Are sunflower seeds good for me?

Sunflower-seeds-picture

What are the nutritional benefits of sunflower seeds?

Sunflowers make a beautiful addition to gardens in the summer and a great science project for kids but are their seeds also an overlooked source of essential nutrients?

What are the benefits of sunflower seeds?

Sunflower seeds are rich in Vitamin E, copper, B vitamins like thiamine, selenium, magnesium, fiber, folic acid, and more. They are a source of essential fatty acids; especially linoleic acid and oleic acid. Additionally, sunflower seeds are also an excellent source of  amino acids (especially tryptophan) which make up the building blocks of proteins, B Vitamins, phytosterols, and more. They are also a source of healthy polyunsaturated fats which your body needs.

What is the nutritional breakdown of sunflower seeds?

SunflowerSeeds-Nutrition

Can sunflower seeds help improve my health?

As well as helping maintain your body, sunflower seeds are are most highly correlated with boosting cardiovascular health thanks to their ability to reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol and to prevent hypertension.

Since they also contain minerals like magnesium and selenium, you may also find they help with ‘growing pains’, leg cramps, and tension headaches.

Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that helps to reduce inflammation throughout the body. This makes it popular for warding against everything from heart disease, to helping with IBS, or with chronic inflammation as the result of multiple allergies / intolerances.

In my case, I have a child with multiple allergies (from grass pollen, to dust mites, to food), and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and autism (with associated digestive / gut issues), so anything I can include in her diet that helps with inflammation is great!

What are easy ways to include sunflower seeds in my diet?

You could buy them coated in chocolate or dusted in flavourings (like sour cream and chives) but that’s off-setting their health benefits with other calories and additives! Here are some healthier (and still easy!) ways to eat sunflower seeds:

 

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Coping with Christmas | Autism

Santa

Ho ho ho! Merry Christmas!

If you’re the parent of  a special needs child and the thought of Christmas has you reaching for a glass of wine, don’t worry, not you’re alone! This time of year the ASD (autism spectrum disorder) parenting forums are full of questions, advice, and those needing a safe space to share that they’re struggling after yet another Christmas meltdown. It’s a tough time of year for many families and children; end of term / year fatigue from school, exams, financial stress, family obligations. Let’s face it, as awesome as Christmas is, it comes with special stress for those organizing it.

It also poses an extra stress on kids with autism. There is familiarity in comfort, routine, and the familiar. Christmas means change in the home, kindy / school, shopping malls, supermarkets etc. Suddenly there are decorations, Christmas music, and images of this guy in a red suit everywhere. There are crowds, noise, and other sensory evils (like balloons). There are also likely to be a slew of invitations to parties, parades, shared meals, family gatherings etc.

Find a quiet time before the Christmas season to reflect on what Christmas means to you personally, and to your family. You may want to have a family gathering where you talk about what Christmas means to you all and each choose one tradition that you think is really important. Obviously, the bigger your family is, the more negotiation this may involve! I think one advantage for me as a single parent is that I can unilaterally make the choice to put Miss 3’s needs first and miss out on a lot of the Christmas celebrations that I would otherwise enjoy. It’s not always so easy for those with conflicting demands from a partner or where there are neurotypical (NT) siblings who have events they want to be part of.

Christmas events

If your autistic child is old enough and verbal enough to discuss Christmas events with, involve them in planning which events to be part of and which events to skip (and always have a back up / escape plan that will let you leave early and keep your child’s self-respect intact).

Keep in mind that Christmas parades, parties, and concerts are not only a variation to routine but can involve huge amounts of sensory input. You might want to aim for a smaller, local events rather than the biggest one in the city centre where tens of thousands of people will attend resulting in roads and bus services being blocked / hugely disrupted.

Clearly identify the change in routine and pre-warn them. Show them photos of where you are going and what to expect. Consider creating a social story to help them understand the sequence of events and what will be expected of them.

If they have sensory issues, take along items that will help them feel more settled (whether that’s a weighted toy, a fidget toy, or noise-cancelling headphones).

Restrict the number of events that you attend. It’s easy for them to accumulate in the weeks leading up to Christmas; remember to include in your calculations any Christmas celebrations / pageants etc. at kindy / school, church, etc. as well.

