Picture what it would be like to be healthier than you’ve ever been in your life. If this has ever been a thought for you, welcome! You are about to read the ultimate guide to eating a whole food, plant-based diet for beginners. The contents on this page alone will be enough to get ANYONE started in a happier healthier lifestyle. The rewards are limitless and the list of benefits is extensive.
Don’t worry, we’ll get there.
Have you ever thought, “If only there was a magical food that could work like a potion and heal my body…” Well, there is, however, it doesn’t work like a magical potion in the sense that you can just eat or drink something and be healed in one shot.
It takes time because it’s a lifestyle.
Despite the overwhelming scientific evidence and results of eating whole foods as your regular diet has been nothing short of “magical!”
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What is a Whole Food Plant-Based Diet?
It’s a diet that emphasizes nutrient-dense plant foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds. Whole foods are not processed (or not heavily processed). On a whole food plant-based diet you avoid animal products such as meat, dairy, eggs, and fish, but there are, in some cases, allowances in limited quantities.
Is it the same as vegan? Vegetarian? Or a raw food diet?
Technically, a whole food plant-based diet is not vegan or vegetarian, but it does incorporate elements of both.
The WFPB diet aims to provide your body with optimum nutrition and fuel while avoiding processed foods, added sugars, oils, and animal products as much as possible. This type of eating also emphasizes sustainability because it reduces our reliance on animal agriculture.
By mainly eating plants, you’ll not only be doing your body a favour but the planet as well! Going plant-based can help reduce your carbon footprint and support sustainable farming practices.
Why should I eat plant-based whole foods?
Because it holds great promise for improved health and longevity and is also good for the environment we live in.
- Reverse Disease
- Prevent illnesses
- A Positive Environmental Impact
- Longevity of life
- Clarity of thoughts and improved focus
See the BIG Picture – Our Planet
By consuming primarily plant-based foods, you’ll be doing your part to help protect the environment.
A plant-based diet helps to heal our planet.
Lifestyles that include consuming animal products, and processed foods, actually destroy the planet’s ecosystem by corrupting fresh water supplies, rainwater quality, fresh air supply, and the stability of weather patterns.
Benefits of a Whole Food Plant-Based Diet
There are numerous benefits to moving to WFPB nutrition, all supported by science. The proportion of WFPB foods in your diet is pivotal in determining the advantages it brings to your health, the environment, and animals.
Some of the WFPB health benefits include:
- Reduced risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and most types of cancer
- Improved digestive health due to higher fibre intake
- Lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels (supports cardiovascular health)
- Increased energy levels from the high nutritional power of plant foods
- Easy weight management and healthy body composition
- More balanced hormone levels for better overall wellbeing
- Better mental clarity
- Improves the body’s natural healing systems
It’s also important to note that following a WFPB diet isn’t just for the physical benefits. People often report enhanced mental clarity and better moods due to the antioxidant power of plant-based foods and their ability to reduce inflammation.
By consuming primarily plant-based foods, you’ll also be doing your part to help protect the environment. Plant-based diets are typically more sustainable than diets that include animal products. That is because they require fewer resources and less land for food production – which helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect the environment.
What’s the difference between Vegan and a Whole Food, Plant-Based Diet?
Although vegans and WFPB followers have an ethical stance in common, their diets differ quite a bit. A vegan diet excludes all animal products such as meat, seafood, dairy, and eggs and often allows many processed plant foods.
However, WFPB followers go beyond just eating vegan. They focus on consuming whole foods that are minimally processed or not processed at all. The goal is to consume only plant-based foods that are unrefined and in their natural state – like vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
That means processed vegan food such as vegan ice cream, fries, and chips are excluded from a WFPB diet. So, while veganism eliminates the use of animal products, WFPB focuses on eating healthfully and conscientiously.
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Step 1: Focus on Eating Whole Foods
What are Whole Foods?
Whole foods are commonly referred to as foods that have not been processed, refined, or altered in any way. They include vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, legumes, seeds, meat, fish and eggs. Think of food that comes straight from nature rather than anything packaged. This is the cornerstone of a WFPB Diet.
