Mark speaks with nutrition expert Max Lugavere about how our food choices can contribute to (and adversely affect) our body and brain health.
Today, Commander Divine speaks with Max Lugavere, NYT best-selling author and health journalist. His latest book, Genius Kitchen, delivers nutritious recipes to help keep a sharp brain and strong body. In this episode, Max debunks common food myths, discusses the best diet for brain and metabolic health, how much protein you really need, and more.
“The USDA recommends consuming up to 10 servings of grains a day, up to half of which may be refined. A serving is a slice of bread. So they’re still recommending people to eat up to 10 slices of bread per day, and half of those can be white bread. I don’t eat 10 slices of bread in a year. It’s mind-blowing to me that that’s still what they’re recommending”
“Salt has been demonized over the past couple of decades, because of its association with hypertension. So high blood pressure. And the reality is that most Americans already consume more than enough sodium. But that’s because 60% of the calories that most Americans are consuming come from what are called ultra processed foods.”
“Your average American today has at least one component of metabolic syndrome, and 9 in 10 adults have some degree of metabolic illness. Two thirds of adults will be either overweight or obese by the year 2030. In fact, one in two adults are going to be not just overweight, but obese.”
“There’s a lot of confusion now with regard to the place of animal products, which I’m a big advocate for the consumption of in a healthy diet. A lot of companies are now pushing consumers toward plant based diets. But it’s not like consumers are ending up eating more salads or fibrous vegetables, they end up eating more of these ultra processed meat substitutes. So there are a lot of conflicts of interest in the landscape that are influencing people’s decisions at meal time.”
“People who adopt low carbohydrate diets need to think about where their sodium is coming from, because insulin helps to maintain sodium levels in the body. And on just one day of a low carbohydrate diet, the amount of insulin secreted by your pancreas is cut in half… And that’s one of the reasons why I think many people who cold turkey adopt a low carb, and particularly a ketogenic diet will experience what’s called a low carb flu… What I’ve seen is that a lot of people who have taken the advice to add more sodium to the diet when adopting a lower carbohydrate diet, seem to make that transition much more smoothly.“
“My mom is my why. She passed away three years ago, but all of my work is dedicated to her. And it’s really set me down on the path of this relentless pursuit of truth, which will probably continue until my last breath, trying to understand why my mom’s health was so tragic.”
“Well, the kind of diet that I recommend is sort of a modified Mediterranean diet. And the reason why I say it’s a modified diet is because there’s a version of the Mediterranean diet that’s described in the nutritional orthodoxy that is actually not all that similar to the actual Mediterranean diet. For some reason, we’ve described the Mediterranean diet as a grain based diet that includes vegetable oils from grains and seeds like corn and canola oil. And when you actually go to the Mediterranean region of the world and you visit kitchens that are cooking with a more traditional approach, what you’ll find is that the only fat that they’re using in those kitchens is extra virgin olive oil.”
Mark: So what should I go buy at Whole Foods tomorrow?
Max: Whole plants and animal products. That’s really it, Marky Mark.
Mark Divine 1:05
Coming up on the Mark Divine show,
Max Lugavere 1:07
Alzheimer’s disease like most chronic non communicable conditions begins in the brain years, if not decades before the first symptom. This is something that we really need to talk about in the context of prevention. Because once you already have the condition, there’s just so much pathology in the brain that it’s really hard to change course.
Mark Divine 1:29
Welcome to the Mark Divine Show. I’m your host, Mark Divine. Thanks for joining me. In the show, I discover, I dive in, I discuss what makes the world’s most inspirational, compassionate, courageous leaders, so darn effective. I talk in depth to people from all walks of life, meditation monks, CEOs, military leaders, Stoic philosophers, proud survivors, nutritionists, fitness experts, elite Navy SEALs, you name it, and I will bring them on if they add value to our lives. Each episode I endeavor to turn my guest knowledge and experience into actionable insights for you, so that you too can learn to lead a life filled with courage and compassion, and excellence.
Today, we’re going to talk to Max Lugavere about the body, the brain and nutrition, and how nutrition can contribute to brain health. Max is a New York Times best-selling author, and a top health podcaster is the author of the newly released Genius Kitchen, and a health and science journalist. And TV personality – Max has contributed to Fast Company and Vice, regularly appears on the Dr. Oz Show, and was a journalist for Al Gore’s Current TV. Max is globally conscious, young, talented, and educating the masses about how to eat well for brain health. And to avoid what happens when you don’t.
Max, so great to have you on the show. I have a passion for nutrition as well, I’m a little bit more broad in my focus. But I noticed we actually have some investments in common, we can kind of start there because a lot of people who start to really pay attention to nutrition, they want to know about what specific brands eat or what supplements to take, and there is a lot of noise out there. And there’s a lot of crap. But there’s some really, really, really good products that are coming along that kind of pass the is it good for you test. The made with really good ingredients test. You know, is it non GMO, and all that kind of good stuff. One of my sponsors is started or founded by a good friend of mine named Robb Wolf, who is one of the early pioneers in the Paleo movement. You have met Robert, you invested in his company Element, as did I. Let me just start there. What’s your take on hydration and the need for salt in our body? Because most people think like my dad’s generation that salt was evil, you know, because of hypertension and all that. So most people don’t think that putting salt in your body is a good thing. So let’s talk about that.
Max Lugavere 3:52
Yeah, I’d love to it’s a great place to start. Salt has been demonized over the past couple of decades, because of its association with hypertension. So high blood pressure. And the reality is that most Americans already consume more than enough sodium. But that’s because 60% of the calories that most Americans are consuming come from what are called ultra processed foods. So these are foods that are usually packed with sodium along with other additives to increase shelf life to make these foods hyper palatable, typically, because the foods are not fresh, not fresh food. So in fresh food, you have what are called volatile organic compounds among other chemicals and food that are responsible for flavor. And when you’re trying to make a food shelf stable, you lose the potency of some of those compounds. And so what you’ll often find is manufacturers adding all kinds of oils and sugar, salt to these products. But 11% of the sodium that Americans consume on a daily basis actually comes from home cooking, comes from their salt shakers. So the vast majority, as I mentioned, are from restaurants, fast food, canned foods, processed packaged foods, and things like that. And it should also go without saying that the average American’s health is not let’s just say idyllic.
Mark Divine 5:03
We’re not talking about elite athlete needing to supplement with salt.
