Podcast #167 from https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/2011/10/why-fat-is-good/
Introduction: In this episode, why fat is good, how to exhale when swimming, preventing cramps in high school athletes, are boot camps enough for strength, DMAE supplements, what happens when you taper, the difference between prebiotics and probiotics, is it normal to gain weight in winter, what should your partial pressure of oxygen be?
Ben: Welcome back to the Ben Greenfield Fitness podcast. This is Ben Greenfield. I’m your host. And before we jump into this week’s special announcements, let me tell you that I’m excited about the interview that I am releasing today because it’s with a guy who produced a pretty cool movie. And the movie’s name is Fat Head. In the movie, he talks about how fat in fast food and the obesity epidemic have been blown way out of proportion. And if you saw Morgan Sperlock’s movie Super Size Me, you’re going to find out some things about that movie that may surprise or even disappoint you. So you may have been fed a load of baloney. And you’re going to learn why in today’s podcast. So in addition to that, we had a couple of articles go up this week over at BenGreenfieldFitness.com. One was titled News Alert: You Don’t Need To Eat Within 60 Minutes After A Work Out. I did receive a lot of confusing questions from confused folks who read that. And they were under the impression, based on everything that we’re taught in sports nutrition and exercise nutrition, that you actually do have to eat within 20 to 60 minutes after a work out. That is false and I tell you why in the article. But for those of you who are still confused, at the bottom of that article there’s a link to a more comprehensive audio that I did. And if you’re confused about the whole pre and post work out nutrition issue, just listen to that audio. It’ll help you out. Okay, folks let’s jump into this week’s special announcements and then we’ll the Q and A and finally move into the interview about Fat Head.
Mark your calendars. In 14 days three hours and 28 minutes, from the time that I’m recording this, I will be doing a special call in conference for all the listeners. This conference is a little bit different than the ones that I’ve done in the past. I will put a link to it in the show notes so you can grab the phone number to dial in as well as the Skype name to dial in if you want to dial in that way. Or you can just attend via your computers. But most of my conferences and seminars are based on fat loss and human performance nutrition. However, I receive many questions especially of late about what type of services that I offer to people who want to lose weight and who want to do a marathon or a triathlon. So what I’m going to do is do a live seminar where I answer all your questions. And I’ve set it up so that you can log in prior to that event and actually ask your questions before hand and I’ll answer them during the call. So if you’re remotely interested or have questions about what I have to offer you, then simply go to the link in the show notes for this episode, Episode #167. And you’ll see the link there to where you can attend that tele-seminar for free. And it will give you the day and the time. It’s going to be Wednesday noon in two weeks so that is October 2nd at noon. A couple of other things, podcast awards are open right now for voting. Please, if you get a chance go vote at podcastawards.com. And when you’re there, the health and fitness category is the one you’d want to jump down to. Alright folks, one other quick special announcement and then we’re going to move on to this week’s Listener Q and A.
Listener Q and A:
Jeff: Hey Ben, this is Jeff in Tampa, Florida. I have a swimming question for the podcast. When you’re exhaling underwater, it seems like I have been having a problem sort of forcing the air out. Are there any tips that you can give about exhaling in the water in other words you blow out your mouth or your nose. Either or do you constantly exhale with your head in the water? Do you wait at the end? I’ve just been really struggling with the whole exhale concept under water. And I appreciate your tips, insights and expertise.
Ben: Well, this may seem like a small issue. But it’s really an issue that plagues a lot of swimmers trying to figure out what they’re supposed to do when their head is in the water in between breaths. And the deal is this, when you’re swimming you should always be exhaling except when you turn your head to inhale. But there’s a caveat to that that I’ll go into here for a second. Now most swimmers when they inhale during their stroke and then they bring their face back down into the water, they tend to hold their breath for a few strokes before bringing their head back up for another breath. And most swimmers will either release all that air right before they bring their head back up for a breath and some swimmers will even release all that air as when their head gets out of the water to take a breath. The problem is that when you’re holding your breath between stokes a few things happen. The first is that you tense up. And whenever you exhale or breathe out you tend to release some of that tension. It’s the same way that you would release tension or stress when you’re stressed out while you’re sitting at your desk. If you breathe out, it helps relieve that tension. You can almost feel it happen. The other thing that happens is when you’re holding your breathe, you get this build up of carbon dioxide because the only way that your body can get rid of acidic carbon dioxide is by exhaling. And so when you’re not exhaling, you’re keeping the carbon dioxide in your blood stream and in your lungs. And the body has this natural mechanism where it feels this desperation to breathe when the CO2 begins building up. And so when you feel a desperation to breathe between strokes, it’s probably a sign that you’re not exhaling or breathing off some of that CO2 in between strokes. When you hold your breath in between strokes, it affects your buoyancy as well because your lungs are full of air. And air floats. So it makes your chest very buoyant. But a chest that is too buoyant can cause your legs to drop in the water like anchors. And that makes a lot of extra drag around your body. So the practice of constantly exhaling in between your strokes is important. But there’s a paradox here. And that is that studies have shown that fatigue of inspiratory and expiratory muscles can be responsible for slowing a swimmer especially during longer events. And what I’ve noticed is that when I tell swimmers that it’s okay to exhale in between strokes, they tend to forcefully exhale. And what you need to be doing is more of a passive exhalation. This means that you’re not fatiguing your expiratory muscles in between each stroke but rather you’re either through lightly pursed lips or through your nose, whichever is natural to you, allowing air to passively escape. And you’re not forcing it out. Now this is something that you simply need to practice. And one of the ways that you can practice doing this is you just go into the deep end of the pool and you tread water. And then you hold your breath and you bring your face underneath the water and you let air just passively escape through your lips or through your nose. And you’ll feel yourself start to drop as you become less buoyant in the water. You’ll feel yourself start to sink as the air is released from your lungs. But you shouldn’t feel like your forcefully blowing. You’re forcefully exhaling air because that also in the same way that holding your breath creates a lot of tension especially in the expiratory muscles around your lungs and your neck. So hopefully I didn’t create more questions than I answered with that answer. But ultimately, you exhale the whole time. The exhalation needs to be passive. And what you may find is that once you get this down you could actually go a longer period of time in between strokes without taking a breath. So if right now you’re forced to breath say every two strokes, you might be able to breathe every four strokes if you’re breathing off some of that carbon dioxide that leaving you desperate to breath. So it’s a great question Jeff. Hopefully that helps.
