Cholesterol Levels

Lowering cholesterol levels naturally involves a holistic approach that includes dietary changes, regular exercise, weight management, and healthy lifestyle choices. By incorporating these strategies into your daily routine, you can significantly improve your cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of heart disease. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making significant changes to your health regimen to ensure they are appropriate for your individual health needs.

How to Lower Cholesterol Naturally

Learn how to lower your bad LDL cholesterol and improve your heart health with these 12 diet and lifestyle tips.

This article is based on reporting that features expert sources.

U.S. News & World Report

Lowering Cholesterol Naturally

 

 

Healthy raw kale and quinoa salad with cranberry and almonds

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In patients who have coronary artery disease, peripheral artery disease or carotid artery disease, there is no question about the benefit of cholesterol-lowering medications such as statins. However, for the rest of us who don’t have these diseases and don’t want to get them, how can we lower our cholesterol naturally?

There are several proven ways to lower cholesterol naturally.

“I frequently tell patients I treat that diet is key to help reduce cholesterol levels. A focus on a plant-based diet, reducing saturated fat and increasing fiber-containing foods like vegetables and whole grains has been shown to reduce cholesterol levels – with or without the use of statins,” says Dr. M. Wesley Milks, a cardiologist and associate program director of the cardiovascular disease fellowship at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

What Is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in the body and in many foods. You need some cholesterol for your cells to function normally and for your body to make hormones, vitamin D and even break down food during digestion.

But cholesterol can become problematic. Skewed levels of “good” cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein, or HDL) and “bad” cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein, or LDL), for instance, can threaten heart health. Too much bad cholesterol, coupled with high levels of a closely related blood fat known as triglycerides, can lead to hyperlipidemia, a condition characterized by high cholesterol.

“(Hyperlipidemia) can lead to the harmful buildup of atherosclerotic plaque – or fatty deposits – in your arteries, which may eventually cause heart attacks and strokes,” says Dr. Brian Lima, national physician director for cardiothoracic surgery, heart failure and transplant at HCA Healthcare in Dallas.

Causes of High Cholesterol

There are two primary reasons why your cholesterol might be high: lifestyle choices and genetics. Some people have a combination of both factors that lead to their high cholesterol levels.

For a long time, lifestyle choices, such as diet and exercise, shouldered much of the blame for high cholesterol. More recently, however, there’s been some controversy about how much diet and exercise can affect cholesterol levels. Rather, some people appear to have high levels because of their genetics rather than lifestyle factors.

“It’s true that for most people, dietary cholesterol intake per se, has a relatively small effect on cholesterol,” notes Dr. Deepak L. Bhatt, director of Mount Sinai Heart and the Dr. Valentin Fuster professor of cardiovascular medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Health System in New York.

But that doesn’t mean you can eat whatever you want. Bottom line: If you have high cholesterol, you should be following a low-cholesterol diet. Reducing your consumption of saturated fat and sugar, for instance, can help bring your hyperlipidemia under control.

 

How to Lower Cholesterol Naturally

Using diet to help control hyperlipidemia “starts with paying attention to what you’re eating by reading food labels,” says Lima, who also serves as surgical director of heart transplantation and mechanical circulatory support with Medical City Healthcare. Be sure to check how much cholesterol is listed on the label and the amount of saturated and trans fats, which can be bad for heart health.

1. Replace unhealthy fats with healthy fats

Replace unhealthy fats – trans and saturated fats – with healthy fats, which are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found mainly in plant foods like olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocados as well as fatty fish like salmon.

Trans fat should not be part of your diet. These kinds of fats lower good cholesterol (HDL) and raise your bad ones (LDL). Trans fats are often found in fast foods and convenience foods, such as cookies, crackers, vegetable shortening, fried foods, coffee creamer and other processed foods. Many food manufactures have already removed trans fats from their products, but be on the lookout for them. If the label contains the words “partially hydrogenated oil,” that’s a sign that the item contains trans fats.

