Improve your health, one step at a time

Author: Natalie Minnis

Taking high-dose iodine: What you need to know

Taking high-dose iodine: What you need to know

To watch my video version of this post, on YouTube, click here. Many people have reported success following the high-dose iodine protocol to treat thyroid problems, and also to treat other conditions, including breast lumps, prostrate problems, irregular heartbeat and even allergies. However this is […]

Weight loss to weight gain? It could be your gut

Weight loss to weight gain? It could be your gut

An Israel-based team of scientists may have found the reason for yo yo dieting. It seems to be the fault of our gut microbes – the “microbiome”.

How a low-fibre diet can damage your colon

How a low-fibre diet can damage your colon

 

healthy-high-fibre-breakfastA daily breakfast high in dietary fibre could help protect your colon and prevent infection.

Health practitioners have been extolling the virtues of fibre-rich foods for decades. Dietary fibre is a nutrient that is important in regulating the digestion and eliminating waste.

Now researchers at the University of Michigan in the US have found another equally important reason to eat a diet high in fibre-rich foods. Dietary fibre, it appears, indirectly protects the intestinal wall, guarding against the invasion of unfriendly bacteria and pathogens.

The research, published in Cell, was carried out using specially-bred germ-free (“gnotobiotic”) mice which are born with no gut microbes of their own. The mice received a transplant of bacteria that normally grow in the human gut.

Three groups of mice were studied:

• one group of mice were fed a diet that contained 15 percent fibre

• another group were fed a fibre-free diet of processed foods

• a third group of mice were fed a diet high in prebiotic fibre of the type often found in health supplements and processed foods.

With no fibre to eat, the normally “friendly” bacteria began to eat the lining of the colon

The research revealed that in the mice fed a fibre-free diet, some of the normally helpful, “friendly” bacteria began to eat their way through the protective mucus layer that lines the wall of the colon, eroding it to such an extent that pathogenic bacteria were able to invade.

This was found to be the case even after just a few days of eating a fibre-free diet. It was also found to be the case in the mice fed the prebiotic fibre.

But where the host was fed a diet of fibre-rich foods, the protective mucus lining remained strong and impregnable.

When some of the mice were infected with a strain of pathogenic bacteria similar in effects to E.coli in humans, the fibre-free mice showed inflammation over a much greater area than the ones on a fibre-rich diet.

Eric Martens, PhD, who led the research, said: “The lesson we’re learning from studying the interaction of fiber, gut microbes and the intestinal barrier system is that if you don’t feed them, they can eat you.”

Read more about the research here.

Foods high in fibre:

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Legumes – lentils, beans, peas, chick peas

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Berries – raspberries, blackberries

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Avocados

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Seeds – hemp seeds, linseeds/flaxseeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, quinoa

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Dried fruit – dates, figs

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Vegetables – parsnips, brussel sprouts, broccoli, turnip

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Nuts

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Wholegrains – oatmeal, wheat bran

What does a gut sample say about your health?

What does a gut sample say about your health?

I wanted to have my microbiome analysed, so I sent off a sample to uBiome. The results indicated pretty good gut health, though it wasn’t a perfect picture.

How to make hemp milk

How to make hemp milk

Hemp is one of the richest sources of non-animal proteins there is. It is also very high in essential fatty acids, with a 3:1 balance of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, and it’s rich in vitamins and minerals too.

How iodine deficiency could be putting your health at risk

How iodine deficiency could be putting your health at risk

Brain damage. Breast disease. Cardiovascular risk. All of these mental and physical health problems can have an association with iodine deficiency. Yet if you’re reading this in the UK and many other European countries, it’s likely that you are at least slightly iodine deficient.

Most of us have no idea of how potentially serious a health issue this could be.

Iodine deficiency is not only responsible for thyroid health. It could be an underlying factor in a wide range of mental and physical health conditions, from breast cancer to low IQ. Yet there is relatively little awareness of this issue, even within the wider medical community.

The UK is the 7th most iodine deficient country in the world

• Europe has the highest percentage of iodine deficiency in the world, according to World Health Organisation (WHO) research, despite the fact that iodine deficiency is generally presented as a problem of the developing world.

