For the past few weeks, we’ve been reviewing what’s available in the various aisles of the grocery store. If you’ve been shopping online, you’re likely sticking to your usual list and either picking things up or having them delivered to your door. If you’re physically going inside the grocery to shop, you may be in a hurry to get through to reduce your risk of COVID exposure. Either way, you may be missing new products that are out.

For many of us, the term “milk” meant one product- cow’s milk. Over the years, consumer demand for plant-based milks grew due to lactose intolerance, dairy allergy or the desire to follow a vegan or animal-free lifestyle. According to a recent survey by Cargill, roughly 50% of consumers use plant-based milks. 1

But not all milks are created equal. This week we’ll take a look at what’s out there in the dairy and non-dairy world.

Cow’s milk

Cow’s milk, as most of us know it, comes in four varieties. Whole milk, or full fat milk contains 3.5% milk fat and has a fuller, creamier texture due to its high saturated fat content. It’s also higher in calories yielding 150 calories per serving. Two percent milk fat, often seen with a dark blue cap and known as low-fat milk, provides half the fat of whole milk and 120 calories per 8 oz. serving. One percent milk is even lower in fat and calories, providing 100 calories and 2.5 grams of fat. Skim milk, also known as fat-free milk, is the lowest in calories at 90 calories per serving and zero grams of fat.

Each milk provides 8 grams of protein and 12 grams of carbohydrate. As skim milk has had the fat removed, it is fortified with fat-soluble vitamins, A and D. All varieties of milk provide riboflavin as well as 300 mg of dietary calcium, roughly 30% of the DRI.

Plant-based milks

After several lawsuits from the dairy industry, the FDA determined in 2019 that non-dairy “milks” may be called milk according to the first amendment. For a long time, soymilk held the spotlight in the non-dairy category, but then came rice and almond milk. Now, you can find coconut milk, cashew milk, pea protein and more recently oat milk. 2

Each milk varies nutritionally. While almond and rice milk are lowest in protein and calories, they are fortified to provide the same (or sometimes more) calcium, and vitamins A and D. Cashew and coconut milk tends to be higher in fat and calorie content while oat milk is equivalent to 2% milk in calorie and fat content, but has the benefit of soluble fiber. Pea protein-based milks, such as Ripple, are another alternative for consumers that is vegan and higher in protein than nut-based milks. Hemp milk is another new milk that’s commercially available. This type contains more heart-healthy polyunsaturated fats and does not separate in hot drinks, making it a good substitute for higher fat coffee creamer.

Which milk is right for you?

The type of milk you choose (or don’t choose) is a matter of taste, tolerance, availability, health benefits and cost. The consumption of cow’s milk is considered safe, though health experts advise low-fat varieties to reduce saturated fat intake as it relates to heart disease and some cancers. Excessive calcium (from any source) raises the risk of prostate cancer. 3, 4   Compared to plant-based milk, cow’s milk is the least expensive and most widely available. Soymilk is frequently available at most groceries, but you may need to try specialty stores for the newer plant-based milks.

Plant-based milks including soy and nut-based milks are becoming more popular as people move towards a vegan lifestyle, though individuals with soy or nut allergies need to be careful about which milk they choose. Soy milk is the closest (nutritionally) to cow’s milk, but some varieties may contain more sugar. Coconut or oat milk may work for those with allergies, but will come at a higher price and are less widely available. Almond milk is a good alternative for those requiring a low protein diet, as in kidney or liver disease.

Ways to use milk

  • Use milk in place of coffee of coffee creamer to boost calcium and protein intake with less fat.
  • Add soy or other milk to smoothies.
  • Try plant-based milk in oatmeal for a smoother texture.
  • Substitute almond or oat milk for regular milk if you require a lower protein diet.
  • Use coconut or cashew milk in soup or curry-based dishes.
  • Have almond milk over your breakfast cereal if you’re limiting calories or carbs.
  • Try hemp milk to boost polyunsaturated fat intake.

Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD

References

  1. Half of Dairy Consumers in the U.S. Also Use Dairy Alternatives, New Research Out of Cargill Shows | Nutritional Outlook
  2. https://www.forbes.com/sites/nicksibilla/2019/01/31/fda-crackdown-on-calling-almond-milk-milk-could-violate-the-first-amendment/#34a82d847b70
  3. Clifton PM, Keogh JB. A systematic review of the effect of dietary saturated and polyunsaturated fat on heart disease. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2017 Dec;27(12):1060-1080.
  4. Rahmati S, Azami M, Delpisheh A, Hafezi Ahmadi MR, Sayehmiri K. Total Calcium (Dietary and Supplementary) Intake and Prostate Cancer: a Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Asian Pac J Cancer Prev. 2018 Jun 25;19(6):1449-1456.
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As we head into flu season with COVID19 surging in many areas, we’re all concerned with ways to avoid getting sick. Staying home, maintaining social distance, regular handwashing, and wearing masks are our best ways to protect ourselves until the majority of the population is vaccinated.

Eating a nutritious diet can improve our immune systems to not only prevent us from getting ill, but reducing the risk of serious complications if we do get sick. Let’s take a look at what nutrition can do for you!

Protein

Protein is one of three macronutrients and is needed for strong immunity. Protein provides materials for our bodies to make antibodies, white blood cells, and other compounds that help fight disease. Protein is also necessary for wound healing and recovery from disease.

Most people associate animal foods with protein, which is true. Eggs, beef, fish, poultry, pork, and shellfish all provide protein, but so do soy-based foods (edamame, tofu, soy milk, or soy nuts). Beans, lentils, peas, nuts, seeds, nut butter, and quinoa, a seed from Peru, are also good sources of protein.

Whole grains and vegetables contain small amounts of protein, with the exception of soy, they aren't considered complete proteins since they're missing some essential amino acids. Combining rice and beans or peanut butter on wheat bread makes the two a complete protein. But you don't have to do worry about getting complete protein in one meal because you are likely to eat a variety of foods containing them throughout your day.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D has been in the spotlight most recently as research suggests that individuals with vitamin D deficiency are more likely to contract COVID and suffer more severe consequences when they do.1 Vitamin D improves the ability of white blood cells in your immune system to fight disease and also reduces inflammation, which may cause cell damage.

This fat-soluble vitamin can be found in dairy products as well as fortified juice or cereal, fatty fish, and through casual sunlight exposure. It's difficult to get enough through our diet.

If you’re over 50, have an autoimmune disease (such as MS, RA, or Lupus), suffer lactose intolerance, have kidney, pancreatic, or liver disease or obesity, you’re at higher risk for vitamin D deficiency. Ask your doctor to check your vitamin D level and follow supplementation recommendations if needed.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C impacts immunity in a number of ways. For starters, it supports the skin’s barrier function against pathogens and promotes antioxidant activity in the skin, which protects it from oxidative stress. Vitamin C also collects in phagocytic cells- the type of cells that “eat up” bacteria and aid in getting rid of them. It helps with ridding the body of spent neutrophils from infection sites, which decreases the chance of tissue damage.

Vitamin C deficiency results in impaired immunity and a higher risk of infections. Deficiency of this water-soluble vitamin can be prevented through regular intake of fruits and vegetables like peppers, citrus fruits, berries, broccoli, and tomatoes.

Iron

Most people think of iron when they think of the health of their blood, but this mineral is quite important in immunity. Iron is needed for cell differentiation and cellular growth. It’s a key component in enzymes that are vital for the normal functioning of immune cells.

Iron is part of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen to our body’s cells, tissues, and organs. It’s also needed for our body’s ability to fight infection. Iron-deficiency is linked with poor immunity.

Iron-rich foods include beef, poultry, and pork as well as lentils, quinoa, and iron-fortified foods such as bread and cereals. Consuming a food high in vitamin C improves the absorption of non-animal forms of iron.

Zinc

Zinc lozenges are popular during cold and flu season, but zinc is fairly widespread in our diet, too. Zinc is needed to help activate over 300 enzymes in the body and helps with the integrity of our skin, similar to vitamin C. In addition, zinc is needed for immune-modulating cells such as neutrophils and killer cells. Zinc deficiency is linked with a higher risk of infection.