In addition to avoiding trans fat, limit your saturated fat intake. Saturated fats are “the kind of fat that is usually solid at room temperature, such as fats in meat, butter, coconut oil, palm oil and full-fat dairy products, as well as a variety of packaged foods, snack foods and desserts,” explains Milks.

2. Increase your consumption of dietary fiber

Ideally, you should be getting 25 to 35 grams of fiber a day. Fiber binds to cholesterol and eliminates it from your body. You can increase your fiber by getting more whole grains, legumes (such as beans and lentils), vegetables and fruits.

There are two types of fiber: Soluble fibers are more beneficial for cholesterol, while insoluble fibers are better for your gut health. You should get good mix of both.

Some of the best cholesterol-lowering sources of fiber include beans, lentils, apples, blueberries, flax seeds and oatmeal. However, adding too much fiber too quickly can cause gastric distress (think: constipation or diarrhea). Increase your fiber intake slowly and drink plenty of water to help keep your gut happy.

3. Add flax to your diet

Flax is a soluble fiber: The benefit of flax has been known since Hippocrates’ time. It can lower triglyceride levels,. Flax also contains a plant omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid.

Flax is a good source of high-quality protein and potassium and contains lignans, which are phytoestrogen and antioxidants. Eat your flax – don’t take it in pill or oil form, since such versions lack fiber, lignans and protein. When you eat flaxseed, make sure you grind the seeds to get the most benefit. Also, put flax in the refrigerator as soon as you grind it. The whole flax can be stored at room temperature for one year, but once it’s grounded, it goes bad – so grind a little bit at a time. Aim for 2 to 3 tablespoons of ground flaxseed a day. Try putting it in your food, such as cereal, yogurt and salad.

4. Add plant sterols to your diet

“Cholesterol levels can drop further by incorporating supplements like plant sterols,” says Milks.

Plant sterols are naturally-occurring compounds that have a structure similar to that of cholesterol. Small amounts of these substances are found naturally in grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds. As they travel through the intestinal tract, they compete with artery-clogging LDL particles and prevent them from being absorbed into the bloodstream. Because of their cholesterol-lowering properties, sterols are now being added to a slew of products. Sterol-fortified options include margarine, orange juice, cereals, yogurt and granola bars. All are readily available at the grocery store.

5. Increase healthy proteins while reducing unhealthy ones

“For protein, non-fried fish is one of the highest quality sources you’ll find,” says Milks. “In particular, fish such as salmon and tuna have a special kind of unsaturated fat, called omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, which which offer additional health benefits for lipids and metabolism. White fish is still a fine protein source, but you won’t get the added benefit of the omega-3 fatty acids. Plant-based options like tofu or vegan sausage can be great protein alternatives as well.”

The main distinction in choosing fish or plant-based proteins instead of other meats is the lack of saturated fat. The body turns that saturated fat into bad cholesterol. If you do eat meat, look for lean cuts and trim the fat before cooking. Opt for chicken or fish instead of red meat or pork. This helps reduce your saturated fat intake, Milks points out.

6. Cook with plant-based oils

Cooking with plant oil rather than butter also cuts out saturated fat, and some plant oils can also offer omega-3 acids. Olive oil is mostly monounsaturated fat, which is preferred over fats that are solid at room temperature like shortening. Better still, grapeseed, walnut and sunflower oil are excellent alternatives due to higher polyunsaturated fatty acid content, says Milks.

 

7. Get your heart pumping

Cardiovascular exercise can help keep your weight down and HDL levels up. Perform at least 20 to 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise daily. Examples include brisk walking or light jogging, swimming or cycling. On a scale of 1 to 10, you should feel like you’re working at about 4 to 6.

8. Quit smoking

Smoking can do a number on more than your lungs, actually reducing the body’s concentration of HDL cholesterol. Fortunately, it’s never too late to quit. If you smoke, you should quit as soon as possible. Try nicotine patches and gum to help tamp down cravings.

