The MS Diet
I have tried to synthesise the large volume of information I have researched over the past 2 years into a single page. This is it.
Reducing and even eliminating MS symptoms can be a reality. This page outlines how eating the right foods and can help significantly to improve Multiple Sclerosis symptoms and slow down the progression of the disease. I call this my MS diet. It has been compiled with the help of a number of medical doctors and experts, diet consultants, and months of intensive research. It has helped to keep me living an almost normal life. I hope it will be a help to you too.
Ultimately, my real inspiration has been to help myself. As selfish as it sounds, this has spurred me on to read countless books, speak with numerous experts and medical professionals and spend hours on the Internet. But now, my passion is to share what I have learnt, and help other women with MS.
I have customised a MS diet for me, and you should too. I have used bits and pieces from various sources to put together a MS diet I believe that works. Yes, I am learning more everyday and will be updating things as I go along.
Why Is Diet Important To Multiple Sclerosis?
Food has the power to heal as well as to hurt. As people affected by MS, we need to focus on food that heals. Everything we put into our mouths ends up in our cells, the power houses of the factory that is our bodies.
Certain foods will help the factory work more efficiently whereas other foods will slow down productivity and cause certain parts to malfunction. Such is the importance of the casual choices we make several times a day when we decide what to eat.
For people with MS, this decision is even more important than for the average person. There are certain foods that seem to cause an allergic reaction in the body and activate the immune system. An auto-immune attack follows which results in a variety of multiple sclerosis symptoms.
Before we discuss individual foods and how they impact our bodies, we must take a quick look at why the body reacts negatively towards certain food particles. Our stomach lining or gut is usually impermeable to food particles, preventing them from passing into the bloodstream. In a healthy gut, there are millions of microorganisms that help food to be properly digested and aid in keeping the stomach wall nice and healthy. However, it can become damaged through the use of substances such as antibiotics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), aspirin, alcohol and tobacco.
Certain foods provoke an immune response
Sugar and refined food products are also implicated in the progression of Multiple Sclerosis. It can also be caused when the healthy bacteria in our stomach is taken over by unhealthy bacteria. This condition is often referred to as Candida. Unfortunately most of us have a leaky gut now and then so we should all be carefully listening to our bodies to find out what foods make us feel vibrant with health or leave us feeling sluggish and bloated. A healthy MS diet will help minimise this as far as possible.
Leaky Gut Syndrome – Activation of the Immune System
Our damaged stomach lining is now permeable and starts allowing tiny particles of undigested food into the bloodstream. The immune system mistakes the food particles for invaders and is activated to attack. When you eat that particular food again, the immune system remembers it as an invader and calls in the troops to begin an attack. A food sensitivity is thus created. Researchers have found that immune cells are first activated in the blood stream before they cross the blood brain barrier and do their damage in the nervous system. Just one tiny particle of food can cause this reaction so it’s best to completely eliminate foods that you know could possibly lead to a relapse. That small bite of something ‘naughty’ just isn’t worth it!
Is This A Cure For MS?
There isn’t concrete evidence that diet is a “cure” for MS – we all know there is no cure yet. Many doctors are still not convinced diet helps at all to reduce MS symptoms and exacerbations [we'll forgive them for that!]. The difficulty is that everyone reacts differently to having Multiple Sclerosis. Just as some people are allergic to certain foods while others are not, following an MS diet correctly is not a guarantee that it will work for you. But, you only have something to gain by following it – your body will love you for it! Increasing your overall health is going to benefit you in ways you haven’t yet imagined. It might not “cure” you, but you will see drastic results and that I can promise. I believe that everyone has a great chance of managing their MS successfully through diet. Once you understand that the stomach and MS are linked, it is clear that a healthy gut can reduce MS symptoms. Reason enough for you to give it a chance and stick to it for the long run, until a real cure is found.
Just before we get into the MS diet details, remember, I’m not a doctor so please ensure you consult with a medical professional to see whats right for you – I’m just someone who wants to share what has worked for me!
A. Foods To Avoid – Dangerous for your MS Diet
MS nutrition is a vital element of the defence of body again Multiple Sclerosis. Food that causes a “flare up” of symptoms in me, may not necessarily do the same to someone else. It is, however advisable to cut out all of the following foods for at least three months. This is enough time for your body to rid itself of all traces of these foods and for your stomach lining to heal itself. It should also be sufficient time for you to see an improvement in your symptoms.