Anonymous: I have a question on cramping. I know in many episodes you’ve approached the subject on muscle cramps. But my question is on a more broad scale. I coach a high school football team and this is their first year playing and they are having a lot of cramps. Now most of these kids have never played football before. Most of them have been soccer players and playing in the heat. And they’re now playing on cool fall evening in all of their pads and gear. So how do we, as a coaching staff, help the kids prevent the muscle cramps? And what is the best way to help treat the muscle cramps once they get them?
Ben: Well, back in Episode #157 here in the podcast, I interviewed Doctor Tim Noakes. And Doctor Noakes shared some pretty interesting information that we have been brainwashed by the Gatorade sports science institute and the big electrolyte and sports drink manufacturers into thinking that we need to constantly be taking in sports drinks and electrolytes during exercise. When in fact, the body is very good at maintaining its blood levels and muscle levels of electrolytes by simply adjusting how much salt is lost through the kidneys and the urine or through the sweat. So ultimately, the fix for cramping in something like a high school football player, especially if a lot of players are cramping all at once, is not necessarily electrolyte supplementation during exercise. Most high schools via set IC are already very high sodium and high electrolyte. They’re going into a practice with 10,000 plus grams of sodium or 10,000 plus milligrams of sodium in their body and possibly a lot more in inter-muscular stores. And there is no need to be fixing this issue through the use of a Gatorade or some type of mixed sports drink which a lot of football teams and football players actually use even though they don’t need to. So the fix for this is going to be attending to the players’ diets outside of practice because it’s very likely that they’re either consuming foods that dehydrate their body or else not paying attention to adequate hydration. So if your players are drinking a lot of sports drinks with high amounts of caffeine or a lot of acidic foods, sugary foods, starchy foods, sugary drinks that tend to leach minerals, calcium, magnesium and things of that nature from the body which can lead to cramping, you’re going to need to pay attention to that and make dietary adjustments or dietary recommendations to your players about alternative things that they could drink in between practice instead of coffee or sugar laden sports drinks. The other thing that is likely happening here, especially if it’s early season football which – if you’re listening to this episode at the time that it comes out, it is – is that muscular fatigue is a bigger issue when it comes to cramping specifically requiring a muscle to do something that it hasn’t done on training or in practice. What you get is what’s called the alpha motor neuron over stimulation of the actual muscle. And it goes into this constant state of spasm or contraction and just stays there. It used to happen to me in water polo a lot during games when I would just go all out, way harder than I’ve gone during practice. And a lot of times I especially get cramps in my calves from the powerful whipping motion of the legs. So the fix for this is to train the players. You got to be doing a lot of high intensity game simulation type of scrimmages where you’re actually pushing the players up to the intensity they’re going to experience during the game. And you’ll also need to be a lot of strength and power work in the weight room. Another cause of cramping can be inflexibility. And while the debate goes back and forth between whether or not stretching can actually reduce risk of injury, there is a lot of evidence that suggest that it could reduce risk of cramping. So I would also focus on including a flexibility component in your program preferably with dynamic flexibility exercises like leg swings and arm swings and things of that nature. I’m going to put a link in the show notes to a more comprehensive audio that I have on the causes of cramping and the way that you can actually get rid of cramps. And I’m going to put a link to that in the show notes. That’s closer to about a 30-minute audio. And I’ll put that link in the show notes to this episode, Episode #167 directly underneath your question.
Marcy asks: I just started a boot camp class three days a week. It’s very hard. I’m not sure I ever sweat that much. It’s showing me that I’m not in as good shape as I thought. But I’m hanging in there. Would you say that this is enough resistance training? There are days that I’m quite sore. Or should I add some gym days in between?
Ben: Well, there are a lot of folks out there that take boot camp classes so I want to address this issue. Whenever you’re thinking about whether or not an activity actually supplies you with the full spectrum of fitness from strength to muscular endurance to cardiovascular endurance to flexibility to balance, you need to look at the specific exercises that you’re doing. I would say that a boot camp, because it primarily consists in most cases of higher rep lower weight or higher rep body weight type of activities combined with cardiovascular burst, it’s very good at targeting your muscular endurance and your cardiovascular endurance. Flexibility, balance, strength and power are not frequently addressed in a boot camp. Unless you’re in the type of boot camp that includes lots of warm up, stretching activities, balance components, balance games or balance challenges, or some type of strength activity like tire flipping. Or possibly climbing a rope would be another example of more of a strength activity. If I personally were doing boot camp three times a week and I wanted to improve strength, I would also include one to two times a week bigger moves like power lifting, Olympic weight lifting, bench press, dead lifts, squat, clean, clean and jerk, those type of activities. Those are going to address some of the holes that boot camp is not filling in. I just released a video over at Youtube.com/BenGreenfieldFitness in which I show four of the strength and power moves that I use frequently during my build up to Ironman Hawaii to address some of my strength and power deficiencies. So I’ll go watch that I you want an introduction to some of the exercises that you can throw in addition to this boot camp that you’re doing just one to two times a week. So go check that out over at Youtube.com/BenGreenfieldFitness.
Lea says: What are your thoughts on taking the supplement DMAE? What are the benefits? I’ve heard that it can help with soreness and stiffness after working out.
