Category Archives: I love you India but…

Learn to say NO!

You know you’ve been there. You decide on making a change in eating habits and go steady for a while. Then you visit some relatives/friends and boom! All hell breaks loose! You know you want to stick to your new eating plan/diet, but you also want to not hurt anyone/be embarrassed. You think about what can be done. You play scenarios in your head. All said and done, finally, you aren’t able to come up with a plan of action because refusing food is rude and eating that food will set you back! Holy sheeeet!

About 2-3 years back, my cousin had visited my parents house and I happen to be there on vacation. The dude was just recovering from a motorbike accident and hence had been super sedentary for many months which had packed the pounds in him. It looks like he realized this and decided he had to eat less. So when he was offered dinner at my place and this is what happened…

He: “I just want to say that I’m on a diet since I really need to lose my weight and hence will not be eating as much as I normally do. Please don’t mistake that as being rude.”

My mom: Yea. We’ll figure it out once you start eating.

He: No seriously. I shouldn’t be eating much.

My mom: Yea ok.

So this is the scene – He’s at the table, my mom is in the kitchen (attached to the dining) making dosas and my dad and his mom (my dad’s sister) are sitting next to him talking to him as he eats.

He eats two dosas with chutney and sambar and…

He: OK I’m done. I feel fine so I think I’ll stop here.

My mom: What?????? Two dosas??? Are you kidding me? Eat one more at least!

He: No no. I’m really good but just to not hurt your feelings I’ll have one more.

Number 3 goes down and…

He: Thank you athai (aunt).

My mom: Heyyyy! Thats it??? Ok one more! One last one! I’ve already made it! Please eat just one more!

His mom: Shut up and eat one more! Athai has already made it.

He: (very reluctantly) oooookayyy

Number 4 goes down and he stands up to take his plate and wash his hands and my dad jumps into the action!

My dad: Wait. What are you doing?

He: I’m going to go wash my hands. I can’t eat anymore!

My dad: At your age we used to eat 5 times this! You have to eat more!

He: No mama (uncle). I really need to stop. I’m starting to feel full already.

My dad: You know what? I’ll make the dosas for you! I don’t ever do this… but I’ll do it for you! Will please be very kind and eat some to make your mama (uncle) happy?

Just so you guys know – up until the last generation, its very rare that an Indian man cooks or does anything cooking related in the kitchen and when he decides to do so… it is special… special like its you wouldn’t believe it!

His mom: See!! See how much they love you! Mama is cooking for you!! How can you say no to this??? Stop being rude and eat! Who cares about the diet! How often will you get this chance?

Him: OMG! Mama… you’re cooking for me? Wow! I have nothing more to say!

And… 5, 6, 7… and it ended at somewhere in the teens if I’m not wrong! And of course the meal ended with ‘something sweet’ because theres always place for dessert right?

I swear to God I’m not being an ass by counting morsels. I described this incident because I know extremely well that there is a reason why relatives/friends/hosts shove food down our throats and I want you to understand that first before we move on to talking about tacking such situations.

In the above story, my parents’ intentions were perfectly good. As a matter of fact… beyond good (trust me – there are very few people who mean better than they do!)! They wanted to doubly make sure that their nephew ate to his heart’s content without the slightest feeling of shyness. They wanted to be excellent hosts and the loving uncle and aunt who cook the best food and serve it with great love and pride! This, in my language Tamil, is called “virunthombal” and it means to take care of one’s guest to an extent that exceeds their expectations and Indians (and I’m sure many other cultures) take this very very seriously.

Once again, if I wasn’t clear, the intention here is comfort, health, happiness and wellness to the guest and it comes from unmatched love and purity at heart.

The Problem

While this concept (of ‘virundhombal’) was genius back then, it doesn’t quite hold water today mainly because of the following reasons.

1. While perfectly healthy folks who lived then could indulge without concern, we are so diseased today that we all have some form of dietary restriction or the other and expecting everyone to eat everything is no longer appropriate.

2. Back in the day this was common practice because it occurred infrequently. Folks visited relatives who lived in a different city once in a while and when they did it called for celebration and that meant food… and lots of it! So the hosts brought their best game with respect to taste, quality and quantity. But today, meeting relatives (in countires like India) is a twice-a-week thing at least.

