Monthly Archives: July 2016

Some Fundamental Life Lessons

Life seems to be a cycle of falling down and getting up again. A process of gaining knowledge and learning lessons. As humans, we are not built to be perfect. Most of us will even make the same mistake over and over again. Yet we do contain the ability to learn from our mistakes which teaches us how to grow as a person.

Some lessons are more profound than others. These we call life lessons. This type of knowledge is a very valuable package we try to carry with us, always. Yet sometimes, some people tend to forget this and they need to be reminded.
Most of the knowledge of life lessons, is purely to help and inform yourself. Maybe others can benefit from it at some point via you, but primarily this knowledge is there to aid you and only you. Forgetting those will only create more difficulties and probably some negative outcomes along with it.
So, even if it has only the slightest chance to make life just a tiny bit easier, then it’s worth it. For your own sake then, rather do not forget these 5 life lessons ever again.

1. Life is what you make of it

There is a reason why this saying is being repeated so often, it has a lot of truth to it. You are the director of your own life. That is the part people often tend to forget.
Not everything is within our own control, some people would rather focus on the things they can’t control than the things they can, such as their own actions. Setting yourself in a victim role and blaming the whole world for the position you are in, seems to be an easy option.
Yet over time it will only drag you down further. Instead, rather try to focus on the aspects you can control and where you can actually make a change. Things probably won’t be fixed in a day or two, but by taking over the reins again you can actually establish your own results, even if it takes longer. Don’t let your life be run by others. It is your life, your responsibility. You show yourself what you can make of it.

2.  Changes can be the best thing for your life, don’t be afraid to make them

Things do not always turn out as planned. Sometimes this will be in your favor and other times it will not. When you notice you are heading in the wrong way, don’t be afraid to change the direction. Being stubborn and continuing in the same wrong direction will only get you farther away from your destination.
This metaphor can be applied to every aspect of our life. The destination can have a different meaning for every single person. This can include the people you are involved with or a goal you set out for yourself.
If you realize certain things or people deprive you from growing and feeling happy, do not expect that to change. You will have to make changes. Some will be bigger than others but this is where you change the course of your life.

3. Life is already hard as it is, don’t be too hard on yourself

There is nothing wrong with trying to be best you can at what you do. Yet some people have the tendency to push themselves too far. Not only are they being their own worst critic, they take perfectionism to a whole new level.
You yourself are the only one that truly knows how much effort you put into something. Giving yourself grief while you did the best you could is just pointless.
It’s just a part we need to accept as humans; that we are not perfect.  The sooner you accept that, the easier you can be on yourself. It will give you the space to enjoy life a whole lot more.

4. Prioritize what truly matters

Being invested in everything and everyone can make life more interesting, yet many times you tend to give more of yourself than you have to spare. By prioritizing  the things that really matter in your life, you will realize the petty things that do not truly count do not deserve the amount of attention they get at this stage. Leaving you with more time to invest in the things you love and are truly important.

5. Life is too short to dwell in past or worry about the future

We have one certainty in life and that is that it will come to an end. We don’t know when and we don’t know how but we do know it will happen at a certain point. Be, or at least try to be, thankful for the past for where it brought today. Even if it has been a rough ride, it probably brought you a whole lot of life lessons.
Cherish those but do not obsessively hold on to the past. The word itself says it already, it has past and can’t be altered or brought back. The future on the other hand is something which lies ahead.
Worrying about it will only distract you from the present. Making you negligent on what is actually happening around you. In other words it will make you miss out on life.

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Bring More Kindness into Your Life

One of the best ways to increase our own happiness is to do things that make other people happy.
In countless studies, kindness and generosity have been linked to greater life satisfaction, stronger relationships, and better mental and physical health—generous people even live longer.

What’s more, the happiness people derive from giving to others creates a positive feedback loop: The positive feelings inspire further generosity—which, in turn, fuels greater happiness. And research suggests that kindness is truly contagious: Those who witness and benefit from others’ acts of kindness are more likely to be kind themselves; a single act of kindness spreads through social networks by three degrees of separation, from person to person to person to person.

