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Holistic Nutrition & Lifestyle Coaching in Toronto Canada

Audrey Hood, RHN, CCP, PO

Don Valley Parkway & Eglinton area Toronto, Ontario, Canada M3C 3M8 phone: (647) 351-6825
Sunday, September 06, 2009
This surprising claim was made in a recent issue of Time Magazine (Aug 17, 2009) in an article entitled "The Myth About Exercise." In the article, the author explains, with the illustration of a few research studies, that it appears that those who spend hours a week huffing and puffing and sweating away their time and energy at the gym are no more or less likely to release excess weight than those who don't participate in any structured exercise routine. Is this just an attention grabbing headline article to stimulate magazine sales? It does seem to fly in the face of everything we've ever been told about how to release excess body fat: eat less, move more. What about all those extra calories we're burning in the gym (or on the road or in the pool or on the court)? Don't tell me that was all for nothing!??!

The conclusions the researchers are drawing to explain their findings (again, based only on a couple of formal studies; beyond that anecdotal evidence is used) are:
  • Exercise stimulates hunger, so we eat more to compensate for the extra calories we burned; in fact intense exercise could make weight release harder, as it could make us lose control of our appetites, leading us to hit McDonald's for some french fries or Starbucks for a 400 calorie muffin after our workouts.
  • By performing "purposeful" exercise (ie: exercise you do on purpose for the sake of getting exercise, gaining fitness or for weight release), we may also compensate for that extra calorie burn by reducing our "casual" exercise (ie: regular movement that may be done throughout the day such as walking, taking stairs, carrying groceries, cleaning the house, doing yardwork, or playing recreational sports).
  • The author states that "After we exercise, we often crave sugary calories like those in muffins or "sports" drinks like Gatorade."
  • Our perception of the amount of food we can "afford" to eat becomes inflated; we may feel that because we exercise so much, we can eat carte blanche and not have to worry about it.
Now, I'm not going to flat-out refute these points, but I am going to argue against them. Yes, when we exercise, our energy requirements to maintain our weight increases. In other words, we can eat more and maintain our current weight. If we want to release excess weight, we do still require a caloric deficit, and exercise can help us to create that.... IF we do not overcompensate by eating as much or more than we burn. Of course if you go and eat french fries and muffins, and Chocolate Frappuccinos you're not going to reduce your body fat. Putting some numbers behind it to help illustrate the point, the article gives the example of a blueberry muffin, at 360 calories. To burn that off, a 154 pound 30 year old female will need to jog for a half hour at 5mph, vacuum for an hour and a half, bike ride for 1.25 hours, or mow the lawn for an hour. Exercise may help prevent you from gaining extra weight in that case, but your weight release goals will be reached very slowly if at all. This article really highlights what we've been told in recent years: Weight release is about 20% exercise, and 80% food. Don't fool yourself that exercise gives you free reign.

While the author states that we often crave sugary foods after exercising, in fact the opposite is more likely. While you may have strong hunger after a hard workout (although many people, myself included, often have little appetite after a hard workout), exercise is not likely to stimulate a craving for sugars in particular. What stimulates a craving for sugar, in fact, is eating sugar. If you make wise selections focusing on complex carbohydrates (whole grains, fruits, veggies, and beans/legumes), adequate amounts of protein, healthy fats, and stay well hydrated, you will not crave for sugar. Exercise, in fact, will minimize your cravings for sugar. Sugar is often craved due to its effect on the reward centres of the brain, stimulating "feel good" neurotransmitters to be released. Exercise does the same thing, stimulating the release of endorphins to increase pleasure, relaxation, and feelings of contentment. Exercising can be an effective means for reducing sugar cravings.

In addition, as I'm sure many of you will attest, when you make the effort to workout, it often reinforces your commitment to healthy living. It improves your mood and you feel more inclined to take the time to take care of yourself with healthy food choices too. Speaking from personal experience, as well as experience of people I've known and seen in the gym myself, I'm going to default to my common sense here: Exercise supports my goals of managing my weight. I feel stronger, I'm fitter, my mood is better, I sleep better, my cravings are reduced, I think more clearly, and yes, I burn SOME extra calories.

The author does also mention that psychologist Dr Kelly Brownell, a longtime expert in the study of obesity who treated obese patients at a lab at Yale, found that while only 5% of participants could keep the weight off, those 5% were also more likely to regularly exercise than those who regained the weight. He states that if he were to run this lab today, he would probably orient the focus more toward food choices than emphasizing exercise, but fails to explain his rationale for that.

The case is made for exercise as beneficial for health purposes, stating that "people who regularly exercise are at significantly lower risk for all manner of diseases - those of the heart in particular." The risk of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease (the big three killers in North America) are all significantly reduced through exercise. As well, cognitive function is 30% more likely to be maintained, and chronic back pain is reduced by 36%. However, all out sweaty exertion in a gym is not necessarily required to gain those benefits. Simply adding more movement into your daily activity can "enhance various aspects of cognitive functioning." As well, releasing excess weight itself may be more important for improving cardiovascular health and for reducing the risk of developing diabetes than exercise itself is.

Articles such as this one with sensational headlines can do more harm than good. The article is written from a slant that leaves the weary weight-reduction-seeker feeling that they may be better off to stop spending time in the gym. While it does promote exercise for health benefits, it leaves you feeling that if your only reason for working out is weight release, you might as well give it up.

I wish they had taken a different approach, namely: Those who are exercising regularly and adding more movement to their waking hours are doing great things for the health of their bodies, as well as mood management. Keep it up! Those who aren't yet active, start building more movement into your day, and consider adding some "purposeful" activity when you can. But put it in perspective: keep your eyes on the prize and focus on healthy eating as your main method to reach them.

As for me, you'll find me in Body Combat 2 times a week, Body Step 2 times a week, and weight lifting 2 times a week. I love how I feel and seeing the results of my hard work, whether I lose weight not! Anyone wanna join me?!!?

Women Exercising
Sunday, August 30, 2009
You mean you don't say Mmmmm when you drink a cool, clear, refreshing glass of water? Mmmmm! I do! Especially on a hot day or after a hard workout. Most people tend to be sub-clinically but chronically dehydrated. Considering our bodies are about 70% water, when we are dehydrated, it is quite literally like a car running low on oil. The parts don't move as efficiently (fatigue, mental and physical sluggishness), there's increased friction (joints may get achey, headaches, dry skin, hair, eyes), and eventually it just won't go anymore (metabolism slows to a crawl leading to low energy, slowed digestion, constipation, a build up of toxins, and if it goes on long enough, weight gain).