3. Folks were super duper active back then! They walked multiple miles everyday, lifted heavy weights frequenty and transported loads across distances… all as part of daily living. Today, most of us are sedentary spending 12-14 hours a day sitting!

4. Consumption of sweets and other rich foods (anything that required multiple ingredients, time and effort to prepare) was rare and was reserved for festivals and when relatives/friends visit. Today, sweets and dense foods are available anywhere and at anytime.

But though this is obvious, this remains a delicate topic to address. In Indian families, it is still considered rude and/or fussy to refuse a second serving or refuse/request certain types of food. For example, if you went to your aunt’s house for dinner and refused to eat rotis, people would either force you to eat it (if you’re the kinds that breaks easily) or wouldn’t know how to react and an awkward silence will follow (if you’re the kind that people dont want to mess with). Either ways, it is weird and uncomfortable and thats not really what you’re going for when you visit relatives!

The Logic

As a part of tackling this situation, I’m going to give you some situations to consider.

1. If you’re diabetic, will people force you to eat sugars (dessert etc.) just because they want to be nice? If they do, are you going to consider being curteous and eat ’em ad libitum?

2. If you’ve just quit smoking, will your (real) friends force you to have a smoke with them? If they do, are you going to break and give in?

3. If you have a severe back problem forcing you to sleep only on the floor, will your relatives/friends force you to sleep on their super cushy bed just because they want to be nice? If they do, will you consider being receptive and spend the night (and the next week) in pain?

4. If you have a liver problem that prohibits you from ingesting any alcohol (or if you are a non-alcoholic), will your hosts offer you their finest scotch in an attempt to be great hosts? If they do, will you consider downing it and suffering later?

5. And finally, if you are a vegetarian, will people ever force you to eat meat? And if they do, will you consider the option of eating meat?

If the answer to all that is NO… then…

If you know bad food messes you up and you are overweight/flabby/diabetic/chronically fatigued/systemically inflamed today because of that, should you consider going crazy on it just to be nice?

Get your priorities right people! Making people happy is one thing, but killing yourself with bad food is a whole different thing!

OK before you guys get your knickers in a bunch here, allow me to explain – This is definitely not even worth addressing if it is a one off thing. But it turns into a pretty big deal if it becomes a frequent phenomenon.

The Tackle

While some are easy and smooth and others are hard and weird, every situation can be tackled and this is no exception.

If it is not a life and death situation..

(Eg. You’re on a low carb diet or you dont eat lentils ‘cos it makes you feel bloated or you’re staying away from sugars etc.)

1. Talk it out – Make it clear to your loving hosts that you normally dont eat, say, wheat and sugars, but you will eat a small portion today just for them.

2. Choose alternatives – If there is wheat and rice, choose rice. If there is sugar and fruit, choose fruit. If there is fried and baked, choose baked. You get the idea.

3. Lay low – Just eat a small portion of whatever has been made and dont worry about it.

4. Make a difference – If the hosts are the kinds who will listen, talk very briefly about why certain foods should be eaten in moderation. Never ever use phrases like’ its poison’ or ’causes heart attack’ or ‘destorys your health’ (because no food does when smartly consumed). Always, emphasize that some foods are more nutritious than others and hence needs to be consumed more frequently and some other foods contain anti-nutrients and hence should be very rarely consumed. If they are interested in learning more, point them towards this or some other relevant website.

5. Plan and fail – If this is about fat loss and you are aware that such a situation is about to occur, plan your diet and/or training such that you get to cheat on that day.

If it is indeed a serious situation…

(Eg. You’re diabetic or you’re celiac or you triglycerides are super high or you are preparing for an event that is just a few weeks away or you have leaky gut etc.)

You have one choice and only one choice…

1. Make it extremely clear to your hosts that you have a medical condition that prevents you from eating certain foods and as much as you appreciate their efforts and welcoming nature, you just can’t safely consume those foods. If these hosts truly care about your health, they will find a work around and remember this medical condition of yours the next time you visit them.

The Summary 

The truth is that, however I twist it, this is a tricky situation and it needs to be dealt with very delicately so no one’s emotions are hurt. For that, you need to realize that people do this only to make you comfortable and people need to realize that if a certain food or act is going to make you uncomfortable in anyway they have to be open to you making your choices/substitutions. And the only way this can be done is by you expressing your concerns in an appropriate fashion.