While zinc won’t “cure” a cold, some studies suggest it may reduce symptoms and duration of the illness. It has been linked with reduced severity of COVID. 2

Zinc is found in oysters, beef, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes. Excessive supplements may cause a decrease in HDL (healthy) cholesterol levels. 3

Here are some tips to protect your immune system:

  • Include a variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet daily. Sources of vitamin C include peppers, berries, broccoli, citrus fruits, and spinach.
  • Obtain protein in your diet with lean cuts of meat, low-fat dairy products such as Greek yogurt or string cheese, or dried beans and lentils.
  • Add whole grains to your diets such as oatmeal, whole-wheat pasta, bran cereal, or quinoa for adequate zinc and fiber.
  • Add berries to iron-fortified cereals to boost iron absorption or include peppers and tomatoes in bean dishes.
  • Drink plenty of water. Water helps keep mucous membranes moist, which helps protect the lining of our lungs and gut from harmful bacteria. Aim for at least 6 to 8 cups of water daily.
  • Get enough vitamin D in your diet through dairy products, fatty fish, or dietary supplementation (if needed).

Finally, getting enough sleep, reducing stress, and doing regular exercise also improve our immune systems and should be accomplished every day.

Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD

References

  1. Ali N. Role of vitamin D in preventing COVID-19 infection, progression, and severity. J Infect Public Health. 2020 Oct;13(10):1373-1380
  1. Wessels I, Rolles B, Rink L. The Potential Impact of Zinc Supplementation on COVID-19 Pathogenesis. Front Immunol. 2020;11:1712. Published 2020 Jul 10. doi:10.3389/fimmu.2020.01712
  2. Bulka CM, Persky VW, Daviglus ML, Durazo-Arvizu RA, Argos M. Multiple metal exposures and metabolic syndrome: A cross-sectional analysis of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2011-2014. Environ Res. 2019 Jan;168:397-405.
  3. Marsh KA, Munn EA, Baines SK. Protein and vegetarian diets. Med J Aust. 2013;199(4 Suppl):S7-S10.

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It’s hard to believe we’ve been in pandemic panic mode for 9+ months with the holidays at our heels. Having to work from home, homeschool your kids, and find a mask to wear every time you leave the house can be draining. From losing friends or family to the virus to losing work or your home, this situation has certainly challenged all of us.

Isolation and “staying put” is also difficult. We miss even simple travel like driving to work, the mall, or the grocery store. Disappointment in not seeing friends and family, especially at holiday time, is natural. Having to send gifts out on time adds another layer of stress. Some individuals are at higher risk for psychological distress than others. Being resilient is vital.

Who’s at risk?

A recent systematic review of 41 studies evaluated the indirect impact of COVID19. About half of the studies were on health care workers while the other half included the general public. Not surprisingly, individuals working in health care experienced more depression/depressive symptoms, anxiety, poor sleep quality, and increased psychological distress. Higher scores of anxiety and depression, as well as lower psychological well-being, were seen in the general public compared to how they felt pre-pandemic. A higher risk of psychiatric symptoms was observed more frequently in females, poor-self-related health, and having family members with COVID-19. 1

Another article published in the Cambridge University Press identifies four groups of individuals with a higher risk of mental and psychological consequences of the pandemic. These include those who have had direct or indirect contact with the virus, those with prior physical or mental issues, health care professionals, and people that are frequently watching multiple media channels. This list could virtually include anyone.2

How to reduce stress and anxiety during the holidays:

Self-care is always important for good mental and physical health during the holiday season, but even more important during a pandemic. If we want to get through this, we may cope better with a few strategies within our control. Here are 10 ways:

  1. Reduce your sources of stress. Limit how many news sources you read as well as the frequency of consumption. Ignore information from unofficial or uncontrolled sources.
  2. Increase communication with friends or family. This is not only via phone or Zoom calls, but writing letters, sending holiday packages, or meeting in person, but at a physical distance with masks.
  3. Keep a regular schedule for meals and sleep. This may help maintain energy throughout the day, reduce frequent snacking, and help to reduce fatigue.
  4. Get outside. Being out in nature reduces your screen time and provides a mental break. Seeing neighbor’s holiday decorations and lights may also cheer you up.
  5. Exercise regularly. Go for a walk, bike ride, or hike. Use hand weights or a medicine ball indoors or a stationary bike, elliptical machine, or other equipment if you have it.
  6. Volunteer in your community. If you have time, spend some of it helping others. This will lift your spirits in addition to giving back. Opportunities such as food rescue, holiday toy drives or other charity work could use help these days.
  7. Take care of your pets and your skin. Psychologists note we may all be suffering from “skin hunger” from the lack of personal touches we’re normally used to. Pet your dog or cat often, hug the people in your immediate circle daily. Treat yourself to a long bath or hot shower or use a favorite lotion on your legs and arms. We all need a human touch.
  8. Enjoy the silence. Embrace the introvert in you. Meditate daily, read more or journal your thoughts. Write 3 things you’re grateful for each day. Life is not always a group activity, and that’s OK.
  9. Learn a new hobby. Baking sourdough and banana bread became a hit this year because everyone had more time at home. Use an app to learn a new language or yoga or try your hand at a new craft like collaging.
  10. Ask for help. Mental health professionals are poised and ready to use telehealth for those who need professional help with their stress or anxiety.

Remember, we won’t be in crisis mode forever. There is light at the end of the tunnel. We just need to be patient and trust that this too, shall pass.

Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD

 References

  1. Vindegaard N, Benros ME. COVID-19 pandemic and mental health consequences: Systematic review of the current evidence. Brain Behav Immun. 2020 Oct;89:531-542
  2. Fiorillo, A., & Gorwood, P. (2020). The consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health and implications for clinical practice. European Psychiatry,63(1), E32. doi:10.1192/j.eurpsy.2020.35

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Despite the popularity of low carb, grain-free diets, grains of all kinds continue to be an important staple in our diets.

Did you know that whole grains are one of the highest antioxidant-containing foods? Grains are not only a great source of complex carbohydrate, and fiber, they’ll also a source of phytochemicals.  Phytochemicals  are compounds found in plants and many  have beneficial  benefits.

Whole grains are especially important in our diets, but enriched grains have a purpose, too. Whole grains contain more vitamin E, selenium, fiber, and phytochemicals than their enriched counterparts. But enriched grains are a good source of B vitamins (notably thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and folic acid) as well as iron. The addition of folic acid to grains such as breakfast cereal, grits, and flour in 1998 has reduced neural tube defects by 35%. 1

Why eat them?

As mentioned above, whole grains may also be a source of antioxidants. For example, corn, rice, rye, millet, wheat, and barley are a source of anthocyanin- a water-soluble flavonoid found in blueberries and strawberries. Anthocyanin intake has been linked with a reduction in chronic diseases including cancer, dementia, and heart disease. More studies are needed to evaluate the impact of anthocyanin intake and health. 2

Epidemiologic studies indicate that consumption of whole-grain foods is protective against the development of type 2 diabetes. Individuals that eat 3 servings of whole grains per day have a risk reduction of between 20 to 30% compared to those consuming less than 3 servings per week. Insoluble cereal fiber aids in glycemic control by slowing the release of carbohydrate.3

Whole grains, as part of a Mediterranean diet, may also offer some protection against heart disease. While an increase in high sugar/refined carbohydrates raises the risk of cardiovascular disease, an increase of 1 to 2 servings of whole grains per day lowers the risk by at least 10 to 20%. 4

Where to buy them

The advice to shop only the perimeter of the store is simply outdated. In fact, most grains, with the exception of bread in the bakery, can be found in the middle aisles of the grocery store. Look for bagged or boxed grains such as brown rice, quinoa, or whole-wheat pasta that has not been seasoned with cheese or sauce if you’re trying to keep calorie, sodium, and fat intake down.