Ben: Well, DMAE is short for Diet Methyl Amino Ethanol. And it’s a two-fold supplement. It’s sold as brain aid. And it’s also sold as something for skin firming. So in terms of its effects on the brain, what happens is there’s a build up of something in the brain that’s basically a waste product of what’s called pigmentation. And it can cause neurological decline when you age or when you have Alzheimer’s disease. And you get this build up of what’s called a beta amyloid pigment. I won’t go to deep into the science behind it. But basically what DMAE can do is it can scavenge and clean up some of this pigment waste product. It’s also at a neuronal level or in your brain a fairly potent anti-oxidant. It gets incorporated into the cell membrane as something called phosphatidyl DMAE. And this is an anti –oxidant that your cells can use to scavenge a lot of the electrons that circulate around your brain that could lead to membrane damage or could lead to some neuronal damage. And it can possibly cause even some protein cross linking in your brain which is very much associated with Alzheimer’s. As far as actual studies, DMAE has not actually been approved by the FDA as a treatment for Alzheimer’s. Or it really hasn’t shown a ton of promise in terms of making you smarter or anything like that but if you have a history or genetic propensity for something like Alzheimer’s, it may be something that you’d want to include as a supplement. I don’t think you’re going to notice a lot of difference but there may be a preventive benefit. However, in terms of cosmetic potential, DMAE is included in facial creams for improving your skin quality. It’s put in as an ingredient in facial cream. And it actually has, in studies, showed benefits in helping out with the appearance of wrinkles or dark circles under your eyes or folds around your nose, sagging neck, as well as the firmness of the skin around your neck. Studies have shown that it can increase skin firmness whether in a gel or in a lotion. So as far as cosmetic potential, it’s a decent looking supplement. As far as risks, it may definitely increase the risk of neural tube defects. So I wouldn’t go near this if you were pregnant. However, any other risks, I’m not aware of. And I haven’t seen any other risk aside from that. So, I wouldn’t use it if you were pregnant which is really should said for most herbs and supplements. You shouldn’t be doing most of them if you are pregnant. So, that’s the deal with DMAE. And you ask if it can help us with soreness and stiffness after working out, I have never seen this to be the case. However, if someone is listening and they’re aware of research that I’m not aware of then go ahead and leave a comment in the show notes for this episode, Episode #167 over at BenGreenfieldFitness.com
Glenn says: I’m training for my first marathon. I understand something about tapering. But what is really going on physiologically during a proper taper? Surely, it is more than rest.
Ben: Well, you are absolutely right, Glenn. When you begin to reduce your level of physical activity, leading into something like a race for example for me, it’s about 12 to 14 days prior to an Ironman triathlon. I start to really decrease my level of exercise. I cut it back by anywhere from 40 to 60 percent. A lot of cool things happen physiologically that have been studied for many years. The first is an increase in your VO2 max. And it’s very significant. As a matter of fact, in swimmers, it’s been shown to increase by about 15 to 25 percent. That’s huge. And that’s over the course of a 21-day taper in swimmers that that VO2 max increase was observed. So you get a big increase in your maximum oxygen consumption. Some other things happen as well. Your exercise efficiency can improve. And that’s primarily due to decrease in your heart rate for any given effort of exercise as well as increase in the ability of your body to buffer some of the hydrogen that’s produced when you make lactic acid during a muscle contraction. So you get improved buffering capacity, and your heart isn’t working quite as hard for any given level of exercise. Blood measures specifically or actual oxygen carrying capacity and your peak hemoglobin levels which are the components of your red blood cells that actually binds to that oxygen, those can go up. Your creatine kinase levels, which is a measure of total body inflammation, that goes down. So basically your body is healing itself and also bring itself into this state of extreme fitness as it not only improves your oxygen consumption but also increases the amount of blood cells that are actually saturated with hemoglobin and oxygen. In terms of skeletal muscle, you get an increase in your oxidative enzymes which are the enzymes that are capable of taking oxygen and turning it into ATP or energy. And that occurs at the level of little energy producing components of your cell called the mitochondria. So you get increased enzyme activity in the mitochondria. You’ll also get increased muscular power which is the amount of force that you can produce over time. You’ll see that in a taper. It’s been observed in swimmers as well as cyclists, a real increase in muscle power. And a lot of times when you’re in training, you get a drop in muscle power. And that’s basically what is referred to as a neural inhibition due to fatigue. And that especially occurs in endurance athletes. And that power is restored as you taper. As far as all of these components transferring over into actual performance, you’re going to see not only decreased soreness but also improved ability to handle higher work loads as well as improved confidence. And don’t you worry, it’s completely normal to get a little bit grumpy, a little bit moody during a taper. And the reason for that is you’re not exercising as much so you’re not producing as much endorphins as you’re used to. So you don’t have as many happy hormones circulating through your body. And that is typically combined with the fact that you are getting a little bit anxious or nervous about the upcoming event that you’re tapering for. You put both those things together. And I know for me in my case, my wife doesn’t like to hang around with me very much the day before I do a race because I’m grumpy and touchy. And that’s normal. So just know that there’s also that psychological mental component to a taper.
Alex says: Hi Ben, I heard you mention probiotics a few times. But there’s this supplement I was planning on buying that contains prebiotics. What’s the difference and which one is preferred?
Ben: This is a good question. So a probiotic, which I’ve talked about before on the show, and I personally take probiotics every day as well as eat a lot of kiefer and yogurt and fermented foods that are also full of probiotic bacteria, they’re basically strings of good bacteria that really help to improve the function of your immune system as well as your digestive system. For example, if you look at something like a giardia which is that parasitic infection that makes you really sick or food poisoning or something of that nature, if you’ve got a healthy amount of probiotic in your digestive system, it can crowd out a lot of these bad bacteria and essentially keep you from getting sick, keep you digesting your food a lot more completely. And also it keeps things like yeast and Candida from overgrowing into your stomach because you got a lot of healthy microorganisms in your stomach. It’s basically going to make you less likely to have a lot of the unhealthy or pathogenic organisms in your stomach. Now of course, probiotics are a living microorganism and they need food. And prebiotics are the nourishment that the probiotic bacteria actually use to grow and to colonize. Prebiotics, another name for them is synbiotics. And probiotics basically feed on these little short chain sugar molecules made up of fructooligosaccharides. And that’s a very common component of plant based fibers. Plants contain what’s called fructan. And fructan containing plants have high amounts of inulin in them. And inulin is this soluble dietary fiber that probiotics do really well with in terms of using as a fuel to grow and to colonize your digestive track. So if you take anything like an asparagus, and onions and garlics and leaks and a lot of these vegetables that are really known as an immune system enhancing vegetables, one of the reasons is that they are excellent sources of inulin which feeds your probiotics and helps to grow the healthy flora in your stomach. Prebiotics are also sold as an actual supplement. Although, if you are eating a lot of dietary vegetables and getting a lot of dietary fiber, you’re probably doing ok in terms of the fuel that you have for your probiotics. I personally cover my bases and the way that I do it is I take a probiotic. And right now I am taking one made by Mount Capra called CaproBiotics. And then I take a supplement that contains inulin or high amounts of fiber. One that I use is called CapraGreens and the other one is called EnerPrime. And those are both greens powders. And that’s another advantage of greens powder. They’re not only very non-acidic, a very alkaline food to put in to your body. It’s very nutrient dense. It contains high energy compounds like spirulina, and blue green algae. But they also contain high amounts of inulin, artichoke extract, and a lot of these things that help to feed the probiotics or healthy bacteria in your stomach. A really fantastic one-two combo for your immune system and your digestive tract is probiotics. Plus some type of green supplement which contains those prebiotics. So I recommend both.
