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With so much conflicting nutrition information, it can be difficult to know what eating pattern is best for your health. Today, we will discuss the benefits of a “plant-based diet,” an eating pattern you may be hearing more and more about. So, what is a plant-based diet? The name does speak for itself. A plant-based diet means eating mainly from plants, including vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes, and beans. It does not always mean that you need to be vegan (which excludes all animal products) or vegetarian (which generally excludes meat and fish but may include eggs and dairy), but rather includes primarily plant-based foods and fewer animal-based foods [i].

Plant-Based Diets and Cancer

With the advancement of stock farming and food science engineering, red meat and processed meat have become common features on our plate. Although red and processed meat provide protein, eating them too frequently can be damaging to our health. Many studies have found that high intakes of red and processed meats are significantly associated with cancer development, such as breast cancer, endometrial cancer, colorectal cancer, colon cancer, rectal cancer, lung cancer, and renal cancer [i].

To lower the risk of cancer development and recurrence, it is recommended to limit red and processed meat intake. Luckily, we have many healthy and plant-based foods to choose from. A plant-based diet holds anti-cancer properties. The staples of a plant-based diet, such as fruit, vegetables, legumes, and beans, contain all types of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients. These nutrients lower blood pressure, improve immunity, help excrete extra blood cholesterol, and help to decrease cancer risk [ii].

There are several reasons why a plant-focused diet may decrease cancer risk and improve outcomes for those with cancer. One is due to phytonutrients, unique nutrients found in plants that work as antioxidants to prevent body damage and inhibit cancer cell growth [iii]. Fiber is another vital nutrient that can only be found in plant-based products and can help lower the risk of colorectal cancer [iv].

Evidence suggests that a plant-based diet can be an ideal dietary pattern to reduce the risk of certain cancers [iv]. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), a healthy plant-based diet includes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans as ⅔ or more of each meal, and animal products as less than ⅓ of each meal. It is well established that high intake of red and processed meat is significantly associated with cancer, whereas high intake of unprocessed plant-based foods can reduce cancer risk [i, v].

Plant-Based Diets and Other Chronic Conditions

A plant-based diet may also be beneficial in preventing and improving several other chronic conditions:

Type 2 Diabetes: Studies have found high soluble fiber intake from unrefined whole grains may help improve insulin resistance and optimize blood sugar control [vi]. High intake of red and processed meat are also associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Replacing a serving of red or processed meat with one serving of nuts, whole grains, or low-fat dairy each day may help lower the risk of type 2 diabetes by 16% to 35% [vi].

Heart Disease: High intake of saturated and trans- fats have been shown to increase the risk of heart disease. Fried food, baked goods, and red meat are common sources of saturated and trans- fats in the diet. A healthy plant-based diet can help us lower heart disease and stroke risk by decreasing saturated fat intake from meat and increasing antioxidant and fiber intake from plant-based products. Meanwhile, nuts and seeds contain healthy unsaturated fats that can help lower heart disease risk by reducing the LDL (“bad”) cholesterol in our blood and inhibiting atherosclerosis (the leading cause of heart disease) [vii].

Hypertension (High Blood Pressure) and Stroke: Bananas, beans, potatoes, broccoli, and many plant-based products are high in potassium. A high intake of potassium-rich foods can reduce blood pressure and lower the risk of stroke by maintaining vascular homeostasis [vii].  Sodium is another major mineral that can affect blood pressure. Processed food and meat products usually contain high levels of sodium. High sodium intake is a major risk factor for heart disease, hypertension, and stroke. Since a plant-based diet is focused on unprocessed plant foods and whole foods along with little processed food and meat, it is considered a heart-healthy diet. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2300 mg of sodium per day for adults. Even cutting back sodium intake by 1000 mg per day can significantly improve heart health and blood pressure [viii].

Obesity: Plant-based diets can also provide some additional benefits for weight management. This diet typically contains a low-calorie density due to a low level of saturated fat and high amounts of water and fiber from fruits and vegetables. The high dietary fiber content of a plant-based diet can increase fullness and help with weight loss. Increased fiber intake can also promote healthy gut bacteria and overall gut health [vii, ix].

Are There Any Potential Health Concerns of a Plant-Based Diet?

Even though a plant-based diet is considered one of the healthiest diets, there are still a few important points to consider:

Making Smart Choices: Plant-based doesn’t always mean healthy. Many processed foods, snack foods, and foods with added sugar are technically plant-based. The focus should be on whole plant foods as much as possible and limiting highly processed foods regardless of whether they are “plant-based.”