But just as important to staying hydrated (quantity of water we consume through drinking and eating - and yes, 8 cups of water or non-caffeinated herbal tea is recommended on average, assuming you're also eating your fruits & veggies to make up your remaining bodily needs of about 12 cups per day), is QUALITY of water we take in.

Water that comes through our taps and into our kitchens and bathrooms has been treated in municipal treatment plants. There they filter out the majority of microorganisms (bacteria) that thrive in our contaminated water supply, as well as some heavy metals. However, in the process of disinfecting it, the water becomes polluted with chemicals such as chlorine (or in Toronto, chloramines). As well, many contaminants are not filtered out, including many heavy metals (some of which come through our own pipes), pesticides, and more often these days, pharmaceutical drugs and by-products that we as human beings excrete. It's kind of like breathing second-hand smoke: if I choose not to smoke - or to take birth control or anti-depressants - I do not want to effectively have that choice taken away from me simply by random exposure to it without my awareness.

These contaminants all have their effects, although it is very hard to prove that water is the "cause" since each glass/litre/gallon of water we take in has only minute amounts, it can take many years for the effects to be felt. And even then, every person will have their own unique tolerances and sensitivities dependent on their own genetics and other lifestyle factors that combine. However, given that our bodies are built to run on water, it is quite obvious that the quality is very important. While we can't control what is in the air we breathe (unless we choose to move to some remote wilderness haven), we can at least reduce the contaminants going into our bodies in the water and food we consume.

I've done some research on a variety of options and have come to the decision to endorse one product: Aquasana Canada. I like this company because it filters out everything you want it to filter out, while at the same time leaving in all the minerals that are so important to our health (unlike reverse osmosis systems). As well, they offer a very economical solution with a kitchen tap water filter running approximately $110, and a combination of kitchen filter and shower filter being approximately $170 (did you know you may in fact take in more contaminants through inhalation and absorption in the shower than you do in drinking water?). Since filters have to be replaced much less frequently, this system will cost you less per litre than a Brita or PUR water filter system. They are a Toronto-based affiliate of Aquasana, and their customer service is knowledgeable, professional, and prompt. Find out more about them here

If you're interested in learning more about how all the different contaminants in our water supplies can affect our health, let me hear from you! I will be glad to answer any questions or even dedicate a blog post to the topic!
Monday, August 24, 2009
I've been posting a lot of vegetarian recipes lately, so I thought it's time to give some love to the carnivores out there. This is one of my favourite go-to chicken dishes. It uses chicken thighs (boneless, skinless). If you prefer chicken breast you can substitute but it's a little dry that way and I promise you, it is much juicier and yummier using the dark meat.

You might be under the impression that dark meat has too much saturated fat and that it's therefore not a healthy choice. It is true, the dark meat of poultry is fattier. However, a certain amount of saturated fat in the diet is required for the health of all body cells. As always, all things in moderation, so other food selections that day or week may be a little lighter to compensate for this heavier fat choice. And, along with that saturated fat you will find higher Omega-3 and Omega-6 (essential fats that your body cannot manufacture) in the dark meat. As well, dark meat provides more zinc, riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, vitamins B6 and B12, amino acids, and iron than white meat. Dark meat is not the villain it has been made out to be. If you enjoy the dark meat, enjoy it as a nice change from the breast meat now and again!

8-12 organic boneless skinless chicken thighs
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
1 can (284 mL) chicken broth
2 tbsp paprika
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp pepper

Spray a large nonstick fry pan with cooking spray and brown the chicken at med-high. Brown all sides.

Chop the onion finely and add to the pan as you cut. Add garlic and saute for 1 min.

Add broth and spices to browned chicken and stir. Bring to a boil and cover. Reduce heat to med-low for a high simmer. Set timer for 45 min.

Baste occasionally (or turn chicken pieces over to get full coverage). The liquids will end up boiling into the chicken.

If there are still a lot of liquids left in the last 15 minutes turn up the heat a bit until the liquid is gone and the chicken is an orangey colour. It's going to look like it's never going to absorb, but it will do so quickly in the last 15 min. It does not make a sauce, just makes the chicken itself saucy (it's up to you really, once the liquid is boiled down to a consistency you like, it's ready!).

Serving suggestions
I enjoy this with green beans, a little brown rice or a spinach salad!
Sunday, August 23, 2009

Diet is "DIE" with a "T"

That is a direct quote from my Garfield the cat placemat from when I was in Grade 4. And wow, here is proof that you really can find just about anything on the internet:

Of course in the past 20 years, we've really started to "get" this concept. Garfield was ahead of his time. Let me quote, well, everyone: "Dieting does not work." Plain and simple. Anything you're going to do to an extreme, and/or for a temporary period of time, and/or which removes major food groups from your daily food intake is a diet. Ergo, it won't work. Oh, well sure, of course it will get you results. At least for a while. So I guess in that sense it does work. You DO lose weight when you completely cut all grains out of your diet. You DO lose weight when you only take in 1000 calories a day. You certainly DO lose weight when you wear a chain of garlic around your neck to ward off the evil spirits that call your name when cake is near. But does that mean your diet works? I guess if you just want to lose weight for a specific event like a wedding or New Year's Eve or something, and you don't really care if you gain it back later, then yes, it works.

Personally, I hate regaining weight. There is nothing that kills my mood and outlook on things more than realizing after working so hard to lose weight and change my diet, I've slipped back into old habits and regained some of that hard-won prize. And I've done it enough times to know it is just so much easier to keep doing what it takes to manage my weight than to have to corral my spirits to do it again... and again... and again. So, it stands to reason that if I'm going to just keep doing what it takes to lose weight, it better be something I can actually live with.

How about you? How many times have you lost and found the same 10, 20... 50+ pounds? It's taken me a lifetime to accept the fact that any quick-loss plan (ie: more than 2 pounds per week) is not going to get me the long term results I want. The lure of those diets is strong. Who wouldn't be compelled to go on a diet that promises fast results, especially when your pants are creating a muffin top that really qualifies as an actual cake, and double-especially when it "worked" last time.

