Green vegetables

Pumpkin and Pinenut Spinach Salad

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Roasted pumpkin is a delicious base for a salad (and lower in carbohydrate than most people think!). If you need a higher carbohydrate option, you could use sweet potato instead of the pumpkin. Combined with feta and crunchy pinenuts, you can have a gourmet vegetarian dinner any night of the week, or a great salad addition to a summer BBQ.

Recipe from Super Food for Performance in Work, Sport and Life.

Serves 4-8

Ingredients:
750g butternut pumpkin, peeled
2tbsp olive oil
40g pine nuts
150g baby spinach leaves
80g feta cheese
Additional 2tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp Dijon mustard

Method:
Preheat oven to 200 degrees C.  Chop pumpkin into small cubes and place on a baking tray lined with baking paper.  Drizzle with the olive oil and turn to coat.  Roast for 30 minutes or until tender and leave to cool.
Towards the end of cooking, place the pine nuts on a baking tray in the over for a couple of minutes to lightly toast, or this could alternatively be done in a small non-stick frying pan on the stove.  Allow to cool also.
Place spinach in a serving bowl, top with pumpkin, pinenuts and crumbled feta.  Whisk additional 2tbsp olive oil, lemon juice and Dijon mustard and season with salt and pepper.  Serve salad with dressing.

Fibre-rich, Low-Fructose, Vegetarian, Gluten-free

Chicken and Avocado Salad

An easy salad rich in protein, healthy fats, probiotics and green goodness. This recipe is low in carbohydrate, but could be adapted for training needs by adding some cooked quinoa or brown rice. Leftover salad also makes a tasty lunch option or sandwich/wrap filling.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

1 continental cucumber, thinly sliced

2 stick of celery, finely chopped

200g mixed lettuce leaves

1 roast chicken, skin removed OR 800g lean chicken breast,grilled/BBQ’ed

3 tbsp mayonnaise

3 tbsp Greek yoghurt

2 spring onions, finely sliced

Pepper

 

Method

Combine cucumber, celery, 1 of the spring onions and lettuce leaves in a large bowl. Remove chicken from the bones and chop roughly, or slice pre-cooked chicken breast.  Mix through salad.  Combine mayonnaise and yoghurt, mix well and dollop on top of salad.  Sprinkle with remaining chopped spring onion.

Fresh Tip

For a portable lunch on the go, use leftover salad as a delicious filling for a wholegrain sandwich, roll or wrap. Line the bread with lettuce leaves that have been washed and dried to create a barrier between the filling and bread to avoid a soggy lunch.

 

Recipe from Super Food for Performance in Work, Sport and Life

Nicoise Salad

Nicoise salad is one of my favourites, light but protein-rich and great for an easy dinner on a hot night or a portable and filling lunch.  The dressing works well for other salads too.  This recipe is from my book Eat Right For Your Life.

Nicoise Salad

Serves 4

Ingredients:

500g/1 lb baby new potatoes, quartered

200g/7 oz green beans, topped and tailed

1 medium red (Spanish) onion, sliced thinly

150g/5 oz mixed lettuce leaves

250g/9 oz cherry tomatoes

400g/14 oz canned tuna in oil, drained, flaked

4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and cut into quarters

½ cup/90g seeded black olives

3 anchovy fillets in oil, drained and cut in half lengthways

 Dressing

Combine ¼ cup/60ml of lemon juice with one crushed clove of garlic and 2tsp of Dijon mustard (add 60ml olive oil also if desired).

Method

  1. Steam potatoes and beans until just tender, drain and allow to cool.
  2. Combine onion, lettuce leaves and cherry tomatoes in a large bowl. Top with potatoes, beans, flaked tuna, eggs, olives and anchovies. Serve with dressing on the side.

 

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Recover like a champion - what top Australian athletes eat after training and competition

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Salmon Patties Image by Rebecca Doyle from Bec Doyle Photography (from the book Eat Right for Your Life)

 

Ever wondered what your favourite sportspeople eat after training or competition?  Elite athletes have specific nutrition and hydration goals post-exercise to ensure they recover for their next session or event.  An athlete's recovery meal will be tailored to meet the specific need of the sport, and the goals and preferences of the individual.