Max Lugavere 5:07
Exactly, your average American today has at least one component of metabolic syndrome, 9 in 10 adults have some degree of metabolic illness. Two thirds of adults are either overweight or obese. By the year 2030, in fact, one in two adults are going to be not just overweight, but obese.
Mark Divine 5:25
Are you serious? I mean, that’s the trend, you don’t see it turning around with all the work that you’re doing and others are doing.
Max Lugavere 5:31
I mean, unfortunately, the masses are still out there confused. You know, we could talk about food access. But generally I think it’s a problem of information, just not getting out to the appropriate people. We put out information to massive audiences, thankfully, but these are audiences that are already kind of like, tapped into the notion that food can affect health.
Mark Divine 5:52
It’s also, not to get into the social justice aspect, but it’s a problem of access and poverty really. Even middle class have been because of inflation and just the parity of the dollar have been pushed into poverty. So they’re looking to eat at cheap, fast food places which are serving up the crap, you know, or, or they’re buying, you know, their packaged stuff.
Max Lugavere 6:13
Right, 100%. Sugar is incredibly cheap, thanks to government subsidies that support the agriculture of corn agriculture, that most of which ends up going to support factory farms and or produce high fructose corn syrup and corn oil, which our diets are now saturated in. There’s a lot of confusion, I think now with regard to the place of animal products, which I’m a big advocate for the consumption of in a healthy diet. A lot of companies are now pushing consumers toward plant based diets. But it’s not like consumers are ending up eating more salads or fibrous vegetables, they end up eating more of these ultra processed meat substitutes, right. So there are a lot of conflicts of interest, I think, in the landscape that are influencing people’s decisions at meal time. But generally, the average person’s health is not ideal. And then once we try to improve our health, we cut out the packaged processed foods, because we know that these ultra processed foods are really at the foundation of the obesity epidemic. And that’s when people start to require sodium, ingesting sodium, right? Sodium is a macro mineral, we require a relatively large amount of it for good health. So once you start cutting out those kinds of foods, well, where are you getting your sodium from, particularly if you are exercising regularly, or if you’re sweating regularly, via saunas and such?
Mark Divine 7:31
Let’s say you are a moderately vigorous athlete, you know, go to the CrossFit gym a couple times a week or you know, you’re a runner or biker doing your peloton, and you believe the myth that salt was bad, what will happen to you, what’s the issue? If you’re, you’re not getting enough of the sodium?
Max Lugavere 7:49
Yeah, so I mean, hyponatremia is what could result which can cause I mean, fainting, it can develop symptoms that would seem like dementia, actually. Either you drink too much water and you’re depleting your body of electrolytes, or simply you don’t consume enough electrolytes.
So either way, it’s still hyponatremia. Interesting.
Those are the two primary routes.
Mark Divine 8:10
So what does sodium do for us?
Max Lugavere 8:15
It helps maintain healthy blood volume primarily. So it helps maintain blood flow. It helps with nerve signal transduction. I believe it helps vitamin C enter the brain. Without it, you would die. It’s again, it’s a macro mineral.
Mark Divine 8:29
Yeah, so it’s got a lot of impact on our brain health in our cognition, probably as well.
Max Lugavere 8:33
It does, yeah, especially for I mean, older adults that under-consume sodium, it can have a negative impact on cognitive function. People who also adopt low carbohydrate diets need to, again, think about where their sodium is coming from, because Insulin helps to maintain sodium levels in the body. And on just one day of a low carbohydrate diet, the amount of insulin secreted by your pancreas is cut in half. And so that can cause a spilling of sodium essentially. And that’s one of the reasons why I think many people who cold turkey adopt a low carb, and particularly a ketogenic diet will experience what’s called a low carb flu. I’m not a clinician. So, you know, I put out work for the masses. And I get feedback via emails, and DMS on social media. And what I’ve seen is that a lot of people who have taken the advice to add more sodium to the diet when adopting a lower carbohydrate diet, seem to make that transition much more smoothly.
Mark Divine 9:32
That’s interesting. I want to come back to keto versus you know, a moderate carbohydrate diet, because I know that I saw in some of your work that you really promote protein, and you made a comment earlier, that meat is good for you. And I don’t disagree. I mean, there may be some people that it’s not, but before we go there, I want to get into like, you grew up in New York City. How did you get interested in nutrition to where you know, now you’re spending probably every waking hour consumed with it and thinking about it and writing books about it. And podcasting about it?
Max Lugavere 10:03
Yeah, I’m obsessed with it. And I’ve actually been for as long as I can remember. I became interested when I was in high school. I was a computer programmer. I was kind of nerdy, I had terrible hair braces.
Mark Divine 10:17
I’m just doing the overlay on your face now and I actually can see it. I mean, you’re a kind of well put together handsome guy, but I could see the retro nerdy glasses.
Max Lugavere 10:26
My hair was pushed back. I had braces. I don’t have a small nose. Let’s just put it that way. I kind of looked like, I’m not even kidding you. I kind of looked like Butthead, from Beavis and Butthead. When I was in high school.
Mark Divine 10:38
You kind of look like Mark Zuckerberg, his older brother right now. More handsome version of Zack. Sorry about that.
Max Lugavere 10:44
Wow. Maybe it’s the lighting. I don’t know. I’ve never gotten that before. But needless to say in high school, my confidence was not very high. I was kind of introverted. I was shy around girls, and I discovered bodybuilding. I never intended on being a bodybuilder but I became really interested in the science underpinning the endeavor that is bodybuilding. And I gravitated to fitness forums. And I became really interested in supplementation and diets and nutrition and fitness. And I started to work out and I saw a radical shift in my mental health. I saw a radical shift in my body composition, my confidence, everything improved. It was the rising tide that lifted all boats in my harbor. That was something that I became really, really passionate about. And the way that my brain works. My brain is kind of like a light switch. Either I’m obsessed with something or I’m not interested in it.
Mark Divine 11:32
It’s exactly like my son. I don’t think it’s uncommon, but it must be a personality type. Because he doesn’t do anything that he’s not passionate about. And he’s passionate about cars. So 80 90% of his time is spent focusing on cars, your nutrition, you know, he’s cars.
Max Lugavere 11:44
Yeah. Well, that’s why I actually started college on a pre med track. But even though I was obsessively interested in health science, I wasn’t able to get good grades in the non science related classes.