One myth I'd like to debunk right now about the "results" those programs create is that you're actually losing fat when you lose "7 lbs in 7 days." Sure, a couple of those pounds are fat. But most of it is actually "water-weight." Usually these kinds of results occur when you cut "carbs" (starches and sugars) out of your diet. This depletes your glycogen stores ("reserve" glucose stored in muscles and the liver used for energy to fuel your daily activities), and since glycogen draws water into cells, you lose a lot of water on these plans. So while it looks great on the scale, and ya, you're a little less puffy, it's not fat. And I don't know about you, but I want to lose fat. Why am I going to deprive myself of all those yummy and healthy and appetite-satisfying whole grains and fruit (and yes, the occasional cookie), which makes me feel jealous of my carb-eating friends, makes me irritable and easily fatigued... all just to lose a few extra pounds of water? Pffft.

So what's the answer? Oh, I bet you know the answer. It's nothing groundbreaking. I know I'll sound like a genius when I say it, but really, it's pretty common sense. In fact, I'll quote, well, everyone: The key to long-term weight RELEASE (not "loss" because usually we want to find what we lose) and maintenance is - drum roll please - Balance & Moderation. That means balanced intake of all major nutrients (fat, carbs, protein), and moderate amounts of "treats." I like the 80/20 rule (or 90/10 if you only have a small amount of weight to release): 80% of choices should be healthy, and 20% can be less than ideal. This promotes health, vitality, a natural return to a healthy body weight, and keeps you sane! It's something you can maintain for life, which means you don't have to fear gaining it back again. You will no longer be "die-ing" with a "t" but LIVING with vitali-T (ba dum bum).

But whyyyyyyy don't diets work? Why do we regain weight? [insert foot stomp and pouty face here]
The reasons are plenty, but they all boil down to "because I couldn't sustain my die-t forever."

Cravings and Blood Sugar
OK so, this is basically the crux of the problem, right? We could and would gladly live on the 80/20 plan, if only we didn't have cravings that drove us to stuff our face in a pint of Haagen Dazs. "Moderation" is a great concept. In practice, it can become a little outta hand before we know it. So how do we conquer the cravings so we can keeping "living with vitalit-T?" One of the key things we need to manage is our blood sugar. You're probably thinking "well, I don't have diabetes or hypoglycemia, so I'm good here." Bzzzzt, wrong! (that was a buzzer, like on a game show). Everyone has fluctuations in their blood sugar throughout the day. It's part of the system that triggers the hormones that kick hunger and eating into gear. Ravenous cravings over which you have little control are often the result of wild spikes in blood sugar caused by eating high glycemic foods (high in simple sugars), such as well, sugar, refined carbs like white bread, white pasta, white rice, and to a lesser extent certain fruits like pineapple, bananas, and watermelon. Eating cookies for a snack gives you a surge of sugar into your bloodstream very quickly... and within a couple of hours, you get a sort of rebound effect that results in a crash in blood sugar and your energy and willpower along with it. This is a sure way to set yourself up to crave for more cookies.

Diets = stress
We are our ancestors' children, and since the fittest (most suited for their conditions) survive, we inherited the fantastic ability to store fat very easily. Afterall, they had to survive famines, and freezing temperatures at least part of the year, so the ability to store body fat was essential. When we diet, it's really a self-imposed famine... even if you're not following a VLC diet (very low calorie - less than 1200 calories/day for women, 1600 for men), you are operating within a "diet mentality" which is one of deprivation and starvation.

Add to "diet stress" the regular ol' daily grind type of stress - too much to do with not enough hours in the day, not enough time or money or energy to do the things we really want to do, not enough love in our relationships.... getting the idea? Chronic stress tends to come from LACK, or at least our PERCEPTION of lack. Dieting fits that mold perfectly too.

And like an alcoholic who is driven to drink, stress will drive you to eat. And to eat foods that make you gain weight the fastest. It's hard wired in our biochemistry, an inheritance from all those who came before us who needed to survive harsh uncertain conditions. Unfortunately it doesn't do us much good today, when food is literally everywhere. And it's not just twigs and berries we have out our fingertips. We can get the really good stuff that helps us gain weight fast - sugar and fat, fat and sugar.

Conditioning of our brain, biochemistry and behaviour
Every time we've made a choice of something to eat, we have the impact of that food on our bio and neurochemistry. Hormones and neurotransmitters are released in response to certain foods that trigger the reward centres of our brains, and drive us to seek out those foods. In a short matter of a few repetitions of eating those foods and getting your "fix" even the conditions around the food (location, people, activity, time of day, emotions, etc) will begin to act as triggers that compel you to satisfy the demands of the brain and body for the reward (literally opiates). Add stress on top of this and you see further why you're reaching for the Doritos and Mars bars.

So, what now?
Again, I think you know the answer. Balance, moderation, variety, 80/20. FEED yourself - fuel your body, nourish your mind, nurture your soul. Take a look at my article posted in July about the Ten Keys to Manage your Weight Naturally.

For anyone who is ready to make the change to get off the diet rollercoaster, and really feed themselves, but is overwhelmed at where to begin, or isn't sure she can really really do this for the long haul, please take a look at Spring's Inspire Yourself workshop. We've got proven strategies to help get your body working with your mind, and empower your mind to start running the show. If you'd like ongoing support in a group environment, we also have an 8 week Weight Release workshop that is coming up in the fall, where in addition to learning "motivational" strategies, you will also get more information and tools on food and nutrition for weight release. And of course, if you prefer one-on-one support, contact us for a complimentary consultation to talk about your needs and goals (use the sign-up form on this blog-site or at
Sunday, August 23, 2009

Is Dairy Bad?

This question was posed to me by a friend recently, and it's one that comes up fairly frequently. There is a lot of confusion about dairy. On the one hand, we've been taught since we were knee high that we must drink our milk to grow up big and strong. Mothers feel worried and even guilty if they consider not giving their children dairy. Dairy products have become synonymous with "calcium" in our minds. Women in particular, trying to keep our bones strong and avoiding osteoporosis in our later years, have learned that milk and dairy products are critical. Not to mention that in the last 10 years (ish) articles continue to be published that quote studies indicating that dairy helps us to keep our weight down. The dairy industry has certainly done an effective job of marketing and convincing us that without dairy, we'll become frail and weak. Images of elderly grandmother types with hunched backs shattering a wrist from picking up a frying pan come to mind.

