The Foods You Should & Shouldn't Be Eating On A Plant-Based Diet

In 2014, there were 150,000 vegans. In 2018, there were 600,000. Clearly, plant-based diets are here to stay.

Food & Drink

I've got a few friends in my space who are documentary-aholics. Lately, they have been goin' in when it comes to watching ones that have to do with why people should totally nix meat and commit to a life of veganism for the rest of their life. One of my friends, in particular, makes this formal proclamation every time she watches a vegan food doc. Then, about three months later, she has a steak. I'm so used to the pattern that I tend to tease her and say, "Girl, just say that you're the ficklest 'vegan' on the planet and go." But then there are those who are so impassioned to the world of veganism that they impress me by how much time and effort they devote to researching the topic. I'm so impressed that they actually inspired me to pen this piece.

Whether you're someone who is a new vegan convert or you're simply considering going on a plant-based diet in order to detox your system, I first recommend that you check out the really insightful article "15 Ingredients That Are NOT Vegan | Non-Vegan Ingredients To Avoid" (whey, beeswax and oleic acid are just some of the things that aren't vegan). Then, take a moment to go down the list of things you should and absolutely should not be eating while you're on your plant-based diet—or lifestyle. Because, if you're gonna do the whole meat-free thing, you might as well do it right…right?

A Beginner's Guide: What To Eat On A Plant-Based Diet

DO: Tubers


Potatoes are plants. So, if you're someone who loves homemade sweet potato fries or white potato soup, you can indulge in either or both without too much stress. After all, potatoes are considered to be a "high healthy carb food" which means that they can provide you with the energy that you need to get through a long workday or an extensive workout.

Potatoes, in general, have lots of fiber. Also, thanks to the Vitamin B6 that's in them, they are good for your heart. Sweet potatoes, specifically, contain potassium, calcium and antioxidants. Yams (which are not the same thing as a sweet potato; you can read more about that here), contain copper and manganese, are able to ease menopause-related symptoms (which is why some menopausal women choose to apply wild yam cream) and bodily inflammation as well. So again, if you think that a plant-based diet means you have to kiss your potatoes goodbye, nothing could be further from the truth. Just watch how you prepare them; baked instead of fried is always better.

DON’T: Sugary Foods


Just because you might be foregoing meat, that doesn't mean that you should go crazy on the sugar content. Too much sugar consumption can do everything from throw off your blood sugar levels and put you at risk for diabetes and heart disease, to damage your immune system, promote tooth decay and even accelerate the aging process.

If you just read all of that and thought to yourself, "No problem. I'm not big on desserts, anyway", that's great. Just remember that juices and yogurts contain a good amount of sugar as well.

If you're curious about how much sugar you should have on a daily basis, the average woman is good if it's six teaspoons or less.

A good thing to keep in mind while you're making your morning plant-based smoothie or you're putting some sugar into your hot cup of herbal tea.

DO: Whole Grains


Whole oats. Whole wheat. Buckwheat. Millet. Spelt. Quinoa. These are some foods that are considered to be whole grains. The reason why they are great for a plant-based diet is because they're grass-like plants that are high in fiber, B vitamins, antioxidants, proteins and disease-preventing plant compounds like polyphenols, stanols, and sterols. Some other health benefits of whole grains are they're able to lower your risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Whole grains are also able to reduce chronic inflammation and assist with healthy digestion. So, if you like having oatmeal for breakfast or snacking on popcorn, enjoy—both of those foods are totally good for you.

DON’T: “Fake Meat”


I grew up Seventh-Day Adventist. There are a lot of vegetarians in that denomination. It didn't mean that a lot of folks battled less with their weight, high cholesterol or high blood pressure, though. That's because a lot of the meat substitutes that they thought were so much better than real meat contained so much sodium, additives and preservatives that it still put their health at risk.

I just read that Wendy's has joined in with the un-meat burger craze. Before you head over there for lunch, you might wanna read articles like "Vegan and Vegetarian Meat Substitutes Could Pose Health Risks, Researchers Warn". The things that I just said about my religious diet experience while growing up? More and more content co-signs on it.

DO: Plant-Based Oils


Some people think that if they decide to go on a plant-based diet, they need to not cook with oil anymore. That's not true. The key is to go with an oil that is plant-based because they contain mono and/or polyunsaturated fats that can help to keep your heart in good condition. And just what qualifies as a plant-based oil? Olive oil. Sesame oil. Avocado oil. Almond oil. Coconut oil. Flaxseed oil. Walnut oil. Pumpkin seed oil. Peanut oil. Cocoa butter—that's just a few of 'em. All of these are oils that you can prepare your meals with. The key is to make sure to buy the kinds that are virgin or extra-virgin cold-pressed. Oil that is in that state is less refined which means you're able to get more nutrients from it which is always beneficial.