Christmas countdown

For young children, you may want to start preparing them for Christmas as early as 01 Nov (depending on their age). I started introducing Christmas books and cds (from the library) early with Miss 3 to help her get comfortable with the concept before it started at kindy. I didn’t want her anxiety to be triggered or for her to feel excluded because the other kids knew who Santa was or recognized popular Christmas tunes and she didn’t.

I would have been quite happy to put up our miniature Christmas tree the week before Christmas; instead, it went up mid-November to ease her anxiety. They sang a song about Christmas trees at kindy and she started an anxiety attack that all the trees she loves outside kindy would be stolen and turned into Christmas trees; this transferred to a fear our Christmas tree would be stolen from storage. Long story short, we drove across town the next day to collect our tree from Nana and Poppa!

Think about a visual method for counting down to Christmas. You might want to do an advent calendar (some families do) , or download an app, or simply mark off days on a Calendar.

Christmas Presents

Most ASD kids do not like surprises; pre-warn! Here are some ideas from different parents:

  1. I discuss Christmas presents with my son and give him a budget. He researches what he wants and tells me. He knows exactly what he’s getting for Christmas and is happy that it’s exactly what he wants!
  2. I buy my daughter one present for Christmas. I tell her in advance what I’m saving up for and show her pictures. Santa gives her a few small items in her santa sack as unwrapped treats to eat (like chocolate and an orange).
  3. I wrap all the presents but for my autistic child, I attach photos of what’s inside. They still enjoy unwrapping them but they’re more comfortable knowing what’s in them. Their siblings have the choice of photos too.
  4. I take photos of everything before I wrap them and then let my daughter choose if she wants to open them as a surprise or point to items on my phone and then be handed the presents in that order.
  5. I’m getting my child a bunch of small practical gifts (like sensory items, or craft activities, or a sea shell to represent a beach visit) and am going to let them open one thing each day from when kindy ends. They’ll help to give us something to do each morning to cope with the change of routine and it will make Christmas Day less overwhelming.
  6. Remember to warn relatives if certain items are likely to cause sensory issues. You may want to ask them to pre-wash clothes and remove tags for instance.

 

Christmas Day

Wonderful and exciting though Christmas Day is, it can also be overwhelming and carry with it a range of expectations.

  1. Discuss in advance what the schedule will be for Christmas Day. Consider creating a social story  so that they know what the order of events will be. For instance, when do they open presents? When will meals be? What food will be served? Are family coming to visit? Are you driving to visit family?
  2. Identify correct etiquette for receiving a gift. Teach them to say Thank You. Explain rules and expectations; i.e. “Sometimes we receive presents we like. Sometimes we receive presents we don’t like. We should say thank you for each present we receive.”
  3. Give them a list of everyone they will see Christmas Day. Help them think about how they will greet each person. Do they want to give Grandma a hug? Do they want to just wave at that funny smelling Great Aunt they only see once a year? Make sure that extended family understand how important consent is (at any age) and that it is entirely up to your child if they want physical contact. Help your child to understand it is important to greet each person (with a wave, or eye contact and saying hello) but that it is up to them whether they want a hug / cuddle.
  4. Use a portable timer / clock / watch for visiting other people’s houses and make sure you leave at the time you have pre-agreed with your child (to avoid a meltdown). If necessary, have the family take two cars so that you can leave early if your ASD child isn’t coping.
  5. Make sure there is food they will enjoy eating on Christmas Day. It’s all very well wanting a traditional roast with all the trimmings, but if this is something your child won’t eat then don’t force the issue on a day that is already stressful for them! If they want to eat a plain cheese pizza, or seaweed and crackers, or a marmite sandwich + apple, then let them. Make sure they are included and have the option of trying other foods but have food they are comfortable with as well.

How to overcome writer’s block

hitting-the-wall

 

How do I overcome writer’s block?

The most obvious answer is: write. Life isn’t always that easy though. I have written very little on the blog since the night the ambulance came and took us both to the hospital E.R. My little one was in respiratory distress with croup and I can still vividly picture sitting on my kitchen floor with the lights on, trying to count breaths out loud by keeping a finger on the base of her barely moving throat and praying for the ambulance to hurry. Bless the calm emergency dispatcher talking to me the entire time on the speakerphone cellphone. To further complicate matters, I was desperately trying not to throw up (even more so when three burly paramedics entered the kitchen). I spent the ambulance ride sucking on a homemade ice-block, my unconscious daughter in my arms, trying not to vomit in a very unladylike fashion all over the ambulance interior.