But just because we have the capacity for kindness, and reap real benefits from it, doesn’t mean that we always act with kindness. We may be too busy, distracted, or wrapped up in our own concerns to pay close attention to others’ needs or actively seek out opportunities to help. Or we’re just out of practice: Researchers have argued that kindness is like a muscle that needs to be strengthened through repeated use.

How do we strengthen kindness? Researchers have identified a number of effective exercises, and many of them are collected on the Greater Good Science Center’s new website, Greater Good in Action (GGIA), which features the top research-based activities for fostering happiness, kindness, connection, and resilience.

Here I highlight GGIA’s 10 core kindness practices, grouped into three broad categories.

1. How to Cultivate Feelings of Kindness

Kind behavior comes more naturally when we’re feeling a sense of compassion and connection with others. This first set of practices focuses on cultivating these feelings.

The Feeling Connected practice involves thinking about a time when you felt a strong connection to another person—through a meaningful conversation, say, or by experiencing a great loss or success or historic event together—and describing that experience in writing. A 2011 study led by researcher Louisa Pavey in the United Kingdom found that participants who completed this exercise reported increases in feelings of concern for others and stronger intentions to carry out a number of generous acts over the next six weeks, such as giving money to charity and helping a stranger in need.

How does this practice increase kindness? Research suggests that feeling connected to others satisfies a fundamental psychological need to belong; when this need is unmet, people are more likely to focus on their own needs rather than caring for others.

Similar to Feeling Connected is the Feeling Supported practice, which involves thinking about the qualities of the people you turn to when you’re distressed, then recalling a time when you were comforted by one of them. A 2005 study led by Mario Mikulincer, dean of the school of psychology at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel, found that people who completed this writing exercise, compared with those who wrote more generically about a colleague or acquaintance, subsequently reported greater compassion and willingness to help a person in distress. This simple practice is powerful because it increases “attachment security,” a state that involves feelings of trust and comfort and is especially helpful when we’re feeling threatened or insecure. It can also remind us of the kinds of qualities we want to embody when kindly supporting others.

Another excellent way to tap into feelings of compassion and concern for others is to take an Awe Walk, which involves going for a stroll somewhere that seems vast and perspective-shifting, and makes us feel connected to something greater than ourselves. In a 2015 study led by Paul Piff, then a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, some participants stood in a grove of towering eucalyptus trees and gazed up for just one minute; other participants looked away from the trees, at a building. The tree gazers were subsequently more likely to help someone in need and less likely to feel that they were superior to others.

Finally, you can try a Compassion Meditation. This simple—though not necessarily easy—technique involves paying attention to your breathing as you extend feelings of goodwill toward a loved one, yourself, a neutral person, and even an enemy. Results of a 2013 study led by Helen Weng, then at the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, showed that participants who performed the compassion meditation for two weeks demonstrated more generous behavior, donating more money to a victim of unfair treatment, and they also showed greater activity in brain regions associated with understanding the suffering of others and regulating emotions in response to pictures of suffering. (You can find audio of a guided compassion meditation on the GGIA website, along with the script for this meditation.)

2. How to Boost the Happiness We Get from Kindness

Another way to increase the amount of kindness we perform over the long terms sounds simple: make a concerted effort to perform more kind and generous acts in the short term.

Intentionally practicing kindness in our everyday lives, even on days when we’re not in a particularly generous mood, can go a long way toward turning kindness into a habit. That’s largely because of the way kindness breeds happiness: The good feelings serve to reinforce our kind acts and make us more likely to want to perform them in the future.

Practicing Random Acts of Kindness is a good place to start. This practice involves performing five acts of kindness in one day and then writing about the experience. They can be anything from bringing a meal to a sick friend to giving up your seat on the bus to donating blood to buying a coffee for the person in line behind you at a cafe. For ideas, consider acts of kindness that you’ve witnessed or received in the past, and check out this Buzzfeed list of 101 suggestions. Random acts of kindness not only lift our spirits in the moment; they also have the potential to alter the way we feel about ourselves and increase healthy forms of self-esteem.

Research suggests that not all acts of kindness are created equal, however. Many factors can influence whether and how these acts bring us psychological benefits. The Making Giving Feel Good practice outlines three strategies that can maximize the positive effects of generosity.