Paul says: Now that triathlon season is over, do you think it’s a better idea to give my body a break and let it naturally pack on a couple of extra pounds over the winter. And then slim down to my new weight as the next triathlon season approaches. Or would it be more effective to start slimming down now when I don’t have the same nutritional needs as I need when I’m gearing up for the new season? So the question is do you get fat or do you get fit over the winter?
Ben: Well, this is an interesting deal because in most mammals we see quite a bit of change occur in the winter especially when it comes to the propensity to hibernate. Specifically what you see is an increase in brown fat formation which is the metabolically active type of fat. That’s actually quite good and doesn’t really carry much risk with it. But it produces a lot of heat and helps you to stay warm in the winter. And so for a northern climate athlete, a lot of times it can vastly improve comfort to increase nutritional intake a little bit. Let some of this brown fat build up and it can keep you a little bit warmer. For me, when I’m going out and doing activities like snow boarding and skate skiing and sledding and playing outside with my kids and going on long runs in the snow and doing those type of things in the winter, I like to have a little extra fat for that. And the other thing that I tend to do in the off season in the winter is I pack on a little bit of extra muscle as well. I do just a little bit more eating combined with a little bit more weight training and that tends to put on lean muscle. The other thing you’ll see animals doing a lot more in the winter is sleeping more. And of course being all bundled up in bed helps you to maintain your core temperature. And that’s another natural mechanism that takes place in the winter. I find myself a lot of times in the winter sleeping eight or nine hours. And of course that’s time that I would be normally up and around possibly burning more fat. So that’s probably another reason that I personally tend to gain a little bit of weight in the winter. I feel that having a season of, not necessarily hibernation, but a period of time where you give your joints a little bit of a break. You let your brown fat levels build up a little bit. I think if you’re a northern climate or a cold climate athlete, that’s very useful and natural. If you live inFloridaorSouthern Californiaor one of these areas that tends to be warm year round, I don’t think that that’s necessary. Although you may want to consider that it is tough on your body hormonally to never go through a period of time where you do let it relax and possibly bump up levels of natural fat just a little bit. So the way that I personally consider the whole get fit or get fat approach is if you’ve got an early season triathlon or race, you generally don’t want to have a lot of pressure to lose a lot of weight for that when January rolls around. And it does make sense to let yourself stage just a little bit slimmer or focus on fat loss over the winter if that’s the case. If you really got nothing going on until May or June, I don’t see a need to focus on slimming down over the course of the early winter. And you can focus on weight loss once January or February or March rolls around when you’re gearing up for the next season. I’m all about the yin and the yang and keeping good balance. That means that while you can stay fit year round, there’s nothing with letting the body fat levels go up just a little bit in the winter as that is what most animals do especially those in colder climates.
Dave says: I’ve been using the Rest Wise software that you discussed. My partial pressure of oxygen is usually in the 94 to 95 percent range. I recently had an unplanned ambulance ride. And they measured the partial pressure of my oxygen at 93. They were very surprised that it was that low. What do the numbers mean? And is there an effective way to increase them? The EMT on the ambulance, knowing that I am a competitive athlete, thought it should be around 98.
Ben: Well folks, I will put a link to the episode in which I interviewed the folks from a company called Rest Wise. And what Rest Wise is, is it’s this online service to which you upload a bunch of different variables like your morning resting heart rate, and the amount of sleep that you’ve gotten, your hydration levels, your appetite, the amount of muscle soreness that you have. You fill out a little profile of mood state. And essentially, it tracks a quantitative version of how recovered you are. One of the things that happens when you sign up with Rest Wise, they send you this little thing that you put into your finger when you wake up in the morning. And it measures your oxygen saturation values. And normal healthy oxygen saturation values are about 96 to 99 percent around in there. And anything below 95 percent can be associated with anemia or not producing enough red blood cells or breaking down your red blood cells too quickly or not being fully oxygenated. Now, the low oxygen saturation levels would be caused by not necessarily having adequate numbers of red blood cells although that could affect a little bit but more specifically, not having the ability for them to actually bind oxygen and hemoglobin which I discussed earlier. The component of your red blood cells that’s responsible for binding oxygen relies on iron as an active component of it to bind that oxygen. And so of course, one of the first things I recommend that folks look at when their oxygen saturation is low is their iron and the storage ferritin levels. So I would certainly go do a ferritin test. I did that on my local doctor’s office. I just walked in and asked for it. It cost me 40 bucks. And you can see whether or not maybe you should be taking some type of supplement that would help to increase your storage ferritin or iron levels. The one that I prefer to recommend to folks that’s relatively safe, although I always recommend that you continue to test when you’re supplementing with anything that contains iron in it, it’s something called Floradex. And I will put a link to it in the show notes. But basically, there are other things that you can do naturally aside from taking an iron supplement if your iron is ok to increase oxygen saturation. And the first would be to make sure that you’re living in an area that doesn’t contain a lot of environmental pollutants specifically carbon monoxide which can compete for oxygen on the hemoglobin. And it keeps you from being fully oxygenated. That just means breathing fresh air, using a filter in your house. You can install a hepa filter in your house. You can use a hepa vacuum cleaner. Keep a lot of plants around your house to produce oxygen and consume carbon dioxide. And just be careful exercising in polluted areas. For example, if you live in a big city with lots of cars driving around, it’s better to work out at a gym that has a good air filter than it is to head outside for a run. Exercise, of course, is the best way to increase the oxygen levels of the blood but you’re already doing that. However, if you are listening and you don’t exercise much and you’ve got poor oxygen saturations, start exercising. Deep breathing and working on your posture also go hand in hand to help increase the oxygen levels of your blood even though this isn’t necessarily, if you have low iron, going to improve your oxygen saturation. If your iron is sufficient, it’s possible that you’re simply breathing hypoxically. So make sure that you’re deep breathing. Make sure that you aren’t engaged in stressful shallow breathing all day long or while you sleep especially. I don’t know if you have any breathing issues while you sleep but it may be something to look into. Overweight or obese folks tend to be more prone to suffer from low levels of oxygen in the blood due to hypoxia and a little bit difficulty in breathing especially when sleeping. So dialing the weight is important for improving oxygen saturation as well. And as far as the total health of the cardiovascular system, I do recommend that you contain or that you consume a lot of foods that contain a lot of chlorophyll and a lot of components that tends to have the ability to open up the blood vessels a little bit. I would be eating a lot of dark leafy greens, a lot of dark vegetables and including a lot of natural produce in your diet. If your diet is low in produce, if you have a typical and I see guys do this more often just eating a lot of packaged foods, a lot of processed food and not getting a lot of fresh foods. I’d get a lot more produce in your diet. And that will help a little bit as well. So those are some of the ways that you can help to improve your oxygen saturation a little bit. Ultimately though, the first thing that I would look at is your iron levels especially if you’re a healthy exercising athlete who eats properly because if you look at actual studies of normal oxygen saturation versus depleted or anemic oxygen saturation, one of the most highly correlated variables is the actual levels of ferritin transferrin or iron. And all of these could be assessed through a blood test and a ferritin test. And I will put a link also to the podcast that I did in which I interviewed the guys from Rest Wise. And they talked in a lot of detail about some of the other components of recovery and some of the things that could affect recovery because I mentioned red blood cells. And certainly, if you’ve got really high red blood cell turn over and you’re in a state of over training or in a state of inadequate recovery, that’s also going to possibly deleteriously affect your oxygen saturation. Not a ton of evidence behind that but I do see the two tend to be pretty well correlated. So I will put a link to that episode as well as a link to that Floradex supplement that I mentioned in the show notes. Alright folks, we are going to move on to today’s interview and feature topic with Tom Naughton.