Mark Divine 12:00
What cuz you’re not passionate about sickness, you’re passionate about health. The medical profession is all about sickness.
Max Lugavere 12:06
Yeah, 100%. It’s sick care. So I ended up pivoting out of that and going into journalism. I did that, I became a journalist in the US working on TV in 100 million homes for about six years. It was with Al Gore’s thing. I was just a college graduate, I had this amazing job opportunity, I seized it. And I did that, I learned a lot.
And about six years in, it was then in my personal life that my mother started to show the earliest symptoms of what would ultimately be diagnosed as a form of dementia called Lewy body dementia. And that was when things kind of came full circle for me and I, it was a point of no return where I remember we were in Cleveland, Ohio, we just left a doctor’s office, actually at the Cleveland Clinic, which is a hospital known for taking on very complex medical cases. And it was there that my mom, for the first time, was prescribed drugs for both Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. And that was really the moment in my life that I became obsessed with trying to understand to the best of my ability, everything that I possibly could about the etiology of neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. And in tandem with that, I wanted to understand if there was anything that could be done to help her, as well as prevent it from ever being able to take a foothold in my own brain. What it was that my mom had developed. My mom is my why. She passed away three years ago, but all of my work is dedicated to her. And it’s really set me down on the path of this relentless pursuit of truth, which will probably continue until my last breath, trying to understand why my mom’s health was so tragic.
Mark Divine 13:39
And what did you discover that could help your mom? And what did you discover that was just, there’s just no hope? Because nutrition wasn’t the answer.
Max Lugavere 13:48
Well, I discovered that Alzheimer’s disease, like most chronic non communicable conditions, begins in the brain years, if not decades before the first symptom. Alzheimer’s disease, by all accounts, begins in the brain, at least 20 years… 20 to 30 years before the first symptom. It’s something that takes a long time to manifest, it doesn’t occur overnight. And this is true for all of the kinds of conditions that we’re seeing really, bury its claws into modern society. 60% of the deaths now worldwide occur due to these non communicable conditions.
Parkinson’s disease is another example of a condition where by the time you show up to your neurologist’s office, half of the neurons involved in movement in the substantia nigra region of the brain are already dead. And my mom had a condition, as I mentioned, called Lewy body dementia, which is sort of like having both Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease at the same time. So for me, it became very clear that this is something that we really need to talk about in the context of prevention, right? Because once you already have the condition, there’s just so much pathology in the brain, that it’s really hard to change course at that point. And there is good research coming out with regard to the ketogenic diet, certain ketogenic fats that seem hopeful, but Alzheimer’s drug trials have abysmal success rate; 99.6% of Alzheimer’s drug trials fail. And so, for me, it became very much about prevention and about adopting the kind of dietary pattern that I was reading about as early as possible.
Mark Divine 15:22
So since we’re on that, what is the preventive medicine for dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s?
Max Lugavere 15:31
Well, the kind of diet that I recommend is sort of a modified Mediterranean diet. And the reason why I say it’s a modified diet is because there’s a version of the Mediterranean diet that’s described in the nutritional orthodoxy that is actually not all that similar to the actual Mediterranean diet. For some reason, we’ve described the Mediterranean diet as a grain based diet that includes vegetable oils from grains and seeds like corn and canola oil. And when you actually go to the Mediterranean region of the world and you visit kitchens that are cooking with a more traditional approach, what you’ll find is that the only fat that they’re using in those kitchens is extra virgin olive oil. Maybe occasionally, they’ll use animal fats like butter.
It’s not really a grain based diet, it’s certainly not a low protein diet. They eat lots of lamb, cows, poultry, pork, I mean, if you think about some of the processed meats that we’re all so scared of right, mortadella, right, like salami, those all come from the Mediterranean region of the world where they have reduced rates of Alzheimer’s disease, of cardiovascular disease, of cancer.
So I started looking at the population level epidemiology and we see that the Mediterranean dietary pattern is associated with improved odds, reduced risk of developing these kinds of conditions. And then you find randomized control trials like the finger study, which has been run out of Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, where they embrace a diet that’s very much like a Mediterranean style diet. You can then look at smaller studies where they will use for example, they will do smaller observational studies where they will look at various food components like red meat, and they’ll control for various other factors like education levels, low education can be a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, and you’ll see that the consumption of foods high in, I’ll just use as an example, choline, which is most concentrated in animal products, like eggs, and red meat is associated with a risk reduction for developing Alzheimer’s disease.
So I kind of just approached this with an open mind from a 30,000 foot view. The goal for me was really to find the foods that were going to be the most accessible, the lowest cost, the easiest to spin into delicious recipes that were going to provide people with the most bang for their buck in terms of the nutrients that can help support brain health, can help promote the growth of healthy new brain cells as we age, which we know that the brain can do. And that also, we’re going to help facilitate metabolic health, which relies on us feeling a sense of satiety from our food. So I kind of took all of those into account. And then I threw into the soup, a little bit of sort of the ancestral lens and the precautionary principle, where I believe that the less time a food or a product or a supplement has been available to humans, the more scrutiny we need to have when assessing whether or not that food has a place in a biologically appropriate diet for people and I began there and happy to tease apart any single food component, and expound further if you’d like.
Mark Divine 18:31
So Mediterranean diet, let’s bring that to like a listener here who’s sitting in their car in Manhattan or LA, or Encinitas, which is my neck of the woods. And they say, Okay, I like that Max, but I live in Greece, what should I go buy at Whole Foods tomorrow?
Max Lugavere 18:50
Whole plants and animal products. That’s really it, Marky Mark. Hope you don’t mind me calling you that.
Mark Divine 18:56
You can call me anything you want. You know? Some people call me Commander. Some people call me Cyborg. Some people call me Mark. Marky Mark is kind of cool. I like that. Mark Wahlberg is actually kind of a hero of mine. I want to meet him someday. I wonder how many people know that Wahlberg was a rapper? Yeah. You know, like most people have kind of either forgotten that. Or they never knew that because it’s become such a big star. But that’s true. Back to Whole Foods.