Some people are able to reintroduce a few of these foods after this period without experiencing a serious MS relapse. However, most people find that their symptoms start returning again and that they need to permanently exclude these foods from their Multiple Sclerosis diet. Every person is different and you need to listen carefully to your body and the way it is responding to what you are eating.
The following list is about every day foods that you might eat as part of your normal diet. I have specifically excluded supplements as I will be going into that in a lot more detail separately, so this page is primarily about foods you should and shouldn’t eat as part of your Multiple Sclerosis diet.
It appears that not all of the following foods have the same negative impact on every person with Multiple Sclerosis – if you are aware of any others, please leave a comment below.
1. Dairy/Cow’s Milk Products
Foods To Avoid:
Researchers and nutritionists are becoming increasingly convinced that cow’s milk consumption has a role to play in the development and maintenance of MS. Researchers have found a high correlation between cow’s milk consumption and MS in many countries. Studies conducted in Germany and Canada have provided a possible reasons why this may be so. A number of cow’s milk proteins appear to be targeted by the immune cells of people with MS. The cow’s milk MS link is further reinforced by the finding that certain proteins in cow’s milk mimic part of the myelin sheath protein, the part of myelin thought to initiate the autoimmune reaction, so it really should be excluded from your MS diet.
MS Diet Alternatives:
Rice milk, almond milk (try to make sure that these products are 100% pure with no added oils, fats, flavour or other products), coconut milk and coconut cream. Soy products are also an option but eat them with caution because some people have a negative reaction to them.
2. Gluten and Wheat
Foods To Avoid:
Bread (white and brown), barley, bulgur, cous-cous, oats, pasta, biscuits, cakes, cookies, rye.
Gluten is a protein found in the above foods. In many people with multiple sclerosis, this protein provokes the activation of the immune system, causing it to attack. It is interesting to note that wheat is a staple food in most of the countries in which MS frequently occurs. However, in many of the tropical countries, where multiple sclerosis is virtually unheard of, it is not a crop that is commonly grown.
MS Diet Alternatives:
Rice cakes, corn thins, gluten-free bread, gluten free pasta, quinoa, brown/wild/basmati rice, sweet potatoes, potatoes (keep to a minimum as you ideal want a low blood-sugar level), corn on the cob, millet.
3. Saturated Fats
Foods To Avoid:
Dr. Roy Swank, probably the most famous Multiple Sclerosis diet researcher in the field had quite a bit to say about saturated fat. He was given the opportunity to spend 5 years researching MS and discovered that diet affected MS prognosis. His findings later became ‘The Swank Diet‘. One of the main proponents of his MS diet is eliminating saturated fat. His theory is that people with MS do not process saturated fats effectively which leads to embolisms of these fats forming in the bloodstream. This eventually leads to a breach the blood brain barrier, allowing activated immune cells to cross and do their damage. In Dr. Swank’s longitudinal study of MS nutrition, the participants who were disciplined about saturated fat consumption saw the most dramatic improvements in their conditions.
However, Dr Terry Wahls, author and physician who has recovered from secondary progressive Multiple Sclerosis, does allow some saturated fats through grass-fed meats and venison – but after reading The China Study by T Campbell, I am following a more vegetarian approach as I think this more healthy overall.
MS Diet Alternatives:
Salmon and other oily fish, Extra Virgin olive oil, coconut oil, flax seed oil, cocoa and coconut oil mixed with a natural sweetener (see recipes).
4. Heated Fats (in any form)
Foods To Avoid:
Most fats change their molecular structure when they are heated at high temperatures. In this form, they cannot be absorbed by the body and instead do damage to the cells. When cooking, use a little coconut oil that is not easily damaged by heat.
MS Diet Alternatives:
Note on Margarine: Even though this product is not technically a saturated fat, it is an exceptionally unhealthy fat to eat. Margarine contains trans-fatty acids which are not easily absorbed by the body. In fact, research shows that trans-fatty acids increase inflammation in the body. Margarine also contains artificial colouring agents, or it would look like bicycle grease. This is not something you want to be putting into your body!