• The UK is the 7th most iodine deficient country in the world, rated between Angola and Mozambique.

• In the 1990s, more than 90% of the population of Denmark was found to be at least mildly deficient in iodine. This led to a high rate of goitre and nodular hyperthyroidism. In 2000 a mandatory programme of iodising household and bread salt was introduced, which reduced the incidence of iodine deficiency and thyroid disease in Denmark.

Health risks

According to the World Health Organisation, iodine deficiency is the world’s most prevalent, yet easily preventable cause of brain damage.

Severe iodine deficiency can lead to goitre, a swelling of the neck caused by enlargement of the thyroid gland. It can also caus cretinism, a condition of mental and physical retardation.

In the days before the function of iodine in the body was understood, goitre and cretinism were widespread throughout Europe and the world.

A large goitre, caused by iodine deficiency.
A large goitre, caused by iodine deficiency.

 

Essential for body and mind

Iodine is essential for physical and mental development. It has a direct association with the thyroid as it is needed to produce thyroid hormones, but thyroid hormones act throughout the body, controlling:
• brain development
• basal metabolic rate
• growth and development
• temperature regulation
• fat production
• blood vessels
• skin
• hair
• bone marrow
• kidneys
• lungs

Pregnancy

pregnant_woman2Iodine is particularly important for pregnant women. Pregnant women who are deficient in iodine have a higher risk of miscarriage and of congenital abnormalities in the baby.

Research conducted on 1,040 pregnant women at the University of Bristol in the UK and published in 2013 showed that low iodine status in early pregnancy was significantly associated with the child being in the bottom quartile of scores for verbal IQ at age eight and for reading accuracy and reading comprehension at age nine.

Ideally iodine supplementation should start before conception in order to build up iodine levels in the body. WHO recommendations are for pregnant and lactating women to take 250mcg of iodine every day, and women of childbearing age to take 150mcg of iodine daily.

Iodine and breast health

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Milk from lactating breasts contains four times the ingested iodine than that taken up by the thyroid gland.

According to David Brownstein, MD, in his book “Iodine: Why You Need It; Why You Can’t Live Without It”, iodine is essential for breast health. Iodine concentrates in and is secreted by the mammary glands, Brownstein says. Adequate iodine is essential for the maintenance of healthy breasts – insufficient supplies can lead to fibrocystic breast disease, or lumpy breasts.

Brownstein also points out that the therapeutic use of iodine in treating breast cancer was first mentioned in medical literature in 1896.

There is a direct relationship between breast cancer and goitre, and regions of the world where iodine deficiency is prevalent.

Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular health risks

Studies have indicated links between thyroid problems, cardiovascular issues and Type 2 diabetes. Research conducted in March 2016 found an association between low urinary iodine levels and dyslipidemia, a condition of abnormalities associated with serum lipid metabolism. This is one of the risk factors for cardiovascular disease and a main component of metabolic syndrome.

A 2009 study found that iodine treatment given to children with moderate iodine deficiency improved their lipid profile and reduced their insulin levels compared to a control group.

A 1996 German study of teenage girls with endemic goitre found that  iodine therapy reduced plasma cholesterol.

Testing for iodine deficiency

There is no medically accepted way to test for iodine deficiency in an individual. Skin patch tests are commonly discussed online, but are generally considered unreliable. I did a skin patch test using tincture of iodine (or you can use Lugol’s – see box) to assess my own condition, and the iodine was absorbed into my skin so rapidly – within an hour – that I felt this was enough, together with other health factors, to indicate that I had an iodine deficiency problem.

Urinary iodine tests are generally used for population research purposes, but are not considered reliable enough for individual assessment. However, the late Dr Guy Abraham, who pioneered the high dose iodine protocol, developed an individual assessment known as the iodine-loading test whereby 50mg of iodine is taken with a glass of water, and then urine samples are collected over the next 24 hours for lab analysis.

 

The iodine skin patch test

Doing a skin patch test can give you an idea of whether you are deficient in iodine – though this test is considered to be unreliable due to several factors, including evaporation.

To do the test, apply tincture of iodine or Lugol’s iodine to the surface of the skin on the inside of your arm or your thigh, or onto your stomach, in roughly a three-inch square, just before you go to bed.