The first strategy is to make giving a choice. Research suggests that when we feel obligated to give—such as when we feel cornered by an aggressive request—we are less likely to enjoy it. It’s important to give yourself the option to say no, and to give others the same option when requesting help. The second strategy is to make a connection with the recipient of your kindness—for example by taking a colleague out to lunch rather than just giving a gift certificate. The third strategy is to take the initiative to learn about the impact of your generosity, which can elicit contagious feelings of joy. For example, see this video of a bone marrow donor meeting the little girl whose life he saved.

3. How to Inspire Kindness in Others

It’s important to find ways to boost your own kindness. But arguably the greatest good we can do in the world comes from finding ways to increase kindness in others. That’s what the next set of practices are designed to do.

On GGIA, we provide three research-based strategies for educators, parents, and leaders of all kinds to help others overcome barriers to kindness and generosity. The first is to create Reminders of Connectedness in a home, office, or classroom. These reminders can be something as simple as a quote evoking shared goals, words like “community,” or a picture conveying warmth or friendships.

The second involves Putting a Human Face on Suffering: Being able to identify distinct, specific victims of a problem—and learning about their personal stories—can make that problem more vivid, strike an emotional chord, and thus motivate people to help.

The third, Shared Identity, involves forging a sense of common humanity across group boundaries. Reminding people to see the basic humanity that they share with those who might seem different from them can help overcome fear and distrust and promote cooperation. Even small similarities, like appreciating sports, can foster a greater sense of kinship. (An overview of these three strategies is also provided in the Eliciting Altruism practice.)

Finally, the practice for Encouraging Kindness in Kids offers four specific techniques to bring out children’s natural propensity for kindness and generosity. These techniques include avoiding external rewards for kind behavior, so that kids get to experience the feeling that kindness is its own reward, praising kids’ character instead of their behavior so they come to see kindness as an essential part of who they are, and modeling kindness in your own behavior, since actions tend to speak louder than words when it comes to nurturing generosity.

Becoming a kinder person—and nurturing kindness in your children and students—isn’t something that happens overnight. It takes practice to turn your best intentions into concrete actions. We hope the kindness exercises on Greater Good in Action provide an effective way to start building that habit today.

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Nutrition Facts Backed by Strong Evidence

There are many mixed opinions in nutrition science.

Dozens of studies are published every week, but most of them are of a low quality.

The studies most commonly promoted by the media are test-tube studies, animal studies or observational studies.

These studies have limited value on their own, and their results often completely contradict each other.

This has caused a lot of confusion about what constitutes evidence-based nutrition.

However, there are a few facts in nutrition that are truly backed by strong evidence.

These are supported by systematic reviews, meta-analyses or randomized controlled trials — the best types of studies we have.

Here are 14 nutrition facts that are supported by strong evidence.

1. Low-Carb Diets Promote Weight Loss

Low-carb diets are undeniably effective for losing weight, although the mechanism behind it is hotly debated.

They have been shown to produce results equal to or better than low-fat diets in studies lasting anywhere from 6 weeks to 2 years (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9).

In fact, a detailed analysis of 17 randomized controlled studies found that overall, low-carb diets led to greater weight loss and reduction in heart disease risk factors, when compared to low-fat diets (10).

Low-carb diets appear to be particularly beneficial for people with metabolic syndrome, who carry excess weight around the middle and are at an increased risk of diabetes.

In a 12-week study of men with metabolic syndrome, the low-carb group lost nearly twice as much weight as the low-fat group. They also had a 20% average decrease in abdominal fat, compared to 12% in the low-fat group (7).

In many studies, the low-carb groups were allowed to eat unlimited protein and fat. One of the reasons low-carb diets work so well is that they tend to reduce appetite. This results in a spontaneous decrease in calorie intake (8, 9).

Bottom Line: Many controlled studies have shown that low-carb diets are very effective for weight loss. They also reduce many risk factors for heart disease.

2. Saturated Fat Doesn’t Cause Heart Disease

Cut Pieces of Red Meat

For several decades, it was believed that eatingsaturated fat raised the risk of heart disease.

The theory was that saturated fat raised blood cholesterol levels and led to blocked arteries, which caused heart attacks.