“Smoking can reduce your good cholesterol, or HDL, and is extremely detrimental to your heart health,” Lima says.

9. Go nuts

Eating a small serving of almonds (about eight kernels) daily is enough to raise HDL levels by as much as 16% after 12 weeks, according to research published in the Journal of NutritionResearchers believe the nutrients in almonds help limit the amount of LDL cholesterol that the body absorbs from foods while increasing the amount expelled by the body.

10. Moderate your alcohol

Higher alcohol consumption can drastically increase your risk of heart disease (not to mention other conditions). The National Institutes of Health recommends reducing alcohol intake or avoiding it altogether to help lower your blood lipid levels. If you do drink, keep yourself in check by limiting yourself to one drink per day if you’re female and two drinks per day if you’re male. One drink equals 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits.

11. Skip added sugars

Added sugars can boost your triglyceride levels quickly, so you may want to limit how much you consume, Milks says. Examples of sugar-heavy foods include:

  • White bread
  • White rice
  • Potatoes
  • Cakes, pastries and other desserts
  • Sugar- or high-fructose corn syrup–sweetened beverages

12. Choose a plant-based diet

Animal products often contain cholesterol, so opt for plant-based foods to eliminate some of that dietary cholesterol. The data have been consistent for years, Bhatt says, that a plant-based, low-fat diet is good for heart health and can help you lower your cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

 

 

Meal Plan From a Cardiologist

 

Ideal menu to lower cholesterol

Milks offers his ideal menu for reducing cholesterol while still enjoying meals:

Breakfast
“My days typically begin with a high-protein yogurt with little sugar or saturated fat. I add a banana or citrus fruit, along with oatmeal or a whole-grain breakfast bar. On the weekends with my family, I’ll make egg-white omelets with fruit and a vegetarian sausage – a light and protein-packed breakfast.”

Lunch
“To me, lunch is the most controllable meal of the day. It’s often a choice of bringing food to work or stopping to get lunch while you’re out. I try to pack my lunch most days of the week.”

One of his favorite lunches is a citrus and greens salad with tuna or tofu crumbles on top and a black-bean soup or coleslaw (with vinaigrette rather than mayo) as a side. Other days, he’ll have a homemade lentil, tomato and portobello soup along with a sandwich of tuna and cucumber on whole-grain bread with a side of carrots or kimchi.

Snacks
“I like to have a little pick-me-up or something to munch on at work, but I want to avoid carbs and sweetened beverages,” says Milks.

He keeps nuts like almonds or pistachios at his desk and will sometimes add some dried fruit, though it’s important to watch out for sugar content. He drinks unsweetened tea or black coffee, and sometimes puts a slice of citrus in his water bottle.

Dinner
“For dinner, I try to keep my main course centered around fish or a plant-based protein source,” Milks explains.

An example would be a plate of salmon, roasted Brussels sprouts tossed in grapeseed oil, long-grain rice and a green salad. “Sometimes we’ll replace the salmon with a plant-based option or add non-starchy vegetables like broccoli or asparagus. Bulgur or quinoa are higher protein- and fiber-containing grain options compared to pasta or white rice.”

Healthy Foods to Lower Cholesterol

There’s a whole rainbow of delicious, healthy foods that can be part of your low-cholesterol diet. These include:

  • Oatmeal
  • Quinoa
  • Brown rice
  • Barley and other whole grains
  • Leafy greens and cruciferous veggies, including kale, spinach, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower
  • Legumes, beans, lentils and peas.
  • Avocados
  • Apricots, prunes, apples, pears, oranges and other fruits
  • Walnuts, almonds, chia seeds and other high-fiber sources of healthy fats.
  • Low-fat dairy

No single diet is best for everyone, and what foods to eat for optimal health depend on whether you have certain health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes or digestive problems, Milks says. Therefore, it’s best to ask your doctor or a registered dietitian about what diet is best for you.