Today I want to expose the myths about dairy and give you some information about both dairy and calcium alternatives. So:

Is dairy bad?

The short answer: Mostly, yes. Milk doesn't do many bodies much good. Traditional, pasteurized cow's dairy that is. Here are some of the issues with dairy:

Protein content
Cow's milk has 3 times more protein than human milk, and a bit less fat (in the case of the traditionally recommended non-fat milk, it has NO fat). Human milk also has double the carb content. The ratio of these nutrients indicates that cow's milk is not designed for the human body. This high protein content (along with lactose intolerance, to be explained in a moment) makes dairy the number one allergen by far. When we consume foods that are not properly digested, and especially those with anabolic (build-up) properties like protein and calcium, the excess is not efficiently eliminated, and leads to problems of excretion like asthma, allergies, strep throat, tonsilitis, ear infections, pimples/acne, overweight, and excessive mucous and phlegm.

By the time we reach late childhood or adolescence, 70% of people have lost the enzyme required to break down lactose (milk sugar). In fact, lactose intolerance is so common, those who retain the ability to digest it really should be called "lactose persistent" rather than labeling those who lose it as intolerant. This should be a hint that we aren't really meant to consume it. In fact, what other species can you name that drinks the milk of another species? It's rather odd actually. Less commonly known is that many people are allergic to the proteins in dairy (casein, whey).

Calcium Deficiency
The consumption of milk/dairy in fact CONTRIBUTES largely to a deficiency in calcium in the body! Vegetarians have been shown to have higher bone density than meat eaters of the same age, and countries that have the highest dairy intake also have the most osteoporosis (Allergies, Disease in Disguise, Carolee Bateson-Koch, ND). This is so opposite of everything we've been taught to believe, I know it's hard to accept. There are a few ways this is so:

  1. Cow's milk has a lower ratio of Calcium to Phosphorous (1.27:1 versus 2.35:1 in human milk). Phosphorous binds to Calcium in the digestive tract, making it less absorbable.
  2. If you are unable to digest it (as most are), the lactose ferments in your digestive tract. This produces lactic acid, which binds with the Calcium and Magnesium, making them less available for the body.
  3. Pasteurization reduces 50% of available calcium through the process of pasteurization.
  4. Low fat and skim milk lack the fat necessary for transport of calcium through cell walls.

On top of everything, dairy cows (as with all livestock) are pumped with antibiotics to prevent disease that would be rampant due to living conditions. They are also fed with processed grains that are not really meant for their consumption. In the US they also have to worry about BGH (Bovine Growth Hormone) which luckily is banned in Canada.

The Myth of the Weight Loss Connection
We've all heard time and again that "research proves that dairy helps you burn more fat and lose weight." However in reality, there have only been 3 very small studies that found that people lost weight when they ate dairy foods AND CUT CALORIES. And all 3 of those studies were funded by one researcher who had a patent on the claim that dairy helps with weight loss. Since then, 2 new studies have in fact shown that dairy foods don't have any affect on weight one way or another. (Nutrition Action Healthletter Sept 2005) The results are inconclusive at best. There is some evidence (still inconclusive) that dairy may help weight loss in individuals who are overweight, eating too little calcium, with a diet that isn't too high in protein or too low in calories. That's a lot of "ifs." And dairy in particular is not necessarily required for the effect; maybe calcium from other sources would have the same result. The bottom line though is that the claims being made by marketers for the dairy industry have greatly stretched what the research has indicated.

So if I don't eat dairy, where am I getting my Calcium?
It's interesting how concerned we are with Calcium. Not that it's not important, but it's really just one of many essential minerals the body needs to be healthy. A potassium deficiency, for example, can cause heart failure. But you never hear anyone worrying about potassium. Maybe that's because there's no fearmongering "Banana council" to "educate" us. [/rant]

So ok, I've convinced you that dairy is effectively junk food. But you want to make sure you get your calcium. In fact it is surprisingly not that hard to do.

First, let's look at ways you can stop your body from losing the calcium you get:
  • reduce your caffeine intake (coffee, tea, pop, chocolate) - it causes increased calcium loss in urine
  • reduce intake of refined sugar - it also increases calcium loss through urine; as well, it reduces the body's ability to absorb calcium
  • reduce phosphorous (POP is the biggest source in most people's diets; also cow's dairy, red meat) - it binds to calcium and makes it less absorbable
  • reduce salt - increases calcium loss through urine
  • Make sure you get your Vit D (eggs, liver, mushrooms, 20 min of sun exposure several times a week, or supplement) - calcium can't be used without Vit D
  • don't overeat protein - it is acid forming; the body will protect the pH level of blood by pulling minerals (especially calcium) from the bones to buffer the acidity
  • smoking, alcohol, and corticocosteroid medications also contribute to calcium loss
Alternate Sources of Calcium
1 cup of cow's milk provides 288mg of calcium. Other sources and the amount you can get from a typical serving are:

Nuts and Seeds
Almonds 1/4 cup 150mg
Hazelnuts 1/4 cup 106mg
Sesame Seeds 2 tbsp 264mg
Walnuts 1/4 cup 54mg
Sunflower Seeds 1/4 cup 65mg

Butters and Milks made from nuts and seeds are also be great sources of Calcium. And since these products are not heated or cooked, the calcium is highly absorbable.

Vegetables Most vegetables (especially GREEN ones like leafy greens and broccoli) provide between 20 and 75mg per half cup. Lamb's quarters provide 232mg in a half cup! Sea vegetables (agar, kelp) provide about 60mg and Wakame provides 150mg

Beans (1 cup servings)
Chickpeas 80mg
Navy beans 128mg
Soybeans 460mg
Tofu 258mg
Tempeh 172mg
Pinto beans 82mg

Canned Fish (5 oz serving)
Salmon 338mg
Sardines 625mg

Molasses (1 tbsp)
Blackstrap 137mg
Barbados 49mg

Meeting Daily Requirements
You can see by the above values, it's really not that hard to get your Calcium with non-dairy sources. The average daily intake recommended in Canada is 1000mg (male and female adults). If you had a serving of almonds (150), 2 cups of leafy greens (150-200), a serving of salmon (338mg), a serving of broccoli (100) a serving of tempeh (172), and some almond butter (225mg) and you would exceed the DRI values. As well, for those who are vegetarians, less intake is required because it is more absorbable without animal foods in the diet.