DON’T: Vegan Dairy


Some say that dairy is the devil. I mean, if you make the time to do your own research on it, it's hard to find credible enough information to debate them. Dairy contains hormones, microorganisms and pesticides. The main protein in milk known as casein can increase your cancer risk. And, while most of us were raised to believe that dairy is good for our bones and teeth, there's research that indicates that it can actually put our bones at risk too.

So, what about vegan dairy substitutes like vegan eggs and vegan cheese? While they certainly can help you to bypass all of the dairy drama, most of them still fall under the category of "processed foods" which is oftentimes loaded with fat.

Still, if there is no way on this earth that you are totally going to go without a slice of pizza or some mac 'n cheese, opt to make it yourself. Also, make sure to use one of the healthier kinds of vegan cheeses. You can check out a list of some of them here.

DO: Fresh Fruits


One of the best things about going on a plant-based diet is all of the fresh fruit that you can consume. Fruits are full of water and antioxidants and are oftentimes low in calories too. If you're wondering which fruits make "the healthiest list", some of those include—grapefruit, blueberries, mangoes, pomegranates, watermelon, oranges, pineapples, bing cherries and bananas. Oh, and due to all of the Vitamin E that's in them, olives are on the list too (yep, olives are a fruit!). Just make sure to get most out of any fruit you choose by consuming them while they are actually in season.

DON’T: Anything Soy-Based


When I'm not coaching couples or sitting in front of my laptop, sometimes I'm helping someone to birth a baby. As a doula, whenever a woman tells me that she would prefer to not breastfeed (if you're currently pregnant and you're on the fence, check out "101 Reasons to Breastfeed Your Child"), I make sure to say, "Then please make sure to avoid formula that contains soy."

Soy is a phytoestrogen which means that it's a plant-based kind of estrogen. Eating estrogen all of the time isn't good for children (especially male children) because it can cause their bodies to mature faster. High levels of soy can prove to be toxic in adults as well.

So yeah, please don't be out here thinking that, just because you are drinking soy milk or having a soy burger, you're dodging potential health issues up the road. This includes when it comes to soy sauce (to get a list of some healthy soy sauce substitutes, click here).

DO: Fresh Veggies


It would sound real crazy for someone to say that they are going on a plant-based diet, but they had no intention of eating any veggies. Vegetables are low in fat and calories while being high in vitamins and minerals like fiber, folate, potassium and vitamins A and C. As far as the vegetables that will do your body the most good, some of those include—spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, peas, red cabbage, bell peppers, garlic and collard greens. Veggies have peak seasons too. Refer to that link in the "fresh fruits" section to see which ones you should get right now.

DON’T: Anything “White”


Here's the thing—foods like white pasta and white rice definitely qualify as being a refined grain; this, in turn, makes them a plant-based food. But the reason why "white grains" get an aggressive thumbs down on the plant-based diet tip is because the production of them strips the grains of the nutrients and fiber that your body needs. As a result, they tend to fill you up less, resulting in you eating more—eating more calories and more empty carbs as well. That's why white bread, white flour or even white tortillas aren't a good look. No processed food really is.



DO: Seeds

If you're someone who likes to snack throughout the day, seeds are a good option. Pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds are great because they are full of protein and fiber. Or, if you like to cook with seeds, add some hemp, sesame or chia seeds to your meals.

DO: Spices

I don't care what kind of diet or lifestyle change that you are on, food would suck if you didn't season it well. As far as plant-based spices go, the ones you should definitely have on your rack include onion powder, garlic powder, Italian seasoning, cayenne pepper, cumin, paprika, turmeric and pure vanilla. All delicious, all healthy and all a big "do" when it comes to plant-based cooking. Enjoy!

Want more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter here and check out the related reads below:

How To Stan For Your Newly Vegan Homegirl Like She's Beyoncé

A Bad Breakup Inspired Mya To Change Her Diet & Shed 30 Pounds

15 Vegan Soul Food Dishes That'll Make You Rethink Meat

How I Transitioned My Meat-Loving Family to a Plant-Based Vegan Lifestyle

Did you know that xoNecole has a new podcast? Join founder Necole Kane, and co-hosts Sheriden Chanel and Amer Woods, for conversations over cocktails each and every week by subscribing to xoNecole Happy Hour podcast on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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In xoNecole's Our First Year series, we take an in-depth look at love and relationships between couples with an emphasis on what their first year of marriage was like.