Foods To Avoid:
Researchers have found evidence which suggests that caffeine may be bad for Multiple Sclerosis. The hormone adenosine is important for regulating the immune system and halting inflammatory reactions. It seems that caffeine can block the adenosine receptor and thus lower the effectiveness of adenosine for suppressing inflammation.
MS Diet Alternatives:
Decaffeinated coffee (this does still contain a small amount of caffeine so don’t over do it), herbal teas such peppermint tea, camomile tea and fruit infused teas (as long as all the additives are natural and comply).
6. Refined Foods (with high sugar levels)
Foods To Avoid:
The more refined sugar you consume, the more insulin your body has to produce to bring down your blood sugar levels. Prolonged levels of elevated insulin have been shown to contribute to inflammation. It also has a negative, deregulating effect on the immune system. Don’t even think about replacing sugar with artificial sweeteners. The sweetness of artificial sweeteners actually triggers the pancreas to secrete more insulin than regular table sugar does. Excessive sugar consumption is also one of the factors involved in candida overgrowth which leads to Leaky Gut Syndrome.
MS Diet Alternatives:
There are many gluten, dairy and sugar free biscuits and cakes that can be bought at most major supermarkets. However, I wouldn’t recommend eating these products too often. You will find that most of them contain heated fats and trans fats and other artificial products.
Foods To Potentially Avoid:
Acacia (and acacia gum), adzuki beans, alfalfa, black beans, black-eyed peas, broad beans (fava beans), butter beans, calico beans, canavalia beans (jack bean), cannellini beans, carob, cassia, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), edamame beans, field peas, great northern beans, green beans, green peas, guar gum, Italian beans, karaya gum, kidney beans, lentils, licorice, lima beans, locust beans, mung beans, navy beans, peanuts (that includes peanut oil and peanut butter), pinto beans, Red Bush (Rooibos), soy beans / lechtin (including soy oil, flour, black soy beans and tofu), split peas, string beans, talca gum, tamarind, tonka bean, tragancanth gum, urd flour, white beans.
There is a lot of confusion around what foods are actually legumes – you might be very surprised by some of the items in this list above, I was! Generally, legumes are the fruits or seeds of anything that comes in a pod. Legumes are great sources of energy and protein, but some nutritionists caution their MS patients about legumes, while others recommend them. Legumes are controversial foods and have been known to cause a reaction in some people with MS. Watch your symptoms carefully after eating legumes and obviously cut them out if you feel they are affecting you negatively. I have been absolutely fine with legumes in my MS diet, but after doing additional research, I have decided to eliminate them entirely from what I eat, just to be on the safe side. Some MS’ers are fine, which is why I say “potentially avoid” legumes. Not all beans are legumes, and not all legumes are beans, so make sure you are eating what you think you are eating. Also, cocoa, castor bean, vanilla bean, coffee bean, jumping bean and red bean are all not legumes! Here is a more comprehensive list of legumes if you want to clarify further (but I have not yet verified this list yet!).
Regarding green beans specifically, one of the main reasons legumes should be avoided is that they contain lectins which prevent our bodies from absorbing certain nutrients. However, green beans contain mostly fibre and a very small amount of lectin. There are people, who avoid legumes, who are actually still eating green beans and finding that they don’t effect them. If you feel that they are still safe to eat, then try them for a while and see of they affect you at all. I personally avoid all legumes, just to be safe.
MS Diet Alternatives:
Quinoa, brown/wild/basmati rice (the unrefined the better), corn, quinoa, buckwheat, millet, amaranth, teff, sorghum.
8. Chicken and Eggs
Foods To Avoid:
I have not included chicken and eggs in this MS diet plan. Some professionals advise against them because of their saturated fat content. Others are happy for their patients to have 1-2 servings a week. If you must have eggs, only eat the whites as the yolks contain a large amount of saturated fat. This is a case where you need to decide what works for your body. Test them out and if your symptoms worsen then exclude them. Personally, I have decided to give these up.
MS Diet Alternatives:
9. Citrus Fruit
Foods To Potentially Avoid:
I have discovered for myself that I dont react well to citrus fruits – they directly affect my MS symptoms. This is common with some MS’ers, so if thats you, its best to avoid them entirely.