We have heard from Lisa Weightman, Olympic marathon runner, in a previous blog post and gained an insight into her approach to nutrition Marathon Running Nutrition - with Rio-bound Olympian Lisa Weightman.  Lisa mentioned that her favourite recovery meal is her mum's salmon patties, and she was generous enough to share the recipe with us (hope she checked with her mum!! Recipe further on).   These salmon patties contain all the components that are important for athlete recovery, and believe it or not, they are not even dairy-free or wheat-free or low-fat or 'free' anything else, they are just nourishing home-cooked food.  Plus they tick all the boxes for recovery, providing the key nutrients: 

Protein

Carbohydrate

Healthy fats

Vitamins/antioxidants

What do some of our top Australian athletes eat?

There are plenty of great options that can make the perfect recovery food.  It's great to understand the theory about the nutrients required post-exercise but the meal also needs to taste good if an athlete is going to choose it regularly as a recovery option. It was great for Lisa to share her favourite post-run meal with us, and this got me thinking about other athletes from different sports and what they personally choose for recovery.    So I asked them!  Here are the favourite recovery meals from some of Australia's best athletes, if you want to know more about the athlete simply click on their name:

 

Todd Blanchfield - Professional Athlete at Melbourne United Basketball Club and Emerging Boomers Australian team

Favourite recovery meal: Grilled chicken with rice

Todd has a great understanding of foods for recovery and makes sure his organized with food ready to go after training and games.  He is handy around a BBQ, which is a great way to cook meat, chicken and fish for a quick and easy meal after training.  Combine with vegetables or salad and some sweet potato, corn, rice or quinoa for re-fuelling.

 

Alexander Carew – Australian 400 metre runner

Favourite recovery meal: Burritos

Track athletes train hard and need to recover well.  'One of my favourite post-training meals is making burritos, a great one to add a variety of vegetables to the daily intake.

It's a great option because it's simple to prepare and easy to make lots. Sometimes it's hard to predict exactly how much you'll need after a day of training, so this meal you can always go back for seconds (and thirds) if that's what your body requires! And if you're not a bottomless pit, like I am, you may even have enough for lunch tomorrow! 

My favourite race day food is protein pancakes (1 egg, cup of oats, a little water and a scoop of Sustagen Sport). But that's normally pre-race.'

 

Simon Clarke - Professional Cyclist, Cannondale Pro Cycling

Favourite recovery meal: Tuna and rice

Road cyclists burn a lot of energy, and recovery nutrition is especially critical for heavy training phases and multi-stage events.  Many professional teams have their own private chefs, but meals don't necessarily need to be complicated.  With timing being important for recovery, quick and easy works well, or try to prepare ahead of time.

'My favourite post stage race (ie. Tour de France) recovery meal is a protein shake made with half rice milk and half water, then a bowl of rice with a tin of tuna and a little bit of balsamic glaze for taste'.

 

Glenn Manton – Speaker, Author and Athlete (various sports, from AFL to bobsled!)

Favourite recovery meal – Banana smoothie

'I can't begin to describe how much I enjoy eating (not drinking) my banana smoothie post training. It weighs more than most of the weights I lift!'

'Clean, fresh, organic and healthy' is how Glenn describes his vegetarian-style approach to nutrition, he loves to eat tasty and fresh food.  Glenn's smoothie is no ordinary banana smoothie - it's a giant!  Glenn is aware of including some protein and carbohydrate and likes to mix it up.  His standard ingredients include a non-dairy milk base like almond milk or rice milk, bananas, granola, nut butter, mesquite powder and a vegetarian protein powder. 

If you want to learn more about Glenn's approach to fitness, nutrition and overall health and well-being, check out his, and other athlete, programs at Better Body 12 weeks.

 

Leigh Montagna – Professional Athlete at St Kilda Football Club, Director of Football - Boost Sport

Favourite recovery meal - Pizza (healthy-style) 

'Good mix of fats, carbs and protein, and easy to get down as a snack straight after a game.  I try to go for the higher protein toppings like chicken.  My motto is "if you deserved it, treat yourself"....not every week but more likely after a win!  