It was a cold winter night in Chicago, more than a year ago. Your girl was scrolling through the fifty-eleven million options on Netflix to find something interesting to watch. I spotted this new show, The Circle, and have not looked away since. Produced by Studio Lambert and Motion Content Group, it premiered in January 2020 and has become my new favorite type of game show. Hosted by Michelle Buteau, The Circle is about contestants who are isolated in their own apartments and can only communicate with others via an online social media platform.

On season 2 of The Circle, the world fell in love with DeLeesa, the contestant who would eventually be crowned winner of the cash prize. She won the game by playing as a single dad named Trevor, who is actually her husband. As a true fan of the series, I figured it was only right to sit down with DeLeesa and Trevor to get the deets on how marriage has been for them IRL. So, let me take y'all back into time real quick, to the beginning of their love story.

It was 2007, and DeLeesa was starting her first day of school as a college freshman. She was getting adjusted to her new dorm and was introduced to her new resident assistant, *drum roll please* Trevor St. Agathe. They quickly became friends and Trevor helped DeLeesa find different activities around campus. After a year, they decided to take things to the next level.

Now, 14 years and two beautiful children later, the married couple have been focusing on doing whatever it takes to create the best life for their children. Since college, the power of commitment and open communication is what has kept DeLeesa and Trevor by each other's side.

One thing that we can all learn from The Circle and social media in general is that everything is not what it seems. When I connected with the couple, DeLeesa wanted to get the story straight about her and Trevor's love story. "I feel like people look at couples on social media and they think that things are perfect when that's not true. We went through stuff, too. We just figured out how to overcome it and move together as a unit."

In this installment of xoNecole's Our First Year, Deleesa and Trevor share how marriage is about work, navigating through the ups and downs, and prioritizing family. Here's their story:

How We Met

DeLeesa: I got to school early because I was starting [college] a semester late. I met him, we became friends, and I developed a little crush on him. One day, we were hanging out in his room and he just didn't want me to leave (laughs). So we were messing around for about a year. Exactly one year later, I told Trevor that I am not going to keep doing this unless he becomes my man. If he didn't make me his girl, then we were done. (Laughs)

Trevor: I tried to ride it out as long as I could (laughs). At the time, I was thinking, since I'm still in college, I shouldn't be tied down. But I knew that if I didn't make it official, she was going to leave. So, she was right, and we took it to the next level.

First Impressions

Trevor: I thought she was absolutely beautiful. She was pretty and the new girl on campus. So I knew she was going to get lots of attention. But I didn't want to be on that with her, so I continued to just be a stand-up guy. At first, it was the normal student-and-RA relationship. She would ask me what activities she could do on campus and I gave her a few suggestions. For a few days, we continued to hang out and I started to realize the chemistry we had between us.

DeLeesa: When I first met Trevor, I wasn't even thinking about going that [relationship] route with him. I was new to the school and I just wanted to be his friend. But because we shared bathrooms in the dorm, this man would just walk around in his towel sometimes. I couldn't help but notice him more after that. I just thought 'He is fine!' (Laughs) He was so nice and he never pressured me into anything, but, he knew what he was doing.

Favorite Things

DeLeesa: I love that he has unconditional love for me. I feel like that no matter what I do or no matter how mad he gets, he is still always going to be by my side for anything that I need. We have been together for a long time. Even though we had breaks in between, he has always been there for me.

Trevor: It's not just one thing for me, but I can sum it up: DeLeesa is everything that I wish I was. She is very much not afraid of what other people think and she is very determined to go after what she wants. She has that go-getter mentality and it is so attractive to me.

"DeLeesa is everything that I wish I was. She is very much not afraid of what other people think and she is very determined to go after what she wants. She has that go-getter mentality and it is so attractive to me."

Wedding Day

Trevor: On our wedding day, I was crying like a baby when I finally saw her. That is my fondest memory of that day: seeing my wife-to-be from a distance and instant water works. (Laughs)

DeLeesa: I really enjoyed our first dance. Our wedding was pretty big, and I planned the whole thing. I was very hands-on and it was hard for me to just have a moment and be present. But when we had our first dance, that was our time to just be with each other and not worry about anything else. It really hit me that we were married at that point.