MS Diet Alternatives:
B. Foods To Embrace – A New Way Of Eating
After reading about all the foods that could be harming you, I’m sure you are thinking, ‘Well, what can I eat then?’. The fabulous news is that there are so many delicious and satisfying foods that will leave you feeling so good that you will wonder why you didn’t start eating this way sooner.
Excluding all of the above foods from your diet will take a complete overhaul of your current lifestyle, meal plans and shopping list. It really is an all or nothing commitment if you want to get to the point where you are symptom free.
MS Diet Essential Nutrients
The main aim of this way of eating is to get as many nutrients as you can from a variety of food sources. It is also to consume foods that have an anti-inflammatory effect on your body. All the foods mentioned below will help to calm the inflammation associated with MS Symptoms. Supplements are great but don’t work half as well as getting what you need from food.
Dr. Terry Wahls, as mentioned before (a medical doctor with MS) has seen a remarkable improvement in her symptoms with a daily dose of three platefuls of fruit and vegetables (9 cups) that deliver specific nutrients to the body. She believes there are key minerals and vitamins that are capable of treating Multiple Sclerosis. These need to be delivered consistently and in high quantities.
But what are the most important nutrients for people with MS? The top nutrients needed to help improve your MS diet are listed below:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
- Omega 3, 6 and 9 essential fatty acids
Targeting these nutrients is very important, but it’s not always easy to know how to include them in your diet. For this reason, I’ve put together recipes specifically targeting these nutrients – I hope they make it much easier for you to focus on getting them into your diet.
The following ‘way of eating’ is the result of much research and conversations with professional doctors and nutritionists. The success stories that I have come across have confirmed many of the diet prescriptions given to me. Mary-Ann Shearer, a well known nutritionist, has witnessed countless miracles of people who have literally been on their last legs with disease and have been restored to full health through eating nutritious, unprocessed foods. My MS diet is also largely based on findings by Dr Roy Swank as well as Dr Terry Wahls [The Wahls Foundation], who I have mentioned already.
Avoid junk food at all costs
You don’t have to be a neuro-scientist to figure out that that if the body gets what it needs, it functions perfectly and can recover from any set back. Basically, you need a diet that is high in raw fruit and vegetables and supplies all the necessary nutrients. Refined junk foods must be avoided at all costs as they will rob the body of nutrients. These are the foods to ENJOY:
Fruit has been referred to by many as the most perfect food. Raw fruit gives the body exactly what it needs to function at its best. Fruit has a stabilising effect on blood sugar levels. This should reduce or even eradicate cravings for refined sugar. Try to eat ‘in-season’ fruit whenever you can. It will taste much more delicious and have a greater amount of nutrients. See the chart on seasonal fruit below. My favourites are mango, strawberries, grapes and cherries. If I could have a fruit salad with those ingredients every any of the year, I would!
Apricots, bananas, cherries, grapes, litchis, mangoes, peaches, nectarines, pineapples, plums, prunes, strawberries and all other berries, watermelon.
Nutrients and Healing activity: Try to eat as many brightly coloured fruits as you can. The brighter or deeper the colour, the more nutrients and antioxidants the fruit will have. Antioxidants are vitally important as they terminate harmful free radicals which can give rise to disease. It is especially important that people with MS consume as many antioxidants as possible. Some important antioxidants are betacarotene and vitamins A,C and E.
Servings per day: at least 5 but as many as you want!
Serving ideas: fruit salad, smoothie, extracted raw juice, freeze fruit to keep it from going bad and then use it in a smoothie (useful with fruit such as raspberries and strawberries that don’t keep for too long).
2. Green vegetables
Green vegetables are high in vital nutrients and contain high amounts of chlorophyll, and sulphur. They are considered the main contingent of the MS Diet.
Broccoli, spinach, kale, dark romaine, collard greens, seaweed, parsley, artichokes, asparagus.
Nutrients and Healing Activity: Green vegetables are rich in vitamins B, A, C, K and minerals. Kale has the most nutrition per calorie of any plant. Broccoli is high in fibre and is potently packed with vitamin C. It also contains potassium, iron and vitamin K. Spinach is essential for blood clotting and bone healing. It is also known to decrease inflammation in the body and is a good source of iron. One cup of spinach provides nearly twice the amount of vitamin K you need daily. Green vegetables also keep the immune system healthy and functioning properly. These green veggies are true superfoods and it is essential that you consume them on a daily basis.