'My next proper meal post-game is never the same. I might go out for dinner or have something in the fridge, anything from burritos, to a chicken dish or a pasta.  It just depends what I feel like. I really sharpen up and eat healthy the rest of the week in the lead up to the next game.'  

 

Jessica Morrison - Athlete at Mercantile Rowing Club and VIS Rowing (previously AIS Swimming)

Favourite recovery meal: Smoothie (oats, FC milk, yoghurt, honey & chia seeds) & scrambled eggs on toast. 

Typically rowers burn a lot of energy in morning training so recovery nutrition needs are high.

'My smoothie takes two seconds to make, I enjoy it while I am making eggs. It's instantly satisfying & eggs provide good sustenance & I like something warm with a bit of protein after training. Sometimes I'll make the smoothie with chocolate milk & would normally have all of this after a morning row.

I eat to train, not train to eat!'

 

Madi Robinson - Athlete at Melbourne Vixens Netball Club and Australian Diamonds Team member

Favourite recovery meal: Varies!

Madi is super passionate about good nutrition and knows the benefits that eating well can bring for health and performance (check out Madi's great website by clicking on her name).

'Straight after a game I have a protein shake and two rick cakes with peanut butter and banana.  I then have my main meal within 2 hours of the game for home games and this can be:

Chicken burger with salad

OR

Fish or chicken with veggies (beans, broccoli, sweet potato) cob of corn

OR

Sweet potato - with chicken, beans, spinach & salad

To rehydrate, I have an SOS rehydrate sachet after matches to help replenish my fluid losses.  I sweat a lot and change dresses at half time so its important I not only get the right food into my body but also fluid as well to recover'.

 

Jessica Rothwell – Australian Race Walker and Accredited Practising Dietitian

Favourite recovery meal – Oats with yoghurt, fruit and toppings

Jess is a hard-working athlete, and knows a bit about nutrition being a dietitian herself.  Note the use of herbs and spices in her recovery meal.....

‘My favourite breakfast after a morning training session is milky soaked salted oats, heaped with natural yoghurt, blueberries, cinnamon & sprinkled with nuts & seeds.

I like to alternate the blueberries with grated apple or banana & use nutmeg, cocoa, vanilla bean or mint depending on the fruit! For additional energy I will add in tahini, honey or more nuts!

I enjoy this because its nutrient dense, providing nearly all 5 food groups, delicious & versatile! The dairy is helpful for maintaining my lean muscle mass, bone health, refueling & very hydrating.  

Bircher muesli is also convenient to transport in a portable container if you’re on the go & making a big batch is an effective way of saving time!’

 

Prue Rothwell – Cyclist with National Road Series team Bikebug – NextGen Racing

Recovery meal - Colourful vegetable/rice/protein bowl

Prue is passionate about wholefood nutrition, cycling and farmers' markets, a great combination for optimal recovery for an athlete.

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'After a milk based recovery drink/yoghurt, when I’m ready for something more substantial I generally throw together something that is quick and colourful… a bowl of rice, 2x boiled eggs, cottage cheese, grated carrot, kohlrabi, beetroot, purple cabbage, leafy greens and chilli sauce…..plus some tuna or kangaroo if I want to add some meat!'

 

So many choices.....

As you can see, there is not one perfect recovery meal, a range of different foods can combine to create the right balance.  If you are keen to learn more about recovery and the best recovery foods you can have a look at one of my other blog posts Eat your way to muscle recovery - 5 of the best post-training meals. If you train early in the morning, pre-breakfast, then you may want to read about some of the more breakfast-specific recovery options at Best post-run breakfasts for recovery vs weight loss.

Or you can try Lisa Weightman's mum's recipe below!

