Category Archives: drinks


What’s Really In Sport Drinks?

I’m going to be blunt. Under no circumstances would I recommend commercial sport drinks. Period.  Well, maybe if you are dehydrated (literally) and no other liquid exists for miles. 

Sadly commercial sport drinks such as Gatorade and Vitamin Water are nothing but liquid sugar and chemical additives. The cons far outweigh any benefit. Most young children simply need water. Teenage and adult athletes may need extra support, but there are much healthier alternatives. And I guarantee professional athletes are not drinking Gatorade despite the advertisements you see on TV.

A Closer Look at the Ingredients in Sport Drinks

While there are minor differences in different sport drinks, many of them have the similar ingredients. Let’s take a closer look at the ingredients in Gatorade…

Gatorade sport drinks nutrition label

Water: Good!

Sugar: And lots of it! An entire 16-ounce bottle contains a little more than 13 teaspoons of sugar. It’s counterproductive to encourage our kids to play sports to be healthy, but then load them up with sugar. Sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs) are the primary source of added sugars in the standard American diet. And several studies have linked SSBs to weight gain, obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease [1].

Dextrose: Just another form of sugar. Unfortunately this form of sugar is made from corn and therefore most likely to be genetically modified (GM).

Citric Acid: A flavoring and a preservative. It may seem harmless because it is naturally found in fruit, but the citric acid found in foods and beverages is chemically produced from black mold secretions.  It’s also another product that comes from corn and another source of GM contamination.

Natural Flavor: Don’t let the name fool you. The “fruit punch” does not get its flavor from real fruit. These are flavors made in a laboratory. And no one really knows how or what is used to make them.

Salt: Salt is one of the electrolytes (the other major electrolytes are calcium, chloride, magnesium, potassium, and phosphate) however sea salt would be a better option here because it actually provides minerals. 

Sodium Citrate: A “sodium salt of citric acid” this chemically processed food additive is used to regulate acidity. It has a potential to cause allergic reactions, dizziness, or restlessness. 

Monopotassium Phosphate: This ingredient is a potassium salt that has the potential to cause abdominal discomfort. It’s a common food additive as well as a fertilizer and fungicide. 

Modified Food Starch: Another chemically processed food stabilizer.

Red 40: Artificial dyes are linked to behavior disorders and hyperactivity in children. Some kids are more sensitive than others. For those that are sensitive, it can be disastrous for them and their families. These dyes are made from petroleum and coal tar and are banned in several other countries. [2]

Glycerol Ester of Rosin: A food additive designed to keep oils suspended or evenly mixed in water. It is produced from pine tree wood rosin using a long list of chemicals.

Caramel Color: Another artificial coloring additive. Unfortunately it contains 4-methylimidazole which has been linked to cancer.

Unfortunately the “zero-calorie” options typically contain the exact same ingredients. However instead of sugar, they use artificial sweeteners. While many people turn to artificial sweeteners to consume fewer calories, studies have actually linked them to weight gain. [3]

Healthy alternatives

There are more “natural” brands on the market today, but they’re mostly made of concentrated fruit juice (another form of liquid sugar). And they still have a few unnecessary additives. Therefore, why buy over-sugared drinks when water is a much healthier, and cheaper, option.

And from an environmental standpoint, we’d use much less plastic if every team player brought a reusable water bottle filled from home. Further, you’ll also your reduce exposure to the harmful aspects of plastic by using a glass or stainless steel container.

While one sport drink won’t cause permanent harm, drinking them routinely is another story.

When you or your children truly need a source of electrolytes after an intense or prolonged period of physical activity, try one of these options instead:

  • Make your own electrolyte drink by combining water, lemon, raw honey and sea salt
  • Make an agua fresca
  • Choose coconut water, a well balanced electrolyte beverage (but, be sure to read the label and avoid harmful additives)

 

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Resources:

[1] Sugar Sweetened Beverages: Over time, too much liquid sugar can lead to serious disease
[2] Food additives and hyperactive behavior in 3-year-old and 8/9-year-0ld children 
[3] Gain weight by “going diet?” Artificial sweeteners and the neurobiology of sugar cravings 

 

what's in your tea?

What’s In Your Tea?