Servings per day: 3 cups of green vegetables (cup = 250ml).
I know this seems like a huge amount but you can start small and build it up.
Serving ideas: steamed, raw salad, green smoothie, extracted green juice, soups.
3. Brightly Coloured Vegetables
I like to call these the happy vegetables. They are tasty and nutritious! They also come in a large variety of shapes and sizes and are really easy to dice and throw into a salad.
Nutrients and healing activity: Full of antioxidants, they are essential foods to consume on a daily basis. Eating the variety presented above will give you another huge dose of the vitamins needed to fight Multiple Sclerosis symptoms. These include, beta-carotene, flavonoids, lycopene, potassium, and vitamin C.
Servings per day:3 cups (cup = 250ml).
Serving suggestions: steamed, baked, grilled, soups, raw salad with dips, veggie smoothie, extracted juice (carrots are particularly tasty when juiced).
4. White Vegetables
White vegetables are great tasting and help complement other dishes.
Nutrients and healing activity: These vegetables contain nutrients such as beta-glucans and lignans that provide powerful immune boosting activity. They are also rich in sulfur which is important for overall brain functioning and toxin removal. Sulfur is required for taurine synthesis. Taurine is essential for proper functioning of the cardiovascular system, our muscles, and the central nervous system. Sulfur is also required for the manufacture of glutathione, an essential antioxidant.
Servings per day: 1 cup.
Serving ideas: steamed, baked or grilled, salads, soups.
5. Non-glutenous Grains
Rich in protein and “clean” energy, these grains are far better than starches and pasta.
Nutrients and healing activity: These grains are completely gluten free and have a low glycemic index so will keep your blood sugar levels stable and decrease cravings for unhealthy foods. They are also full of essential nutrients. Quinoa, for instance, is a complete protein (contains all the essential amino acids) and is also a good source of minerals, including magnesium, iron, and selenium. It also contains B-complex vitamins, including folate, and vitamin E. Brown rice contains B-complex vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B6, B9) and vitamin K. Try avoid normal rice as this will affect your blood-sugar levels (aim for low GI).
Servings per day: Great as an accompaniment for any meal or as a snack. At least 2-3 servings a day to keep your strength and energy up.
Serving ideas: steamed, boiled, pan fried with vegetables, salad of mixed grains and vegetables, rice cakes, corn thins, popcorn (air popped).
6. Oily Fish
Oil (the “omega’s”) helps keep the nervous system running as it should. Fish rich in fatty acids are the best way to consume these vital nutrients.
Nutrients and healing activity: These fish have the highest omega-3 content per 3.5 grams. Omega 3 essential fatty acids are absolutely vital for people with MS as they are needed to help build up and repair the damaged myelin sheath. They may also work to decrease certain immune reactions and reduce inflammatory responses. Small studies have shown that people who consumed a diet rich in omega 3 oils had an improved relapse rate, slower disease progression and improved MS symptoms.
Servings per week: 2-3 per week (not recommended to be eaten everyday because of possible mercury content).
Serving ideas: baked with spices, pan fried, steamed, casserole with vegetables.
7. Nuts and Seeds
Adding nuts and seeds to any dish can increase its nutrient value significant. Great tasting and full of energy, they are great snacks.
Almonds, cashews, pecans, brazil nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pine nuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, poppy seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds.
Nutrients and healing activity: Nuts and seeds are rich sources of protein and essential fats. They also contain those beautiful vitamin Bs and other essential minerals like vitamin E, magnesium, potassium, copper and iron. Please see the post on Nuts and Seeds for more detailed information about nutrients specific to each of them.
Servings per day: Because these foods are packed with protein and high in healthy oils, you only need a handful per day to get a serving from the protein group. However, if you feel that you need to eat more than this to improve your energy levels then go for it! The nuts and seeds that are rich in omega 3 fatty acids (flaxseed, walnut, chia and pumpkin seeds) can actually improve metabolism. I snack on nuts and seeds throughout the day as I find they keep my blood sugar levels stable and my energy levels high.