Salmon Patties

Makes about 10 patties

Ingredients:

1 x 415g/14 oz can of salmon, drained and mashed with a fork

1/4 tsp salt

Cracked pepper

2 tbsp chopped parsley

½ medium onion, chopped

2 cups/400g cooked rice

White Sauce

55g/2 oz butter

1/3 cup/50g self-raising flour

1 cup/250ml low-fat milk

Coating

Cornflake crumbs

2 eggs, whisked

Olive oil for cooking

Method:

  1. Make the white sauce by melting the butter over a low heat in a small saucepan and adding the flour. Cook, stirring, for 3 minutes.
  2. Remove the pan from from heat and gradually add the milk while stirring continuously to avoid lumps. Return the pan to the  heat and stir continuously until thick.
  3. In a large bowl place the white sauce, salmon, salt and pepper to taste, onion, parsley and rice, mix together. Cover the bowl with cling wrap and leave in the fridge overnight.
  4. Roll the mixture into patties and coat with egg then roll in Corn Flake crumbs.
  5. Cook the patties in a non-stick pan with a little olive oil and serve with steamed vegetables.

 

 

 

 

Ten weight loss 'super' foods that taste good too

Many people spend January trying to undo the fun of the festive season.  The good news is that you don't have to detox or live on spinach smoothies to get back on track.  There are plenty of delicious foods that taste great and will enhance your enjoyment of foods, but will also help you reach your new year health and nutrition goals. 

Here are just a few to start adding to your trolley:

Strawberries

Sweet and luscious, nothing beats a bowl of freshly picked strawberries.  The great news is that you can enjoy your berries in abundance, at not much more than 50calories for a whole punnet!  Berries on your breakfast or yoghurt are the perfect sweet substitute for sugar or honey, with the added bonus of Vitamin C to help you absorb the iron from cereal. Delicious on their own as a snack to satisfy mid-afternoon or late-night sweet cravings.

White fish

Are you eating lots of salmon for omega-3's?  Salmon contains the highest concentration of omega-3 fatty acids of all fish, but also contains more fat in total.  Oily fish are good for you, but don't forget about white flesh varieties - they do contain less omega-3, but are also lower in calories, so are a terrific option if you are trying to lose weight.  The protein content of fish makes it a terrific main meal option to keep you full and help prevent unnecessary snacking between meals.  Make your fish interesting, by adding fresh flavours from herbs, vegetables, garlic and citrus. 

Prawns

Prawns are often considered an indulgent food, but it's good to know they are protein rich and very low in energy (one king prawn = 15 calories).  Fresh, BBQ or stir-fry options are great, but the creamy garlic and tartare sauces or battered and deep fried options will reduce the efficiency of prawns to help you lose weight. Other shellfish such as oysters and mussels are also great to eat regularly.

Herbs

If you are serious about improving your health, think about planting a herb garden in your backyard or on the windowsill.  Fresh herbs contain negligible caloriees but pack a concentrated nutrient punch.  Using a range of different herbs will provide a variety of health (and taste!) benefits, making meals more interesting. Don’t forget the chilli!  Hot and spicy foods often take longer to eat, and all that water you drink to dampen the heat helps to fill you up and stop you from over-eating!

Green Tea

The list of benefits of green tea seems to be growing all the time.  If you love green tea you are in luck, as many of the benefits for health seem to kick in with 4 or more cups per day.  Green tea is a great substitute for other higher kilojoule beverages and a creative way to increase your fluid intake.  Green tea contains an antioxidant called EGCG that may have a mild positive impact on fat burning. Recent research shows that green tea could have an impact on depressive symptoms and a number of health conditions too, so go for green for health and happiness.  But remember that green tea contains caffeine, so take care if you are sensitive.

Nuts

We often hear about almonds being good for health and weight management, which they are, but other nuts are nutritious too!  Research shows that a handful of nuts per day can bring benefits.  If you really love nuts just watch your portions....more is not better as although nuts are nutritious they are also energy dense.  Eat nuts regularly as a filling snack or add to stir-fries and salads.

Green leafy vegetables

Green leafy vegetables are your new best friend when you are trying to lose weight.   You can basically eat as many as you want!  Greens are great for your waistline but also your health, containing a range of vitamins and minerals such as folate, Vitamin A, B, E, K and spinach also provide calcium and non-haem iron.   Cook up a storm with silverbeet, or try a spicy stir-fry with Asian vegetables such as bok choy, pak choi and gai larn. To compare the nutrient content of kale vs spinach vs rocket, click here for one of my most popular blog posts.