 

Best Heart-Healthy Foods

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SOURCES

The U.S. News Health team delivers accurate information about health, nutrition and fitness, as well as in-depth medical condition guides. All of our stories rely on multiple, independent sources and experts in the field, such as medical doctors and licensed nutritionists. To learn more about how we keep our content accurate and trustworthy, read our editorial guidelines.

Deepak L. Bhatt, MD, MPH, FACC, FAHA, FSCAI, FESC

Bhatt is director of Mount Sinai Heart and the Dr. Valentin Fuster Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Health System in New York.

Brian Lima, MD

Lima is national physician director for cardiothoracic surgery, heart failure and transplant at HCA Healthcare and surgical director of heart transplantation and mechanical circulatory support with Medical City Healthcare in Dallas. He is also the author of “Heart to Beat: A Cardiac Surgeon’s Inspiring Story of Success and Overcoming Adversity – the Heart Way.”

M. Wesley Milks, MD

Milks is a cardiologist and associate program director of the cardiovascular disease fellowship at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

Tags: diet and nutritiondietsheart-healthy dietcholesterolHeart Healthheart d

Preventing heart disease through diet

If you knew you could have stopped that balsamic vinegar from splattering on your favorite white shirt, would you have done something to prevent it from happening? Or if you knew you were going to drive into a pothole, causing your tire to go flat, would you have taken a different route?

Yes, the above situations could have been prevented if you would have anticipated these problems in the first place, but unless you’re clairvoyant, it’s not very easy to prevent something you can’t predict. When it comes to your body, however, problems could be brewing inside of you, but are you taking the necessary steps to prevent potential damage resulting from issues like high blood sugar, blood pressure or cholesterol levels?

According to the World Health Organization, 80% of premature heart attacks and strokes are preventable. Yet heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. for men and women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Up to 695,000 people in the U.S. die of heart disease annually. That toll accounts for 1 in every 5 deaths.

When it comes to heart disease prevention, it takes making subtle changes for a healthier lifestyle, including eating a heart-friendly diet, maintaining an optimal weight, engaging in physical activity, controlling high blood pressure, keeping cholesterol levels in check, controlling stress and stopping smoking. Although that sounds like an overwhelming list, this is the perfect time to be proactive and take charge of your health – before poor health takes charge of you.

My own connection to heart health, is close to my heart since I’m fighting against my own family history. My dad, mom, brother and sister all had or have heart disease. That means that this silent killer could be at my doorstep. But that doesn’t mean I’m putting out a welcome mat! You may not be able to pick your parents, but you can pick what goes on your plate.

Preventing heart disease through diet

If you knew you could have stopped that balsamic vinegar from splattering on your favorite white shirt, would you have done something to prevent it from happening? Or if you knew you were going to drive into a pothole, causing your tire to go flat, would you have taken a different route?

Yes, the above situations could have been prevented if you would have anticipated these problems in the first place, but unless you’re clairvoyant, it’s not very easy to prevent something you can’t predict. When it comes to your body, however, problems could be brewing inside of you, but are you taking the necessary steps to prevent potential damage resulting from issues like high blood sugar, blood pressure or cholesterol levels?

According to the World Health Organization, 80% of premature heart attacks and strokes are preventable. Yet heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. for men and women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Up to 695,000 people in the U.S. die of heart disease annually. That toll accounts for 1 in every 5 deaths.

When it comes to heart disease prevention, it takes making subtle changes for a healthier lifestyle, including eating a heart-friendly diet, maintaining an optimal weight, engaging in physical activity, controlling high blood pressure, keeping cholesterol levels in check, controlling stress and stopping smoking. Although that sounds like an overwhelming list, this is the perfect time to be proactive and take charge of your health – before poor health takes charge of you.