And if it isn’t obvious, this is the same deal with your parents. If you parents have a medical condition but are hesitant to say no to food pushers, you have got to say No for them!

I agree none of us want to be ‘that person’. But it all depends on who ‘that person’ is. I don’t want to be “that person who is picky about what he eats ‘cos he doesnt like certain foods“. But I’d anyday want to be “that person who saved me from diabetes!

Its not just about saying NO folks. Its about knowing when and how to say it! What are your experiences? How have you guys tackled such situations? Please post in the comments section ‘cos plenty of other readers can benefit from it.

Being Vegetarian: Got vegetables?

Sure looks awesome... but is it really that awesome?

Most of you probably know that India is the most vegetarian country in the world and that it houses more vegetarians than the rest of the world combined. Considering we Indians don’t eat meat and we have multiple reasons, ranging from moral to religious to health, to stay the hell away from meat, one would assume that we eat a very nutritious diet comprising mostly of vegetables and fruit. I mean, if meat is out of the plate and whole dairy is to be consumed in moderation, one would imagine that our plates be filled with vegetables! After all we are proud “vegetarians” aren’t we?

But is this really the case?

I was born and brought up in South India and from my experience, a typical south Indian diet contains…

  • White rice
  • Dosa (Rice, lentils)
  • Idly (Rice, lentils)
  • Chutney (Chili, coconut)
  • Molaga podi (Chili powder, vegetable/sesame oil)
  • Vada (Lentils deep fried in vegetable/sesame oil)
  • Chapathi (Wheat)
  • Poori (Wheat deep fried in vegetable/sesame oil)
  • Sambar (Lentils, tamarind, vegetable/sesame oil, negligible vegetables)
  • Daal (Lentils)
  • Rasam (Tomato, tamarind, spices, water)
  • Vegetable poriyal (Vegetables, vegetable/sesame oil)
  • Vegetable kootu (Vegetables, vegetable/sesame oil, coconut)
  • Avial (Starchy vegetables, coconut, coconut oil)
  • Yogurt
  • Coffee (Coffee, milk, sugar)
  • Tea (Tea, milk, sugar)
  • Biscuits (Wheat, sugar and other junk)
  • Muruku, thattai, cheedai (Flour or lentils deep fried in vegetable/sesame oil)
  • Lemon Rice (White rice, lemon juice, vegetable/sesame oil)
  • Tamarind Rice (White rice, vegetable/sesame oil, tamarind extract)
  • Potato subzi (Potato, onions, vegetable/sesame oil)
  • Papad (Lentils deep fried in vegetable/sesame oil)
  • Pickle (Vegetable/fruit pickled in vegetable/sesame oil)
  • Pongal (Rice, lentils, ghee)
  • Idiyappam (Rice)

Ummm… maybe its just me, but I didn’t see too many “vegetables” in the “vegetarian” diet! I’m sure I’ve missed out of a bunch of other things south Indian people normally eat and I know I haven’t listed what vegetarians from other parts of India eat. But what is obvious here?

  • Clearly 90% of one’s calories come from grains, vegetable/sesame oil, lentils and potatoes!
  • A negligible amount of calories come from vegetables and fruit.
  • Though junk food consumption is less, little to no nutrition exists in the entire cuisine.
  • The majority of one’s calories come from carbohydrates and that too from grains and lentils.
  • Most of the fat consumed is from vegetable and sesame oil which are both super high in the very easily oxidizable polyunsaturated fatty acids.
  • Protein is almost non-existent

Why is this wrong with this?

Honestly… tooooooo many things! While I don’t have the time to get into great detail, here is what you need to know in a nutshell.

If this is wrong, then what is right?

  • Control the carb intake and include more good fats.

I guarantee you that making just these four changes will cause a very significant improvement to your health and quality of life. Try it for a month! Seriously, whats there to lose? Worst case, you’ll end up not eating your favorite foods for 4 weeks. But best case, you could better you health and possibly cure everything from asthma to diabetes to eczema or chronic fatigue to high blood pressure to high cholesterol to joint aches to sleep issues!

In the next few weeks, I will write about how to modify the current traditional Indian diet to make it more nutritious while still keeping its very own unique flavors and taste. While I do that, why don’t you folks spread the good word around? Sharing buttons below!