Hey, folks, this is Ben Greenfield. And it was several months ago that I actually saw a movie I thought was highly entertaining, funny and educational at the same time. And it went down the line with a lot of stuff that we’ve talked about before with physicians and health care practitioners, nutritionists and athletes here in the podcast. And that is the concept of nutrition intake, percentage of nutrition intake and in particular, some of the misconceptions that are out there about fat. The gentleman who is on the other line is Tom Naughton. And Tom is a comedian and a writer and a speaker among other things. But he also created a movie called Fat Head. I am, of course, going to put a link for you to be able to go watch Fat Head after you listen to this interview which I highly recommend. But today, Tom and I are going to talk about some of the more interesting and ground breaking things that he shares in that movie. So Tom, thank you so much for coming on to the call today.
Tom: My pleasure, Ben. Thanks for having me.
Ben: So, I know that you’re not necessarily a food scientist or a nutritionist or a dietitian. But what is your background and what led you to create a movie about nutrition or this movie Fat Head?
Tom: Actually, my background was as a guy who spent adolescence and teenage years and most of adult years as a fat guy. So I was one of the fat comedians. I wasn’t like Chris Farley fat but I was always out of shape. And the reason I made Fat Head specifically, I was kicking around ideas for TV pilot. And I wanted to do sort of a think piece on how we treat fat people in society. I ended up watching Super Size Me as research for that. I haven’t seen it before. And I never saw it at the theater. But I went ahead and bought the DVD and watched it. By the time I was done I ditched my original idea. And I decided to make a documentary response instead because I thought there was a lot in Super Size Me that was ridiculous. In spite of the fact that it was an entertaining film because it was. Morgan Spurlock is a good entertainer. But I just thought a lot of what he put out there in Super Size Me was misguided or wrong and decided to do my response. And it was really in the course of doing research for Fat Head that I became fascinated by nutrition science. And frankly, I’ve been educating myself non-stop ever since.
Ben: Cool. So you actually talk about Super Size Me in the movie. And you criticized it. So what’s the deal because a lot of people thought that movie was pretty good at vindicating fast food?
Tom: It was entertaining. Like I said, I’ll give him that. I was laughing as I was watching it. But at the same time, I was getting annoyed. First thing that annoyed me was the overall concept of blaming McDonald’s or fast food for the rise in obesity. It’s ridiculous to blame certainly any particular restaurant. And I think it’s ridiculous to blame fast food in general for that and for all kinds of reasons. One, I did a little digging. And one of the first things I discovered was that the meals that are served in sit down traditional restaurants are, by and large, they are higher calorie meals than what people buy in fast food restaurants. Now, I’m not promoting fast food as health food. We all know it isn’t. But really, if you look at the calorie count on a typical meal at McDonald’s, it’s not that high. People can easily consume more calories than that at a restaurant. People consume more calories than that at home all the time. So, really just that aspect of it bothered me. And the fact that he seemed to be coupling the idea of personal responsibility. I think he had a line in there where he said at what point does personal responsibility end and corporate responsibility begin? And as far as I’m concerned, McDonald’s is never responsible for what you choose to put in your mouth. They can advertise their products. But you choose to go in there. You decide what to order as you’re standing at the counter. And you decide to put it in your mouth. So that whole idea bothered me. And then what really made me jump out of my chair was when his nutritionist told him and she said this twice in the film. She warned him that he was consuming more than 5,000 calories per day. Now, I spend a lot of my life as an overweight guy. I was a serial dieter. I had a pretty clear general idea of what the calorie counts are at McDonald’s. And when she said 5,000 calories a day that was the point when I jumped off and I said something’s wrong here because to eat 5,000 calories per day at McDonald’s, you’ve got to be trying. You’ve got to be trying hard. And he had established these rules right up front. I’ll eat three meals a day. I’ll only super size if they ask me. I’ll eat everything on the menu at least once. And he was only asked to super size nine times so that’s twice a week. And again, you really can’t consume 5,000 calories per day at McDonald’s unless you’re super sizing pretty much every meal and throwing deserts in on top of it. So it became clear to me right away that he never did follow those rules. And this was a movie promoted as look what a happened to a guy who ate just three meals a day at McDonald’s. Well, he didn’t eat three meals per day at McDonalds. He might’ve had three eating sessions at McDonald’s. But he was eating the equivalent of five or six meals at McDonald’s easily.
Ben: Interesting. So you’re not of the persuasion necessarily that McDonald’s is health food right? You’re just of the persuasion that the way that he framed why people get fat at fast food restaurants is incorrect?