Max Lugavere 19:22
Yeah. So when it comes to brain health, there’s really a robust body of literature saying that fish is really good for the brain, medicine for the brain. In fact, people that have a genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease seem to be protected when they eat one to two servings of fatty fish a week. Fish are a great source of Omega threes. Also a great source of protein. And salmon in particular, is a wonderful source of an antioxidant called Astra Xanten, which in particular is very effective at protecting fatty structures in the brain. So we’re talking about the brain, eye tissue, which has neural tissue, our eyes are an extension of our brain’s skin. So fish is really great also it’s a natural source of vitamin D. Selenium, which we know is an important cofactor in many brain related antioxidants. So there’s fish, red meat, I’m a huge fan of, which I mentioned, which is a little bit more controversial, but it’s not controversial that red meat is a great source of protein. In fact, animal proteins are the highest quality sources of protein that can be found in nature. They’re highly digestible, and they’re concentrated with essential amino acids. And we know that protein helps to facilitate muscle mass retention as we get older, which is really important. The brain really relies on a body that is mobile. And when we eat protein, we facilitate a robustness and a strength. In fact, there was a study that came out recently that found that among people who are at high genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease, frailty was a key determinant in terms of whether or not one would actually go on to develop Alzheimer’s disease.
Mark Divine 20:55
It makes sense. Yeah. And the research is finally coming out about you know, the body brain connection and how much the brain relies on the movement of blood and the move, you know, the actual bilateral stimulation of walking, running, swimming, climbing, you know, the basic human functions, you know, the brain needs that to be healthy and thrive.
Max Lugavere 21:13
Absolutely. I mean, when you’re sitting sedentary for an extended period of time, blood literally drains from your brain, right? And all it takes is a little bit of movement to help reperfuse the brain. And exercise we know is crucially important for many reasons. And you know, that’s an area that we can spend a whole hour talking about by itself. But protein helps facilitate that because it nourishes, it bathes your muscles in essential amino acids, namely leucine, which is the most important amino acid when it comes to muscle protein synthesis and halting muscle protein breakdown, which occurs on a more accelerated basis as we get older.
Mark Divine 21:46
In red meat. Let’s just double click on that for a little bit. Because you’re right, it is controversial, you know, there is the environmental aspect of the whole big cow industry, creating most of the methane gas, and also then the spiritual component of just how these animals are treated or the moral component. Right. It’s just horrific, you know, but at the same time, we’re not geared up to feed a billion people with local, you know, farms that have one to two cows, like they were, you know, 100 years ago. So there’s that issue. And I know, like Robb Wolf, you know, one of the things I love about him is he loves red meat too, but he wants to bring it back to more localized sustainable, I don’t know what you call it, farming, I guess. And I love that too. But there’s a practicality issue there. So setting aside the moral and the environmental issues, I’ve also heard that red meat is harder to digest. And so it creates a higher tax on the body than say, chicken or fish fish being the least, is that something you’ve come across in your research?
Max Lugavere 22:45
It can be harder to digest. For people that have low stomach acid, which is a problem, especially for the millions of people worldwide that take stomach acid blocking medications like proton pump inhibitors. I mean, stomach acid tends to decline as we get older, along with protein digesting enzymes like pepsin, and various protease enzymes, which can be supplemented, but in general, I mean, meat is usually very well tolerated. Like for people that have GI symptoms, whether it’s IBS or whatever, if you inspect your stool, which people should do generally, usually what they’ll see is undigested plant material, it’s not undigested animal products. Undigested animal products are, for anybody that’s ever had a colonoscopy. I’ve never had one, but you’re usually advised to eat low residue foods for a time. And meat, eggs, fish, things like that. These are low residue foods, meaning they get absorbed almost entirely in the small intestine, because they’re so nutrient dense. People that have GI issues tend to tolerate poorly, various plant materials. And I’m not a carnivore dieter, we can talk about my love for fresh fruits and vegetables. But generally meat should be something that is very well tolerated. For some people, there are certain rare cases of meat intolerance. I think, Lyme disease, I could be mistaken because it’s been a while, but I think Lyme disease can create that kind of sensation in people. But generally meat is very well tolerated. It’s because meat provides nutrition that is plug and play for the body, right? Like we’re animals. And when we ingest components of other animals, we’re literally getting nutrients that are plug and play for our biology.
Mark Divine 24:26
They’ve already been constructed. Whereas with a plant proteins, they have to be constructed to meet the needs of animal biology.
Max Lugavere 24:31
Yeah, 100%. It’s a different operating system. That’s right. For example, omega 3s are derived from plants, alpha linolenic acid that you’ll get from walnuts or chia seeds, or flax seeds. Those omega 3s have to undergo complex biochemical transformation, before they become the form that’s utilized in our body, utilized in our brains to create healthy new brain cells, right. And the efficacy of those processes differ from person to person. Some genders, for example, women are better at it than men. People of darker complexion are better at it than people who have more fair skin complexion. But if you’re a white male, chances are you’re not deriving any nutritional value from plant forms of omega 3s. You could be consuming all the flaxseed oil you want and it’s not enriching your brain at all with DHA. And so for you and me, that might just be extra calories. Right? Which, who needs, right? So that’s just one example.
Mark Divine 25:30
Yeah, no, that’s the first time I’ve ever heard that stated that way. But you know, it’s just obvious once it’s out there, right that animal proteins are building blocks that have more complexity than plant proteins and so that they’re ready to plug and play.
Max Lugavere 25:45
Yeah, I mean, some of us have evolved because humans are highly adaptable. So some of us have evolved the capability depending on where our lineage derives from, to convert these plant based forms of nutrients to their usable form in the body and it depends on the nutrient, right? So vitamin C, for example, is predominantly found in plants, and we’re all very good at utilizing ascorbic acid. But beta carotene is another example of a plant based nutrient. It’s called pro vitamin A. Some of us are really good at converting beta carotene to vitamin A, but some of us are not as good at it. One of my favorite nutrition researchers, Chris Masterjohn, has talked a lot about this. And so for people who are not really good at converting beta carotene to vitamin A, retinol, which is the active animal derived form of vitamin A, might be a better choice. And you can find retinol easily in foods like liver, eggs, grass fed butter and stuff like that.
Mark Divine 26:39
That’s interesting. What would be the impact on my health, if any, if I just gorged on Ralph’s USDA red beef, versus a Whole Foods, grass fed wagyu?