Not ready to make the switch?
Ok, it's not all just about the calcium, you LIKE milk, yogurt, cheese, and of course ice cream? You don't want to give it up. Fine. Here are a few recommendations:

  • If you're able to digest it, no one says it's completely unhealthy to have SOME dairy in your diet; consider it a treat, and have it in moderation
  • If you have trouble digesting it, consider trying raw/unpasteurized dairy. It still has live enzymes that will help you digest it. Milk can be hard to find, you'll have to purchase directly from farmers, and being unpasteurized, you'll need to consume it fairly quickly to avoid spoiling. Cheese (due to some kind of loopholes in regulatory laws) is easier to find made from raw milk.
  • Try goat's milk, yogurt and cheese. It's closer in nutrient content to human milk than cow's, so again, easier to digest.
  • There are a myriad of types of alternative milks on the market. Rice milk, Hemp milk, Soy milk (which I wouldn't really recommend as it's a processed food often made from non-organic and GMO'd sources), and my favourite, Almond Milk (the unsweetened is the closest in taste to skim milk that I could find when I was getting off milk). Try them for your cereals and smoothies, or even just drink a glass. You might be surprised!
  • There are also some great alternatives to ice cream. There are soy versions (again, not high on my list for the same reasons), rice versions, and more recently I'm finding COCONUT versions which are truly delicious. Have some chocolate coconut "ice cream" with fresh raspberries on top, now THAT is a TREAT!
My story
I used to be a HUGE dairy fanatic. When I was eating healthfully (I used to swing back and forth from eating REEEEALLY bad to eating REEEALLY healthfully), I would eat 4 servings of dairy a day (milk in my cereal, yogurt and cottage cheese for snacks, more milk at dinner). I always found when I was eating healthfully I seemed to get all backed up (hey, I'm a nutritionist, we talk about poo. Deal with it.). I was so confused because I was eating so much fibre, much more than when I was on a "junk food diet." I thought maybe the fat content of the junk food diet was keeping me "going." Then I learned about dairy and I decided to try going off it for a couple weeks. Well it didn't even take that long. That was the cause of my problems.

And, my beautiful little niece, she had the same problem - she was constipated practically from birth, and had to be hospitalized at one point. After trying laxative treatment for 6 months, and it not getting any better, we took her off dairy and within a few days, ta daaaah, all better.

Eliminating dairy was hard at first, I craved it for quite a while. But now I just can't imagine drinking a big glass of milk. And while at first I was strict - I carefully examined every label and avoided everything baked or made with milk or milk protein (casein and whey) or milk sugar (lactose) in it, after 6 months or a year I loosened up. Now I find I can tolerate a little milk here and there without adverse affects (some cream in my coffee, an ice cream on a hot day at the beach). But, generally it's not part of my regular diet anymore.

You may not be entirely aware of how dairy affects you, but I think with all the options out there now, there's no real need for dairy. You can easily get enough calcium through non dairy sources, that in my opinion, "why bother?" It doesn't help your health, even if you're not sure it's actually"hurting" you.

Allergies, Disease in Disguise, Carolee Bateson-Koch
Food and Healing, AnneMarie Colbin
Nutrition in Action Healthletter, Sept 2005
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
In an effort to spare calories and avoid weight gain (not to mention tooth decay), many of us rely on artificial sweeteners to give us that hit of sweetness we crave, without the extra calories. There are a variety of artificial sweeteners on the market - aspartame/Nutrasweet, Equal, sucralose/Splenda, acesulfame-potassium, Saccharin/Sweet n Low, Neotame, and some of the newer sugar-alcohols like Erythritol, Sorbitol, Xylitol, Mannitol (not exactly artificial, and not calorie-free, but about 1/2 the calorie-content as sugar). We know that excess sugar leads to weight gain and tooth decay. It also contributes to the development of conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and even osteoporosis and other mineral deficiency conditions. But as bad as sugar can be in our diets (at the levels of intake typical for our society), are artificial sweeteners really the solution? More and more studies are showing that we really can't have our cake, and eat it too.

What's so bad about artificial sweeteners?
The internet is crawling with articles that outline the many negative symptoms and diseases that may be associated with intake of artificial sweeteners (check out the blog at for some really well outlined articles). Aspartame is the most controversial, and issues with Sucralose (now that it has been debunked as "natural" given that it was in fact discovered when manufacturing an insecticide, and is made of a combination of sugar and chlorines, a proven carcinogen) are appearing more and more often. These additives were approved based on short term studies, and only in recent years can we start to know the long term effects. Once again, we as a society have participated in one giant scientific experiment. What's more, we are now starting to see more and more products being created with a mix of different sweeteners, and we have no idea what the effects of this might be. Studies that indicate there are no significant negative effects are often funded by the very industries that profit from them. The range of symptoms that may be related to artificial sweeteners includes:

  • headaches & migraines
  • breathing difficulties
  • skin eruptions/rashes
  • cancer
  • allergies
  • aspartame disease
  • depression
  • fibromyalgia
  • digestive disturbances
  • liver and kidney toxicity
And... WEIGHT GAIN. I want to focus on this one, since the most common reason people choose to use artificial sweeteners is for weight control purposes. Given that these fake sweeteners have virtually no calories (or even if they have calories, they are so many more times sweeter than actual sugar that only small amounts need to be used to reach the desired sweetness level that the calories are negligible), how can they lead to weight gain? Aha, this is where we have a very clear demonstration that weight control is NOT all about calories in vs calories out!

How do artificial sweeteners contribute to making us fat?
Repeatedly, studies with rats are demonstrating two principal ways that artificial sweeteners contribute to weight gain*:
  1. The sweet taste with the absence of calories "tricks" our body chemistry, breaking the connection between a sweet food and a high-calorie intake, and leads to a break-down in our body's ability to self-regulate caloric intake and satiety. This leads to overeating and constant cravings for more food.
  2. Foods have thermogenic effects; when we eat them, our core body temperature and metabolism rise, increasing the calorie-burn capability. When we eat sugar, this occurs. When we eat artificial sweeteners, core body temperature does not rise like it does with higher calorie foods, and therefore LOWERS are metabolic burning ability.
These 2 effects combined will lead to weight gain in the long run if artificial sweeteners are used on a regular basis. In addition to the many possible health implications these additives may be related to, and you have to ask yourself if they are really worth it.