Serving suggestions: blended in smoothies, sprinkled over salads, mixed together in a snack box, added to a vegetable dish (never heat nuts at high temperatures).
Note: Some people have difficulty digesting nuts and seeds and in this case, soaking them overnight initiates the sprouting process and improves digestibility.
8. Essential condiments
I recommend adding the following condiments to your ms diet – each adds value to your nutrient in-take, and will make a significant difference to your weekly food consumption.
Extra Virgin olive oil, herb salt, fresh herbs such as rocket, homemade basil pesto, olives, sun dried tomatoes, marmite, cashew mayonnaise (see Recipes).
These are the condiments/foods that will add flavour and tastiness to any dish. They will be essential to your enjoyment of this way of eating. There is hardly a dish I eat that is not accompanied by a generous dash of olive oil and a few delicious olives. All of the above condiments can be found in the recipe section. For the purpose of this post, I am going to focus on the benefits and serving suggestions for EV olive oil.
Nutrients and healing activity: It is important that you choose EV olive oil over normal olive oil. In the oil extraction process, it doesn’t get heated and thus retains all its essential fats and nutrients. It is high in omega 9 fatty acids. Importantly for people with MS, it has strong anti-inflammatory properties and contains vital antioxidants like vitamin E and beta-carotene.
Servings per day: As much as you like! Let your body lead you on this. You may start to feel that it is becoming too rich for you and that’s when you know that your body has what it needs.
Serving suggestions: EV olive oil can be used with every single dish you eat. It should never be heated but can be mixed with a dish once it has been cooked. It tastes just as good and your body will love it in this pure, uncooked state.
Sprinkle over popcorn after it has been popped, dollop over baked vegetables when they have come out of the oven, throw over a freshly prepare salad, add to cooked vegetables, spread onto rice cakes that have been buttered with marmite (a personal favourite of mine).
Water is a key ingredient for the body to operate at its best. Water is needed at every level, especially for neuron activity and brain functionality.
20 Feb 2013 - Green tea is to be avoided due to high caffeine levels in most varieties (section A5: Caffeine). Energy drinks contain creative ingredients, especially caffeine, and should also be avoided (section A5: Caffeine).
14 Mar 2013 - Have clarified legumes (section A7: Legumes) as foods to “potentially avoid” as these are fine for some MS’ers – I still avoid them to be sure. I have also added citrus fruit to the list of foods to “potentially avoid”, as they do affect me and other MS’ers (section A9: Citrus Fruit).
MS Diet Conclusion
I realize that it’s difficult for you to even consider giving up these foods. They are engrained in the staple diets of every westernised nation. For many of you, these foods form the majority of what you eat on a daily basis. I’m sure you are thinking that you might just starve, giving up all these foods! It is, however, possible to avoid these foods and still eat delicious and filling meals. If you are worried about losing weight, don’t be! You will lose a bit of weight at the start while your body adjusts to this new way of life. However, you will find your perfect weight after a few months and maintain it. With all the olive oil, nuts and salmon, there is enough calories to keep you at a healthy weight.
There were so many times in my first few weeks of following this way of eating that I said to myself, ‘I can’t believe I haven’t been eating like this all my life!’. There were equally difficult days when I craved my favourite foods from my ‘pre MS diet’. However, these cravings didn’t last too long once replaced with a healthier alternative. So don’t give up, each good day of eating is a step towards healthy MS nutrition. Try not to make too many changes to your MS diet too often.
And that’s it! Remember that this is a change in lifestyle and not a quick fix diet. It is likely that you will need to eat this way for the rest of your life. However, when you start reaping the benefits, you’ll say ‘Bring it on!’ everyday. Yes, of course there will be days where you don’t eat well but tomorrow is always another day and you will get back on the wagon and keep persevering. Enjoy every morsel of this delicious, healing food!
Please let me know how you are finding this way of eating, and what your MS diet consists of. Your feedback is valuable to all those who visit the site. Also, if you have found any new and creative recipes please submit so we can all use them! If you have questions, try reading the MS Diet FAQ [frequently asked questions] page first.
You can also see a visual list of all the items mentioned above if you visit my Pinterst page “boards”:
Looking forward to hear from you!
Love and nutrients,
PS: Keep Motivated With Your MS Diet – Stay In Touch With Me!
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