Tom: Yeah. He was shooting at the wrong target. There are reasons that we’ve had a rise in obesity and certainly a big rise in diabetes. But it’s not because of McDonald’s. I didn’t bring this up in my film because I wasn’t aware of it at that time. But I later saw a study on what people consume. And they compared areas where there are a lot of fast food restaurants and areas where there are not. And one of the things they found and it was pretty clear in the research was that fat people consume just as many calories over all and just as much sugar and refined carbohydrates and other forms of junk whether the fast food restaurants are there or not. If the fast food restaurants aren’t around, they just buy that stuff at the grocery store. They buy it at convenience stores. They buy it at gas stations. People don’t eat sugar because they go to McDonald’s. People go to McDonald’s because they want to eat the sugar. And if the McDonald’s isn’t there, they get their sugar fix somewhere else. So it’s just shooting at the wrong target. The fact that fast food restaurants exist is not the problem.
Ben: You talk a lot about saturated fat in the movie. And you think anti-saturated fat campaigns are I think the way you phrased it based on lousy science. What do you mean by that exactly?
Tom: Well, there’s been a lot of lousy science in pushing that whole anti-fat hysteria. It really began with a scientist and we should put scientist in quotes in this case named Ansel Keys who pretty much decided that saturated and animal fats were causing heart disease. And he did exactly what a scientist should not do. He came to his conclusion first. And then he manipulated his data to support his conclusion. Ansel Keys released a famous study called the six Country Study. And he put six countries on a chart. And he showed their fat consumption compared to their level of heart disease. And wouldn’t you know it, as fat went up the heart disease went up as well. And this almost perfect diagonal line will look at that and this must be the cause. Now the problem with that was that Ansel Keys had reliable data from 22 countries. But he only chose the six that he could put on a chart and could support his hypothesis. If you take all 22 of the data points that he had available and you put them on a chart, it looks like somebody shot it with a shot gun. There is no pattern. It’s all over the place. So he left out countries where people did not consume much fat. But they had high rates of heart disease. He left out countries where people ate a lot of fat but they had low rates of heart disease. Francewould be one of those. Listeners have probably heard of the French paradox. Well, it’s not really a paradox because we see that actually show up in a lot of populations. That’s really what got it started. And a lot of scientist criticized him at that time. He really didn’t get traction for a while. But unfortunately, he ended up on the board of the American Heart Association which, after disputing that idea themselves for many years, they supported the idea but because he was on the board, they adopted the idea. They started really pushing the idea that it’s fat that causes heart disease and all these other health issues. That was really the first big wave. What I really think cemented it in the consciousness of most Americans was a cover story on Time magazine where they had the bacon and eggs on the plate making a frown-y face. And they said the bad news that cholesterol really is a killer. Now, if you read that article and I’ve dug it up and read it, since then, what happened was cholesterol lowering drug. Not a diet but a cholesterol lowering drug was shown to produce a slightly lower rate in heart disease in men who had genetically high cholesterol. And from this, the scientist who conducted that study made this wild extrapolation that therefore fat and cholesterol in the diet cause heart disease. And I’m sure you can see a lot of problems with that. First off, it’s a drug study. We can’t make conclusions about diet based on a drug. And second, we were talking about a specific group of men with genetically high cholesterol. People with genetically high cholesterol are somewhat more prone to heart disease although, not as much as many people would think. And also the foods that they put on that cover, bacon and eggs, they really don’t raise your cholesterol. So basically we had this huge series of mistakes. One upon another that is cemented on everyone’s mind that these foods cause heart disease. And they just don’t. One of the reasons that I’m convinced that they don’t is if we accept the hypothesis that saturated fats and cholesterol and those type of foods cause heart disease, then cutting them out of your diet should reduce the rate of heart disease. Well, there have actually been several good controlled clinical studies in which researchers did exactly that. They had a control group that ate their normal diet. They had a study group that really restricted their intake of saturated fat and cholesterol. And in every one of those studies, the whole hypothesis failed. The group that cut back on the saturated fat and cholesterol did not end up with lower rates of heart disease. In fact, in a couple of studies, they ended up with slightly higher rates of heart disease. That alone should have killed this whole theory. But unfortunately by then, so many people were invested in it that it’s the bad theory that won’t die.
Ben: Now, you go on later on to talk about the obesity epidemic. And actually, you described it as being exaggerated by the CDC. What do you mean by that exactly?
Tom: By exaggerated, I’m not saying that we have not seen a rise in obesity. You can go to any airport or public street and you know that there has been a rise in obesity. What I’m saying is they have, for their own reasons which we can come back to they’ve blown it up bigger than it is. I came across some figures awhile back, some survey figures on how many people are at their ideal BMI and if they’re not, how far away are they from their ideal BMI. Well first off, the Body Mass Index is a really lousy way of measuring obesity because the body mass index is nothing more than a comparison of your height and weight. It says absolutely nothing about how fat you are. According to the BMI index, Brad Pitt is overweight. George Clooney is overweight. Tim Tebow, the quarterback on the Bronchos, is obese. Mel Gibson is obese. They’re categorized as obese because they have a lot of muscle and therefore their height to weight ratio says they’re obese. So, really, we should not be using BMI in the first place. To be considered normal weight according to the BMI measurement, you don’t have to just be not fat. You have to actually be thin. And I mean thin as in not carrying around a lot of muscle. That’s scale was developed, I don’t remember how far back, but I think it was at least 100 years ago. This was back before people had fairly easy affordable access to protein foods. It was before people started lifting weights. It was before gyms and health clubs and nautilus machines and all that. I think for one thing, people just in general did not have as much muscle as we tend to see on people today. So of course people today, even if they’re not fat, they’re going to have higher BMI’s because we see a lot more people walking around these days who work out and have decent muscle tone. Now even if we accept that the BMI is a legitimate measurement, I mean I don’t. But even if we accept it, the reason I say it’s exaggerated is how many times have you heard that two-thirds of Americans are overweight and one-third are obese. You’ve probably heard that over and over, right?
Ben: Yeah, exactly.
Tom: Alright, so let’s look at that compared to BMI. If we actually look at where the population stands in relationship to BMI, the figures I dug up, about 18 percent are considered at ideal weight. There’s another 20 percent who are considered below that. 24 percent of the people that we call overweight are within ten pounds of what BMI would consider normal weight. So that’s a little bit of muscle, maybe a slight belly. But all of a sudden, that puts you in the overweight category. And if you add up that the people who are more than that, there’s only six percent of the population that’s 50 pounds overweight and only 17 percent who are somewhere between 20 and 50 pounds overweight. When you add up the figures, what you get is 62 percent of our population is at or below their normal weight. So that’s why I say it’s exaggerated.