Max Lugavere 26:53
Oh, man, such a good question and thought experiment really. First of all, we know that cows are extremely fatty animals, especially in comparison to wild game. So a modern cow is actually a very fatty animal, and a grain finished cow is much fattier than a grass finished cow. So I would say that if you’re regularly eating very fatty meat, you’re probably going to see your LDL lipoproteins go up, which I’m not an advocate of driving LDL as low as possible. But a cow that’s fed it’s biologically appropriate diet, the fact that a cow that eats grass is going to have less saturated fat, and be a leaner animal overall. To me, that tells me something about the relative ratio in which we’re supposed to eat these kinds of animal fats. To eat a very fatty cow, to me that’s been grain finished, is evolutionarily inconsistent, because we probably hunted wild game, we ate from the sea. And so we see thanks to research that a grass finished cow is going to have a higher proportion of omega 3 fatty acids, it’s going to have more monounsaturated fat, which we know is very good for our cardiovascular system, and even the saturated fat that it has is going to be better for us because not all saturated fats are created equally. Different foods have different types of saturated fatty acids, there’s myristic acid, palmitic acid, both of those have been associated with increasing levels of LDL. But then there’s another saturated fat that’s found in abundance in dark chocolate, and it’s found in a higher proportion in grass finished beef, called stearic acid that has no impact on LDL cholesterol. It’s actually been shown to boost mitochondrial function, which mitochondria are the energy producing organelles of cells. It’s like where metabolism actually occurs. And so a fat is not a fat is not a fat. Beef is not beef is not beef, right? A little bit here and there certainly won’t kill you. If all I had access to were grain finished cuts of meat, I would just go for leaner cuts because what a cow eats really dictates the nutritional value of its fat. So a filet mignon young, from a grain finished cow to a grass finished cow, probably gonna be no nutritional difference, really. But if we’re talking about like a ribeye, for example, or a fattier cut of meat, yeah, then you’re gonna see a major nutritional difference.
Mark Divine 29:14
So let’s talk about, let’s say I do get a ribeye. And in the old days, when fat was bad, I would cut off all the fat, right? Just to eat, whatever was red. Is that a bad idea? I mean, fat, we need the fat right? The fat’s good for us, assuming it’s good fat?
Max Lugavere 29:30
Yeah, we absolutely. I mean, we definitely need fat. It’s an essential nutrient. And people who are on low fat and low saturated fat diets seem to see a reduction in testosterone. So I’m certainly not demonizing animal fat here. I think that there’s a point at which animal fat can, as I mentioned, cause problems if we’re eating too much of it, and too much of the wrong kind. What I want people to take from this is that dose matters. And at the end of the day, the benefits of eating meat, I think outweigh the risks because meat is a very nutrient dense product. It provides fat soluble antioxidants, which can help protect the brain as it ages. It’s an amazing source of dietary protein, a pristine source of highly bioavailable dietary protein, high quality, the best protein that you’ll find in nature, as I’ve mentioned, unique nutrients like creatine, which can be in fitness. I’m sure you’re familiar with creatine as a sports performance boosting supplement, but it’s also a really important nutrient for brain energy metabolism. And studies show that when you take vegans and vegetarians who don’t regularly consume meat, obviously, and you give them supplemental creatine, they see an improvement in their cognitive function. So I think that some meat is without question better than none. But if we’re talking about, especially making recommendations en masse like, do I think that eating excessively fatty meat all the time is good for you? No, I don’t think so. Also because our meat is different, as I mentioned, it’s got less omega 3s, more of the, quote unquote, unhealthy saturated fats. But again, I think that the benefits generally outweigh the risks and that some is better than none. That’s my take.
Mark Divine 31:13
I saw that you recommended 50 grams of protein for breakfast, lunch and dinner. That sounds like a lot of protein to me. It’s like two or three fistfuls of protein. Yeah. How do we get that? What’s your prescription for getting in? And why? Like why that much protein.
Max Lugavere 31:31
So I tried to clarify, in the caption of that post, you’re referring to an Instagram post that I made, right? Really, you don’t need to get 50 grams at each meal. However, for exercising individuals, the data suggests that you should strive to get point seven grams of protein per pound of lean mass. Now most people don’t know how much lean mass they have. So if you’re lean, use your body weight. And if you’re not lean, use your goal weight and multiply it by point seven. And that’s roughly how many grams of protein that you should be getting every day to support not just muscle mass retention, but muscle protein synthesis.
Mark Divine 32:03
I got to do the math right now. Let’s see. Let’s figure it out. I’ll do times 190. I’m kind of a lean 190, 133 grams.
Max Lugavere 32:13
Yeah, that’s generally what mine is. Mine is about 130, 130 grams.
Mark Divine 32:17
I don’t think I’m getting anywhere near close to that, Max. That’s interesting. But I don’t feel deprived. Maybe I don’t know how to tell.
Max Lugavere 32:25
You’re not at risk of protein deficiency. That’s certainly true. But if you’re looking to optimize your, quote, unquote, gains in the gym, there’s a great meta analysis by Alan Aragon. He’s one of the authors. I think the co author was Brad Schoenfeld. They’re both exercise physiologists and nutrition science with a specific focus on maximizing hypertrophy, body composition, stuff like that. It really seems to be double the RDA. So the recommendation that I made point seven grams per pound of lean mass on a daily basis that really can help optimize muscle mass retention, particularly as we get older, because as we get older, we also experience something called anabolic resistance, which makes getting high quality protein regularly at every meal on a daily basis, even more crucial, because it just gets harder and harder to maintain that mass. So for me, it’s like, I’m trying to get 30 to 40 grams of protein at each meal. I’ll take a protein shake over the course of the day at some point, and if I’m snacking, I’ll snack on higher protein foods, you know, like beef jerky, and stuff like that. If you’re not actively working out, if you’re not on a weight training regimen, you can eat a little bit less. I haven’t done the done the math to do the conversion between kilograms to pounds, but it’s 1.2 grams of protein for every 1.2 kilograms of lean mass if you’re not on a on a weight training regimen, but in either scenario, that’s more than what the RDA is for protein, which is about half of that it’s point eight grams per kilogram.
Mark Divine 33:53
Yeah, because they’ve got to leave room for all the sugar that they recommend. There you go.
Max Lugavere 33:57
Your average American consumes 77 grams of added sugar every single day. That’s insane. Which is like 20 teaspoons of pure sugar.
Mark Divine 34:06
That’s really a stat. Yeah. 20 teaspoons of sugar. The average American.