With the weather getting colder I’m definitely drinking more hot tea.  Mention tea drinkers and most people tend to think of the United Kingdom.  The United States, however, is growing as a nation of tea drinkers.  According to the Tea Association of the U.S., from 1990-2014 the U.S. wholesale market grew from two billion dollars to more than 10 billion. Tea appears to be taking more shelf space at the grocery store and there’s an increasing number of brands and flavors.

Health Benefits

Tea has many health benefits.  Starting with the fact that it often has far less caffeine than coffee.  Different types of teas offer different benefits:

Green – high in the polyphenol EGCG, studies show that tea may be supportive against a variety of cancers as well as preventing clogged arteries and improving cholesterol levels.

Black – the highest caffeine levels are found in black tea.  In studies it appears that black tea may protect the lungs against damage from cigarette smoke and may even help to reduce the risk of stroke.

White – Appears to have the highest anticancer properties compared to other varieties of tea.

Oolong – A partially fermented black tea, this has been shown to help lower cholesterol level.

Pu-erh – Fermented and aged, this tea showed benefits for lowering cholesterol and helping with reduced weight gain in animal studies.

Flavoring

Recently one of my readers, Mary, wrote in and asked, “How do they make the flavored teas.  I like the fruity flavors but after reading your book I’m wondering how they get the flavor in there.

Great question.  The answer, unfortunately, is that often the flavors are from artificial ingredients.  Many companies list their ingredients on their website making it easy to find out what’s really in your tea.  For the fruity teas (which seems to be the most popular judging by conversations with friends) although they have fruit pieces in them they also have artificial flavors.  Some tea companies use “natural” flavors, but as we’ve discussed before, natural doesn’t always mean what we think it does.

And then of course there’s other negative ingredients such as citric acid and maltodextrin, both of which are sourced from corn and therefore highly likely to be genetically modified. Another issue with tea is the use of pesticides however that is a rather deep topic and I’ll be covering it at another time.

Here’s a slide show with the ingredients of some popular flavored teas

 

Make your own

So what’s the answer if you want to drink flavored tea but don’t want all the additives?  Tea can also be flavored with juices, extracts (such as vanilla or lemon), or fresh herbs and spices (such as ginger, vanilla, cardamom, or mint) but remember blend cautiously for balanced flavoring.

In my opinion the best option is to blend your own.  I typically buy my teas and ingredients at Mountain Rose Herbs.  Their ingredients are organic and many of them are  fair trade and ethically wild harvested. Starting with a base (black, green, white, roiboos, etc) add in your flavorants.  Mix well and place into a jar.  Good choices for flavorings can be: jasmine, rose, lavender, mint leaves, citrus peel, ginger, lemon, cinnamon, vanilla, or other spices.  Choose just a couple of flavorings that will go together, it takes a while to learn how to make complex blends without overwhelming the base tea or creating a mish mash of flavors that are not pleasant.

One of my personal favorites is a lemon tea made using a number of lemon flavor ingredients. Before I started making my own tea blends I didn’t even know that there was a green roiboos.  Now it’s my favorite, I really love it.  It’s not as sweet as the red and has a pleasant grassy note which I think pairs well with the lemon.  When I make this tea blend I purchase all of the ingredients from Mountain Rose Herbs.

Lemon Tea

equal parts:
lemon verbena
lemon grass
lemon peel
green roiboos tea

Mix together and store in an airtight jar in a place away from sunlight

To brew a cup of tea add 1 heaping teaspoon of tea to 1 cup boiling water and let steep for five minutes
A tea ball can be helpful, otherwise strain before drinking
Enjoy!

Enjoy these teas hot or cold and take advantage of them as a delicious alternative to plain water (especially the decaffeinated varieties).

 

Zurvita Zeal – A Review

Screenshot 2016-01-10 16.29.47 Screenshot 2016-01-10 16.31.34

As The Ingredient Guru I often get asked to “take a look” at a variety of products.  Especially if they have good buzzwords  on the label.

Recently I was given a bottle of Zeal by Zurvita*.  The person who gave it to me wanted my opinion; she was very excited about the product, and takes it every day, in part because of the label statements.   “Gluten free”, “vegan”, “natural ingredients”, “complete nutrition”,  “no artificial colors, sweeteners or preservatives”, and “an excellent source of fiber”.