Peace out.

Image credit – http://www.tamilspider.com

I Love You India But… Things Have Changed

Picture from Littlefoodjunction

The ancient Indian diet used to…

  • be rich in saturated fats (especially from dairy, ghee and coconut).
  • contain only little vegetable oils.
  • only contain grains that had be fermented/sprouted extensively.
  • include a multitude of different spices (turmeric, holy basil, coriander etc.) with amazing health benefits.
  • provide enough calories (and carbohydrates) to fuel the intense activity of our ancestors.

The present typical Indian diet…

  • is dominated by grains which are cooked too quickly and carelessly.
  • has little to no protein.
  • is high in vegetable oils.
  • is stripped out of healthy fats.
  • is loaded with anti-nutrients from grains and legumes due to lack of sprouting/fermenting.
  • is deficient multiple vitamins (especially A and B12) and minerals due to the lack of vegetables and animal foods.
  • contains more carbohydrates than is safe for the current lifestyle.
  • is extremely high in (empty) calories (and carbohydrates) for the obvious sedentarism being commonly exhibited.

Though the country isn’t plagued with junk food and fast food chains yet and though most people still eat home cooked meals, today India…

  • has the highest number of diabetics in the world.
  • accounts for 60% of heart disease cases worldwide.
  • is home to ~ 174 million overweight/obese people (in spite of widespread hunger and poverty)
  • has ~ 71 million people suffering from iodine deficiency.
  • ranks 2nd in the world with respect to children suffering from malnutrition.
  • has 4 children under the age of 5 dying every minute due to preventable diseases and lack of immunity.
  • is the country in the world with the lowest number of total Olympic medals per capita.

Maybe there is a connection? Maybe we need to be a bit more open minded? Maybe we should stop with the ‘The Indian vegetarian diet is the healthiest diet!‘? Maybe we should consider a change?

You tell me!

Peace out.

What can a trainer do for you?

As far as I’m concerned health is paramount and health can never improve without a good diet. It is for this reason that I emphasize solid nutrition even prior to exercise if your goal is good health. As a matter of fact I have clients who workout just twice a week for 15 min a day, while they focus purely on correcting their nutrition. In my honest opinion, every fitness trainer should invest the time to learn about legit nutrition if he/she cares about his/her client’s health and long term well-being. So for the remainder of this post when I say trainer, I’m referring to one who is well acquainted with the latest research in exercise physiology AND nutrition.

That said, it’s sad… really sad… that trainers (especially in developing countries like India) are not given much respect. So much so that no one really “aspires” to be a trainer. It’s almost considered a menial profession that only folks who have “no other outs” get in to. Don’t get me wrong. You throw peanuts you get only monkeys. For the amount of money the gyms actually pay trainers, no one will really dream about being a trainer. On the other hand though, most trainers have little to no qualifications or knowledge to actually be respected and/or paid handsomely. Very very few trainers are actually informed enough to help their clients. So hey, if you’ve got only monkeys you can only throw peanuts right? A classic chicken and egg situation.

Seriously??

Getting to the point

But let’s assume you found a legit trainer. Someone who…

  • is super passionate about fitness,
  • genuinely wants to help people,
  • doesn’t look at clients as walking dollar bills,
  • is very familiar with exercise physiology,
  • is well versed in human anatomy,
  • is aware of what good nutrition is,
  • doesn’t prescribe a one size fits all exercise and nutrition approach,
  • and doesn’t buy into fads like 300 workouts or low whatever diets.

What can such a trainer do for you?

Without any exaggeration, he/she can…

  • instantly make your inflamed joints feel better
  • make you look awesome
  • teach you a thing or two about hard work
  • fix your mobility issues
  • motivate you to an extent that you change your life around
  • help you with nutrient deficiencies
  • help you fight, prevent and maybe even cure autoimmune diseases via good nutrition
  • teach you the right way to stand, sit, walk, run and move
  • make you stronger than you ever imagined
  • make you healthier than your doctor can
  • save you tens of thousands of bucks (which you will have spent on healthcare if not for him/her)
  • work with you to help you excel in your sport/event
  • ensure you’re not scammed by helping you differentiate between BS and legit info
  • help you sleep better
  • make your sex life much better
  • make that pot belly of yours disappear
  • help you find food allergies you had no idea about
  • fix that lower back pain you are suffering with
  • help you achieve physical feats you never thought possible
  • literally add 10+ years to you life
  • make you the dad who kids love to play with
  • help you win that tennis match with your 20 yr old
  • tell you what real food is
  • make you feel years younger in a matter of weeks

Or in other words… a legit trainer can improve the quality of your life like you can never imagine.