Ben: Now in your opinion, do you think that a body fat percentage measurement is better or a strict weight measurement or a weight-height ratio or do you have measurements that you feel would be better than the BMI.
Tom: I’m not sure we need to do those measurements at all. Most people can look in the mirror and see how much fat they have hanging from them. But if we were going to do that, it should be some kind of measurement of body fat. We end up with schools now and this just drives me out of my gourd, a lot of school systems now are checking kids BMI’s and then reporting them to the parents. Kids go through this crazy growth spurts. It’s not unusual at all for kids to get thicker before they get taller. That’s the body preparing to get taller. So you’re going to have all these parents getting these scary letters from the school saying your child’s BMI is too high. And this might be kids who really aren’t fat. Some of them may not have any fat on them to speak of it all. So I think the BMI measurement needs to just go away. It’s really not useful. If we are going to measure anything, we should be measuring body fat. And another point I made in the film is body fat is an indicator of your health but it’s really not a perfect one. I’m not even sure it’s a very good one. There are an awful lot of people walking around who have a little belly but their health is fine. I found out while shooting Fat Head that I was an example of that. Conversation with my doctor went along the lines of your blood pressure is great, your cholesterol’s good, your HDL is outstanding, your triglycerides are low. Your pulse is good. Everything is good and by the way you need to lose weight. And at the end of that conversation, you want to look at him and go why? What’s the problem? You just told me I’m in excellent health. There are also plenty of thin people walking around who are in terrible health. And there are a lot of thin people walking around who are type two diabetics. So I’m not even sure if fat is where we should be focusing our efforts. If we’re going to solve the problems that are turning us into a society full of sick people, we should be focusing on blood sugar. That is really where our health problems to a large extent begin.
Ben: Yeah. That’s a very good point. It’s the vital most between health and what seem to be cultural perceptions of what is beautiful or what is aesthetic or what is considered to be a nice body. I think a lot of people assume that that’s also healthy when in many cases it’s healthier to be slightly overweight.
Tom: Yeah. That’s actually another interesting thing that came out when I was digging up research for the film. People who are considered slightly overweight, they actually have longer lifespan. So we can’t just say thin is healthy. I think trying to lose weight if you’re overweight is a good goal. Partly because if you really pay attention to what makes you fat, the sugars, the refined carbohydrates, and the other junk foods, then merely trying to lose weight even if you’re not entirely successful and you don’t end up becoming a bathing beauty. But just by virtue of cutting those foods out of your diet in the attempt to lose weight, you will be healthier. And aesthetics aside, part of the reason I think that there’s been this push by the CDC to declare so many people obese, unfortunately if you look at the people in government who have been sounding the alarm on this, a lot of them have consulting contracts with pharmaceutical companies. They want obesity to be classified as a disease because once it’s classified as a disease it will now be covered by insurance which means people can get coverage for their weight loss drugs. And the pharmaceutical companies will be able to sell a lot more drugs. So I’m suspicious as to why they want to take what is a problem but blow it up to seem a lot bigger than it is.
Ben: Well in Fat Head, do you actually made some pretty significant dietary adjustments to your own diet? And before we talk a little bit about that because that was really interesting, if you look at the way that we’re encouraged to eat quite a bit these days which is in particular low fat. What are some of the problems that you’ve personally found with that dietary approach or observed with that dietary approach in some of the research and the studies that you did, whether for the movie or since?
Tom: There are a lot of problems with telling people to go on low fat diets. To me the biggest problem is that our two sources of energy are fats and carbohydrates. If you cut the fat out of your diet, you know have to seek another source of energy which is going to be carbohydrates. Now if everybody who did that filled up on natural foods like sweet potatoes and low sugar fruits instead of the fat then maybe they wouldn’t have a problem. But what we’ve been told if you look at the food pyramid is that we should get six to eleven servings per day of grains. And even with this new my plate thing they’ve come out with and with the new dietary guidelines, they’re now telling people to get half their grains as whole grains and the other half as enriched grains. Well, for all kinds of reasons having to do with health and how we process grains, I don’t think people should be eating grains at all. It really doesn’t make that big of a difference if they’re whole grains or enriched grains. So by telling people to go on low fat diets, we also at the same time tell people to start filling up on carbohydrates which we did. If you look at the composition of the American diet since 1977 when the USDA first started putting out guidelines, the one macro nutrient in our diets that has gone up. And it’s the only one that gone up is carbohydrate intake. It’s gone up quite a bit. And it’s, in my mind, no coincidence that it’s since then that we started seeing a rise in obesity, especially a rise in diabetes, because if you load up on those carbohydrates you are risking diabetes. That’s the first problem, too many carbohydrates. The second problem is despite what most people have heard, fat is a very important nutrient especially natural saturated fats, the kind of fats that we have been consuming for literally hundreds of thousands of years. Saturated fats are important for making a whole lot of hormones including hormones that have to do with your mood, your ability to concentrate, your ability to feel good overall. So we’ve removed from the diet a lot of fats that are actually good for our brains. And I think that combined with the increase in refined carbohydrates is why we have so many kids these days that end up taking drugs for ADD. They are not feeding themselves in a way that’s good for their brains.
Ben: I think the link between fat and neural function is huge. I think we’re going to find a lot more especially in kids on that in years to come. So it’s interesting.
Tom: I think 20 or 30 years from now I hope it’s no later than that, we’re going to be looking back on this low fat diet push like the way we look back at bleeding the patients 200 years ago. It was a huge mistake that a lot of people believed in. But scientifically, it’s just not correct.
Ben: Yeah. My kids have been taking fat supplements and eating a high fat diet since they were born. And I think it has made a huge impact in their development.
Ben: So in Fat Head, speaking of fat intake, you actually switched yourself to a really high fat intake diet. About 50 percent I believe or a little more. And in terms of that diet, how much of that was actually saturated fat? And then as you went through that, what did you observe in terms of not just your weight but your health markers and the way that you felt?
Tom: It was a little over 50 percent fat by calories. And I believe it came out to being just about 23 percent saturated fat. So in previous guidelines, that would have been twice as much saturated fats as the USDA tell us we should eat. They’ve released new guidelines now cutting it to seven percent. So that was by today’s guidelines would be triple what the USDA recommends for saturated fat intake. The only health outcome of that diet was I lost weight. I felt pretty decent. The one negative was that my HDL went down. Now that was not from consuming saturated fat because saturated fat actually tends to raise your HDL, however, at the time that I did that diet I did have some from French fries. I ate a fair amount of fried chicken since I was eating in fast food restaurants. That was back during the days when fast food restaurants were still frying food in transfats. And transfats lower your HDL. So the one negative marker that showed up on my labs was that my HDL went down. As soon as that diet was over, I went on a saturated fat pig out diet where I was eating a lot of saturated fat but no transfats, no vegetable oils, no fake foods. And my HDL shot up. It shot up higher than it was before.