You may also find a variety of cooked grains in the frozen food section of the store. From frozen brown rice to frozen quinoa and whole-grain waffles, there’s plenty of variety out there to choose from. Frozen grains are convenient and add variety to your diet. You can also cook larger servings of grains at home and freeze them. Rice, quinoa, and pasta can be frozen after being cooked and cooled and last up to 3 months in the freezer. Place it in freezer bags or individual glass containers and reheat it in the microwave or stovetop.

How to use them

There are plenty of ways to add nutritious grains to your diet. Below are 10 some simple ideas. Let’s start with breakfast.

  • Top a whole-grain English muffin or waffle with peanut or almond butter.
  • Serve 100% whole-wheat toast with eggs or avocado.
  • Cook old fashioned oats for 2 minutes in the microwave. Stir in cinnamon, chopped almonds, and ground flaxseed for added fiber and healthy fats.
  • Fill a whole-wheat pita with tuna salad and chopped tomatoes and cucumbers.
  • Spread hummus over a whole wheat tortilla, add roasted peppers, roll, and eat!
  • Make a quinoa bowl with black beans, avocado slices, chopped tomatoes, and shredded cheese.
  • Use whole-wheat pasta with pesto or other sauce.
  • Add barley to your vegetable soup.
  • Use brown rice or whole wheat soba noodles with your stir fry.
  • Snack on air-popped popcorn. Yes, it’s a whole grain, too.

Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD

References

  1. Folic Acid & Neural Tube Defects: Overview | CDC
  2. Francavilla A, Joye IJ. Anthocyanins in Whole Grain Cereals and Their Potential Effect on Health. Nutrients. 2020 Sep 24;12(10):2922.
  3. Schwingshackl L, Hoffmann G, Lampousi AM, Knüppel S, Iqbal K, Schwedhelm C, Bechthold A, Schlesinger S, Boeing H. Food groups and risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies. Eur J Epidemiol. 2017 May;32(5):363-375.
  4. Temple NJ. Fat, Sugar, Whole Grains, and Heart Disease: 50 Years of Confusion. Nutrients. 2018 Jan 4;10(1):39.

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In a perfect world, everyone would embrace vegetables like they were chocolate cake; chomping at the bit to get another bite in.

The reality is that a mere 9.3% of US adults meet the US Dietary Guideline for vegetable intake, according to the CDC. That means over 90% of people aren’t eating enough vegetables!

Granted, some vegetables can be polarizing. Take Brussels sprouts, for example. These tiny cabbages can be bitter due to their high sulfur content. But when roasted, they mellow and become much sweeter. Maybe they just need a change of scenery? This week we’ll focus on simple ways to boost vegetable consumption.

What’s in season?

With the availability of produce year-round, you can have just about anything on your plate you desire. However, similar to fruit, certain veggies are better at certain times of the year and the cost will vary. Asparagus, for example, is a spring vegetable that’s in season (and least expensive) from March to June, while tomatoes are found in late summer, early fall. Nothing beats a seasonal tomato!

Bell peppers come in a variety of shapes and colors and are in season from July to November. Red, orange, and yellow bell peppers are sweeter than green and higher in vitamin C content than their green counterparts. Peppers are best stored in the refrigerator to prevent them from wrinkling or getting moldy too quickly.

While you can find onions year-round, seasonally, they are considered at their peak from mid-April to September. Store them in a cool, dry place away from potatoes. Onions and potatoes release moisture, which makes them susceptible to mold. Rotten potatoes have an unforgettable rotten smell. Trust me on this one.

Fresh, frozen, or canned?

Similar to fruit, fresh vegetables may be more desirable from a color and texture perspective compared to frozen or canned. But there’s a common misconception that frozen vegetables are somehow inferior to fresh. Fresh vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower will lose vitamin C after being harvested due to exposure to light, heat, and handling. But frozen cruciferous vegetables are picked and quickly frozen to lock in nutrients.

Having frozen vegetables on hand is a great way to get more of them in your diet. They’re convenient, inexpensive, and easy to cook. They can be microwaved in minutes to make a quick side dish and you can’t beat the shelf life of 6 to 12 months.

Canned vegetables are a great alternative, too. While some may be higher in sodium than fresh or frozen, veggies packed without salt, in BPA-free cans are more common these days. Shelf-stable canned vegetables will last much longer, too than fresh or frozen. Canned tomatoes and canned beans are great to have in your pantry for simple, fast meals like pasta, chili, soup, or stew.