Where can you find such trainers?

Though such trainers are not easy to find, I am sure they exist in every city. Invest some time researching and finding such folks instead of signing up with any guy who looks big and jacked. Be sure you work with good trainer ‘cos, realize, you are literally trusting your life with this person. He/she is getting a chance to make a huge difference in your life and he/she better be worth it!

If you don’t find any good trainers in your city, here are some awesome folks whose work I follow regularly and strongly recommend for you to work with (IF they have openings).

(Note: If you want to work with me, I am in the process of doing some consultation for charity. So expect a wait-time.)

Bottom Line

So stop kidding yourself about your health and go get yourself an awesome trainer! It will be the best money you ever spent.

And remember… always respect the legit trainers and don’t hesitate to fire the worthless idiots!

– Peace out.

Being Vegetarian: Protein Pressure

I can’t deny it no more. I love you vegetarians.

So I better not leave you hanging right? Right!

Pic: The Food Guys

While there are many drawbacks to a typical vegetarian diet, the one major drawback is a lack of protein. All vegetarians who chooses to make a change towards the better, face this huge challenge. They all go – ‘Cheese is bad, soy is bad, eggs have cholesterol… what the hell do I eat for protein?!’

So let’s get to the meat of the issue shall we? (See what I did there? Yea I’m awesome like that!)

Slim Pickins:

Vegetarians have few protein options and it is important that they use these options wisely in order to reach their goal of nutritious diet.

  • Eggs
  • Dairy
  • Soy
  • Legumes and nuts
  • Protein supplements

The deal with these protein options is that in addition to protein these foods come with other junk (phytoestrogens, lectins, phytic acid etc.) which make it unsafe to consume these foods in higher quantities.But fear not…  I gotcha back!

Make no mistake – animal products are an absolute necessity for optimal health, but we’ve got to work with what we have and hence the rest of this post will be dedicated towards finding an optimal mix of these third world proteins to get the most nutrition possible.

1. Eggs:

Eggs are by far your best protein option due to their exceptional nutritional profile. If you don’t know by now, egg yolks are far superior to the whites and yes, you are sinning every time you throw out an egg yolk! Click here to see the detailed nutritional info in eggs. No you don’t get it. Click that link… now!

Every vegetarian should include eggs in his/her diet (unless of course you’re allergic to them). Buy organic cage free eggs and eat at least 2 whole eggs every day. I know I know. You’re worried about the cholesterol in egg yolks. Here you go – Research shows that dietary cholesterol (especially via egg consumption) has no adverse effect on plasma cholesterol. And why organic cage free eggs? – Here’s why.

2. Dairy:

Sure dairy could irritate your gut and a bunch of folks are intolerant, but if you are a vegetarian you better have some dairy in your diet. Dairy proteins are complete proteins and come with beneficial fats.

We can spend days talking about raw dairy vs organic dairy vs regular dairy, but I have more to cover. So here are my recommendations – If raw dairy is available and you can afford/tolerate it, that should be your first option. If not, organic full fat dairy is the next best. If all you can afford is regular dairy, get the full fat version.

Whole milk and whole milk yogurt are calorie dense and contain ~ 12-15 gm of protein per cup. In addition to this, yogurt (which is produced by bacterial fermentation of milk) contains helpful live cultures that aid digestion. Yes, yogurt > milk.

(Note: Yogurt can be consumed in modest quantities by those who are lactose intolerant since the lactose has been fermented by the bacterial culture.)

Cheese is a great source of dairy protein (especially for those trying to keep the carbs low) offering ~ 6-7 gm of protein per ounce. Yes, cheese has some saturated fat, but there is no real evidence that saturated fat causes heart disease. So get some awesome full fat, unprocessed cheese and top your vegetables or eat it with some berries or have a couple of ounces with some fine wine.