Ben: Wow, interesting. So, have you changed that diet since the movie? Have you switched things up at all?
Tom: Yeah. The diet has been sort of a journey. Obviously, the movie diet was just the movie diet. That was all fast food for 28 days. I never intended to stick with that. That was an experiment for the sake of the film. Partly as my response to Super Size Me showing that eating fast foods doesn’t have to screw up your health if you make intelligent choices. After that was over, at that time I was just interested in staying low carbohydrate. So basically, if it had a lot of carbohydrates, I didn’t eat it. If it would fit within my daily carbohydrate allowance, I did. That’s where I was at. As I learned more about diet especially as I started looking more into the whole paleo diet idea. I started examining what I was eating when my focus was just on low carbohydrate. And I realized that I was eating a fair amount of what I now think of as low carbohydrate junk foods. I would occasionally have low carbohydrate pasta. When I looked at the label, one of the primary ingredients was soy flour. Well, I don’t think soya is good for you now. And I was eating some of the low carbohydrate candy bars with the sugar alcohols. And I was eating some low carbohydrate cereal for a while. I eventually decided that the idea of a low carbohydrate diet should not be to find processed low carbohydrate food to serve as substitutes for your usual high carbohydrate food. It really should be about a change in diet, heading back toward a more whole foods diet and trying to eat foods closer to their natural state. So that’s where I’ve ended up now.
Ben: So, do you still go to fast food restaurants?
Tom: Well, I do once in a while. It’s not a big part of my life. If we’re running around doing errands and it gets to be lunch time and we’re hungry. I will stop at McDonald’s. In that case, I’ll do what I did in the film. I’ll get a couple of the one dollar double cheese burgers. I’ll throw away the buns. But mostly, we’ll probably eat 95 percent of our meals at home.
Ben: Aside from McDonald’s, where there, during the movie or any other times, were there any other fast food restaurants that you frequently have meals that you think would be better at those restaurants?
Tom: I didn’t eat all McDonalds during Fat Head. I hit a variety of fast food restaurants. It was still mostly McDonald’s. Without pulling out my food log, I would guess I probably ate two-thirds of my meals at McDonalds. But I also ate Del Taco, Taco Bell, Popeye’s Chicken, and KFC. I think I might have hit Burger King and Jack in the Box a couple of times in there. As far as fast food now, I did find that if you go to a Boston Market and I don’t know of anybody would consider that fast food but you walk to the counter and you walk away with a tray. So I consider it fast food. Boston Market was pretty good because it was easy to go in there and get slices of roast beef or turkey or ham, a side of spinach and a side of green bean. And that’s actually a pretty healthy meal. When I want something quick now, if I don’t want to go to McDonald’s, we have one of these fast food Greek places nearby. I’ll go there and I’ll get yea roast and a salad. And I basically have a yea roast salad. It’s a pretty good, reasonably healthy meal and not high in carbohydrates.
Ben: Cool. I like it. So as far as Fat Head goes, I now know that people are on the edge of their seats wanting to watch it. And I watched it on netflix personally. Where else can people see it?
Tom: If they have netflix instant play, then they can do what you did. I would recommend for those who haven’t, they go there first because you get to see it commercial free on netflix. You get to see it blown up all nice and big. If you have a big screen TV, that’s certainly a good place to watch it. For those who don’t, it’s available for free on Hulu. In fact, it’s done quite well in Hulu. Awhile back it reached number one in documentaries on Hulu. And for about a week, it was actually the third most watched movie in any category on Hulu. So we were very excited about that. That’s the easy way to go ut online and watch it for free. We also sell a DVD if they go to my blog. Do you mind if I give the address?
Ben: Yeah. Go for it.
Tom: Okay. www.fathead-movie.com. We sell the DVD version there. The advantage of the DVD is that there are bonus tracks. So in addition to the movie, there’s about 40 minutes of extra interview footage with my on camera experts, things that I’ve found really interesting that just didn’t fit in to the timeline of the film. So you get a lot more information from them. There’s also a one hour speech I gave called Big Fat Fiasco where I just show how this whole saturated fat theory came along and where it has gotten us.
Ben: Cool. And it’s got a lot of candids, too. It’s a visually entertaining movie. So I liked it. Good job. And folks, I’ll put a link to all that stuff in the show notes for this podcast as well. This would be Podcast #167 over at BenGreenfieldFitness.com. So Tom, thank you so much for your time and going in to some of the bases for the movie and sharing what you learned. And I really encourage people to go check out the movie.
Tom: Thanks for having me on Ben. I really appreciate it.
Ben: Alright folks, I’m sorry about that slight buzz during the interview. I’m not quite sure what that was. It may have been style of head phones that I was wearing. My apologies, that won’t happen again in the future. Anyways, I will put a link to fat head the movie in the show notes. And I really think it was quite entertaining. And even if you’re already convinced that fat is good and that we’ve been a little bit brain washed when it comes to low fat diets, grab the movie and give it to somebody you want to convince because it will probably do a better job of convincing them than just calling them on the phone and telling them to eat more fat. So I’ll put a link to that movie in the show notes and also a link to everything that I talked about today including the live seminar that I’m going to be doing two weeks from now on Wednesday, October second. You can ask all your questions about the things that I offer in terms of my personal nutrition and fitness consulting services. I will also put a link to the podcast awards. You can go vote at podcastawards.com. And folks continue on Twitter if you have a podcast guest that you’d like to recommend, go to Twitter and simply recommend it to @BenGreenfield and use #podcast guest. I’d love to talk to the folks you want to hear from. So be sure to do that. And finally, if you have any questions, comments or feedback about things that you heard today, go to the show notes for this episode, Episode #167 at BenGreenfieldFitness.com and leave your question. And while you’re there, if you are able to, leave a quick donation so that you can help me pay for this show, downloads and the hosting fees. So that being said, thank you so much for listening. Thanks for your support. And this is Ben from BenGreenfieldFitness.com signing out.
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