10 tips to use veggies that are easy and delicious:

  • Keep carrot and celery sticks, pepper strips, and cherry tomatoes on hand for quick grab snacks with hummus or Greek yogurt dip.
  • Toss baby spinach leaves into your next salad or add to leftover pasta, rice, or other dishes before reheating.
  • Use frozen mixed vegetables or chopped spinach in soup, stew, or as a side dish.
  • Add chopped onions and peppers to eggs, grain bowls, or stir-fries.
  • Use canned beans and tomatoes in beans, soups, or tacos.
  • Brush carrots, kale, or Brussels sprouts with olive oil and a dash of seasoned salt and roast for 20 minutes at 400 degrees.
  • Sautee frozen green beans or broccoli with ginger, garlic, and soy sauce for a simple stir fry.
  • Add mushrooms or spinach to pasta and other grain dishes.
  • Grill asparagus, peppers, and onions.
  • Try shaved Brussels sprouts, finely chopped kale, and broccoli slaw in a poppyseed dressing with chopped almonds and dried cranberries. It’s delightful!

Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD

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A recent study found that shoppers that shop more often have better quality diets and higher fruit and vegetable consumption.

Plenty of studies show the benefits of increasing fruit and vegetable intake, yet according to the CDC, just 1 in 10 adults get adequate produce in their diets.

There’s lots of great affordable food in each department if you know what to look for. Below are some tips for buying, storing, and using fruit.

Go by the season

Ever notice that apples taste best in the fall and winter, but aren’t so great in spring and summer? When fruit is harvested and eaten when it's in season, the flavor, nutrition, and cost are most favorable. Buying fruit in season is less expensive than purchasing it out of season. What’s in season also depends on your area of the country. Strawberries are in season in the Midwest from May to July but are harvested from March to November on the West coast.

While oranges and apples look beautiful in a bowl on your counter, they’ll keep longer if placed in the refrigerator or other cold storage. Citrus fruit and apples have a long shelf life and can stay in the frig for up to 6 months. Both fruits may be available year-round but the cost will vary by season.

Pears, bananas, and stone fruit like peaches or plums may need to sit on the counter to ripen before they’re ripe to eat or ready for the frig. Tomatoes should always be stored at room temperature and not in a cold environment.

Berries of any kind should be refrigerated and not washed before use to prevent them from getting moldy. They may keep longer if placed on layered paper towels on a cookie sheet in your frig. Eat them within a few days of purchase or freeze them. These are highly perishable fruits!

Fresh, frozen, canned, or dried?

While there’s no disputing that fresh fruit has a better texture than frozen or canned, frozen or canned fruit shouldn’t be discounted from your diet. Frozen fruit is picked at the peak of ripeness and frozen immediately to lock in its nutrients. In some cases, it may be more nutritious than fresh since it won’t be exposed to handling, temperature changes, or sunlight. Canned fruit packed in juice or water may be lower in fiber than fresh but will have a longer shelf life.

Fresh fruit is the most perishable and should be used within days or weeks of purchase, while frozen fruit may last up to 8 to 10 months. Canned fruit is shelf-stable for 1 to 2 years.

Dried fruit is another option that many don’t consider. Dried apricots, plums or raisins are a good source of potassium as well as fiber. While dried fruit tends to be higher in calories per serving size, a few teaspoons go a long way. The beauty of dried fruit is convenience. You can pack them when you go camping or on a road trip.

Ways to use them

  • Add fresh fruit to salads, yogurt or served with cheese and nuts on a charcuterie board if you’re feeling fancy.
  • Chop fresh fruit and add to cottage cheese or with a smear of peanut or almond butter.
  • Add frozen fruit to overnight oats, smoothies, or yogurt.
  • Use frozen fruit in compotes or sauces for meat or fish.
  • Try canned fruit works in smoothies, yogurt, sauces, or fruit pies.
  • Dried fruit can be added to oatmeal, salad, dry cereal, or trail mix.

Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD

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