Importance of Whole Foods in the Diet
Whole foods are more nutritious than their processed counterparts. They have more fibre, vitamins, and minerals that help to keep your body nourished and strong. The diets are often linked to lower risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, and obesity.
Examples of Whole Foods
- Vegetables: carrots, spinach, kale, bell peppers, tomatoes, cauliflower, broccoli etc.
- Fruits: apples, oranges, bananas, berries, citrus fruits, berries, pears, pineapple, watermelon etc.
- Nuts and Seeds: almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, pasta, barley, buckwheat, quinoa etc.
- Legumes: lentils, peas, beans, soybeans, chickpeas, black beans etc.
- Healthy Fats: olive oil, avocado, coconut and nut oils, etc.
- Whole Grains: oats, pasta, barley, quinoa, brown rice, quinoa, etc.
- Starchy vegetables: potatoes, sweet potatoes, acorn squash, yams, cassava, butternut squash etc.
- Spices, herbs, and seasonings: curry, black pepper, oregano, basil, cumin, turmeric, etc.
Step 2: Make Fruits and Vegetables the Foundation of Your Diet
Fruits and vegetables are the foundation of a healthy WFPB diet. They are part of a healthy, balanced diet that helps you stay healthy. You must consume enough of them.
Evidence shows there are lots of health benefits to eating about 5 portions of different fruits and vegetables every day. That comprises a total of 5 portions combined, not 5 portions of each type. A single portion of either fruit or vegetables equals 80g.
Adding a variety of colourful fruits and vegetables to your diet will help you get valuable nutrients like vitamins A, C, E, folate, and other essential vitamins and minerals. These nutrients are necessary to keep your body functioning properly.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends eating at least 400g of fruits and vegetables daily. Fruits and vegetables are low in fat and calories, plus they are a great source of dietary fibre, which helps keep your digestive system healthy.
Health Benefits of Fruits and Vegetables
- Fruits and vegetables also contain fibre, which helps keep you feeling fuller for longer. Fibre stays in your stomach and slows down digestion, which enables you to feel satisfied for longer.
- Eating various fruits and vegetables also helps reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and certain types of cancer.
- Fruits and vegetables are packed with antioxidants that fight the free radicals that can cause cell damage.
- Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables will also give you more energy throughout the day because they contain essential vitamins and minerals that help your body stay energized.
- A diet rich in fruits and vegetables will also help you maintain a healthy weight because they are low in calories and fat.
How do I Incorporate More Fruit and Veggies in My Diet?
All this sounds pretty good so far. Right? It’s only going to get better from here. Here’s how you can easily incorporate fruits and vegetables into your diet:
Begin with baby steps:
Overturning your entire diet at once can be overwhelming and lessen the chances of you sticking with it. Instead, pick one or two minor changes to implement every week.
make it fun and interesting:
Many believe eating WFPB reduces your food choices and options, but it’s quite the contrary! There are a wide variety of fruits and vegetables to explore with numerous health benefits!
Start your day with fresh, natural GOODNESS!
Try a breakfast smoothie: Blend some of your favourite veggies and fruits for a nutrient-packed breakfast that will keep you going throughout the day.
Make a perfect pairing!
Incorporate vegetables into your lunch and dinner: Have a side salad with lunch, or add some veggies to your favourite dish for dinner.
Snack on fruits and vegetables: Carry cut-up carrots, cucumbers, apple slices, and other snacks with you to avoid reaching for processed foods.
Experiment with different recipes: Find recipes that creatively incorporate fruits and vegetables so your meals don’t get boring. You can also make swaps, for example, mashed cauliflower instead of potatoes.
Seasonal Eating and Buying Local Produce FRESH!
Local produce is naturally more flavoursome and nutritious because the conditions to grow the produce are optimal, which ensures quality produce. This food tastes better, is fresher, and is generally more sustainable than produce from large-scale food producers.
Also, when produce is in season, it’s plentiful and tends to be cheaper. The growing conditions for these fruits and vegetables are more favourable, meaning that it costs farmers less to produce and supply to consumers, making the produce cheaper for shoppers, too.