Protein: Many are concerned they won’t get enough protein on a plant-based diet. However, there are plenty of high protein plant foods. Beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole soy products such as tofu and edamame are great plant-based protein sources. If you are following a fully or mostly plant-based diet, be sure to include one of these with your meals.

Iron: Iron is an essential nutrient that carries oxygen to all organs in the body. It comes in two forms: heme and nonheme iron. The iron found in animal products, called heme iron, is more easily absorbed by our digestive system than the nonheme iron found in plants. Plant products such as lentils, peas, flaxseeds, spinach, kale, and whole grains, are great sources of non-heme iron. Consuming these iron-rich foods along with Vitamin C-rich foods, such as oranges or tomatoes, can help improve iron absorption [x]. Always speak with your doctor if you are concerned about your iron levels.

Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin necessary for red blood cell and DNA production. It is naturally found only in animal products. People who follow a plant-based diet that still includes animal products, such as eggs and yogurt, may get enough vitamin B12. However, B12 supplements may be necessary for strict vegans [xi]. Ask your doctor or dietitian for vitamin B12 supplementation suggestions.

Calcium: Like iron, calcium exists in many foods, including animal and plant products. But generally, calcium in dairy products such as milk and yogurt has a better absorption rate. In the United States, 72% of calcium intake comes from dairy products. Non dairy food sources such as salmon, broccoli, tofu, and Chinese cabbage are also calcium-rich foods. If you are concerned about not getting calcium from a plant-based diet, calcium-fortified food, such as calcium-fortified oatmeal, may be recommended [xii].

Vitamin D: Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin essential for bone formation and immunity. In nature, vitamin D is only found in a limited number of foods, such as salmon, eggs, and cod liver oil. We may be able to get enough vitamin D from sun exposure. During wintertime, it may be difficult for some people to get enough sunlight. Thus, vitamin D fortified foods such as fortified milk, or a vitamin D supplement, may be recommended by your doctor [xiii].

Plant-Based Protein Sources and Food Ideas

There are many delicious plant-based choices to make sure you are getting a balanced and protein-rich diet:

Plant-Based Protein Foods: beans (kidney, chickpeas, black beans, pinto beans, etc), legumes such as lentils and peas, tofu, nuts and seeds (almonds, walnuts,  sunflower seeds, etc), whole soy products (edamame, tofu, soy milk), quinoa.

Plant-Based Iron-Rich Foods: spinach, sweet potatoes, peas, broccoli, kale, whole grains, prunes, strawberries, watermelon, oat cereal, beans.

Plant-Based Vitamin B12 Rich Foods: fortified foods, cereals, mushrooms, and seaweed.

The Take-Home Message

The goal of a plant-based diet is simple: eat more plant-based foods and fewer animal-based foods. To receive all the potential health benefits, it is essential to eat a wide variety of plant-based products, and the simplest way to accomplish that is to “eat the rainbow.” Try to have different kinds and colors of plant foods each day. While several diets can improve our overall health, for example, the Mediterranean diet, DASH diet, or a vegetarian diet, there is one thing all of these have in common: a wide variety of whole, plant-based foods!

References:

[i] Farvid MS, Sidahmed E, Spence ND, Mante Angua K, Rosner BA, Barnett JB. Consumption of red meat and processed meat and cancer incidence: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies. Eur J Epidemiol. 2021;36(9):937-951. doi:10.1007/s10654-021-00741-9

[ii] Kane-Diallo A, Srour B, Sellem L, et al. Association between a pro plant-based dietary score and cancer risk in the prospective NutriNet-santé cohort. Int J Cancer. 2018;143(9):2168-2176. doi:10.1002/ijc.31593

[iii] Ranjan A, Ramachandran S, Gupta N, et al. Role of Phytochemicals in Cancer Prevention. Int J Mol Sci. 2019;20(20):4981. Published 2019 Oct 9. doi:10.3390/ijms20204981

[iv] Kunzmann AT, Coleman HG, Huang WY, Kitahara CM, Cantwell MM, Berndt SI. Dietary fiber intake and risk of colorectal cancer and incident and recurrent adenoma in the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015;102(4):881-890. doi:10.3945/ajcn.115.113282

[v] AICR. Retrieved from https://www.aicr.org/cancer-prevention/food-facts/aicrs-new-american-plate/

[vi] Pan A, Sun Q, Bernstein AM, et al. Red meat consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes: 3 cohorts of US adults and an updated meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011;94(4):1088-1096. doi:10.3945/ajcn.111.018978

[vii] Satija A, Hu FB. Plant-based diets and cardiovascular health. Trends Cardiovasc Med. 2018;28(7):437-441. doi:10.1016/j.tcm.2018.02.004

[viii] AHA. Retrieved from https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/changes-you-can-make-to-manage-high-blood-pressure/shaking-the-salt-habit-to-lower-high-blood-pressure#:~:text=The%20American%20Heart%20Association%20recommends,blood%20pressure%20and%20heart%20health.