The theory is that the faster the iodine colour disappears from the skin, the more iodine deficient is the person tested. This is because if you are deficient in iodine, your body will quickly absorb the iodine that it needs, but that if you have sufficient iodine in your system, the iodine will remain on your skin.

In general, if the yellow iodine colour has faded after eight hours, or when you get up the next morning, you are considered to have an iodine deficiency. If the colour is still there 24 hours later, you probably have nothing to worry about.

When I did the test, I painted iodine onto my arm and my stomach, and both patches disappeared within an hour – which suggested to me that even given the inaccuracy of the test, my iodine reserves were probably pretty low.

Taking iodine supplements

The recommended daily supplementation dose for iodine is 150mcg, or 250mcg for pregnant and breastfeeding women. Iodine supplements are often taken in the form of kelp tablets, available from chemists, health shops or online.

Most health practitioners do not advise taking more than 500mcg of iodine per day. However increasing numbers of people are taking high dose iodine, sometimes more than ten times the recommended daily dose. This practice is not without health risks, although many people are claiming great success with it. Read more about it in this post.

Why does the UK have such high levels of iodine deficiency?

In the 19th century iodine deficiency caused health problems throughout the world. But as scientists learned more about the importance of iodine, iodised salt was introduced in many industrialised countries – sometimes by law, sometimes on a voluntary basis.

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A Scottish woman with goitre, 1847.

For some reason, the UK was not one of these countries, even though several UK regions were known to have a prevalence of goitre among the population.

However, from the 1920s on, UK dairy farmers have been giving their herds iodine-fortified cattle feed and salt licks. Interestingly, this is done to improve their reproductive performance. The use of iodophor disinfectants has been introduced to clean teats and milk tankers, and iodinated casein is given to cows to increase lactation.

The iodine then finds its way into the milk supply, especially during the winter months when cattle are more dependent on artificial feed.

The general increase in milk consumption from the 1940s, following campaigns by the Milk Marketing Board, is believed to be the reason why estimated dietary iodine intakes in the UK increased from 80mcg to 255mcg between 1952 and 1982.

But over the last couple of decades the consumption of milk and dairy products has declined. Also, an increasing trend to replace iodine compounds used in the dairy and baking industries with non-iodine alternatives may have reduced iodine intake in the population.

A survey published in 2011, the first national survey of iodine status in the UK for more than 60 years, found average urinary iodine levels to be just 80mcg/L, indicating mild iodine deficiency.

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Organic milk is no longer deficient in iodine, according to OMSCo.

In April 2015 news headlines trumpeted research findings that organic milk contained significantly less iodine than conventionally-produced milk. This was because organic herds were not being given mineral supplementation in their feed. However, according to the Organic Milk Suppliers Cooperative (OMSCo), this practice has now changed.

“By early 2015 we announced that we’d achieved comparable results with those in the conventional market,” said Richard Hampton, managing director of OMSCo.

But if – like me – you have an intolerance to all cow’s milk, whether organic or not, you may need to take iodine supplements. WHO recommends a daily dose of 150mcg per day, but some people are taking ten times that amount. Find out more here.

The high dose iodine protocol: what you need to know

The high dose iodine protocol: what you need to know

Over the past few years, a growing number of people have been taking doses of iodine ten times the daily amount of 150mcg recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Most of them – but not all – claim to have improved their health in this way, sometimes dramatically.

How to make alcohol-free vanilla extract

How to make alcohol-free vanilla extract

Vanilla extract has a beautifully fragrant smell and adds a subtle, sugar-free sweetness to recipes. It can be bought in large supermarkets, but it usually has alcohol and sometimes sugar added.

You can make your own alcohol-free vanilla extract easily and cheaply – however you have to leave it for a few weeks before using to allow the vanilla flavours to steep into the liquid.

How to make a smoothie bowl

How to make a smoothie bowl

The smoothie bowl has to be one of the most delicious breakfasts ever created – or you could serve it as a healthy, nutrient-rich dessert. All the ingredients are from nuts, seeds and fruit.

You’ll need a good blender with strong blades that can blend ice.