Eating seasonal produce allows you to enjoy a wider variety of fruits and vegetables throughout the year, as each season has different offerings. Eating seasonally is one way to make your WFPB meals more creative and enjoyable!
Choosing local and seasonal produce reduces the amount of food waste produced as it’s being purchased more frequently. A bonus? You get to support your local farmers, helping to keep your local economy thriving.
Step 3: Eat Whole Grains and Legumes
Whole grains and legumes provide a great source of fibre, protein, vitamins B6 and B1, iron, magnesium and selenium. Whole grains can be used to make breakfast cereals, porridge, or muesli, with the addition of nuts or seeds for extra nutrition.
Legumes are also an excellent source of protein in a WFPB diet. They include lentils, chickpeas, black-eyed peas, and kidney beans. Legumes are a cheap and versatile source of protein that can be used in salads, soups, stews, or as a side dish.
Health Benefits of Whole Grains & Legumes
Incorporating legumes and whole grains into a plant-based diet is essential for building a nutritionally complete meal plan. Not only do whole grains and legumes provide an abundance of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fibre, but they also provide protein.
Legumes and whole grains are high-fibre foods with protective properties, such as reducing the risk of stroke, heart attack, and type 2 diabetes. Additionally, they contain an array of essential nutrients such as B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin), Vitamin E, iron, magnesium, and zinc.
Legumes come in various forms, including beans, lentils, and split peas. They are naturally high in fibre and protein, making them a great addition to any plant-based diet. Legumes are also incredibly versatile and can be used in soups, stews, salads, dips, or even as a meat replacement.
Whole grains offer many of the same health benefits as legumes, but they also provide complex carbohydrates, which provide a slow and steady release of energy throughout the day. Whole grains are an excellent source of fibre, B vitamins, and important minerals such as magnesium and zinc.
Types of Whole Grains and Legumes
- Beans: Black Beans, Pinto Beans, Navy Beans
- Lentils: Red Lentils, Green Lentils
- Peas: Split Peas, Chickpeas
- Grains: Oats, Barley, Quinoa, Brown Rice, Millet and Wheat.
How to Incorporate Whole Grains and Legumes
A better way to eat more whole grains and legumes is to make a few switches in your diet, for example, swapping out refined grains like white rice for brown rice or replacing refined white pasta with whole wheat or quinoa pasta. Try these tips:
- Blend rolled oats, whole grain quinoa flakes, or breakfast cereal into your morning smoothie for an extra boost of fibre.
- When baking bread or muffins, mix half whole wheat flour and half oat, amaranth, or buckwheat flour rather than solely using white flour.
- Add cooked beans and legumes to salads, soups, or stews.
- Use cooked quinoa as a base for salads or warm dishes.
- Replace white rice with brown rice and use whole wheat pasta for Italian dishes.
- Eat popcorn instead of having crackers for a snack. Just skip the butter and salt!
- Snack on nut and seed bars made with whole grains, legumes, or oats.
- Switch from white flour tortillas to whole wheat or corn tortillas.
Possibilities are endless, and even though whole grains are healthy, it’s important not to overindulge. Eating excessive amounts of carbohydrates can lead to an increase in insulin levels and contribute to weight gain. How much of these grains you can eat depends on how effectively you manage your blood sugar. A good rule of thumb is to eat about three servings of whole grains daily.
Step 4: Make Nuts and Seeds a Healthy Option
Nuts and seeds are great sources of nutritious fats, protein, fibre, minerals, and vitamins. They regulate body weight because their fats are not fully absorbed and are known to reduce cholesterol levels. They contain unsaturated fats, which are beneficial for cardiovascular health. The essential fatty acids in nuts and seeds promote healthy skin, hair, nails, and muscles.
However, remember that they are high in calories due to their fatty and sometimes sugary content. 1 gram of protein or carbohydrates contains 4 calories, while 1 gram of fat provides 9 calories.