It’s important to note that products like these often do not have gluten.  That’s because gluten is found in wheat, barley, and other glutenous grain products.  The gluten free statement is merely a marketing ploy to capitalize on the desire of a growing number of people to eat gluten free.

After a review of the ingredients I will not be trying this product.  Here’s why:

Caffeine: The label does not disclose how much caffeine is in a serving but it contains several sources.  Guarana seed powder and yerba mate.  The product also has green tea extract however the website says, “Green tea used in Zeal is standardized at 50% EGCG content and is considered decaffeinated because when it is processed to contain a high level of antioxidants (EGCG), the amount of naturally occurring caffeine is reduced” the guarana and yerba mate most likely do provide caffeine.

Crystalline fructose: This is essentially dehydrated high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).  HFCS is 55% fructose by volume while crystalline fructose is 90% fructose by volume.  Excessive fructose consumption is bad for the liver.

Natural flavors: As we’ve discussed before, the term natural doesn’t really mean much and “natural” flavors might not be everything they’re cracked up to be.

A Screenshot 2016-01-10 17.01.08personal frustration with this product is how it is labeled.  The ingredients are extremely small red/orange print on a brown background.  This makes it very difficult to read, a choice that I have to believe is deliberate on the part of the manufacturer.  I find it deceptive when manufacturers label with this type of print or grey print on a dark background.  Anytime the label is not clear and easy to read I have to wonder what they are hiding.

While there are a number of apparently clean ingredients in this product, it is not without negative ingredients as discussed above.  The use of buzzwords on the label is something called front of package labeling and is often used by companies to distract consumers from looking further into the ingredients.  Keep this in mind when reading the label and looking at new-to-you products.  Just because the label says it’s a good choice doesn’t always mean that it’s something you want to consume.

 

 

Ed note:  Zurvita is a network marketing, or MLM, company.  This article is does not address the “business” of Zurvita and is not meant to be construed as for or against these types of opportunities.  It is simply a discussion of this one product that the company produces.

Coconut Milk — Not As Healthy As You’d Think

Screenshot 2015-02-05 22.48.50

Big news!  Yesterday, Wednesday, February 4 2015, Starbucks announced that they would start offering coconut milk as a non-dairy option. It’s scheduled to appear at a Starbucks near you beginning on February 17, 2105. Normally that would be a great option, especially for someone like me who is currently dealing with food sensitivities and needs to avoid dairy.  It’s also potentially better than their current non-dairy option, soymilk, which is quite possibly genetically modified.

While I don’t drink coffee I do like an occasional green tea latte.  However, on closer inspection it turns out this isn’t going to be an option for me either.  The ingredients panel shows several items that I can’t consume and a couple more that I choose not to.

Let’s start with carrageenan.  It’s a red seaweed which has been shown to be problematic for those with digestive issues.   Not just those who have serious bowel health issues such as crohn’s or ulcerative colitis, carrageenan can also affect those who struggle with bloating or gas issue.  Many of them find that they do much better when they avoid carrageenan.  For more information check out this report by the Cornucopia Institute.  In fact many people who struggle with carrageenan also have issues with excessive amounts of gums in food products.  This coconut milk also contains gellan gum, xanthan gum, and guar gum.

For ingredients I choose not to consume, and which I advocate others avoid as well, we see “natural” flavors [quotes are mine] which could mean anything and sometimes is a code for monosodium glutamate.  There’s also corn dextrin which, because it doesn’t specifically say organic, could be genetically modified.  While coconut milk itself isn’t genetically modified, corn is one of the most highly GMO crops we have and conventional corn products should be avoided as much as possible.   The vitamin A palmitate is most likely a synthetic form of palmitic acid; it’s used to fortify dairy products.

There are coconut milks that do not contain these products however some of them contain a gum, usually guar gum, to help with thickening the coconut milk.  Be sure to read the label to avoid ingredients you don’t want to eat.

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Update:  A reader wrote in and told me that Starbucks was aligned with Monsanto and supported opposition to GMO labeling.  Research shows that Starbucks is not directly affiliated with Monsanto other than that they both belong to the Grocery Manufacturers Association which is vigorously opposed to GMO labeling.   Starbucks claims to be an “affiliate” member and in a direct quote from Starbuck’s website:

Starbucks is not a part of any lawsuit pertaining to GMO labeling nor have we provided funding for any campaign. And Starbucks is not aligned with Monsanto to stop food labeling or block Vermont State law.