YOU WILL NEED:

• 200-300ml frozen fruit

• 150-200ml nutmilk

• 3 unsweetened dates (check the pack for added glucose or other sweeteners)Date box

• one teaspoon of vanilla extract (optional). If you do use this, make sure it’s real vanilla extract, not vanilla essence – or even better, make your own!

• coconut water (optional – you can use tap water instead).

You can let your imagination run riot with this one. I’ve used nutmilk for the base, but you can use hemp milk, coconut milk, seed milk or just all fruit.

Home-made nutmilk is vastly better than the shop-bought version, and it’s really easy to make. You can find out how here.

  1. Start by putting the fruit in the blender.

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You can use any fruit, but it’s best to use frozen for this recipe, to give your smoothie base an ice-cream-like consistency.

For this one I’ve used frozen pineapple and a mixture of berries.

2. Add 3 dates.

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Take the stones out of the dates first. You can do this using a sharp knife (I find one with a serrated edge works best). Just slit the skin and flesh of the date and pick out the stone in the centre.

3. Add about 150-200ml nutmilk.

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If you’re using shop-bought or very thin nutmilk, you might want to add a bit more than this.

4. Add one teaspoon of vanilla extract.

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The vanilla extract is not necessary, but it adds a delicate flavour.

5. Now it’s time to blend.

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Blend on the “ice cream” setting if your blender has this. If not, blend in fairly short pulses (5 to 15 seconds), checking for lumps of fruit after each pulse.

If there are a lot of icy lumps, you’ll need to add a little water or coconut water – not too much, because you’re aiming for a thick, creamy consistency.

If you’re using an inverted style blender, as I have for this recipe, after securely attaching the base, give it a good shake to make sure that the frozen fruit is close to the blades. If the fruit has frozen into a big lump, you might have to break it up with a knife or a spoon first, and maybe add a bit more liquid.

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Blend on the “ice cream” setting if your blender has this. If not, blend in fairly short pulses (5 to 15 seconds), checking for lumps of fruit after each pulse. If there are a lot of icy lumps, you’ll need to add a little water or coconut water – not too much, because you’re aiming for a thick, creamy consistency.

6. Once you’re satisfied with the consistency of the smoothie, pour it into a bowl.

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I sometimes stir in some rolled oats at this stage, if I’m planning an energetic morning (this is optional).

I always top my smoothie bowl with a bit of chopped fruit and milled linseed – linseeds are packed with omega 3 fatty acids. You can buy this ready-milled in the shops – or you can make it yourself and store it in an airtight jar.

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The type of topping you use is completely up to you. I sometimes make a frozen banana smoothie bowl, and top it with raspberries or blueberries.

Sometimes I stir in a couple of teaspoons of chia seeds, soaked in a little water first. Use your imagination – but keep it healthy!

ENJOY!

Prebiotics and probiotics

Prebiotics and probiotics

Probiotics are live micro-organisms designed to add or replenish friendly bacteria in the gut. Foods can be probiotic if they contain live bacteria. Live yogurt is one of the best-known probiotic foods – others include raw cheese, sauerkraut, miso soup, kefir, kombucha or any other foods that have been fermented or use live cultures.

Friendly Bacteria

Friendly Bacteria

Bacteria have a terrible reputation. They are seen as disease carriers and signs of a dirty home or an unclean body. They are seen as a dangerous invisible presence that should be eradicated wherever they might possibly appear.

This is in spite of an enormous body of medical and scientific research showing that bacteria are essential for all life.

Don’t let Lyme disease get a look in

Don’t let Lyme disease get a look in

Last year I visited Costa Rica, for a family graduation. I travelled round the country on my own for a couple of weeks, staying in some beautiful remote jungle areas, before meeting up with the family for the big event.

Just before I returned to San Jose, the capital city, to meet up with my family, I noticed a large circular red mark on my left arm.

I knew this was significant – but I couldn’t remember why.me-with-bullseye

The bull’s eye mark is clear to see on my left arm in the main photo and inset.

When I met up with my sister a few days later, she spotted the mark and said it looked like Lyme disease. My sister is a doctor, and she told me that Lyme disease required immediate treatment with antibiotics – otherwise it can stay in your system for years.