Health Benefits of Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are tasty, convenient treats enjoyed with many kinds of diets – and whole-food plant-based diets are no exception! These little powerhouse foods can help you reap the many health and weight benefits of a WFPB lifestyle.
Nuts and seeds provide essential fatty acids that help reduce inflammation in your body, prevent heart disease, lower cholesterol levels, and control blood sugar levels. They also contain antioxidants that protect our cells from damage caused by free radicals.
They also contain phytonutrients that can boost your immune system to help fight off illness and disease. Due to their high fat content (mostly healthy fats) and nutritional composition, nuts and seeds are also great for weight control. Studies have shown that diets with high amounts of nuts can help you to maintain a healthy weight.
Types of Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds come in many varieties – almonds, cashews, walnuts, pecans, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, etc. – each offering a unique nutritional profile and health benefits.
Other popular nuts and seeds include macadamia, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds, and hemp seeds.
For maximum nutritional benefits, try to keep your selection varied. Aim for four or more servings of nuts and seeds each week. A one-ounce serving is equivalent to approximately a handful (1/4 cup).
When eating nuts and seeds, choose the natural unsalted varieties. Roasted or candied types may contain unhealthy ingredients such as added sugar, oils, or preservatives – so read labels carefully!
How to Incorporate Nuts and Seeds into the Diet
Nuts and seeds can be added to just about any meal or snack. Here are a few tips for incorporating them into your diet:
- Use nuts as a topping on oatmeal, salads, yogurt, or smoothies.
- Make your trail mix with mixed nuts, dried fruit, and air-popped popcorn.
- Try nut butter as a spread on whole-grain toast or crackers.
- Sprinkle sunflower and pumpkin seeds onto your favourite salads and soups.
- Use ground flaxseed to thicken smoothies, sauces, or other recipes.
- Add hemp seeds to energy bars, muffins, shakes, or oatmeal for an added nutrition boost.
What Are Healthy Fats and Why Do We Need Them?
Everyone needs a certain amount of healthy fats to stay healthy. Fats provide energy in the form of calories and help the body absorb fat-soluble vitamins-vitamins A, D, E, and K. Healthy fats also make food more satisfying and flavorful and give us a feeling of fullness.
Healthy fat food sources include:
- Nuts and seeds (see above)
- Fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, anchovies)
- Flax seeds and flaxseed oil
- Sunflower, pumpkin and sesame
It is also important to remember that all fat should be consumed in moderation. The goal is to get the health benefits of healthy fats without consuming large amounts of calories.
How to Incorporate Healthy Fats into the Diet
Here are some ideas for adding healthy fats to your diet:
- Add a few slices of avocado to salads or sandwiches.
- Incorporate nuts and seeds into meals as described above.
- Use nut butter in smoothies or shakes.
- Add flax seeds to yogurt, oatmeal, and baked goods.
- Add hemp seeds to salads, soups, or energy bars for an added nutrition boost.
- Make your dark chocolate with cocoa butter and sweetened with maple syrup or honey.
Good Fat vs. Bad Fat
We all need fat in our diet. Fat works to store needed energy for use throughout the day and longer.
So why should I care about the quality of fat I consume?
One big reason is carcinogens!!
Carcinogens come with processed foods and disrupt the body’s natural healing process.
WFPB food contains natural fats with no carcinogens!
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Step 5: Eliminate Processed Foods
Processed foods are not part of a whole food plant-based diet. These foods have been altered from their natural state, either by adding or subtracting ingredients or changing the way they look and taste.
Of course, some of the benefits of a whole food plant-based diet can be experienced almost immediately. You may feel more energized and less bloated after just a few days of eating this way. As you continue to cut out processed foods from your diet, you’ll experience a better mood, become more focused, sleep better, and even maintain a healthy weight.
Feeling immediately better is a motivating factor to keep on making healthy food choices. It’s important to remember that whole food plant-based eating is a lifestyle, so don’t be discouraged if you have setbacks or find yourself slipping back into old habits occasionally. Making small changes each day will eventually lead to long-term success.