The petition claiming that Starbucks is part of this litigation is completely false and we have asked the petitioners to correct their description of our position. 

Starbucks has not taken a position on the issue of GMO labeling. As a company with stores and a product presence in every state, we prefer a national solution.

 

On My Mind Monday 11.26.12

It’s never the same two weeks in a row.  A collection of what I find interesting in the world of food, nutrition, and holistic health.  Here’s what’s on my mind.

Southeast Paying Price For High Antibiotic Use – While overall antibiotic use is dropping, some areas of the country are not dropping as quickly as others.  This is problematic as those areas tend to show higher levels of antibiotic-resistant infections (including urinary tract infections).  It is important to remember that antibiotics should be taken responsibly.  Only take them if you really need them, take them according to the schedule written by your doctor, and finish your entire prescription to ensure that you do not potentially breed superbugs.

Fat blocking soda – Pepsi is at it again.  Trying to make an unhealthy product appear to be something that might be good for you.  Soda is not, is never, a healthy choice of beverage.  Fat blocking soda is just ridiculous.  By adding a dose of what is essentially an ingredient found in laxative Benefiber they are claiming it will block fat and help you lose weight.  My prediction is that this one won’t last long.  It’s kind of like the 7-up with anti-oxidants which was shut down for making nutrient claims.  Looking for fat blocking foods? Eat fiber-rich foods rather than drinking a chemically concocted, empty calorie beverage.

Edible deodorant – While I will be the first to tell you that many deodorants have ingredients in them which are unhealthy and should be avoided, I’m not a fan of this product. First we don’t know that it will work well for everyone as we are all bio-individual and there are no guarantees when it comes to body chemistry. Second I’m not convinced that the ingredients are going to be that great. Instead consider using the EWG’s Skindeep – Deodorant List.

Water Conservation – is still in the news. As I’ve written before it’s something we are definitely thinking more about (especially in light of the letter we recently received from our utility district informing us that water rates were going up by 14%). This is an issue that is not going away and I believe will have a profound impact not only on our water but also on our food (we need water to irrigate, wash, cook, etc).  Our big effort right now is looking for ways to get rid of more of the lawn. I’d love to hear any water conservation ideas anyone else has.

Veggieducken – Wow, what is it with us and combined foods? It’s certainly not a new concept and is something that’s been around for ages, but lately the idea seems to be regaining popularity. The turducken (a turkey stuffed with a duck stuffed with a chicken), a cherpumple (a monstrous three cake three pie combination) and now this. I will confess this one could be a WWME food but I’m not sure I’m willing to invest all the time it would take to make one.

I wanted to share this video from my friend Karen who talks for the first time about her personal journey with Crohn’s. Thank you Karen for your willingness to share and open up about your health and your condition.

On My Mind Monday – 11.12.12

It’s never the same two weeks in a row.  A collection of what I find interesting in the world of food, nutrition, and holistic health.  Here’s what’s on my mind.

Food: An Atlas – It’s an interesting project to map food in a number of different ways; production, distribution, security, and cuisine  Should be fascinating to look at and see where your food is really coming from.

Factory Farms May Raise Blood Pressure – We know factory farms are bad for the animals that are raised there.  Overcrowding and filthy conditions are not good for any living being.  The environmental impact of CAFO’s is huge.  Now it turns out that it may not be healthy for people living nearby either.  While the study is small and the results not firm, it points to another reason why CAFO’s may not be the best way to raise meat.

Meat Inspections Are Down – And speaking of meat, it turns out that our government is inspecting less and less of the meat coming in to this country from other countries.  The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is instead relying more and more on those countries to self-report any issues.  Another good reason to buy local and get to know your farmer.

Women Who Exercise Still Sitting Too Much – Whoops, that would include me.  The health results of sitting are known to be bad for us.  The more we sit the more challenges we face to our health.  I try to be as active as possible but when I added up my hours spent sitting, either at work or at home, it came to far more than I thought it did.  Time to bump up the activity program and try to find ways to be more active during the course of a day.

