Giving a Chia Pet has been a long-standing holiday tradition, I can remember finding a chia pet under the tree when I was young girl. My siblings and I would watch with wonderment as the the seeds sprouted into green “fur” on the terracotta animal over the days that followed Christmas.  The Chia Pet is not only a fun and entertaining gift, it also has educational value.  Even kids who live in high rise buildings without so much as a patch of grass can experience nature with a Chia Pet, learning first-hand how seeds can be sprouted.

It is unfortunate that Joseph Enterprises, the makers of the Chia Pet did not seek FDA approval for human consumption of the chia seeds or sprouts – as chia is one of the most nutritious superfoods available.  So while the Chia Pet is fun present for the kids this holiday season, I recommend also eating chia seed this season.

Six Reasons to Take Chia Seeds this Holiday:

  1. Boosts Mood:  Holidays can be a joyful time, but they also have been known to be difficult for those that are missing loved ones, or stressed about finances, worried about work or family, or just overwhelmed by the growing to do lists.  Chia seeds are a rich (vegan) source of ALA Omega 3s.  Omega 3s are powerful mood food.  Taking chia seed and/or another type of omega 3 supplement (such as fish oil), can offer a boost to your mood.  The U.S. military is spending over $1M to study the use and effectiveness of omega 3s for the prevention and treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
  2. Boosts Brain-Functioning:  Omega 3s are also proven brain food.  During the holidays, our “to do” lists are longer than ever, we are rushing from one thing to the next and trying to squeeze it all in, it is easy to get overwhelmed and even forgetful. Taking omega 3s daily can help to fire up the brain – including memory, attention, and focus.  Recently I ran out of chia seed and forgot to take my fish oils for about 3 days.  I noticed that my brain functioning was not optimal – I had a few extra “blonde” moments.
  3. Prevents Dehydration – Chia seeds are uniquely hydrophillic, which means they soak up a lot of water – up to 10-15 times their own weight!  It is important to take chia seeds with plenty

    whole dry chia seed.

    Hydrated chia seed (whole).

    of water/liquid, or they will soak up the water inside your body and could actually dehydrate you. But when taken with plenty of water, chia seeds are very hydratingChia seeds are an excellent hydration tools for athletes, but they also can be helpful if you are planning to do a couple “4 oz. curls.”  I always take a couple Tablespoons of chia seed with a full glass of water before heading off to a party.  If I have one or two cocktails, the chia seed will not only slow the absorption of sugar alcohols into the bloodstream, but it will help to prevent the dehydrating effects of the alcohol, which is one of the main causes of hangovers.  Read Prehydrate with Chia for more info.

  4. Helps Avoid Holiday Weight Gain- Eating and drinking and being merry is all a part of the holiday season.  But between the parties filled with holiday cocktails and appetizers, baking cookies, and gifts of candies and chocolates, the holidays can make our belts tighter.  Chia seeds’ unique fiber fills you up, to help prevent overindulging this time of year.  Taking some chia with plenty of liquid before a partyis a smart strategy so you don’t dive into the appetizer table.
  5. Boosts Endurance:  Chia seed is becoming more well-known among endurance athletes, thanks in large part to the book Born to Run, which says that “a tablespoon of chia is like a smoothie made from salmon, spinach, and human growth hormone.”  This time of year everyone can use a little extra energy to deal with the lines at the stores, post office, travel, and more.  Chia seed can boost our energy, endurance and recovery – naturally!  Unlike caffeine, chia seeds provide long lasting energy without making you jittery, or having the negative side effects of caffeine.

So how do you take chia seeds?   Chia seeds are tiny seeds – they can be added to water, smoothies, included in baked goods, and sprinkled on things like yogurt. You can buy them as whole seeds, or ground.  When buying the ground seeds make sure to look for cold water processed – it preserves more of the nutrients.  Do not buy the kind that has some of the oils or fats removed – chia oil is a healthy omega 3 fatty acid!!   You can add the ground chia seed to baked goods, pancakes, muffins, oatmeal, and the like.  You can add the ground or whole seed to smoothies, just a plain glass of water, or stir it into some yogurt.  You can even find it at your local Whole Foods or other health food store – in bottled beverages like Mamma Chia, and GT’s Kombucha Cherry with Chia.  Try this energizing smoothie made with chia seed.