Lemon

Lemon can assist with weight loss in a number of ways.  Lemon juice contains hardly any kilojoules, but can add delicious flavours to food and drinks.  We know the importance of drinking enough water but many of us don’t like it plain from the tap.  By adding fresh lemon and lime, it can change the way you think about water.  Add sliced lemon and fresh herbs to plain soda or mineral water with ice for an evening drink or add lemon to boiled water as a morning beverage.  Lemon juice also makes a great dressing for salads, and enhances the flavour of fish, seafood and chicken dishes.

Natural yoghurt

There are so many yoghurts on the market, a wall of ‘light’, ‘extra light’, ‘diet’, ‘no fat’, ‘low sugar’…where do you start?  Avoid the confusion and stick with a plain natural or Greek-style yoghurt.  Add your own flavourings, such as fresh or frozen fruit, fruit puree, chopped nuts/seeds or a couple of spoons of natural muesli.  Natural yoghurts are rich in ‘good’ bacteria, important for optimal digestive health.  Yoghurt contains high quality protein and has a low glycemic-index, making it a filling snack for between meals.

Oats

The great thing about oats, and the reason they help with weight loss, is that you only need a small serve to make a meal.  Being high in fibre and low glycemic-index, oats can keep you going for hours.  The perfect breakfast option for busy days when you need to be performing at your best.  If you are not a porridge lover, go for bircher muesli or a home-style natural muesli (home-made with lots of nuts and seeds is even better!). To find out how oats compare to quinoa in the nutrition stakes, click here for my previous post.

 

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Green leaf goodness: kale vs spinach vs rocket, and the winner is.....

Do you love kale.  Or do you just eat it because it is supposed to be good for you?  I like kale, but I do question the hype.  So I decided to look a little closer and do some nutrient comparisons.  Specifically, I was keen to look at the differences between kale and other common green leafy vegetables that are used in similar ways to kale - spinach and rocket (arugula) and your everyday iceberg lettuce.   

Kale is not a new vegetable.  Kale has been around for centuries, with its popularity as a 'superfood' having only skyrocketed in recent times.  Does kale deserve this reputation as the king of all things green?  Kale is from the cabbage family and related to the highly nutritious cruciferous group of vegetables, which includes broccoli, cauliflower and brussel sprouts.  There are many different types of kale, with either curly or flat leaves, which can be eaten in a variety of ways, from salads to soups and smoothies.

To start with, let's just clarify that ALL dark green vegetables are packed with nutrients. Any small differences in nutrient content can be balanced out by eating a variety of greens for a range of different nutrients and health benefits.  This is easy if you like vegetables!  But if your palate hasn't quite extended to enjoy green vegies and you know you probably don't eat enough, then small differences could have more of an impact, and it may be well worth focusing on those vegetables with a higher nutrient density.

So here are the statistics for kale vs. spinach vs. rocket vs. iceberg lettuce.  Of course there are many other green vegetables, but these represent some that are often used interchangeably with kale.  These figures are from the US and represent a tested sample of each vegetable.  Therefore they are approximate values only, as nutrient content can vary from place to place, often due to growing conditions.  Although approximates, these figures still provide a useful comparison for measurable nutrients.  

What do you think?  First of all, I know some people may have looked straight at thecarbohydrate values and panicked when they saw that kale has over twice the amount of carbs compared to the other greens.  Before you throw your kale out, remember that 8.8g is a tiny amount of carbohydrate and these values are per 100g, which is a lot more than a standard serve.  Leafy greens are pretty light, so a serve of kale with other mixed vegetables is more likely to be around 20g, providing less than 2g of carbohydrate, which is practically nothing.   

My interest is not so much in the kilojoules or carbs, but the vitamin and mineral content and nutrient density.  Looking per 100g (which indicates the % of the nutrient in a food), the nutrient contents for kale look pretty impressive and you can see where the claims arise for 'high calcium' and 'rich in Vitamin C'.  But again, because leaves are so light, you need to divide the nutrient by 4 or 5 to get a better idea of actual nutrient content per serve.  

The firs thing that really stands out to me when I look at this table is the vast difference in nutrient content between the darker green leafy vegetables and iceberg lettuce.  Iceberg just doesn't compare really, right across the board.  This provides a very clear message that for nutrition, stack your salads with darker leaves.  Of course iceberg lettuce provides wonderful texture and can be a great base for other flavours within a salad, but for nutrition it really lags behind.