Max Lugavere 34:10
20 teaspoons of added sugar. This is sugar for which we have no biological necessity. And it’s in all the package process junk that your average American is eating, sugar sweetened beverages and things like that.
Mark Divine 34:21
Yeah, this pivot just for a very, very short time because I think the jig is up on sugar even though the FDA seems to haven’t gotten the news yet. Having refused against the recommendation of their own staff, refused to change the RDA on sugar last year, which shows you that someone’s taking a lot of money from the packaged food industry over there. You know, corruption runs in our government, though it seems to be hidden. It’s a little bit more opaque these days. Anyways, I went off on a little tangent there because it pisses me off, by the way, that the government is recommending added sugar or excess sugar because sugar is frickin poison. It’s really bad for you, and like you said, you need a little bit of natural sources of sugar like fructose, but what is 20 grams of sugar doing to somebody?
Max Lugavere 35:04
It’s a good question. I mean, it depends on what your… context is everything in nutrition, right? So for a population that is, by and large, metabolically ill and morbidly overweight, recommending 10% of your calories still still being able to come from added sugar to me is a massive public disservice. Now, if you are a bodybuilder and you have a massive calorie budget, and you’re active all day, and you’re working out twice a day, can you have a little bit of added sugar in your diet and see no health consequence whatsoever? Yeah, of course. Everybody’s different at the end of the day, but by and large, we’re sedentary, we’re metabolically unwell, and added sugar is just empty calories, with no nutritional value, and there’s no need for it. So that’s on top of the recommended amount of grains that Americans are still being told to consume every day depending on calorie needs. The USDA still recommends because they still use the My Plate paradigm, still recommends that you should consume up to 10 servings of grains a day, up to half of which may be refined. So that’s a serving as a slice of bread, according to the USDA, so they’re still recommending to people based on calories that you can eat up to 10 slices of bread a day, with up to half of those being white bread. I don’t eat 10 slices of bread in a year, like it’s mind blowing to me that that’s still what they’re recommending, on top of the up to 10% of your calories coming from sugar. It’s mind blowing. And that’s no wonder why I mean, just harking back to what we talked about earlier, why people are so confused when it comes to nutrition.
Mark Divine 36:37
God, I would love to go down that rabbit hole a little bit further about why that happens. But you know, it’s not the focus of this podcast. It’s crazy, though. But what about the insulin impact of sugar? Because it’s not just empty calories, it has an effect on your hormonal balance, doesn’t it? And it can really upset the balance over time.
Max Lugavere 36:54
Yeah, I mean, so sugar, starchy carbohydrates, any glucose yielding carbohydrate, is going to cause an elevation of the hormone insulin, which plays a few roles in the body, it helps to partition energy. So it helps to make sure that whenever it’s elevated, you’re not utilizing any of your precious fat stores. And whatever fat you are consuming is being stored. So it helps to store fat. And it also helps to make sure that because we’re storing fat, we still need energy, right? That we’re burning primarily carbohydrates as an energy source. So whenever insulin is elevated, your fat cells become a one way valve. So calories can flow in but they can’t come out. And it also makes sure that you’re burning primarily carbohydrates.
Chronically elevated insulin is a major problem. It precedes pre diabetes, it precedes type two diabetes. So you really want to be mindful of keeping your insulin low. As I mentioned, on 24 hours of a low carbohydrate diet, your insulin is halved. So that’s important. When it comes to the brain, 40% of Alzheimer’s cases might be attributable to chronically elevated insulin, there was a research paper published. I forget the journal that it was published in, but the researcher was Melissa Schilling, who was an NYU professor, and she looked at the role that insulin plays in metabolic signaling. And Alzheimer’s disease is now being considered type three diabetes. In the brain, you sort of see what you get with both type one diabetes and type two diabetes. So in type one diabetes, there’s a deficit of insulin because insulin producing beta cells of the pancreas are being killed off by the host immune system. And then in type two diabetes, you got lots of insulin, but the patient has become essentially insulin resistant. And so in the brain, you have insulin resistance, and you have insulin deficiency. And so, one of the major ways to preserve the insulin sensitivity of the brain is to make sure that your body is metabolically healthy. The way to promote metabolic health is to eat a biologically appropriate diet, don’t become overweight, and not eat so many carbohydrates that your insulin is chronically elevated over the course of the day. Insulin also interferes with the brain’s ability to clean itself because when we sleep, a network in the brain called the glymphatic system helps flush proteins like beta amyloid and tau out. And it utilizes an enzyme called insulin degrading enzyme to keep amyloid soluble. But as its name suggests, insulin degrading enzyme also degrades insulin and when insulin is around, all insulin degrading enzyme is going to do is it’s going to focus on the insulin. So that’s one reason why I think it’s really important to not eat too close to bedtime, so that your body can rest and digest and repair. Ultimately, without the interference of having elevated insulin levels.
Mark Divine 39:51
Let’s shift a moment to heart health. Are there any issues around eating too much meat or red meat or getting too much meat protein on the heart?
Max Lugavere 40:01
Great question. With regard to protein, no, I’m not concerned about animal protein with regard to cardiovascular health. In fact, because protein is so important in terms of keeping you metabolically healthy because it helps fortify your musculature. I think that protein can play a cardioprotective role. It helps facilitate exercise. As I mentioned, I do think that eating excessively fatty meat, insofar as it can drive LDL up, it can increase levels of Apo B, which is actually now being looked at as a more sensitive predictor of cardiovascular risk. Eating excessively fatty grain-fed meat can certainly do that, but it’s not just the meat and again, the benefits of eating meat I think outweigh the risks. It’s, are you also metabolically healthy otherwise, are levels of inflammation low? Are you eating in general, a diet that has healthful fats in it as opposed to corn oil, canola oil, soybean oil? Are you eating adequate dietary fiber? We know that when you eat dietary fiber, certain types of dietary fiber, it actually helps trap cholesterol in the gut, which you then eliminate when you go number two. And so fiber can actually help with LDL recycling, which is really important. So the consumption of red meat in the context of a diet that has ample fiber and phytochemicals, phytonutrients in it, it’s not a concern for me.
Mark Divine 41:24
So, in general, I keep hearing over the years that coffee and alcohol in limited quantities aren’t bad for you. And actually a little bit might be good for you. What’s your take on coffee and alcohol in a diet?