[ix] Hervik AK, Svihus B. The Role of Fiber in Energy Balance. J Nutr Metab. 2019;2019:4983657. Published 2019 Jan 21. doi:10.1155/2019/4983657

[x] Iron: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals 2018; https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional/#h2

[xi] Vitamin B12: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals 2018; https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB12-HealthProfessional/#h5

[xii] Calcium: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals 2018; https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional/

[xiii] Vitamin D: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals 2018; https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/#h5

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Susan started Savor Health after losing a close friend to a brain tumor and, through that experience, becoming aware of the significant unmet nutritional needs of people with cancer.  Struck by the fact that her friend was told “nutrition doesn’t matter” and “eat whatever you want,” Susan read the evidence-based literature on the subject, interviewed oncologists, oncology nurses and oncology dietitians, as well as patients and caregivers, and found that, in fact, nutrition does matter in oncology. Armed with solid scientific evidence supporting the clinical and quality of life benefits of proper nutrition, Susan left Wall Street and created Savor Health, an AI-based provider of personalized and clinically appropriate nutrition solutions for cancer patients, their caregivers and health enterprises. Susan brings to Savor Health over 25 years of industry experience in healthcare and business as well as expertise in strategy, finance and management.

Susan is an outspoken and tireless advocate for cancer patients receiving proper nutrition and nutrition support before, during and after treatment. She strongly believes that the U. S. healthcare system requires new innovation to transform it into a more holistic and integrated system of care whereby multiple disciplines coordinate care together for the benefit of the whole patient. As part of this, her goal is for nutrition to be an integral component of such an integrated cancer care delivery system.  Susan’s commitment to the field of oncology extends beyond Savor Health to volunteer work at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in pediatrics and as a runner for Fred’s Team to raise money for research at Memorial Sloan Kettering. Susan participated in the Cancer Moonshot in June of 2016 where she was a breakout session group “igniter” tasked with starting and leading discussion. Susan’s first book, the Meals to Heal Cancer Cookbook, was published in March 2016.

In addition to her role as CEO of Savor Health, Susan speaks nationally about the importance of ensuring proper nutrition in the cancer patient and on topics including leadership and startups. She has been a speaker at the Harvard Medical School’s Career Advancement and Leadership Skills for Women in Healthcare, ESMO World Congress on GI Cancer, BioPharm America, AARP Live @50+, Lake Nona Impact Forum, and IIR ePharma Summit.

Prior to starting Savor Health, Susan had a successful career on Wall Street as a healthcare services investment banker working at prestigious firms including Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, Wasserstein Perella and Robertson Stephens. Susan earned a B.A. from Duke University and M.B.A. from the University of Virginia’s Darden Graduate School of Business.

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Marissa Buchan is a registered dietitian, with advanced practice certifications in Oncology Nutrition (CSO) and Clinical Research (CCRP). She received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Duke University, and Master’s of Science degree in Clinical Nutrition from New York University. Marissa worked for 10 years at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in both the clinical research and nutrition departments.  In addition to counseling patients before, during, and after cancer therapy, she spearheaded nutrition-research efforts for the bone marrow transplant service. She has co-authored over 20 articles and has a particular interest in the role of nutrition on the intestinal microbiota and its impact on patient outcomes. When Marissa’s not wearing her lab coat, she’s in her apron whipping up healthy and delicious recipes that you can find on her blog, Get Off Your Tush and Cook.

Marissa is Chief Operating Officer of Savor Health where she leads operations working with the technology, clinical, and business development teams and management. Prior to assuming the role of COO in March 2020, Marissa was Vice President, Clinical Research and Operations at Savor Health where she worked closely with Savor Health’s Chief Medical Advisor, Scientific Advisory Board, and Clinical Operations Team to evaluate, design and conduct clinical research.  She also counsels patients on oncology nutrition issues and contributes to the Company website’s clinical content.