If we then look back to compare kale with spinach and rocket lettuce, for most nutrients there are only small differences.  When you compare the differences to the huge gap to the iceberg lettuce, then you realize that kale, spinach and rocket are jostling for first line position, with iceberg a distant last, rather than being spaced out well across the field.   Kale and rocket have more calcium than spinach but spinach has more iron (although not terribly well absorbed).  Most differences are minimal and although I could analyse every nutrient, when we consider the overall impact on health there is really no point.  There are, however, a handful of nutrients for which kale is a standout.

Kale is a far greater source of Vitamin C and Vitamin K compared to spinach and rocket.  Kale contains 120mg/100g Vitamin C, so per serve may contain around 25-30mg Vitamin C, making it a useful source when eaten raw.  Vitamin C can be damaged with heat/cooking so cooked kale may not provide the same benefits as raw. 

Kale is high in Vitamin K, which is particularly important for blood clotting, but not a nutrient that is at a high risk of being low or deficient for most people.  So strong is the blood clotting effect, that people need to monitor their intake of Vitamin K if they are taking blood-thinning medication such as warfarin.

Kale and spinach are both able to supply plenty of Vitamin A, an important nutrient for the health of our skin and eyes. The beta-carotene in kale and spinach can also act as an antioxidant.

All other differences in nutrients are either minor, or insignificant or not all that important for overall health.  One thing that is missing from the table above is baby spinach leaves.  I have found it difficult to find nutrient breakdown info for baby spinach to compare to regular spinach, but have read that the baby leaves may be higher in some nutrients and lower in others.  Current data on baby spinach would be welcomed. I have a sneaking suspicion that the baby spinach, such a popular option in salads, may in fact not be quite as nutrient dense as regular spinach, but I would love to compare the figures to be sure.

It is important to remember that the nutrients presented in the table above are those that we can measure readily in food, but this analyss neglects those other phytonutrients which are not routinely tested for.

Nitrate is the other one that is not listed above, but is present in dark green leafy vegetables.  Nitrate may have an important role for athletes by reducing the energy cost of exercise - nitrate is taken in concentrated form via beetroot juice for performance effects, but there is potential for green vegetables to contribute to nitrate intake also.  For more on nitrate visit Sports Dietitians Australia or read this article by Alan McCubbin Beetroot Juice: Good Science or Great Marketing Hype.  

Kale is reported to contain important antioxidants, including flavonoids and polyphenols.  Kale contains the flavonoids quercetin and kaempferol.  Quercetin has received some attention for a potential influence on endurance exercise capacity, however published research findings have been mixed (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21606866).  Antioxidants provide a range of health-related benefits and dark green vegetables, including kale, contain plenty.

So it seems that kale really is good for us, but is the nutrition value worth making the effort for?  I recall the first time I tried kale and it was definitely a case of take it or leave it!  I continued to revert back to the trusty spinach leaves as my tried and true salad base.  But lately I have been experimenting a bit, and recently ordered a kale salad with prawns and haloumi at a local restaurant.  When it came out I was actually very concerned about how I was going to manage to eat the amazingly large bowl full of green curly raw leaves, that to be honest looked terribly unappetizing.  But here is the thing with kale, and in fact most green vegetables.  How you prepare it and what you add to it can make or break your eating experience.  On this occasion, the chilli and lemon on the prawns, with the salty haloumi, pinenuts and a yoghurt based spicy dressing made the seemingly throat scratching unchewable bowl full of kale totally edible. In fact it was delicious.

The benefit of adding some healthy fats, like olive oil, avocado and nuts, is that the fat helps with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, such as Vitamin A, from the leaves.  So dressing your kale with some oils for flavour has the added benefit of boosting the nutrient availability.

The other great thing about kale is that, unlike many other so-called superfoods, kale is not ridiculously expensive when you consider other similar alternatives.

So what's the verdict, does kale win out over all other green vegetables as the senior member of the superfood brigade?  Kale is just one of the wonderful foods that is no doubt super, but certainly not that much more super than spinach, and for some nutrients less super.  But well worth including as one of your green vegetable options within different coloured vegetables every week. 

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