So now what?
If you've decided that you are ready to kick the fake sweetener habit, here are some strategies to help:
  • Cut out diet pop first: This is usually the main source of intake of these additives. If you feel the need for the caffeine that is often in your beverage, substitute with herbal or green tea (try making some iced tea out of it if you prefer a cold drink). If you miss the fizz factor, have a glass of sparkling mineral water (aka: Perrier, etc) and squeeze in some fresh lime or lemon.
  • Yogurt is another major source of intake: Replace sweetened yogurt with plain yogurt (goat's preferably), and "sweeten" naturally with fresh fruit (blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, diced peaches), and/or a teaspoon of maple syrup, agave nectar, or honey. Add in some walnut chunks and a teaspoon of ground flax for a great serving of essential fatty acids, increased satisifaction, and fill-you-up goodness!
  • Eat a well balanced diet: INCLUDING healthy sources of whole grains (whole wheat, quinoa, oatmeal, kamut, millet...) and essential fats (avocado, olives and olive oil, nuts and nut butters...). Skimping on these foods that are often avoided like the plague by dieters who believe that low-carb and fat-free will help them achieve the sleek physique they desire will in fact only lead to constant cravings due to imbalance and lack of satisfaction. Enjoy them in balance with healthy sources of protein to help reduce cravings.
  • Use healthy sweeteners (minimally): Maple syrup is my favourite (full of all the health supportive minerals that are stripped out of refined sugar). Agave nectar (a syrup from a cactus plant, that does not have the same impact to insulin in the body that sugar does), and raw honey (unpasteurized) are also excellent. Xylose is also becoming easier to find in health food stores; it looks like sugar but is much sweeter, you can bake with it, and it even has antibacterial properties so helps resist dental cavities.
  • Do expect that you're going to go through a period of craving for sweets: You've trained your body to want them, and it will take some time to readjust and retrain your taste buds too. Hang in there!
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
So, since I had a request from one reader (who I admit is my Mom, but who could deny their Mom?) for more information about the effects of food preservation methods on the life energy of food, I will assume she represents the masses of my readers who are just to shy to ask! So here you have it! Once again, this information comes largely from Anne-Marie Colbin's "Food and Healing."

Speaking generally, of course, food that is freshly picked (or killed) is going to deliver the highest energy vibration. But, it is not likely that most of us have access to food that is going from field to plate, and preservation is a necessity. Preservation, by definition, aims to keep a food's freshness and nutrient quality alive as long as possible. Some methods are better than others, and while usually the vitality of a food will decrease the longer it's preserved, and usually the vitamin and mineral quality will also be reduced, in some cases food will become more nutrient dense!

Cold Storage
  • hardier vegetables are affected minimally
  • some of the more fragile food nutrients (eg: Vit C) will break down in warehouse storage
  • if the cold storage is outdoors or in a cold cellar or porch where there is air circulation, the energy field will be less affected
  • Refrigeration (which is an insulated and closed box with an electrical current) will have more impact on the life quality and taste
  • water soluble vitamins are lost between 10-20%
  • carbohydrates generally become more dense (think of raisins vs grapes)
  • sugar turns to starch (corn to cornmeal)
  • method of drying will impact - eg: sun-drying will have more energetic quality than tunnel, spray, or drum-dried foods
  • preserves by inhibiting the proliferation of bacteria, usually used for meat and fish
  • in conjunction with drying, it will increase nutrient density
  • in conjunction with immersion in brine, it will decrease nutrient density
  • can be harmful for those who need to reduce their sodium intake, and in North America, this is almost everybody
Pickling or Fermenting
  • popular foods include wine, bread, cheese, miso, tempeh, pickles, sauerkraut
  • microorganisms alter the food by increasing the lactic acid content; this changes the taste and smell, making them stronger, and sometimes sour tasting
  • some loss of vitamins and minerals, overall the influence of fermentation is positive for our health
  • easy to digest (which is why many cultures will pair pickles or sauerkraut with sausages or processed meats)
  • nutritional values (especially B vitamins) are enhanced
  • some have antibacterial properties so can help enhance immunity
  • some provide probiotics, also enhancing digestion and immunity
  • usually used for meats and fish, in conjunction with drying
  • preservation occurs through antioxidants and bactericides in the wood smoke, however often accompanied by small quantities of other compounds that may be toxic or carcinogenic
  • water content turns to ice
  • this process and the storage and thawing cause a loss of 20-25% of nutrients in fruits and vegetables (so really 75-80% are maintained so that is not sooooo bad)
  • HOWEVER, here is a new perspective on freezing: when you free water in plastic bottle, what happens? The bottle bursts. The same thing happens with the cells of fruits and vegetables when the water in them is frozen. This explains why frozen fruits and vegetables are mushy when thawed. And, since form is related to function, it has to be considered that the cellular destruction will cause a loss in the food's vitality.
  • before food is canned it is first heated to at least 240 degrees, then sealed; as the food cools, it forms a vacuum to keep out oxygen and bacteria
  • lowers nutrient content significantly
  • lack of oxygen creates a "dead" food from an energy perspective; if you're not physically active or doing an activity regularly that helps to increase oxygen uptake to compensate, eating canned foods regularly will lower your energy levels dramatically; pay attention the next time you eat canned foods, especially to your mental alertness
Chemical Preservatives/Additives
  • This the most negatively impacting methods of preservation
  • the list of chemicals used is long: dyes, bleaches, emulsifiers, antioxidant, preservatives, flavours, buffers, sprays, acidifiers, alkalizers, deoderants, moisteners, drying agents, gases, extenders, thickeners, disinfectants, defoliants, fungicides, neutralizers, sweeteners, anticaking agents, antifoaming agents, conditioners, curers, hydrolizers, hydrogenators, maturers, fortifiers....
  • with this long list of additives, each food contains only miniscule amounts but over the course of a week, month, year, decade a person's intake grows substantially, and leads to a "subclinical poisoning"; the use of food chemicals has been linked conclusively to many diseases from allergies, to autism, to cancer, blurry vision, aching backs, hyperactivity, obesity...
  • chemical preservatives act in a variety of ways, but generally they will block access to oxygen and microorganisms, which in effect blocks the life processes of foods
  • rats fed synthetic diets may do ok, but become infertile (how can you support new life on food that the life energy has been blocked?)
  • cesium-137 (a nuclear waste by-product of the manufacture of nuclear bombs) is used to irradiate food
  • the food will not ripen or sprout and some bacteria will be killed, therefore the food will not spoil
  • however microorganisms can develop resistance to radiation (superbugs)
  • creates free radicals (contributes to aging, and cancer)
  • may affect fertility
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
I attended my dear friend Kerry-Ann's birthday BBQ party last night (great seeing/meeting everyone and all the cutie-patootie bambinos too! Thanks to Blake & KA for being the hosteses with the mosteses), and contributed these Black Bean & Quinoa ("keen-wa") burgers to the mix. They were a hit and since several people wanted the recipe, I thought where better to make it available to one and all but here! So here you have it, break out the ol bar-b! See some serving suggestions below the recipe.