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Dr. DeFrance has a unique background including clinical interventional cardiologist, chief medical officer, educator, outcomes researcher and entrepreneur. He has expertise in Lifestyle medicine in which he was board certified in 2020 and is highly interested in the prevention and reversal of chronic disease. Dr. DeFrance also has expertise in appropriate utilization of technology in medicine, healthcare economics, value-based metrics, and educational design and delivery. He worked as Chief Medical Officer for HealthHelp, one of the largest specialty benefit managers in the US, and led large teams of healthcare professionals in writing evidence based appropriate care guidelines and rule sets which improve the quality and safety of medicine for over 20 million people in the US while also creating sustained savings in healthcare. He has also designed clinical decision support systems that are currently in use helping to improve patient care.

In 2018 Dr. DeFrance founded MedMentor Education, a company that provides state of the art CME content using the latest in eLearning science and online delivery platforms. Dr. DeFrance is also the founder and President of Digimedica, a consulting and educational design and delivery company for healthcare professionals, hospitals, and universities. He is passionate about creating systems to optimize knowledge transfer and has won numerous awards for teaching excellence during his career. He is an expert in cardiovascular CT imaging and has taught more than 3,000 physicians how to perform and interpret cardiac CT nationally and internationally and has lectured extensively on this subject.

Dr. DeFrance has a stellar reputation in the medical field and continues work to improve the quality and safety of patient care in the US.

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Alyson is a registered nurse and is certified in oncology nursing (OCN) through the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS). She also has her certification as an ONS Biotherapy and Chemotherapy Provider. Alyson studied nursing at Thomas Jefferson University where she obtained her Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN). Since starting her nursing career in 2004, Alyson has had a strong dedication and commitment to oncology patients. She has worked inpatient specializing in Bone Marrow and Peripheral Blood Stem Cell Transplantation. Alyson currently works in outpatient oncology at the North Shore-LIJ Monter Cancer Center. Alyson is part of the clinical team at Savor Health where she counsels patients on oncology and oncology nutrition issues and contributes to website and other Savor Health content.

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Chelsey is a Registered Dietitian and Board Certified Specialist in Oncology nutrition (CSO). She completed her Dietetic Internship at Northwell Health, received her BS in Dietetics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and her MS in Nutrition at Stony Brook University’s School of Medicine. Chelsey works as an outpatient dietitian at Mount Sinai covering all of the downtown cancer services at Mount Sinai Beth Israel and Philips Ambulatory Care Center. Chelsey works with patients and families before, during and after treatment to optimize their nutrition through dietary counseling and support. Chelsey has experience counseling clients with a variety of diagnoses including breast cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, head & neck cancer, and more. Chelsey also enjoys sharing nutrition knowledge with her peers by running a monthly Employee Wellness program that showcases healthy topics, recipes and food demos.

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Michelle is a Registered Dietitian specializing in oncology. She works as a clinical dietitian at an ambulatory cancer center in New York City and is a consultant for Savor Health. She is passionate about educating oncology patients on the importance of nutrition during their fight against cancer and helping them to optimize their nutrition through all phases of treatment. Michelle received her Bachelor of Science degree in dietetics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her Master of Science degree in Clinical Nutrition from New York University.

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Denise Sievering is a Registered Dietitian who is board certified in Oncology Nutrition as well as Nutrition Support. A fluent Spanish speaker, Denise joined the Savor Health team to support Spanish speaking cancer patients and to continue to expand the Platform’s nutritional strategies and recommendations in Spanish. Denise holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Rutgers University, and completed her internship at New York Presbyterian Hospital (NYP). Denise started her career as a registered dietitian at NYP-Columbia University Medical Center, primarily covering inpatient Oncology units. Denise also holds a Master of Arts degree in Mental Health Counseling from New York University, and incorporates her advanced training in motivational interviewing and empathic listening in her patient encounters, particularly those whose lives have been forever changed by a cancer diagnosis. A New Jersey native, Denise now resides in sunny San Diego, CA where she works as a part-time outpatient Oncology dietitian at Scripps Health-MD Anderson Cancer Center, and also works as an inpatient dietitian at Kaiser Permanente. In her spare time, Denise can be found at a mom-and-pop taco shop, one of the many local craft breweries, and exploring her new city of San Diego with her husband and her rescue pup, Ripley.

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Karen is a Registered Dietitian, Board Certified Specialist in Oncology Nutrition and registered in New York as a Certified Dietitian Nutritionist. Fluent in Spanish, Karen joined the Savor Health team to support Spanish speaking cancer patients and to continue to expand the Platform’s nutritional strategies and recommendations in Spanish. Karen received her Bachelor of Science degree from Ithaca College and her Master of Science degree from Hunter College. She works as an outpatient oncology dietitian in New York. Karen often works with local community centers to host nutrition programs for cancer survivors and their families, leading classes on how to live healthier lifestyles throughout their continuum of care. The American Institute of Cancer Research selected to showcase one of her many programs at their conference in 2019. Karen has written for and lent commentary to various publications and truly enjoys teaching people how to eat better. She loves to cook and strongly feels that healthy food doesn’t have to taste bad.

