplements for endurance athletes like him.
"I used to eat a hundred pills a day. Finally I got sick of it, and I thought, Let me try it without it. Now I don't take that many supplements. I just eat healthy, and it works," he says before pouring a green shot down his gullet.
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Among the specialty products the shop offers are homeopathic medicines. There's a shelf of pills for everything from anxiety to arthritis. Another rack offers scores of liquid extracts -- things such as marshmallow root (used as an anti-inflammatory), echinacea, and black cohosh (for menstrual cramps and menopause), "for people who don't like to take pills," Khalil says.
They just got an even richer supply of one of my favorite products: Spiru-Tein protein powder. This vegan-friendly pea, chia, soy, and/or rice protein mix comes in bulk or in single-serve packets. The packs cost about $1.60, come in an array of flavors (tropical fruit and chocolate peanut butter swirl, to name a couple) and blend easily with soy or almond milk to make a quick and shockingly delicious low-calorie, high-nutrient meal replacement.
The market offers more traditional meals as well: coconut curry tofu, brown rice, okra and artichokes, steamed kale, quinoa, tomato and avocado salad, plus tuna, tilapia, and chicken for omnivores. All premade meals cost $6.99 per pound. Freshly squeezed orange juice is made to order, and that's just the start of the juicy possibilities. The sunrise, for example, is a blend of beet, orange, apple, and carrot juices; add ginger for a spicy twist. Sip slowly and it feels like you're drinking life force itself. You can request a tailor-made juice blend or smoothie if the selections on the menu board don't scratch your health-drink itch.