Black Bean Quinoa Burgers
from Nettie Cronish, New Vegetarian Basics
Makes 6 burgers
1 cup quinoa, rinsed
1 can (14oz/398 mL) black beans, drained and rinsed*
1/2 cup grated red onion, squeezed dry (keep your eyes closed, and wash your hands before touching your eyes!)
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 tbsp EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)
2 cloves garlic, minced
half a jalapheno pepper, seeded and chopped (or use red pepper flakes)
3/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/3 cup dry bread crumbs

*I recommend Eden brand for all canned beans - they use cans that do not contain BPA's in the lining like cheaper brands, there are no preservatives/additives, and they use sea-vegetables in the water in many products which adds a pile of wonderful minerals making them extra nutrtitious. They do cost more, but if you can manage it, it's worth it.

Prepare the Quinoa - bring 1.5 cups of water to a boil; add quinoa and allow it to return to boil. Reduce the heat and let simmer for 15 minutes or until the water has been absorbed.

Meantime prepare the other ingredients so they're ready to go.

Add all ingredients into food processor and puree until smooth. You may need to do this in batches if your food processor isn't large. If you do that, just mush it all together with your hands to ensure even distribution of the ingredients.

Form into six 1/2-inch patties (each takes about 1/2 cup). Press patties into crumbs on both sides.

To cook, you can do in a nonstick skillet, using a bit of olive oil or coconut oil in the pan (med-high heat, about 8 minutes turning once, or until browned), or grill it on the BBQ like we did last night, it turns out great! You can make a batch of these and put some in the freezer to pull out later if you like, in which case you can reheat on the stove but I find they sometimes fall apart upon reheating so I prefer to bake in the oven to reheat.

Serving suggestions:
You can have these on thin burger buns if you like, or just eat them with a fork and no bun. They are great with tomato slices, salsa, and especially yummy with a bit of hoisin sauce! Honey mustard is also really great.

Have a side spinach salad, and maybe a small serving of sweet potato baked "fries" (Alexis brand are delicious and come out nice and crispy) for a full meal deal.

258 calories, 9g protein, 9g fat, 37g carbohydrates, 5g fibre
Excellent source of iron, folacin, fibre.

Quinoa is an ancient gluten-free grain that is high in protein. In fact it is a COMPLETE protein supplying all essential amino acids (very unusual for plant source protein!). In particular it is high in lysine (an Amino Acid) which is essential for tissue growth and repair. It is also high in several important mineral (manganese, magnesium, iron, copper, and phosporus). People with migraine headaches, diabetes, and artherosclerosis can benefit from making quinoa a staple in their diet.

Black Beans, like all beans, are very high in fibre (keeps ya pooping!), excellent for lowering cholesterol levels and keeping blood sugar steady and even. They are loaded with antioxidants, and very high in tryptophan, an amino acid that acts as a precursor to serotonin (the feel good neurotransmitter that plays a part in regulating mood, sexual desire, appetite, sleep, memory and learning) and promotes relaxation. All that and virtually fat free!

What more could you ask for from your food? You're regular, full of energy, feeling good, relaxed. They're environmentally and animal friendly... And don't forget delicious! That's good stuff!
Monday, August 03, 2009

Over my next few articles, I'm going to be talking about different properties and values of foods than you might normally think of. Over and above the more commonly discussed macronutrients (carbs, protein, fats) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), there are aspects to food that I'll call "Food Energy." And by that I do not mean calories, which are a tangible way of measuring the physical aspect of food energy. The type of Food Energy I'll be referring to will give you a new perspective on food to consider as you shop for groceries and prepare meals for you and your family. Any quotes you see in these articles will come from one of my favourite books, "Food & Healing" by AnneMarie Colbin. If you're at all intrigued by anything you read here, I highly recommend picking up a copy of this book. It will change your view about food, your body, and health.

And now for this article's topic:

The Life Force of Food

Imagine if you will Yoda, sitting on a rock in a deep dark cave, with Luke Skywalker standing before him. Yoda offers Luke a choice: In one hand a plate of freshly picked, lightly steamed vibrant green beans that were then sauteed in fresh minced garlic and extra virgin olive oil... Mmmmm. In the other, a plate of green beans that came from a can, that were soaking in salt water for months (if not years), without exposure to oxygen or sunlight, then microwaved and ready to go.... Can you see them there on the plate? A drab olive green, uniform in size and shape, kinda soggy. Yoda tells Luke, "The Force is with you... if you choose wisely."

Come to think of it, don't Yoda's ears kind of look like green beans? Anyhoo, I digress...


Our bodies, living systems that they are, are more than just the sum of their parts. There is an "organizing energy field" that interconnects the various systems of the body so that they work in synchronicity with one another. Vitality and health are promoted when there is balance between these systems and sufficient energy available to keep them humming; illness occurs when there is imabalance and a lack of energy.


Likewise, live whole foods have a "force field" and when we consume them, we also consume that vital energy along with the calories, carbs, fat, protein, vitamins and minerals that comprise them. The energy of live foods nourishes our own life force.

A variety of factors influences the Vital Energy of foods, including cooking methods, heating, cooling, methods of preservation... and perhaps most critically, food processing and refining, which in effect creates "partial foods" (as opposed to "whole: foods). Let's take the example of wheat.