Another great way to ensure that you eat a healthy, whole food plant-based diet is to plan your meals ahead and cook most of your meals at home. This will give you control over what ingredients are used and also allow you to experiment more with different flavours and textures.
Adverse Effects of Processed Foods on Health
Processed foods often contain added sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats that can lead to weight gain and other health issues. These ingredients usually make the food taste better, but too much of them can lead to health problems like high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.
Some processed foods also contain preservatives or additives that have been linked to certain types of cancer. They can also contain excess calories that the body may not use and instead be stored as fat. Furthermore, processed foods tend to lack fibre and other essential nutrients needed for proper bodily function.
How do I Identify and Eliminate Processed Foods?
Even healthy-looking grocery items can be ultra-processed. So, how can you tell the difference?
The key is to avoid anything altered from its original state, either by adding or removing ingredients. Anything that has been packaged, canned, frozen, microwaved, or otherwise “convenienced” is considered processed food.
It could be that they’ve:
- Added preservatives
- removed fibre or other essential nutrients
- replaced some of the natural ingredients with additives
- used artificial flavours or colours
- increased fat, sodium, or sugar content
When shopping for groceries and reading labels, it’s essential to look out for these types of ingredients. Some standard label terms that indicate food is processed include hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, and monosodium glutamate.
Limiting the amount of convenience items you buy, such as pre-made meals, frozen dinners, canned soups, and boxed cereals, is also important. Instead, focus on whole plant-based items closer to their natural state, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, legumes, whole grains, and plant-based protein foods.
How do I begin Meal Planning and Preparation?
One of the most important aspects of maintaining a whole food plant-based diet is meal planning and preparation. It helps you build a weekly menu to meet your dietary needs best. Meal planning takes the guesswork out of what to eat each day, enables you to stick to a budget, and keeps your nutrition goals in check. But how do you get started?
Choose your faves!
Start simple by making a list of your favourite ingredients and whole foods you enjoy. That will be the foundation of your meal plans for the week. You don’t have to eat the same things every day or go overboard with complicated recipes.
Make it simple!
Cut down on the number of different dishes you make during the week. That will make things easier and less time-consuming. Pick two or three breakfast options and two or three dinner and lunch options to rotate during the week. You can even continue having those meals for a few weeks before rotating them out for something new.
Why is Meal Planning so important?
Meal planning helps you stick to a healthy eating pattern. With a plan, you are more likely to purchase and prepare nutrient-dense foods that are staples of a whole food plant-based diet. You can also reduce your time in the grocery store and save more money by having some meals planned out.
Eating healthier benefits everyone, but it is especially beneficial for people who need to pay close attention to the food they eat to manage health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Meal planning makes it easier to customize your nutrition needs based on the foods that work best for you.
Pro Tips for Meal Planning and Preparation
- Cook in bulk and freeze leftovers for future meals
- Set aside time on the weekends to plan meals and grocery shop
- Use a meal planning template or app to create menus easily
- Buy frozen fruits and vegetables always to have options ready
- Choose recipes with ingredients you already have or can be substituted easily
- Make sure the menu includes a variety of nutrient-dense foods
- Double your recipes and use the extra for leftovers, lunches, or dinners during the week
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How do I Make the Transition to a Whole Food Plant-Based Diet?
Making a major dietary shift can feel overwhelming. Taking small steps at first is key to success. Start by slowly introducing more plant-based foods into your meals and replacing animal products with plant proteins like legumes and nuts. That will give you time to get used to the new flavours while still eating familiar dishes.
You can also shop around for vegan/vegetarian restaurant options in your area to experiment with different recipes. Picking up a cookbook or trying out a vegan meal delivery service can provide delicious inspiration for plant-based meals.
Learning the basics of nutrition is crucial to know what type of foods you should eat regularly. A Registered Dietitian can help you learn how to make sure your meals are balanced and provide guidance when it comes to managing health conditions with a plant-based diet.
It can take time to adjust your eating habits, but developing new habits will become second nature before you know it!