Max Lugavere 41:38
Yeah, I love this coffee is actually I mean, I really love coffee. But I find it also very useful to abstain from coffee for periods to re sensitize my brain to it, because the thing about coffee is that you are not creating energy from thin air. When you drink coffee, you’re basically borrowing that energy from later. And once we develop a dependence on caffeine, I think it leaves us more prone to experiencing that wired and tired feeling and also feeling like we were hit by a train later on in the afternoon. But there are some benefits to coffee like coffee, it’s America’s number one source of dietary polyphenols which are basically plant compounds that we know are really good for us. Coffee helps to stimulate detox pathways in the body. It was also recently shown, I mean, you were just asking me about cardiovascular health, that caffeine in the body functions very much like a new class of cholesterol lowering drugs called PCS K nine inhibitors, that basically help the liver become better at recycling cholesterol. So coffee can play, I think, a really great cardio and neuroprotective role provided you’re not drinking too much of it, and it’s not negatively affecting your sleep. But some tips that I’ll offer people for coffee consumption that actually, this tip is pretty mind blowing. Most people are unaware of this connection. But you want to make sure that when you’re if you drink coffee, especially if you’re prone to or if you have high cholesterol levels, that you’re running your coffee through a paper filter, drip coffee is great, using a pour over system really good. The problem with french presses, and I used to be a big French press user for a long time, is that it allows for a compound in coffee called Cafe stall to make it into your cup. And cafestol is almost completely absorbed by a paper filter. But you’re not absorbing that compound with a French press. And that compound has been shown to be a very powerful elevator of LDL cholesterol.
Mark Divine 43:31
What about the Keurig? And that type of thing, which are really popular, or Nespresso? Do you get any of that stuff filtered out with those?
Max Lugavere 43:39
You don’t, because they don’t run it through a paper filter. And in fact, I’m gonna make some enemies here, if anybody has one of these who’s listening, but I’m actually concerned that you’re running hot water through those little plastic cartridges. And that’s actually exposing you to plasticizing compounds, which we know are endocrine disruptors, right? They essentially act like estrogen in the body. Yeah. So I’m not a fan of those.
Mark Divine 44:02
I used one of those. I’ve got to admit, until I gave it up recently. Mainly for freaking convenience, right? Because yeah, you can push the button and you’re out the door. That was it. But um, you know, I stopped drinking coffee altogether when I started drinking mud water, which is a mushroom based drink and has a little bit of caffeine, seven tenths, I guess of the caffeine from Chai. And honestly, I wasn’t trying to give up coffee cuz I loved it. But within like a week or two of drinking the mud water, I just stopped drinking coffee. I really lost all my desire for it. And I love the mud water effect. That’s what I have in this cup right here. Anyway, so it’d be interesting for you to take a look at that. It’s got like seven different mushrooms in it. The reason I brought that up is I still feel like there’s health benefits to some coffee. So I’ve been drinking you know, like a cappuccino on the weekends just to kind of feel it but I don’t have a need for it every day. Do I? What’s the frequency of coffee use to get some health benefits?
Max Lugavere 44:55
Well, people who drink more coffee seem to be protected against Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, cardiovascular disease.
Mark Divine 45:04
Does it have to be coffee or is it the caffeine? Can you get that from green tea and from mud water? Or does it have to be coffee?
Max Lugavere 45:09
it’s not I mean, caffeine, as I mentioned, has benefits. And green tea has benefits too, actually, but I think it’s the plant compounds in the coffee that are at least in part responsible for that effect that we’re seeing. I’m a fan of coffee.
Mark Divine 45:24
How much is too much?
Max Lugavere 45:26
I think it depends, I think if you’re dependent on it, because here’s the deal, like when you had your first cup of coffee, you probably experienced mental clarity, mental acuity and even physical performance that was well above your baseline performance right, with that first cup. Today what happens when we drink when we become dependent on coffee and we drink it day in and day out, we’re actually not experiencing a level of performance above our baseline. We’re actually drinking that so that we can get back to our baseline because we’re in withdrawal from coffee. And so with every cup of coffee, we’re just treating our withdrawal from yesterday. And so that’s not I think a good position to be in. That’s why I recommend taking routine breaks from coffee and switching to decaf and then bringing it back. If coffee is negatively interfering with your sleep, that’s a big problem. You want to make sure that you’re curtailing your caffeine consumption to about noon generally, this depends ultimately on genes. Some people are slow metabolizers of caffeine and some are fast metabolizers. And then the other I guess the final point I would make about coffee is that aside from the obvious, you want to make sure that you’re not adding too much sugar, if any, because most coffee drinks are actually desserts. But I think it’s smart not to drink it as soon as you wake up, because when you wake up, we have what’s called a diurnal cortisol pattern. That means that our body’s natural caffeine, our own endogenous, our own innate source of caffeine, which is cortisol, is elevated for the first 45 minutes to an hour after we wake up, it’s the body’s waking hormone, essentially. And coffee can also cause a spike in cortisol. And so I think it’s smart to wait at least 45 minutes to an hour after you wake up to have your first cup of Joe.
Mark Divine 47:10
I can tell everyone this, everyone listening to this is gonna say, Yeah, Max, I love all your other recommendations. But that one, throwing that one out. Yeah, I gotta have my coffee.
Max Lugavere 47:19
Well, anecdotally, when I drink it first thing in the morning, I find myself in the afternoon more inclined to feeling that sensation of like I’ve been hit by a train. The way that coffee works is it blocks adenosine receptors, and adenosine doesn’t start to build up in the brain until later on in the day. So there’s really no physiological reason why anybody would need coffee first thing in the morning, it’s just a dependency thing.
Mark Divine 47:42
Better to get out of bed, get some fresh sunlight and do some burpees. Exactly. And then have a coffee. 45 minutes later.
Max Lugavere 47:48
Yeah, well said well said it’s a psychoactive drug. And most people don’t treat it as such, we treat it almost as a vitamin. I think we should reframe our relationship that we have with coffee, because it’s an amazing beverage. It’s an amazing drug, right? But we want it to work for us, not against us. So that’s all that I would add.
Mark Divine 48:04
We’re running out of time here. But what about alcohol? You know, because I see all these studies that say, Yeah, a little bit of alcohol is good for you. But it doesn’t seem that good for you. From my perspective. I quit drinking it all together. But it took me a while to get there. Because we have, you know, my family tends to like alcohol. And so we’d started drinking it pretty young. And the Navy kind of perpetuated that. Right? So any rate, you know, it felt like one of those things that kind of robbed me of energy, almost like what you’re talking about with coffee, even if you just had one, you know, a glass of wine or something. Yeah. What’s your take on alcohol consumption?