About a 100 years ago or so, the process of separating the parts of a wheat kernel and removing the bran and germ off the wheat (endosperm) was found to produce flour that is whiter, fluffier, and lasted longer (ie: was cheaper for bread manufacturers to use). After some decades, it was then found that the wheat germ and bran actually contained a lot of nutrients and fibre. So while we continued to eat white bread, we started to add the germ and bran to other foods such as cereal, baked goods, etc. Meantime, studies were being done on populations that ate unrefind grains, and it was found that these people had almost no digestive tract diseases or disorders, while those populations that were eating the refined products suffered from constipation, IBS, etc.

The enrichment of flour to add back in some of the nutrients that were lost in the refining doesn't really solve the problem. It is nearly impossible for humans to try to recreate the right proportion of nutrients into the food as it would have had naturally, but what completely escapes is the life energy they contained when they were part of the original living plant. The synergy that once existed between the parts is gone, and cannot be synthetically added back in. AnneMarie Colbin draws a vivid comparison: Imagine that you've lost your arm, and you get fitted with a prosthetic one. It might have the form, and be able to fulfill some of the functions as your live arm did, but it's lacking in certain living aspects like sensation and communication with other parts of your body.


While this "juggling act" of adding parts of foods into your diet can work to help eliminate or reduce the symptoms of imbalance, it creates stress on the body as it tries to keep up with these partial foods it has to digest and assimilate. Nowadays, we have wheat flour that has been so refined, and now even genetically modified, that it has become much higher in protein than the original wheat plant ever had naturally. The protein found in wheat is called "gluten." Heard of it? More and more people are discovering that many of their digestive symptoms (gas, bloating, painful cramping, constipation, IBS, etc) and other symptoms (such as allergies, lowered immune system, headaches and migraines, etc) are in fact a reaction to the highly-glutenized grains they've been eating. Gluten intolerance and Celiac Disease have become a more and more commonly diagnosed condition, and more and more people are realizing that by simply removing wheat (and other glutenous grains such as barley, oats, rye, and spelt) from their diets, how much better they're feeling.


The last 150 years or so of food manufacturing, if nothing else positive has come of it, has definitely been a grand experiment (and we've all been a subjects in it, whether we knew it or not) and a lot of learning about food has come from it. As we learn more, it seems to become a matter of cost of production and storage, vs nutritional value, that plays the deciding factor in what we find on grocery store shelves. I'm so glad to see that consumers are demanding healthier, quality, whole foods and more and more these are becoming available to us. When choosing your foods, and trying to decide what is the best value, consider that the purpose of eating is to fuel and support your body. It sustains you through all the stresses of modern living, all the punishment we put it through, and it's the vessel that we use to experience all the joys in this world as well. What value is there in a "cheap" processed food that at best doesn't support vitality, and at worst actually sucks the life and energy out of your body and cells and leads to chronic illness? What value is there in a perhaps (but not always) more expensive food that is bursting with vital nutrients and has maintained it's own life force? To me the choice is clear: The more whole, LIVE foods I can choose, the more LIFE I will have in ME!


How many other methods of food processing exist that may affect the life energy that food can provide? Without getting into too much detail (I can elaborate in another article, if you're interested leave a comment asking me!) here are a few (note that they're not all negatively impacting, they simply AFFECT the energy quality):

  • Heat (generally heating foods raises the energy level of foods, and so our's too, although it can also destroy many nutrients if we over do it)
  • Cold (generally lowers the energy of foods, and so our's too)
  • Preservation methods: cold storage, drying, salting, pickling & fermenting, smoking, freezing, canning, chemical preservatives and additives, irradiation, pasteurization)


Next we'll talk about the "Law of Opposites" and the Expansive & Contractive nature of foods!

Yoda photo courtesy of

Wheat kernel photo courtesy of

Monday, July 20, 2009

I confess: Although I know what a Super Hero kale is in the world of food, I'm not a fan. I've tried stir frying, steaming, boiling, adding to soups, chopping it in the smallest of pieces so I could forget it's there, even juicing it, but more often than not I have to admit, I'll buy it with the best of intentions only to find I've let it sit in my fridge long enough to become a soft pile of wilted leaves. Tragic!

So, when I came across a recipe for Kale Chips, I was definitely skeptical. You see, my former Junk Food Junkie self still lives deep within me, and when she hears "chips" paired with "kale" she utters an audible "shyeah Riiiight."

But, my reNU'd Health Food Fanatic self is in charge here, right? And she is willing to try something new. What's the worst that can happen?

So, before I share my review of Kale chips and the recipe, here's a bit about this superfood:

  • provides powerful antioxidants and phytonutrients that boost the liver's detoxifying enzymes, clearing carcinogenic substances and toxins more quickly... studies indicate it is especially beneficial for reducing cancers of the breast, ovaries, and bladder
  • an excellent source of Vit A, protecting eye, skin, intestinal, and lung health
  • very rich source of Vit C: 1 serving provides 89% of your daily requirement!
  • very good source of fibre, which binds to toxins and fats (including LDL cholesterol), helping to sweep them out before they are absorbed, and keeps blood sugar and energy steady
  • very good source of highly absorbable calcium for bone and heart health
  • you can find out more about Kale and get more recipes at

The recipe:*

  1. preheat oven to 200 degrees
  2. Take one bunch of Kale (preferably organic) and tear into small pieces away from the stem
  3. wash kale pieces well, and spin dry in a salad spinner
  4. put in a bowl, and pour on a couple tbsp of EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) and the juice of half a lemon
  5. sprinkle with sea salt
  6. optionally mix in 1-2 cloves of minced garlic
  7. mix this all up with your hands, and spread out on a baking sheet
  8. bake for 30 minutes; use a "scraper" to lift leaves off baking pan to prevent sticking, and put back in oven for 15 more minutes

*recipe by Megan Telpner RHN (garlic option added by Moi! I loooove garlic!)

Makes 2 servings

Nutritional content: 190 calories / 17g fat / 7g carbs / 2g protein / 3g fibre

The Review:


Welllllllllll now... that is not half bad! Perhaps a little "lemony" at first bite, and that unmistakable kaleness is certainly there, but yeah... I like 'em! And the garlic adds a little crunchiness too. Yep, I'd make these again when the urge to snack hits... This is a great way to get all the healthy benefits of kale, without the ick-factor. I bet you could flavour these with other spices you might like... maybe some cayenne pepper if you like it a little spicey, or ooooh cumin might be tasty.
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