Chia seeds are one of my favorite foods offering protein, minerals, fiber, and omega 3s.  Chia seeds provide a mood boost, enhance brain functioning, improve digestion, and can benefit all levels of athletic performance, especially hydration, endurance, and recovery. So enjoy the Chia Pet for it’s educational and entertainment value, and go buy some chia seeds for consumption – both can make your holiday season ch..ch..ch..cheery!

Giving loved ones a gift that can help them be healthier – is a gift that keeps giving all year long!  These gift ideas can be great hostess gifts or to create the ultimate gift basket to put under the tree for the Movie Buff to the Margarita Maven on your list!!

The Sweet Tooth – If your kids are like mine – they love a little something sweet after dinner.  I have always had popsicle molds on hand – to pour leftover smoothies into – so we have a healthier way to satisfy their sweet cravings.  But recently we discovered that we can make popsicles without the wait!

 

The Smoothie & Soup Sipper – Someone in your life love smoothies and soups? Create the ultimate gift basket for them.

 

The Tea Drinker – Green tea has loads of health benefits – including powerful anti-cancer properties from the polyphenol catechins.  But if the tea lover in your life is used to using tea bags – wait until he/she tries the whole leaf tea – no comparision!  Create the ultimate gift basket with

 

The Margarita Maven – Many margarita mixes contain high fructose corn syrup and artificial coloring.  Create a gift basket with all the key ingredients for a fresh organic margarita, they are so much tastier.  Your margarita connoisseur will be happier and healthier.

 

The New Mommy – There is nothing more joyful than baby’s first Christmas.  Putting together a special gift for the baby’s mom (and Dad) can be a snap:

 

The Movie Buff – A movie night is always better with some popcorn.  But microwave popcorn contains carcinogens. Give your movie buff a healthier way to pop!

 

 

The Chocoholic! – Do you know someone who lives for chocolate?  I can relate!  The good news is – dark chocolate is on my “approved” list of treats!  Rich in polyphenols from the cacao bean, dark chocolate is heart-healthy, boosts mood, and more.  Read I Heart Dark Chocolate to learn more about the health benefits of cacao and dark chocolate. Fill a basket with everything a chocolate lover could dream of:

 

 

 

The Yogi – Do you know someone who just loves yoga, or has been wanting to try it soon?  Get them the ultimate basket filled with:

 

The Allergen Avoider – Know someone who has recently been diagnosed celiac/gluten sensitive, or that avoids other common allergens?  Food sensitivities and allergies are becoming more and more common, so it is likely you do.  With all the great options out there – they don’t have to miss out on Christmas cookies, pizza or pasta after all.  Put together a “survival kit” gift basket to help them make lots of the recipes they love – just without gluten:

 

The Chef – The great thing about gifts for the chef in your life, is you probably get to eat up the yummy results!  Surprise your favorite chef with a basket filled with some yummy ingredients and cool new kitchen gadgets:

 

The Little “Top Chef” – More and more kids are watching The Food Network and shows like Top Chef.  so encourage your little “Top Chef” with some cool cooking presents:

 

Stocking Stuffers – Don’t forget about the stocking stuffers!  Do you put a fresh orange in the bottom of each stocking? The orange in the stocking apparently started with Saint Nicholas himself – read more about the orange and other stocking traditions in Will You Find an Orange in Your Christmas Stocking?  Although oranges have been largely displaced with the Pez and brightly colored candies today, you can still put the orange in the toe!  Some other healthy and traditional foods to add to stockings would be nuts or an apple.  Or you can throw in some Vita RocksThese are just like those Poprock candies – but they are actually a daily dose of vitamins, and contain none of that icky stuff like artificial colors, or high fructose corn syrup.  Oh – and have you heard of the Christmas pickle?  I certainly hadn’t either – read about it from our friends at Cultured Food Life.

When you give the gift of health – you are giving so much more than just a gift!  Happy & Healthy Holidays!

“Can I have a soda/cookie/candy mom?”

As a parent, we are faced with this dilemma almost daily – we know highly sweetened foods are not healthy, but our kids want them, and we want to make our children happy.  And it’s ‘just a cupcake,’ (soda, or a candy bar), right?  Why not indulge our children once and a while?  The issue is – sugar is highly addictive, so ‘once in a while’ quickly becomes ‘daily.’  And sugar is hidden in many foods, that it adds up very quickly over the course of a day.  The average teenage boy has about 1/2 cup of sugar each day, which is about 1/5th of his total energy intake.  Sugar is highly addictive, so the more sweet foods a person consumes, the more they want, creating a self-fulfilling cycle.