If you want to cook with cheese, your best options are paneer and halumi. These two can be grilled, browned, used in a curry or however else you like to cook ’em. If you’re a cottage cheese lover, then that’s definitely another option. Each cup offers ~ 25-28 gm of slow digesting protein (casein).

3. Soy:

I’m sure you’ve heard the good and the bad about soy. The funny thing is, people who promote soy describe it a freakin super food and those who demonize it deem it pure evil. While it is easy for meat eaters to hop on and call it evil, the decision isn’t that simple for vegetarians.

Since this could get VERY long, I’m going to present to you just the facts.

Just so we’re clear – whole soy beans and fermented soy are possibly good for you in moderate quantities… processed soy products are NOT!

From a proteinstand point – soy is a complete protein and a couple of ounces of tempeh 3-4 days a week will probably help more than hurt, but consuming large quantities of soy products (tofu, fake meat etc.) will mess you up!

4. Legumes & Nuts

I have no idea where this ‘Oh lentils/beans are all protein’ nonsense was born, but this is where it will die.

Lentils and beans contain protein, yes. But they also contain 3-4 times more carbs. But when was the last time you ate just lentils/beans? Most people eat them with other grains like rice or wheat and now the carb to protein ratio shifts to ~ 10:1. Are you with me here? When you eat rice and beans, you’re not eating a protein rich meal. Wake the hell up!

In addition to this, in their unfermented form, legumes/beans contain enough phytic acid to harm you. I want to write about soaking/fermentation of legumes/beans, but most of you wont do it right anyways so I will just direct you to this article from the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF).

Summing up – legumes are not a great source of protein, but if prepared per the WAPF guidelines, can offer some protein and a good amount of fiber.

From a protein standpoint – eat soaked legumes/beans in limited quantities 2-3 times a week.

Nuts? Well, they’re pretty much all fat and contain negligible protein. Enough said.

5. Protein Supplements

Protein supplements are exactly that… supplements. You can use them to supplement a nutritious diet. In other words, if you have removed the junk, sugars and grains from your diet and if your diet revolves around real foods with plenty of vegetables and healthy fats you can include protein supplements in order to obtain your protein requirements.

Your options for protein supplements are whey protein powder, egg protein powder and hemp seed protein powder. I don’t want to spend too much time on this, but if you buy one of these look for a brand that offers high protein (>20 gm), low carb (<5 gm), low fat (<4 gm), low cholesterol (<15%) and low sodium (<15%).

Note: An exception might be hemp seed protein powders which contain more carbs, but most of them are fiber.

Mixing it up!

Now for the important part – How does all this come together in a vegetarian diet?

Repeat after me – Variety. Is. Key!

Eating any food item (and that means ANY food item) over and over again will create deficiencies over the long term and hence it is critical to consume as many different types of foods as possible. This holds true for vegetarian protein sources as it does for fruits, meat, vegetables and everything else.

Case 1: 150 lbs male (Sedentary)

Protein requirement ~ 70-75 gm

  • 2 eggs [~ 14 gm protein]
  • 2 oz tempeh/tofu [~ 14 gm protein]
  • 2 oz paneer [~ 14 gm protein]
  • 1 cup whole milk [~ 12 gm protein]
  • 1 cup whole milk yogurt [~ 15 gm protein]

Case 2: 150 lbs male (Active, strength trains, interested in muscle gain)

Protein requirement ~ 140-150 gm

  • 4 eggs [~ 24 gm protein]
  • 2 oz tempeh/tofu [~ 14 gm protein]
  • 2 oz paneer/cheese [~ 14 gm protein]
  • 1 cup whole milk [~ 12 gm protein]
  • 2 cups whole milk yogurt [~ 30 gm protein]
  • 1 cup cottage cheese [~ 30 gm protein]
  • 1 scoop hemp/whey/egg protein powder [~ 25 gm protein]

But my case is unique…

  • If you have allergies/health conditions, talk to your doctor first.
  • If you weigh more/less, increase/decrease quantities.
  • If you dislike cottage cheese, have an extra scoop of protein powder.
  • If you’re moderately active, your protein requirements will fall between these two extremes and I’m sure the post has enough information for you to create your protein menu.
  • If you don’t eat eggs and milk products, this is not the blog for you!

Peace out!

PS: This post, like other long informational posts, took a lot of time and effort. So please share your thoughts in the comments section and spend a short minute to share this post. Buttons below!

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