I’m extremely fortunate that my parents live in the same city as me; they spent an hour driving in and arrived around 3am. The nurses then whisked me off to the adult E.R. and I only caught a short glimpse of my daughter the next morning when she got discharged hours before me. I turned out to have a nasty cocktail of gastro, flu, and possibly a sprinkling of croup to top it off. They wanted to keep me in hospital for a few days but that wasn’t an option as a solo parent of a special needs child (with 24/7 care). As it is, she still has nightmares, months later, about being separated from me at the hospital.

The website continued ticking along as if by magic. That’s the wonder of online publishing, you can have posts lined up weeks or months in advance. You can add new ones and shuffle old ones around and simply let things take care of themselves. The website continued looking bright and shiny while, in reality, our lives have been a valley of darkness with quarantine (due to her fragile health), her surgeries to clear her ears, reduce her turbinates, remove her adenoids, and remove her tonsils, and a horrifically painful recovery period.

There’s been the very difficult, painful, time consuming, and paperwork laden process of having her autism, anxiety, and sensory processing disorder identified (as well as the recurrent abdominal pain + Irritable Bowel Syndrome). There’s been all kinds of behavioural and safety issues because she simply could not cope with the world. I haven’t written up posts but I have shared a few about fatigue, disruptive behaviour, sensory anxiety, and the daily struggles of neuro-divergent kids. There all kinds of ways in which she needs extra support and that means my days tend to run for 16-18 hours with hopefully 6 hours sleep.

Take today, for example. She slept in till 4.45am (sleep is a major issue in our household). As well as actively looking after her, there’s been: laundry, changing bed linens, making herb bread rolls from scratch (which also included grinding the sorghum flour and picking the fresh herbs), making bread from scratch, supermarket shopping, mowing the lawns, spraying weed poison along the edges, cooking chicken (pan frying to brown the skin, baking, making chicken stock with the juices and bones, and then making chicken broth soup with dumplings), dishes, so many dishes, giving Miss 3 and the dollies a bath due to a major poo incident, tidying up all the miniature toys that have covered the floor since this morning, practising counting, cutting out cardboard wheels and using push-pins to turn a box into a car, doing occupational therapy / sensory regulation exercises, etc…Her soy allergy, which includes emulsifiers and vegetable oil, as well as needing to follow a Failsafe list of additives to avoid, means a whole foods diet which means a lot of time in the kitchen (both preparing and cleaning!).  The only reason I could do the outdoor stuff or write up this post was because I paid a special needs carer to be with us for 3 hours this afternoon. If it sounds like I’ve chosen a busy day to write about, the reality is that every day is that busy (normally busier because there would often be a medical appointment to fit into the morning as well as everything else) and what’s unusual is that I actually had some help today instead of being entirely on my own.

Our circumstances are isolating so it’s nice to know that there are people from all around the world that read these posts. Hopefully, I will start writing more often – if only because there are so many recipes floating around on scraps of paper!

How Anxiety Leads to Disruptive Behavior

A child who appears to be oppositional or aggressive may be reacting to anxiety—anxiety he may, depending on his age, not be able to articulate effectively, or not even fully recognize that he’s feeling.

“Especially in younger kids with anxiety you might see freezing and clining kind of behavior,” says Dr. Rachel Busman, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, “but you can also see tantrums and complete meltdowns.”

Check out this article on “How Anxiety Leads to Disruptive Behaviour” by Caroline Miller, editorial director of the Child Mind Institute.

The more commonly recognized symptoms of anxiety in a child are things like trouble sleeping in his own room or separating from his parents but it can also present as temper tantrums, or disruption in school, or throwing themselves on the floor while out running errands. It may present as violent outbursts, being easily provoked, or difficulty regulating emotions, just as easily as it can present as isolation, clinging to the familiar, and avoidance tactics.

It can be difficult to identify when it presents in young children or where communication is limited. Anxiety may be mistaken for ADHD, Oppositional Definance Disorder, or aggression. It may also be present in addition to other conditions such as Autism / Aspergers (ASD).