Max Lugavere 48:36
I drink occasionally I have, you know, I’ll have like two to three drinks a month. I’m a very light drinker. Yeah. Here’s the thing. Research shows that drinking in moderation is associated with health benefits. But researchers haven’t really been able to reconcile that observation with the fact that ethanol is a neurotoxin and carcinogen. So what I think we’re seeing with that observation that moderate drinkers seem to have better health, it’s that it’s really that the ability to be moderate, is something that’s beneficial from a health standpoint,
Mark Divine 49:12
Right. Because if you’re moderate in that, then you’re going to be moderate and coffee, you’re gonna be moderate, and your diet and other ways.
Max Lugavere 49:17
Exactly. This is called Mark the healthy user effect. And we see it with a lot of different foods. We see it with whole grains, we see it with vegetables. People that eat whole grains seem to have better health, but the question is always, is it because of the grains or is it in spite of the grains? Somebody who routinely eats a highfalutin grain like quinoa, I mean, the fact that they can pronounce quinoa is impressive enough, right. But if they’re regularly eating out, especially when you know how the average American eats these days, again, 60% of calories coming from ultra processed foods. If you take somebody and they’re regularly eating quinoa, chances are that that person is also, I don’t know, taking a multivitamin, working out on a regular basis, drinking water instead of soda regularly. So that’s why observational level evidence is continually confounded by other variables. Because of this healthy user bias, this is why nutrition research is so difficult to do. And it’s also the reason, coincidentally, why meat consumption is seemingly always associated with negative health outcomes. Because observationally, you see the people who eat more meat tend to smoke more, they tend to be more sedentary. God forbid we look at processed meat, right? Where does processed meat fit into the standard American diet? It’s hot dogs, it’s Subway sandwiches. It’s, you know, the fries that come with the fast food and the soda and all that stuff. So healthy user bias is a major wrench in the equation of nutrition science. But going back to your question of alcohol, I think it is possible to drink responsibly. Just wanna make sure that you’re hydrating well, and that you go to sleep sober because I think one of the most damaging things that alcohol can do is it affects your sleep negatively. It helps you get to sleep faster, but it degrades the quality of your sleep. And both sleep duration and sleep quality are both really important when it comes to preventive health.
Mark Divine 51:07
Yeah, well said, shouldn’t eat or drink two hours before bed is a general rule. Right?
Max Lugavere 51:11
That’s a solid rule. I mean, if you do that, yeah, I mean, there’s a lot of good research now showing that that’s beneficial.
Tell us about your book, genius kitchen.
So genius kitchen is a two in one book. It’s both a cookbook that I’m super excited about featuring the most accessible, affordable and nutrient dense foods in the modern supermarket. But it’s also a kitchen and wellness guide. So, much of what we’ve talked about here today, I do an even deeper dive in the book. And really, it’s about making all of the recommendations actionable and achievable for most people. So it’s a beautiful book, we got lots of gorgeous photos in it, but it’s highly actionable. Lots of really great advice, how to minimize exposure to toxins in your kitchen, how to improve digestion. We talked a little bit about optimizing for stomach acid, right? So there’s, if you’re not digesting your food properly, you’re shortchanging the ability of your food to protect your brain, to protect your health, to protect your heart and you’re wasting a lot of money in the process. Yeah, so it’s a two in one resource and cookbook that I think people are really gonna like it. It’s called Genius Kitchen.
Mark Divine 52:14
And where can someone get a copy of that book? Is it on preorder now? I’m not sure if preorder would be on when this podcast comes out.
Max Lugavere 52:22
It comes out March 29. So you can if you’re listening to this before then, you can pre order at genius kitchen book.com, where you’ll find all the links to all the different stores. And if this is you’re listening to this after March 29. Well, the book is available. Still at genius kitchen book.com. You’ll find all the links, but it’s available at every major bookstore.
Mark Divine 52:43
Got it. And your website is maxlugavere.com. What about social media?
Max Lugavere 52:53
I’m super active on Instagram @maxlugavere. And then I also host my own podcast as well called the Genius Life. So if you’re interested in podcasts, check it out.
Mark Divine 53:05
I’d love to be a guest on that. Yeah, of course. I don’t know much about nutrition, though. Everything I know about nutrition I just learned.
Max Lugavere 53:11
Well, we love Navy SEALs. So awesome.
Mark Divine 53:13
Yeah, let’s do that. Max. Thanks so much for your time today. Really nice to meet you. I appreciate your time. I appreciate all the work you’re doing. And you’re a lot of fun. You got great knowledge, so keep doing what you’re doing.
Thank you, Marky Mark
And if I can help you out in any way, I’m just down the road from you
Max Lugavere 53:25
Well, appreciate it and really glad to get to know you.
And thank you. It’s been a pleasure.
Mark Divine 53:32
And you’re the only one who gets to call me Marky Mark. Not many people would call Mark Divine the Navy SEAL Marky Mark, but you’ve earned the right, buddy. Thank you. All right. Take care. Thanks again.
That was a fascinating episode with Max Max. Thanks so much. I learned a lot. I learned that I need about 130 grams of protein a day if I want to maintain my optimal body mass and weight. So I’m not getting enough protein, that’s interesting, fascinating. I learned a lot about brain health, foods to eat and how to avoid degenerative issues, which is what got Max in this nutrition vein to begin with trying to help heal his mother. Interestingly, I learned that coffee is really good for you, but you have to filter it through a paper filter to get the bad stuff out. So I stopped drinking coffee, it might bring him back a little bit with some filtering once in a while.
Awesome. I’m looking forward to his Genius Kitchen book. Check it out.
Show Notes and transcripts are on our site at Mark Divine.com. And there’s a video of the episode up at YouTube. Mark Divine.com slash YouTube I’m at Mark Divine on Twitter, and at real Mark Divine via Instagram and Facebook and you can hit me up on LinkedIn. Quick plug for our newsletter Divine Inspiration, which comes out every week now with exclusive content for subscribers. If you’d like to learn what inspires me, what habits I’m working on, what products I come across, and what I learned from my guests, go to Mark Divine.com to subscribe.
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