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Allie is a Registered Dietitian and a Certified Specialist in Oncology (CSO). She joins Savor in 2023, bringing years of experience from the John Theurer Cancer Center in New Jersey, where she worked with patients with a variety of cancers. Her goal is to help people feel their best, both mentally and physically, when physical health challenges arise. She believes in the power of nutrition ever since the impact it made on her athletic career as a volleyball player during college. Allie graduated with her Bachelor of Science degree from University of Maryland-Baltimore County and has her Master’s degree in Human Nutrition from the University of Wisconsin Stout. She enjoys travelling, enjoying different cuisines, cooking, and hiking and other outdoor activities with her family and dog.

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Julia Penberg is a seasoned healthcare professional with more than 30 years of experience focusing on maximizing operational excellence, leading clinical program development and building strong cross-functional teams. Her previous roles include overseeing the performance of clinical managers and nurse practitioners across multiple markets within United Healthcare-Optum’s Medicare Advantage and dual-eligible special needs populations, payer outreach and program development at Mayo Clinic, ground level specialty hospital development and direct patient care as a family and dermatology nurse practitioner. Julia volunteered as an operating room nurse and nurse practitioner on several mission trips to Romania and was a support group leader for the Kansas City chapter of the International Myeloma Foundation. Her motivation throughout her career has been with wellness promotion, disease risk modification and ensuring the best patient experience across the health continuum. Ms. Penberg received an MBA from the University of Dallas; a MS in Nursing from the University of Kansas and a BS in Nursing from the University of Texas-Austin. She is board certified as a Family Nurse Practitioner.

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Rachel is a Registered Dietitian and Board Certified Specialist in Oncology Nutrition (“CSO”). She joined NYP-Columbia as the outpatient oncology dietitian in 2020 after working at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center for two years. Rachel completed her dietetic internship through Keene State College in 2017. She is pursuing an MS in Integrative Nutrition at Stony Brook University and has a BS in Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise from Virginia Tech. Rachel provides nutrition counseling to all types of oncology patients and helps them understand the mental and physical benefits of nutrition as an ally in their fight against cancer. In her free time she enjoys slow meals with family and friends, Pilates, and tending to her fire escape garden.

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Allie Werner is a Registered Dietitian at Fresenius Kidney Care where she provides medical nutrition therapy diet counseling to patients on Dialysis. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in nutrition from Indiana University and completed her Master’s Degree and dietetic internship at Loyola University Chicago. In her free time she enjoys spending time with friends and family, checking out the amazing food scene in downtown Chicago, and exercising on her Peloton bike.

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Immersed in the tech world for a decade, I've coded, led teams, and honed my skills in architecture and design. As a tech enthusiast, I've seamlessly woven through full-stack projects, fusing my love for code with the art of leadership.

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Mohit is a full-stack developer with expertise in Python and JavaScript, known for his efficient coding and ability to deliver scalable software solutions. His technical contributions are highlighted on GitHub and Stack Overflow, demonstrating his commitment to the tech community and problem-solving skills. With a solid educational foundation and a diverse project portfolio, Mohit excels at navigating complex challenges and is well-equipped to contribute to dynamic software projects.

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Rayna McCann is a Registered Dietitian and Board Certified Specialist in Oncology Nutrition. She is a Registered Yoga Teacher and yoga4cancer certified. She received her BS in Nutrition at Penn State University and her MS from Stony Brook University. For work, Rayna wears many hats in the world of nutrition and worked for years in clinical settings focusing on oncology nutrition. She is also an Adjunct Professor and passionate about inspiring the future of dietitians. Throughout her career, she has received awards recognizing her dedication to patient safety and her contributions to improving malnutrition awareness. In 2022, Rayna was proud to accept the ‘Dietitian of the Year’ award through the Long Island Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Rayna has co-authored abstracts for poster presentations within the American Institute for Cancer Research conference, as well as, the Nutrition and Dietetics Food and Nutrition Conference Expo and subsequent publication. She has enjoyed authoring articles, including an article for The Cure magazine regarding Multiple Myeloma and nutrition. When Rayna is not participating in nutrition related activities, she is dedicated to dog rescue.

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