The One

DeLeesa: Well, the thing with Trevor and I is that we broke up a lot. We reached nine years of being on and off. By that time, we said to each other that this would be the last time we were going to break up. We were going to try our best to do everything that we could to stay together. And if we didn't work out, we were going to go our separate ways. For me, I really wanted us to work because I did see him as my future husband and my children's father. So it was the conversation we had to not break up that was my "you are the one for me" moment.

Trevor: It was something that I always knew. Young Trevor would say, "If I had to get married, this is who I want to marry." When I knew it was time to take things more seriously with her, it was after we had that conversation. Another confirmation that DeLeesa was the one was when we had to move to Canada from New York. I thought to myself that this woman must really love me to pack up and move to another country for me. This woman trusts me so much and she is my forever.

"The thing with Trevor and I is that we broke up a lot. We reached 9 years of being on and off. By that time, we said to each other that this would be the last time we were going to break up. We were going to try our best to do everything that we could to stay together."

Biggest Fears

Trevor: The questions that popped into my head were, "Can I do it?"; "Can I be a good husband to her?"; or "Was I truly husband material?" You can't take a test for that or study to get those answers. You have to just do it, apply your morals and values, and do the best you can. What has helped me with this is continuing to reaffirm how we feel about one another—affirmations that let me know that she is happy and I am doing a good job. Marriage isn't that much different from what we have already been doing this entire time. We just wear rings.

DeLeesa: My biggest fear [is related to the fact that] I am a very independent person, [so] if I do not like something, I can be out, quick! So with me, I questioned if I could stay put and fight through the bad times within a marriage. I would question if it is worth sticking it out since this is a lifelong commitment. What has helped me get through that is reminding myself that I can still be independent within my own marriage. I can still do things on my own and still share my life with someone I really care about.

Early Challenges

DeLeesa: I feel like I have been really good at keeping my relationship with my friends balanced with my partnership with Trevor. So when we first got married, my personal challenge was me trying to juggle between being a good wife and still making time for my girls. I really didn't want to lose sight of who I was in the process of marriage.

Trevor: My work at the time forced me to travel a lot. So when you are in that honeymoon phase, it's important to have quality time together. It was hard with my job to enjoy life together as a married couple in the beginning. Yes, we have been together for a long time. But this was different. Not being around my wife as much as I wanted to was really hard for me and the both of us. Our communication started slacking and we definitely struggled during that time.

Love Lessons

Trevor: There's two lessons that I have. One lesson is that I am a husband first. I have spent a lot of time not being a husband so it can be easy for me or anyone to continue to behave that way. But my wife always has to come first, no matter what is going on in life. When you're married, you have to reinforce that. My second lesson that has helped in our marriage is making sure I do things in order to make her life easier. It can be the simplest thing, but for me, it is a huge priority.

DeLeesa: My biggest lesson is being able to learn from each other. For example, if he is doing simple things to make life easier for me, I am learning from him how to show up for him to make him happy. It can be easy to just receive everything he is putting forth, but it has to be give and take for us.

"I am a husband first. I have spent a lot of time not being a husband so it can be easy for me or anyone to continue to behave that way. But my wife always has to come first, no matter what is going on in life. When you're married, you have to reinforce that."

Common Goal

Trevor: To do everything in our power to ensure that our girls have the best possible life. Everything that we do at this point is for them. Before children, I may have moved slower working toward certain things, but there is definitely an added fire on how we approach things because of them.

DeLeesa: I agree. The number one goal is to be the best parents we can be. We want to set up generational wealth and we want them to be culturally aware. We want them to grow up and be proud of everything we have done for them.

Best Advice

DeLeesa: My advice would be don't go looking for advice, honestly. A lot of people are going to have an opinion about your life and sometimes that may not be the best for you. People can have different intentions and may give you the wrong advice. So I feel that if you need to vent, then yes, have someone to confide in. But don't take their word as facts. Try to figure out your marriage for yourself. Stick to your intuition and what you want to do, no matter if you are being judged for it.

Trevor: The things that matter are to be patient, listen close, choose to be happy, and love hard. I also think when people come to terms with the fact that marriage is work, then it is more possible for people. There are honestly more things to be happy about with the person that you marry. You have to keep all the things that you love about that person at the forefront to get you through. Once you do that, you will be fine.

Follow Deleesa and Trevor on Instagram @leesaunique and @trev_saint and their family page @itsthesaints.

Featured image via Instagram/Leesaunique

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