Sports Drinks Overhyped – “There isn’t much evidence that sports drinks improve athletic performance.”  Truthfully not many people work out enough to need a sports beverage.  Not only that, most sports drinks are filled with garbage ingredients.  Consider drinking water, a great hydrating beverage.  Need electrolytes (and I mean really need them), then try coconut water, a perfectly balanced electrolyte beverage.

If you’re going to add more exercise to your routine, don’t forget to add in stretching.  And to do stretch properly as demonstrated in this video.

photo:  mconnors

On My Mind Monday 10.15.12

It’s never the same two weeks in a row.  A collection of what I find interesting in the world of food, nutrition, and holistic health.  Here’s what’s on my mind.

Dehydration can affect your thinking – In addition to all of the other ill effects of dehydration now there’s one more to add to the list.  It can affect your cognitive processing.  This can become an issue as we age since our thirst mechanism can decline over time.  As the saying goes, “If you’re thirsty, you’re already down a quart.”  While that may or may not be entirely accurate, it is true that by the time you feel thirsty your body is already somewhat dehydrated.  Avoid this by getting into the habit of sipping throughout the day to stay well hydrated and healthy.

Seven Steps For Instant Calm – In our busy, over-scheduled, modern lives we often find ourselves feeling overwhelmed and stressed out.  Here are some simple tips to remind us of those small things that we can do to help us recenter.

Why We Get Colds – There are actually a number of reasons why this happens, we’re run down or our immune system is low, we’re overweight, or we consume too much sugar (it suppresses the immune system).  It turns out that cold viruses also do better when humidity levels are low.  To help support the immune system consider adding more garlic to your diet, getting off the couch, checking your vitamin D levels, and cutting back on sugar.

Sugary drinks cause weight gain – I’m a little surprised that anyone thinks we still need to do studies on this.  Sugary drinks are nothing more than liquid candy.  They represent empty calories that do are not filling and contribute excess intake without any nutritional content whatsoever.  I wonder if they keep doing studies on this because so many of us are so addicted to our sugary drinks that we keep hoping for a different answer.

An old-fashioned drink is back in style – Mead is making headlines.  Made from a honey base it has a unique flavor, just like wine or beer, depending on where it’s made and the ingredients that go into it.  While I’ve not made it nor tasted it, this certainly sounds interesting and I’ll be watching to see if this is another locavore food trend that spread across the country.

photo:  mconnors

Unseen Labels – What’s In Your Fast Food

A friend recently posted this picture on their Facebook page.    And I’ve heard a number of people talking about the “hand-spun” shakes at Chick Fil-A.  I believe hand-spun means nothing more than using an old-fashioned, metal wand device, rather than a blender.  However, with the words home-spun in there it sounds wholesome.  And the picture, of course, makes it look tempting and delicious with a large peach right up front.  The limited time only is, I suppose, there to make you feel that if you don’t get yours now you’ve missed out.

Unfortunately the ingredients tell a different story:

Icedream (whole milk, sugar, nonfat dry milk, cream, corn syrup, natural and artificial flavors, dried whole eggs, cornstarch, mono and diglycerides, disodium phosphate, cellulose gum, carrageenan, sodium phosphate, guar gum, sodium citrate, annatto and caramel colors, artificial color [Yellow 5&6]), peaches, sugar, dextrose, water, citric acid, pectin (pectin, sodium diphosphate, calcium orthophosphate), lemon juice concentrate, salt, turmeric extract (propylene glycol, extractives of turmeric), natural flavor, ascorbic acid, annatto, milkshake base (whole milk, sugar, cream, whey powder (milk), nonfat dry milk, artificial flavor, disodium phosphate, mono and diglycerides, tetrasodium pyrophosphate, guar gum, cellulose gum, carrageenan), whipped cream (cream, milk, sugar, sorbitol, nonfat milk solids, artificial flavor, mono and diglycerides, carrageenan, polysorbate 80, mixed tocopherols [vitamin E] to protect flavor, propellant: nitrous oxide), cherry.

Rather than a whole food peach milkshake we have a host of chemicals which include artificial flavors (appearing three times), colors, preservatives and other unhealthy ingredients.

Considering that a traditional peach milkshake has ice cream (choose organic, whole fat and chemical free), milk (again organic and whole fat), and peaches (organic – to avoid pesticides), it’s somewhat ridiculous that this lab-experiment-gone-wrong is being promoted as a tasty treat.