In response to warnings from health organizations, many people replaced whole-milk dairy products with low-fat and fat-free versions. They also exchanged natural fats like butter for margarine made from vegetable oil.

However, in recent years, several systematic reviews and meta-analyses have found no connection between saturated fat intake and heart disease (11, 12, 13, 14, 15).

A 2014 review of 76 observational and randomized controlled studies with more than 650,000 participants found that those with a high saturated fat intake did not have an increased risk of heart disease (11).

On the other hand, some data suggests that replacing a portion of your saturated fats with unsaturated fats may slightly decrease your risk of heart problems (12, 13).

However, the claim that eating saturated fat causes heart disease is not supported by the best available evidence to date.

Bottom Line: Comprehensive analyses of observational and controlled studies have found no convincing evidence that eating saturated fat causes heart disease.

3. Coffee and Green Tea Are Healthy Beverages

Coffee in a Red Cup

Coffee and green tea are two of the most popular beverages in the world.

A lot of evidence suggests they are also among the healthiest.

They contain caffeine, which several studies have shown increases alertness, mood, metabolic rate and exercise performance (16, 17, 18).

One analysis of 41 studies found that the most effective dosage to maximize caffeine’s benefits without causing side effects was 38–400 mg per day. This equals roughly 0.3 to 4 cups of coffee daily, depending on the strength (19).

Research has also shown a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes among coffee drinkers, particularly those who drink several cups per day on a daily basis (20, 21, 22, 23).

In one large review of 18 studies with over 450,000 people, there was a 9% reduction in type 2 diabetes risk for each cup of regular coffee consumed per day. The reduction for decaffeinated coffee was 6% for each cup consumed daily (23).

In addition, coffee has been shown to protect against liver cancer and cirrhosis, a condition of liver inflammation and scarring that may occur in alcoholics or those with hepatitis (24, 25).

Green tea contains antioxidants known as catechins, which help reduce inflammation, a driver of the aging process and many diseases (26).

Moreover, green tea is a rich source of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). This antioxidant has been shown to help reduce belly fat in several studies (27, 28, 29).

Bottom Line: Many studies have shown that coffee and tea have beneficial effects. This includes improved mood, increased mental and physical performance, enhanced metabolism and a reduced risk of several diseases.

4. Sugary Drinks Are Fattening

Young Man Drinking Soda From a Bottle

Sugar is more than just empty calories. In excess, it can lead to health problems and weight gain, especially when consumed in liquid form.

Sugar (sucrose) contains 50% glucose and 50% fructose, while high-fructose corn syrup contains 45% glucose and 55% fructose. Fructose has been linked to obesity and several chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease (30).

In observational and controlled studies, sugar-sweetened beverages have shown a strong relationship to weight gain, including abdominal or visceral fat surrounding the liver and other organs (31, 32, 33, 34, 35).

One study in children found that for each serving of soda or other sugar-sweetened beverage consumed per day, the risk of obesity increased by 60% (33).

In a controlled 10-week study, overweight people consuming 25% of calories in the form of fructose-sweetened beverages experienced a 14% gain in visceral fat (35).

Research suggests that calories consumed in liquid form don’t have the same appetite-suppressing effect as solid calories do. This leads to excess calories consumed throughout the day, which are then stored as fat (36, 37).

Bottom Line: Sugar-sweetened beverages have been shown to promote weight gain and unhealthy abdominal fat, which increases the risk of disease.

5. Extra Virgin Olive Oil Is Good for You

Evidence supporting the benefits of extra virgin olive oil continues to mount (38).

Extra virgin olive oil contains oleic acid, a type of monounsaturated fat that has been shown to lower triglycerides, raise levels of HDL (the good cholesterol) and increase the fullness-promoting gut hormone GLP-1 (39, 40).

In a large analysis of 32 studies looking at different types of fat, oleic acid from olive oil was the only fatty acid linked to reduced risk of heart disease (38).

Extra virgin olive oil also contains antioxidants called polyphenols. These can fight inflammation, lower LDL cholesterol and protect it from damage, improve the function of the cells lining your arteries and reduce blood pressure (41, 42, 43, 44).