Eating Out and Social Situations
Eating out at restaurants or attending social events can be challenging for those following a plant-based diet. Luckily, you can enjoy many vegan and vegetarian options available in most eateries these days. When eating out, research the restaurant to ensure they offer plant-based dishes.
When attending parties or other social events, it’s always helpful to arrive with a dish of your own. That way, you know there will be something for you to eat! If it seems like the host won’t have any whole food plant-based dishes, offer to bring one that everyone can enjoy.
Finally, don’t forget that it’s okay (and encouraged!) to decline foods that aren’t plant-based politely. Be honest about your values and dietary needs, and always explain why you choose to eat this way so that you can help educate others about the benefits of plant-based diets.
It’s also important to remember that being a whole food plant-based follower isn’t a religion or an opportunity to judge people – it’s simply a lifestyle choice that many people make for their health, for animals, and for the planet. Respect other people’s choices while sticking to your own.
Be Open and Share your lifestyle!
Communication is one of the most critical steps in successfully transitioning to a whole food plant-based diet. Talk to your friends, family members, and even work colleagues about why you choose to follow this lifestyle. That will help them understand what you need from them when it comes time for meals together or social events. Most people respect and admire those who display discipline in their lifestyle.
Planning can also be an invaluable tool for following a plant-based diet. Start by evaluating your pantry and fridge to determine which ingredients you already have on hand, and then create a grocery list of plant-based staples that you’ll need for the week or maybe a month. Meal planning can also help ensure you aren’t tempted to buy processed foods or skip meals due to lack of time or convenience.
You Got This! Stay Motivated and Consistent with WFPB
Losing your motivation is a real roadblock many face when transitioning to a healthful lifestyle. The key to staying motivated is to focus on your new diet’s positives and remember your why. Luckily, there are tried and true tips to help you sail through the transition period.
- Connect with others who are on the same journey, and give and receive support
- Inspire yourself by recording your progress in a letter, journal, or blog
- Join an online or in-person plant-based support group
- Set achievable goals and reward yourself for reaching them
- Try new recipes to keep it interesting and enjoyable
- Watch educational videos about the health and environmental benefits of veganism
Above all, consistency is key when following a plant-based diet. It may sometimes feel overwhelming, but take it day by day and allow yourself room to make mistakes. Remember that this is an ongoing journey for health and wellness and a lifestyle change that will bring you much joy.
Set Achievable Goals for WFPB
When establishing a Whole Food Plant-Based Diet, setting achievable goals for yourself is important. Start small and build on your successes – rather than setting out to make an overnight lifestyle change, begin by making one or two simple swaps into your diet. When swapping processed foods for natural plant-based alternatives, you may notice that your energy levels increase, and you start to feel more alert and focused.
Another way to set realistic goals is to practice mindful eating – eat slowly and savour each bite. When you allow yourself the time to savour each meal, you may find it easier to make healthier choices without feeling deprived or overwhelmed by drastic changes.
Tracking Progress and Celebrating Successes
This could be as simple as keeping a gratitude journal or food log to record what meals you have enjoyed. You may also want to list the health benefits you are experiencing – such as improved digestion or mood, weight loss, increased energy levels, and better sleep.
By celebrating the small successes, you will be more motivated to keep going on your plant-based journey. And remember to surround yourself with supportive friends and family – having a strong support system is essential for success!
Create a Support System
Supportive friends and family members can help you stay on track, encourage you when you’re feeling overwhelmed or down, and be understanding of any slip-ups – because at the end of the day, progress is more important than perfection!
Set aside time each day to focus on your mental and physical well-being – this could be through a gentle yoga practice, meditation, or simply taking some time for yourself to unwind and relax. Taking the time to do something that makes you feel good, such as reading a book or going for a nature walk, can help reduce stress and give your body and mind the rest it needs to stay energized and motivated.
Self-care plays an integral part in maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and the benefits of regular self-care are immeasurable – so don’t forget to make “you” a priority!
Make the change!
The interest in plant-based diets shows no signs of slowing down. The 2022 Food and Health Survey by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) found that 12% of the American population now follow a plant-based diet, while 31% say they are eating more food from plant sources than they used to.
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