Sweet foods do make our kids happy – but only for about 15 minutes.  When we eat something sugary, it spikes our blood sugar, which creates an initial sense of happiness and energy.  We’ve all seen kids ‘bouncing off the wall’  after a sweet treat.  But the feeling of happiness that sweet foods create is fleeting – what goes up must come down. When blood sugar comes crashing down, happiness can turn to lethargy, moodiness, and even sleepiness and anger.  So what does a kid reach for when their blood sugar is low?  More of the food that will bring it soaring back up!  This is what I refer to as the Sugar Roller coaster – kind of like getting on a roller coaster that won’t let you get off – you are left with a sick feeling.  When we have this sick feeling all the time, we don’t know what it feels like to feel good.  Additionally, when our kids’ blood sugar spikes up and down over and over, it contributes to serious health problems like insulin resistance, heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, and more.  One third of all kids is now predicted to develop diabetes in their lifetime (1 in 2 of kids in predominantly Black/Hispanic neighborhoods).  Kids who eat highly processed diets are also more likely to receive an ADD diagnosis according to an Australian study.

When I was a kid, I loved sweets and treats.  I was also a picky eater, so I did not eat a lot of fresh vegetables and fruits.  As a result, I was overweight, had a sluggish digestive system, and experienced moodiness.  Now I know that food fuels our bodies, mood and our brains.  Now when I am considering what to eat, I not only think about how it will taste, but also how it will make me feel.  When I talk to kids about nutrition, I teach them about “intuitive eating,” asking them to think not only about how food tastes, but also how it makes their bodies’ feel and function – 10 minutes, 30 minutes, and even hours after they eat it.  Often when I tell adults that I teach kids intuitive eating – they say “kids can’t really get that, can they?”  And I always respond – “You’d be surprised, kids do understand,” because many kids do understand and get the concept.

As a parent, it is our job to teach our kids’ values – being polite, responsible, independent, respectful, to have a strong work ethic, and be thoughtful.  But we often don’t think about health as a value and a skill that can and must be taught.  I think Taylor Mali said it best in his poem, An Apple a Day is Not Enough.

Still struggling with the dilemma of wanting to give your kids what makes them happy?  I want to make my kids happy, and feel torn when my kids want a sweet treat. I give in to their pressure sometimes, we certainly do not have perfect diets all of the time.  But we do strive to have a better diet overall, in the big picture.  The book  Too Much of a Good Thing, Raising Children of Character in an Age of Indulgence, written by New York Times best-selling author and Child Psychology professor at Harvard, Daniel Kindlon, has helped me realize that giving kids everything they want is a bad idea.  Dr. Kindlon asserts that indulging our kids creates “kids that are prone to self-centeredness, depression, anxiety, and anger.” I loved what Michele Woodward of Arlington, VA wrote about his book:  “For those of us fortunate enough to be able to give our children a lot of advantages, this book reminds us that our job as parents is not to be indulgent, but rather to set and enforce limits so that our children can develop their own sense of self-worth and self-esteem.”  I highly recommend Dr. Kindlon’s book for all parents, it applies to so many areas of our kids’ lives, not just choosing healthy foods.

I am not suggesting that a kid should not be allowed to eat the birthday cake at the birthday party – in my mind, that could serve to backfire and create resentment and social isolation.  In general, I believe that it is the choices we make on a daily basis that impact our health the most. So as long as our diet is generally healthy most of the time, that the occasional treat is not an issue.  What does become an issue is when kids’ diets are predominantly processed, packaged and sweetened, and seriously lacking in fresh fruits and vegetables.  Looking at the big picture, we need to increase the healthy foods, and decrease the “splurge” foods.  And in fact, there are even recipes for cupcakes and other sweets that are healthier, so not all cupcakes are created equal.

But back to the dilemma at hand – should parents give their kids’ health or happiness?  In the end, I think the healthy choice is the happy choice.  The happiness that comes from eating a sweet treat is short-lived, followed by a crash that makes kids feel grumpy, sad and tired. So by indulging our kids with sweets over and over, in the grand scheme of things, we are making our kids’ sadder and setting them up for more serious health consequences later in life. And according to Dr. Kindlon, by not giving our kids everything they want, we are also building character and self-worth.

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