Researchers who analyzed data from 5,800 people at an increased risk of heart disease found that the group treated with olive oil experienced a significant decrease in blood sugar levels and abdominal fat (45).

Bottom Line: Extra virgin olive oil contains oleic acid and antioxidants, both of which have been shown to reduce inflammation, lower cholesterol and improve other markers of heart health.

6. Cutting Carbs Improves Diabetes Management

Slice of Bread Turned Scales Wrapped With Measuring Tape

Of the three macronutrients, carbs have by far the greatest impact on blood sugar. This is because they are broken down to sugar in the body.

Studies show low-carb diets lead to better blood sugar control in people with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes (46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54).

In a study of 21 people with type 2 diabetes who followed a diet containing 20 grams of carbs or less per day, 81% of subjects were able to eliminate or significantly reduce insulin or diabetes medication after 16 weeks (51).

Although very low-carb diets have been proven extremely effective at lowering blood sugar, several studies have shown that a more modest carb reduction can also produce excellent results (52, 53, 54).

In one study, men with type 2 diabetes who consumed a high-fiber diet with 100 grams of digestible carbs per day for 5 weeks had a nearly 30% reduction in fasting blood sugar, on average (54).

Bottom Line: Low-carb diets containing 20–100 grams of digestible carbs per day have been shown to lower blood sugar levels. In some cases the participants can significantly reduce their diabetes medication.

7. A High Protein Intake Is Beneficial for Weight Loss

Controlled studies have shown that eating a high-protein diet is one of the best ways to achieve and maintain a healthy weight (55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60).

A high protein intake decreases levels of the “hunger hormone” ghrelin and increases the release of fullness hormones PYY and GLP-1. This leads to a natural reduction in your calorie intake (60, 61, 62).

In one controlled study, people who ate a diet containing 30% of their calories from protein ended up consuming 441 fewer calories per day without consciously restricting their intake (63).

Furthermore, protein has a higher thermic effect than carbs or fats, meaning it raises your metabolic rate more for several hours after a meal (64, 65, 66).

Bottom Line: High-protein diets promote weight loss and maintenance by decreasing hunger, increasing feelings of fullness and boosting metabolism.

8. Nuts Are Healthy and Weight Loss Friendly

Cashews, Almonds, Pistachios and Walnuts

Nuts are delicious and provide many health benefits.

Several observational studies have shown a link between high nut consumption and a reduced risk of heart disease (67).

One study found that people who consumed nuts more than 4 times per week had a 37% lower risk of heart disease than people who ate nuts less often (68).

Almonds, pistachios, walnuts and Brazil nuts have been found to lower markers of inflammation, improve cholesterol levels and improve the function of the cells that line your arteries (69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76).

Also, despite their relatively high calorie content, many studies have found that nuts tend to prevent weight gain and in some cases promote weight loss (71, 75, 77, 78).

Bottom Line: Nuts are anti-inflammatory, help protect heart health and are beneficial for weight control.

9. Ketogenic Diets Can Help Control Seizures

Foods High in Saturated Fat

Epilepsy is a disease characterized by repeated seizures in the brain.

It is often treated with drugs that have strong side effects.

However, a very low-carb ketogenic diet has also shown promise in treating the disease.

In fact, studies have shown it to work in up to 50% of patients who don’t respond to drug therapy or cannot tolerate the side effects of the drugs (79, 80, 81, 82).

Of the patients who do respond to the diet, results can be dramatic. In one study, children treated with a ketogenic diet for three months had a 75% decrease in seizures, on average (82).

The classic ketogenic diet limits protein intake to 10% of calories and carbohydrates to less than 5%.

A less-strict option that has shown equally good results is the modified Atkins diet, which does not restrict protein (83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88).

In a controlled three-month study of 102 children, 30% of those who followed the modified Atkins diet had a 90% or greater reduction in seizures, while more than half had at least a 50% reduction (88).

Bottom Line: The classic ketogenic diet and modified Atkins diet have been shown to reduce seizures in many children with epilepsy.

10. Whole Grains Are Healthier Than Refined Grains

Whole foods are generally much healthier than processed foods, and grains are no exception.

Many large observational studies have found a link between a high intake of whole grains and a reduced risk of obesity and heart disease (89, 90, 91, 92, 93).