Everybody gets anxious sometimes but clinical anxiety can put the body in permanent Fight or Flight mode and severely restrict quality of life. It’s important to discuss concerns with teachers and doctors; advocate referral to a pediatric mental health unit for assessment and support.

The Ultimate List of Gifts for Sensory Seekers

Check out the link for a beautifully put together list of toys and equipment that can be used at home for kids with sensory processing disorder; it has tons of photos and is conveniently sorted by sensory systems (vestibular, proprioceptive, oral, tactile, visual, auditory).

Source: The Ultimate List of Gifts for Sensory Seekers

Autism Answer – Easy Lasagne (low texture)

Yummy and Healthy Lasagne

ASD friendly Lasagne

This new recipe  was a breakthrough moment for me. The last two years have largely (by necessity) revolved around food from the point of view of food allergies and nutrition. I’m now finding myself needing to go a step further and think about recipes from a sensory point of view. Getting Miss 3 to eat meat and protein is an ongoing challenge; her soy allergy alone (especially because it extends to emulsifiers and vegetable oil) mean that I can hardly take her to a McDonalds in desperation and order her a cheeseburger. The secret to this recipe is minimising textures (and a food processor!)

She has until now mostly refused to eat mince (of various flavours and in various forms) although sometimes I’ll get lucky. She quite liked the process of making the Chinese Pork Koftas and it helped that I’ve found a soy & preservative free plum dipping sauce. I was over the moon when she actually ate this and asked for more!

Oh, and to any Italians reading this – I apologise. This recipe is not so much lasagne as it is one of those movies ‘inspired’ by a true life story. I know it would make the judges on MasterChef squirm but the main thing for me is getting a whole pile of nutrition into us simply and easily.

Easy Lasagne

Ingredients

  • 500g beef mince
  • Rice bran oil (for cooking)
  • Garlic powder
  • Salt
  • Onion flakes
  • Tomato Passata (400ml)
  • 1 x carrot (grated)
  • Bunch of silverbeet (finely chopped)
  • 400g tin of brown lentils (washed and drained)
  • Dry sheets of lasagna (as many as needed)
  • Parmesan cheese (grated)
  • Tasty or Colby cheese (grated)

Allergies: gluten free*, soy free, egg free, nut free.

Where’s the milk you say? I didn’t make a Bechamel sauce for this recipe for two reasons. One:  she had a sensory anxiety attack at the supermarket (damn those refridgeration unit motors!) so I had to abandon the shop and didn’t get the milk I needed. Two: sometimes when shooting for the stars, you need to aim for the moon first. I was concerned about having three different tastes / textures in a single dish.

Why not use fresh onion and garlic? Because she doesn’t like them (I do). If you’ve ever watched an adult with an aversion to onion try to remove each individual slippery sliver from their plate then you know it’s sometimes better to find a compromise and not sweat the small stuff.

How do I make this gluten free? There are gluten free lasagne sheets available (although they are pricey). For instance, Explore Cuisine do an Organic Green Lentil Lasagne.

Directions

  1. Brown the mince in a frying pan (or electric wok) with a little oil + garlic, salt, and onion.
  2. Add the tomato passata, carrot, silverbeet, and lentils. Simmer for 20-30 minutes on a low heat. Stir as needed.
  3. Grate in some parmesan cheese to taste.
  4. Let this very non-traditional beef ragu cool down for a bit and then blitz it in a food processor. It doesn’t need to be a smooth paste but it should become much more evenly textured (as seen in the photo).
  5. Layer the mince mix in your favourite lasagne dish (or dishes) alternating mince, the pasta sheets, grated cheese. Note: for the top layer of (dry) pasta you may want to add a few tablespoons of water every 10 minutes or so during cooking.
  6. Bake at 160’C for 3-40 minutes. Basically, you’re cooking the pasta and heating the mince. If you’re using a fresh pasta then it will probably cook quicker.

 

Tip: I liked the cheesy crunchy pasta topping and the textural difference on my plate of having both that and the soft pasta. Depending on the textural / sensory preferences of your ASD child, you may want to serve just one of those. I gave Miss 3 the soft pasta and the mince.