My suggestion?  Skip theirs and make your own.

On My Mind Monday 7.09.12

news | photo: mconnors

It’s never the same two weeks in a row.  A collection of what I find interesting in the world of food, nutrition and holistic health.  Here’s what’s on my mind.

How can a big gulp look so small? – Mayor Bloomberg’s soda ban has raised all kinds of backlash across the system.  The biggest misconception put forth is that we “know” how much we are consuming.  Manufacturers keep trotting forth this phrase each time they feel threatened to limited by any type of legislation that may impact their ability to peddle their product.  Frequently it’s the least healthy manufacturers who complain the loudest.  So now another study has been done that once again proves that our brains don’t do geometry very well.  We are not accurately able to gauge how much we are consuming, instead cueing off the size of the container.  This study, to my mind, confirms a study previously done with bottomless bowls of soup.  We do indeed eat with our eyes, frequently over-eating because we rely on visual cues.

Our Daily Bread – a slightly modified take of the work they’ve published in their book Hungry Planet: What The World Eats, Peter Menzel and Faith D’Alusio have an exhibit at the Museum of Science in Boston.  It shows a wide variety of people with the food that they plan to eat for that day.  The variety and circumstances are startling.  It gives one definitely pause for thought.  I hope the exhibit is very successful and even more that it will travel around the country, perhaps making it’s way to a museum in Houston so that I can go see it.

Food Companies Concerned About Sustainability – As more consumers become more educated, more companies are beginning to listen.  Realizing that they need to be aware of and involved in this issue as well if they want to sell their products.  As always I propose we start with whole foods, but I do believe that sustainable practices across all parts of the food spectrum are important.

Nutrition Education on Wheels – This looks like an interesting concept.  Using a food truck and providing recipe cards and cooking demonstrations people are getting some ideas for how to use the food they get to make healthy, nutritious meals.  This is an idea that I think could be expanded greatly all across the country.  It seems to me that it would not only help people to eat healthier, but also to help avoid food waste as people often don’t use what they don’t know how to use and it sits until it becomes inedible.  I hope to see more food trucks like this.

EU Organic Label Now Mandatory – Well this just proves that it can be done.  It can’t come to our shores fast enough in my opinion.  I even like the symbol they chose.

I use a LOT of onions in my house.  I’ve tried to grow there but here in my hot, piney woods garden they have not done well.  Out of two onion sets I got one reasonable size onion, yes, one onion.  The others all seemed to melt and disappear into the garden.  I’m still not sure how that happens but I’ve decided that, for now, growing onions is not for me. I continue to use them as they are flavorful and a great, healthy way to punch up your recipes but, for now, I’m still buying instead of growing them.  As a good source of vitamin C onions also provide a lot of phytonutrients.  They are considered to be beneficial for heart health and are also anti-inflammatory.  Using them can be a challenge however as chopping a spherical object into nice tidy dices or even slices isn’t always easy.  Learning the proper way to chop onions is a handy skill.  Here’s a great video demonstrating how to do it.

 

disclaimer: cmp.ly/5

Make Do Bullet Blender

Recently I was wasting time researching ideas for food preparations on Pinterest and came across a posting that mentioned using regular mouth canning jars as a personal bullet blender device.  According to the pin/link that mentioned it the mouth of a regular pint jar happens to fit the blender blade base which then fits into the blender and can be used to make personal smoothies.

I already own a blender and am not interested in buying another appliance for my kitchen.  But there are times when it would be great to be able to make individual smoothies without having to clean the blender in between each recipe.

This morning, after mulling it over for a bit, I decided to give it a try.  I figured the worst thing that would happen is that it wouldn’t work and I would have to dump it all into the blender and start from scratch.

To make this morning’s smoothie I put the following ingredients into a regular mouth pint canning jar:  Greek style yogurt, organic strawberries, washed and quartered, fresh ground flax seed, greens powder, coconut oil, and a splash of almond milk to make sure there was enough liquid.  I put the blade base on the jar and it fit very well, placed the whole thing on the blender and hit the button.

I didn’t measure very well as I wasn’t sure how it would work but it seemed to have come out okay.   The hardest part was trying to carefully undo the jar and blade base from the without undoing the jar and spilling the contents all over the blender.

It turns out this works very well and I anticipate more personal smoothies in our future.