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection spread by a tick. You don’t have to be in a tropical country to contract it, but infection is more likely to occur when the skin is exposed. This is why hikers are often advised to wear clothing that covers their legs when walking in areas with long grass or high vegetation.

Usually the first sign that you’ve contracted Lyme disease is a distinctive red or pink circular rash with a dot in the middle, often described as a “bull’s eye” rash. However some people don’t develop this rash when they contract the disease.

Flu-like symptoms often occur in the early stages of Lyme disease: headaches, fatigue, joint pains and a high temperature. But if the disease is not treated, later symptoms can be much more serious, including fatigue, joint pain and swelling, numbness, paralysis of the facial muscles, headaches and heart problems.

Many people believe that they have chronic effects from Lyme disease, sometimes appearing long after the original infection. This is an area of controversy, but given that the ticks that pass on Lyme disease may pass on more than one type of bacteria, it does seem possible.

Symptoms can vary from country to country, as ticks can carry more than one disease. Strictly speaking, Lyme disease is Lyme borreliosis, spread by Borrelia type bacteria, but other common infections from ticks in the UK include babesiosis and ehrlichiosis.

640px-TickTicks are small black creatures related to spiders. They can be as small as a poppy seed, so they are not easy to identify. If one lands on your skin and starts to feed on your blood, it could stay there for five to seven days before dropping off.
634px-Tick_Twister_O'TOM_Tire_TicIf you spot a tick on your own or someone else’s body, it’s not advisable to just brush it off with your hand – unless you have just seen the tick landing on the skin.

The tick will burrow into the skin in order to feed on the host’s blood, and if it’s roughly brushed off leaving part of it or the contents of its stomach or mouth in the skin, the infection could be passed on. So it’s important to remove the whole tick very carefully, using either fine tweezers or a special tick removal tool, as described here.

If you are infected and the “bull’s eye” develops, the only way known to science to cure the infection is by taking a course of antibiotics.

Natural cure?

When I realised I had Lyme disease, I did a bit of research to see if a natural cure might be possible. I didn’t find any satisfactory natural alternative to antibiotics, and I didn’t want to risk symptoms lingering in my system, possibly for years.

Luckily for me, I was due to return home a few days after my bull’s eye rash developed, and my doctor prescribed an antibiotic. Antibiotics can trigger a lot of side-effects, as they can wipe out a lot of “friendly” gut bacteria along with the targeted pathogens, so as a precaution I ate a lot of fresh raw vegetables during and after my course of antibiotics.

Towards the end of the course I developed a slight burning feeling in my gut, so I made myself a daily litre of a special anti-inflammatory juice that I used to make up for a former customer of my juice café. The ingredients are greens, celery, cucumber, lemon or lime, fresh turmeric, fresh ginger and black pepper.

After a few days of taking those, the burning sensations completely disappeared.

I’ve had no recurrence of the bull’s eye mark, and if it ever happens again, I’ll certainly recognise it.

What happens if you don’t know you’ve contracted Lyme disease?

Having read a bit more since then, it seems there is a strong argument for natural treatment of Lyme disease – although if it happened to me again I would probably still take the antibiotics.

Not everyone gets the “bull’s eye” mark, and even those who do might not notice it until it’s too late. It seems likely that many people are living with the condition without knowing that they have it.

If you have a strong, diverse gut flora, new pathogens may not stand a chance
The bacteria passed on by ticks will take their place in your gut along with your other gut bacteria.

If you have a strong, diverse gut flora, the theory goes, the new pathogens may not stand a chance. We all carry many different types of bacteria in our gut, some more helpful to us than others. Researchers have found pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria living peacefully in the crevices of many healthy people – we are all probably harbouring some pathogens that usually do us no harm.

That’s why it’s crucially important to keep the bacteria in our gastrointestinal tract healthy and diverse, by consuming prebiotics to lay the groundwork in which friendly bacteria can flourish, and probiotics, to introduce good bacteria and encourage them to stick around.

Or simply by eating a balanced diet containing ample amounts of fruit, vegetables and plant fibre to feed your healthy bacteria, as well as taking regular exercise, limiting stress and getting out in the sunshine when you can.