My own connection to heart health, is close to my heart since I’m fighting against my own family history. My dad, mom, brother and sister all had or have heart disease. That means that this silent killer could be at my doorstep. But that doesn’t mean I’m putting out a welcome mat! You may not be able to pick your parents, but you can pick what goes on your plate.

NEXT:Focus on plant-based foods for a healthy heart.
Woman cooking a colourful and nutritious quinoa stir-fry with mixed vegetables and a drizzle of olive oil.

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Focus on plant-based foods for a healthy heart.

“Consuming healthy, nutritious foods can cut down on some heart-related risk factors, like having obesity, diabetes and high cholesterol,” says Danielle McClure, a registered dietitian with the Texas Health Finley Ewing Fitness Center in Dallas. “Foods that are heart-healthy have an effect on cholesterol in your blood,” McClure says. “Healthy (HDL) cholesterol helps clear our vessels and problematic (LDL) cholesterol can clog them.”

In general, eating plenty of plant-based foods is a good strategy for protecting your heart health, says Kate Patton, a registered dietitian with the Cleveland Clinic. “We have strong evidence that inclusion of plant-based whole foods and limiting your intake of saturated fat and sodium will reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease,” Patton says.

Although this list could go on and on, here are 12 heart-healthy foods to kickstart your journey towards a healthier cardiovascular system.

Avocado

One-third of a medium avocado (50 grams) has 80 calories and contributes nearly 20 vitamins and minerals, making it a nutrient-dense and heart-healthy choice.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the American Heart Association recommend limiting the amount of saturated fat, trans fat, added sugars and sodium consumed. Avocados and are naturally sodium-, cholesterol- and transfat-free, providing “good” fats to one’s diet. Over 75% of the fat in avocado is unsaturated. Avocados are also a good source of fiber, supplying 3 grams of fiber per serving.

Bananas

Although we’re often told to “eat a rainbow,” white foods can be powerhouses of nutrient value, too. Bananas (and potatoes) are good sources of potassium. Potassium helps to reduce blood pressure and aids in proper heart function. Bananas also provide fiber and an array of antioxidants that may help reduce inflammation.

Berries

A variety of berries contain heart-healthy phytonutrients and soluble fiber, which can help control your blood sugar and decrease blood cholesterol levels.

Heart-healthy berries include:

“Add them to yogurt for a quick breakfast or snack,” says Lisa Jones, a registered dietitian based in Philadelphia. You can blend berries in a smoothie or add them to baked goods to bring out their natural sweetness.

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Colorful fruits and vegetables

Colorful veggies and fruits are particularly good for your heart because they’re chock full of heart-healthy carotenoids, fiber and vitamins. To safeguard your heart, consume colorful veggies like red peppers and fruits like summer squash and pumpkin. Fruits and veggies have been shown to reduce blood pressure, and they play a major role in weight maintenance.

NEXT:Dark chocolate
Rustic homemade dark chocolate

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Dark chocolate

If you want to indulge in a treat that’s good for your heart, try dark chocolate, Jones says. Cocoa beans are high in antioxidants called flavonoids, which research has linked to reduced blood pressure and improved heart health because they can increase blood flow to the heart.

“The higher the percentage of cocoa, the better,” she says.

NEXT:Extra-virgin olive oil
Fresh olive oil is poured onto a spoon. Photographer: Angel Garcia/Bloomberg

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Extra-virgin olive oil

Plenty of research suggests that olive oil – which is a key part of the Mediterranean diet – is good for your heart and provides other health benefits. There are several kinds of olive oil, and extra virgin is the healthiest, McClure says. Extra-virgin olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fat and polyphenols, a combination that helps lower inflammation and acts as an antioxidant.

Other oils, such as avocado oil, also help promote heart heath – especially if you are replacing butter and other animals fats with plant-based oils.

