My husband’s family has the Christmas Eve tradition of hiding an almond in their rice pudding. Whoever finds the almond is supposed to have good luck in the upcoming year. I’ve heard of other families rummaging through their food foraging for a lone nut. It’s kind of like the game ‘I Spy’, except with food. I like this game, but I suggest it be taken a step further, and I have highly practical reasons to support this suggestion. Before I describe my advanced version of ‘find the nut’, I’ll first convince you of why you should play it.
Let’s re-frame ‘find the almond’ as ‘find the protein’. Almonds are an excellent source of protein. Like fish, meat, cheese, and legumes, nuts are packed with life-supporting amino acids. Cells in our bodies continually string amino acids together. These strings then fold up into millions of unique shapes and thereby perform vital funtions. As a biologist who grocery shops, I can confirm that both the body and the grocer value protein more highly than sugar. Consider how much more you pay for a pound of fish than a pound of sugar.
Sugars are carbohydrates. Some are complex, as in fruits, veggies, and grains. Others are simple, as in cupcakes, cookies, and soda pop. The complex ones take the body longer to dismantle during digestion, but otherwise, a sugar is a sugar and our bodies convert it into energy. When cells run low on sugar, they can convert protein into energy, but they can’t build muscles and brains out of sugar.
Unfortunately, kids typically like eating sugar more than protein, and if offered both simultaneously, will likely choose the sugar. Yes, you can tell yourself that they have higher energy needs than adults. But do you really want them exercising all that high energy on Christmas morning, especially on the Christmas morning that you spent the wee hours of assembling the 401-piece pirate ship and the ‘deluxe‘ my little pony castle? If they eat only sugar Christmas morning, they’ll be racing through the house, throwing random objects at each other, repeatedly uttering discordant, strange noises which they insist are songs, and asking you if you don’t think these songs are brilliant compositions.
But say you have anticipated this scenario, and immediately after giving them the sugar, you send them outside or into the care of a bachelor uncle or aunt. Good try, but regrettably, their sky-rocketed blood-sugar levels will come back to bite you. Within a half an hour they’ll be feeling the effects of the insulin now coursing through their blood telling their cells to absorb the blood’s excess sugar. The cells respond, and inevitably blood-sugar levels temporarily crash. Now, adults experience this crash as feelings of lethargy, sleepiness, and sometimes illness. Kids, on the other hand, just get cranky — really cranky. Your previously sugared-up darlings will run back to you crying that his or her sibling has maimed, cheated, or stolen something from him or her. Hysterical wails of injustice will replace earlier peals of laughter. Now, at this point, though it be only 10:30 am, many reasonable parents will start spiking the eggnog.
I have a pro-active remedy for this holiday headache. Here are three good reasons why you should fill your loved ones with a hearty, high-protein breakfast before you pass the sweets.
- A stomach full of protein has less room for sugar. Therefore, the kids will be too full to eat as much candy and coffeecake as they had hoped.
- Protein digestion takes more time than sugar digestion. Thus, they’ll feel full longer and you won’t be back in the kitchen cooking so soon.
- Protein digestion slows down sugar digestion. Therefore, the sugar will enter the blood stream more gradually. The sugar buzz won’t be as high and the insulin crash won’t be as low. Your darlings will be calmer and more even-keeled.
Convinced you should fill your kids up on protein, now you wonder how. You’ll have to make eating protein amazingly fun! Let a piece of protein be the grand prize to a ‘can’t-wait-to-play-again’ game! Now I’ll describe the advanced version of ‘find the almond in the pudding’. I know that some kids who find the almond don’t actually eat it. But one almond is hardly a prize. To motivate injestion, you’ll need an impressively large quantity of protein –say, a ham.