How to make nutmilk

How to make nutmilk

Nutmilk adds a creamy flavour and texture to smoothies, smoothie bowls and vegan ice cream. It can also be added to soups – as long as they’re not going to be served to people with a nut allergy of course.

Green smoothies: health, convenience and vitality

Green smoothies: health, convenience and vitality

A smoothie is a drink made from fruit blended with water or fruit juice. A green smoothie is just a smoothie with greens added – any leafy green vegetables, such as spinach, kale or chard.

How to make a basic green smoothie

How to make a basic green smoothie

The green smoothie is one of the healthiest convenience foods in existence. It’s high in vitamin C, fibre, magnesium and lots of other nutrients, but relatively low in sugar. It’s hydrating, and it tastes a lot nicer than you might think. You can pour it into your favourite drinking vessel and take it to work or the gym – you’ll find it surprisingly filling.

A green smoothie is just a fruit smoothie with added greens such as spinach, kale or chard. The greens add nutrients like iron and fibre, and the fruit masks the taste of the greens – in fact, they blend well together.

I usually have two 500ml green smoothies for lunch, but if you’re not used to smoothies, it’s best to start small (250-350ml) and build up gradually so that your system gets used to the high dose of fibre. A green smoothie should keep for up to three days in the fridge.

This recipe is for a 350-500ml green smoothie. When making green smoothies it’s not important to use exact amounts of ingredients – what’s more important is the balance of ingredients.

Green smoothies have to include greens – whether that’s kale, spinach, chard or any other type of greens is up to you, and you can vary the amount of greens used according to taste and how much your system can cope with fibre. I recommend a handful of greens in each juice, but if you don’t normally have a high-fibre diet, it’s best to build up the greens gradually.

INGREDIENTS

Ingredients can vary, but for this smoothie I’ve used:

• 1/2 banana

• 1/4 mango

• 1/2 orange

• water

• 50g greens

Start by putting the fruit into the blender.

Bananas, mango and orange in blender jug

My favourite recipe is one banana, a quarter mango flesh or pineapple and half an orange or apple, with a large handful of spinach or kale. I peel all of the fruit except for the apple. Apple skin has a lot of nutrients, and if you have a good blender, you won’t get any lumpiness from the skin – only the flavour.

But if you’re worried about pesticide use you might want to peel the apple first. I always remove the apple core and any orange pips, and I also remove the hard central section of the pineapple.

Add about 150-200ml water.

Bananas, mango, orange and water in blender jug

Add the greens.

Bananas, mango, orange and spinach in blender jug

You can add the ingredients in any order you want, but I find it easier to add the water before adding the greens.
You might also want to add other flavourings at this stage, such as paprika or nutmeg. Paprika is rich in iron, and the taste is not nearly as spicy as you might think – it blends well with greens. Some people like to add cayenne pepper, which is fine but just add a pinch – cayenne is very strong.
Or you can just leave it as it is.
Now, you’re ready to…

BLEND!

How long should you blend for? A good guideline is 30 seconds, but again, it depends on your preference. With spinach you might need only 20-25 seconds. Some people like the odd lump and don’t like to blend for too long in case it destroys the nutrient content. If you’ve added a lot of kale you might want to blend it for a minute or a bit longer.

Pour into your favourite drinking vessel, and enjoy!

Green smoothie in blender jug

Kale has a wonderful flavour (try chewing some raw – you might be surprised!), but you need a powerful blender to extract the taste and pulp all the ingredients into a smooth liquid without lumps. The best blenders cost hundreds of £s/$s, but there are much cheaper blenders that make excellent green smoothies with kale or almost any other type of greens.

I would recommend using a blender with an engine power of 300 watts minimum if you plan to blend kale. If your blender has less power, I would advise you to use spinach rather than kale, as you won’t need as much power to blend spinach into a smooth, lump-free liquid. This is probably the best plan if you’re new to green smoothies.

The Nutribullet has a 600W engine, so it will comfortably pulp kale to a smooth consistency. Various models are available, but I would go for one with at least two blender cups for convenience.

The Breville Blend Active only works in the UK, though similar types of blender are available in other countries. It has a taller, slimmer blender cup and a motor of just 300W, but I find it handles kale pretty well. Again, I would recommend getting the version that comes with an extra blender cup.


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