NEXT:Fatty fish

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Fatty fish

Salmon, sardines and mackerel contain omega-3 fatty acids and healthy fats that can improve heart health, McClure says. Incorporating seafood into your diet can significantly enhance heart health, thanks to its high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to reduce the risk of heart disease by improving blood vessel function and lowering cholesterol.

Try to consume at least 8 ounces of seafood each week to ensure that you get enough of these heart-healthy substances.

NEXT:Legumes
Bean salad (black beans, chickpea) with apple, spring onion and dill (Bean salad

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Legumes

Beans, lentils, chickpeas and split peas are all legumes, which are heart-healthy and provide other health benefits.

“The main heart protective benefit they provide is they contain protein with zero animal fat,” McClure says. “By substituting plant protein you can decrease your intake of saturated fat and cholesterol.”

Legumes are also a good source of fiber, which helps lower cholesterol levels. This category of foods is probably the most underrated in the supermarket yet they provide so much value without breaking your budget. For example, try dunking some veggies into hummus – mashed chickpeas with lemon, olive oil and garlic.

NEXT:Oats
Oatmeal with bananas and granola on top

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Oats

Oats provide provide soluble fiber, which can help lower cholesterol levels in the blood by binding with cholesterol in the digestive system and removing it from the body. Whether steel cut, old fashioned or instant, oats are considered to be a heart-healthy food. If you’re buying instant types, be sure to read labels and choose those made without added sugar. You can add your own heart-healthy fruits like berries for natural sweetness.

NEXT:Popcorn
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Popcorn

Stove-cooked popcorn is a great heart-healthy snack, provided you cook it in olive oil instead of butter, Jones says. Popcorn is a whole grain, providing in fiber and antioxidants. You can add a sprinkle of cinnamon or any of your favorite spices to jazz up the flavor of popcorn.

Try to refrain from adding salt to your popcorn since sodium can negatively impact your blood pressure and therefore your heart health. Maintaining a healthy weight is important for heart health and popcorn is generally considered to be a low calorie snack.

NEXT:Potatoes
Steaming hot plain baked potato

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Potatoes

Potatoes are a good source of potassium, an essential nutrient for controlling blood pressure control and promoting heart health. Potatoes also contain fiber, especially when you eat them with the skin, which can help reduce cholesterol levels.

The key about potatoes is to keep preparation style in mind and to try to eat them baked, steamed or boiled without adding high-fat ingredients to help weight control. Potatoes are also a good source of vitamin C and vitamin B6, nutrients important for reducing inflammation.

NEXT:Nuts, seeds and their butters
Nuts (pistachios, walnuts, and almonds) and seeds (pumpkin and sunflower) on white background

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Nuts, seeds and their butters

Research suggests that consuming seedsnuts and their nut butters can help reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. Eating a diet that emphasizes higher intakes of plant protein rather than protein derived from animal products was associated with better cardiovascular health.

Consuming a small portion of seeds and nuts – about 1.5 ounces a day – may help reduce your cardiovascular risk by up to 30%, McClure says. And don’t let the term nut “butter” fool you; there’s no butter in there. Nut butters are just blended versions of your favorite nuts. Just try to choose types that don’t include other ingredients like salt and sugar.

NEXT:A heart-healthy lifestyle
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A heart-healthy lifestyle

Crafting a simple plan that incorporates gradual changes towards a healthier lifestyle could be beneficial. Consider integrating ample sleep, regular physical activity and an increased intake of fruits and vegetables at each meal into your daily routine. Remember, maintaining good health is a precious gift – one that you are fully deserving of embracing.

NEXT:12 super heart-heathy foods:
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12 super heart-heathy foods:

 

  • Avocados.
  • Berries.
  • Bananas.
  • Colorful fruits and vegetables.
  • Dark chocolate.
  • Extra-virgin olive oil.
  • Fatty fish.
  • Legumes, beans, pulses.
  • Oats.
  • Popcorn.
  • Potatoes.
  • Seeds, nuts and their butters.

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