Also, controlled studies have found that whole grains may reduce inflammation, lower heart disease risk and favorably affect appetite and weight (94, 95, 96, 97).

In one calorie-controlled study of overweight and obese adults, eating two portions of whole-grain oat cereal per day led to reductions in LDL cholesterol and belly fat (97).

On the other hand, high intakes of refined grains have been linked to inflammation,insulin resistance and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes (98, 99, 100).

Bottom Line: In most studies, whole grains have been shown to reduce inflammation, protect heart health and help with weight control. Refined grains have been linked to negative health effects.

11. Vegetables and Fruits Are Healthy

Two Women With Lemon Halves

Eating vegetables and fruits on a regular basis is considered a very healthy practice.

Large studies from around the globe have found a significantly decreased risk of many chronic diseases in people who eat the most fruits and vegetables (101, 102,103, 104, 105).

Researchers who analyzed data from over 65,000 people found that those who ate at least seven servings of fruit or vegetables per day had a 42% lower risk of early death than those who ate less than one serving daily (105).

Certain vegetables and fruits may be especially protective against cancer. These include blueberries, vegetables high in beta-carotene such as spinach and carrots, and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower (106, 107, 108).

Controlled studies in both healthy people and those with diabetes have found that increasing fruit and vegetable consumption boosts antioxidant levels in the blood and improves heart disease risk factors (109, 110, 111).

Bottom Line: Several large studies have found that eating fruits and vegetables is linked to a decreased risk of several diseases, including heart disease and cancer.

12. Omega-3 Fatty Acids Lower Triglycerides

Fish Oil Capsules

Eating enough omega-3 fatty acids is very important.

They are good for the brain and have been shown to improve several risk factors, including blood triglycerides.

In fact, dozens of studies have shown that omega-3 fats significantly reduce blood triglyceride levels (112, 113, 114, 115, 116).

In one systematic review of 18 studies of more than 800 diabetics, taking 3-18 grams per day of fish oil led to a significant decrease in triglycerides (116).

Additionally, some studies have found that supplementing with these omega-3 fats may also reduce inflammation, increase HDL cholesterol and improve function of the arteries (112, 113, 114).

Bottom Line: Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to lower blood triglyceride levels in many studies, along with other benefits.

13. Calories Are Important, Although You May Not Need to Count Them

A calorie deficit is needed for weight loss, but whether counting calories helps appears to be very individualized.

Studies show that when people consume more calories than they need, they gain weight. This is true in both lean and overweight people (117, 118, 119, 120, 121).

Although there are many factors that affect the rate and ease of weight loss, when people consume fewer calories than they need, they lose weight (122).

Some studies suggests that monitoring calorie intake can be helpful for losing weight by providing accountability (123, 124).

In fact, researchers who analyzed 37 studies of weight loss programs found that calorie counting was more likely to lead to weight loss than all other behavioral changes (124).

On the other hand, some people may find calorie counting stressful. In truth, counting calories may not be necessary if you eat in a way that helps you naturally consume fewer calories than you need.

Bottom Line: Reducing calorie intake is required for weight loss, but counting calories may not be appropriate for everyone.

14. Dietary Cholesterol and Whole Eggs Aren’t Bad For You

Six Eggs in a Carton

For several decades, dietary cholesterol was believed to raise blood cholesterol and increase the risk of heart disease.

However, studies show that when you eat more cholesterol, your body produces less.

The result is that your blood cholesterol levels remain stable or only increase slightly (125, 126).

Studies have shown that consuming 1–3 eggs per day doesn’t raise LDL cholesterol levels or increase heart disease risk factors in most people (127, 128, 129).

In fact, eating eggs has been shown to improve some risk factors for heart disease, including raising HDL levels and promoting beneficial changes in the size and shape of LDL cholesterol (130, 131, 132, 133).

A small number of people, who are considered “hyperresponders” to cholesterol, have been found to experience a large increase in blood cholesterol levels in response to a high dietary cholesterol intake (134, 135, 136).

However, for most people, regularly eating eggs has been shown to be very healthy.

Importantly, you should eat the whole egg, including the yolk. That’s where almost all the nutrients are found.

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