Food and Nutrition
Be gone, chili cheese fries!
Between school, homework, extracurriculars, and, you know, breathing, it's no surprise that sometimes you end up eating pizza for dinner—and breakfast. Despite how tasty a New York slice can be, do you ever wonder how that pepperoni will affect you in, say, 10, 20, or 40 years from now? Considering 35.7% of Americans are obese, we're guessing you might not.
Given that scientific studies show that what you feed your body is 87% more important to your health, strength, and quality of life than your Twitter feed, Shmoop's all about helping you make good food choices. We’ll separate nutrition fact from fiction, and when we're done, you'll be healthier than a horse in a western.
In this course we'll
- learn why an unbalanced diet and unhealthy lifestyle is the worst thing ever. (Chronic disease is not your friend.)
- understand why what you put into your body can affect your mental, social, and emotional health.
- recognize the macronutrients and micronutrients that impact your health and identify the foods that contain them.
- research and calculate calorie and nutrient needs and understand how they differ depending on age, gender, physical activity level, or health status.
- investigate what forces influence your food choices.
- get comfy with "tools of the trade" like the Dietary Guidelines of 2010 and MyPlate.
This short course meets all of the California Department of Education's Nutrition and Physical Activity standards for grades 9-12.
Unit 1. Food and Nutrition
This short course is a jam-packed introduction to all things nutrition. From chronic disease, to nutrients, to reading food labels and media messages, our goal is to educate students on the value of nutritious eating and prompt them to take that first step toward a healthy lifestyle.
Sample Lesson - Introduction
Lesson 2: Nutrition Tetris
T-spins, T-blocks, and T-spots. If you've ever played Tetris, you know how satisfying it is when your next block slots perfectly into place. We could play all day just for the thrill of watching that line at the bottom blink and disappear. (We've been told we've got too much time on our hands.)
Nutrition is a lot like Tetris, complete with the satisfaction that comes with getting rid of a particularly bulky load. It reminds us how nutrients—the building blocks of life—are processed by the digestive system to be used by the body. Each Tetris shape falls down to the space that it's meant to fit in. In the non-Tetris world, each nutrient goes to the body part it is meant to "fit" in. Then they disappear and you're hungry again. New game.
In the game of nutrition, we're all Tetris players because we're all eaters. We get the energy we need from the foods we eat (unless you're solar-powered, like one of these guys. Yes, food is fuel. No, that's not a metaphor. Food really fuels your body. But where does the fuel from food come from? (Hint: It's a lot closer to home than a Middle Eastern oil field.) This lesson breaks down food's nutrients to get at the energy in them, then shows you how your body does exactly the same thing.
Sample Lesson - Reading
Reading 1.2: Just What I Needed
You are what you eat. Don't believe us? Here's some ground-breaking evidence we can thank Saturday morning cartoons for.
Your body turns food into...well, you. (So eat your breakfast or risk an egg-shaped hole in your life.) Your meals supply the basic units of life—nutrients—and the solvent that holds it all together—water.
- Nutrients are substances from food used by the body to promote growth, maintenance, and repair.
- Essential nutrients are nutrients that must be obtained from food because the body cannot make them itself.
- Macronutrients are nutrients we need in large amounts. They provide energy to the body in the form of calories.
- Micronutrients. Where there's a "macro" there has to be a "micro," right? Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals that are needed in much smaller amounts than macronutrients. Instead of supplying calories to the body, they help regulate its maintenance, growth and metabolism. In other words, micronutrients help you extract the energy from the macronutrients you eat.
- Water. Two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen, we're sure water needs no introduction. Water makes up half our body weight. Without it, our red blood cells would not be able to carry oxygen to our body or nutrients to our cells. No oxygen? This story cannot end well.
Two Parts Hydrogen, One Part Oxygen
We've said it once and we'll say it again: Without water, the nutrients we eat could not be transported to our cells. In other words, metabolism would not be possible.
- Metabolism is the chemical process by which the human body uses food and water to grow, repair, or maintain the body as well as make energy. (It is also the thing you use to explain why you and your brother can eat exactly the same all-pizza diet with hugely variable results, pun intended).
The process of metabolism produces waste products that need to be excreted. Without water, this would not be possible. Water: making people poop since 193,000 BC.
- What on earth would we do without water? Find out here.
- How can you make sure you're getting enough? Check out the subheading "How Much is Enough" on this page to find out. It won't tell you how you're supposed to drink eight glasses a day without losing most of your productivity to bathroom breaks, though. That's one of life's biggest mysteries.
We get our water from more sources than you think. Our water intake includes more than just plain old drinking water. The moisture in foods (such as watermelon, tomatoes, celery, or soups) can account for about 20% of our total water intake. All beverages (such as tea, coffee, juice, or soda) can also provide some water.
Deficiencies and Toxicities
What happens when we don't get enough nutrients? Several different sad-face-making conditions can occur.
- Malnutrition occurs when a diet does not provide adequate nutrients for proper growth and development. The consequences of not having enough nutrients are severe.
- A deficiency is the absence or insufficiency of a specific nutrient needed for normal growth and development. In the past, many micronutrient deficiencies were common. For example, find out why lemons give pirates something to smile about.
Why do some people lack nutrients? An obvious reason is not consuming enough food. However, some people may have plenty to eat and still be deficient in nutrients. The food itself may not be nutrient-rich. Consuming a diet of Twinkies and Ho-Hos will definitely net you enough calories, but you'll still be deficient in a lot of nutrients. (You'll probably also have more crinkly plastic wrappers than you know what to do with.)
Unfortunately, even in our day, many countries (especially developing countries) are facing micronutrient deficiency problems. Three micronutrients of global concern are:
Each of these micronutrients could actually save lives in developing countries, as the World Health Organization explains. Micronutrients are small, but they are mighty. Deficiency in just one can have a big effect.
On the other hand, when it comes to nutrients, you can have too much of a good thing. Having too much of a nutrient is called toxicity, and its consequences can also be severe.
Sample Lesson - Activity
Activity 1.2a: Nutrition's Big Boys
We chow down on macronutrients like our life depends on it—because it does. Macronutrients supply us with energy. Energy is the capacity to do work. (It is also the capacity to avoid doing work when our dad wants help cleaning the storm gutters.) The "Big Three" macronutrients—carbohydrates, fats, and proteins—are the energizer bunnies of the nutrient world.
Sample Lesson - Activity
Activity 1.2b: Micronutrients Under the Microscope
Need energy or calories? Don't expect micronutrients to provide them. Macronutrients have got that market cornered.
So then, what are micronutrients good for? And while we're at it, what are they? Two words: vitamins and minerals.
- Find a clear definition of each here.
Sample Lesson - Activity
Activity 1.2c: Can You Stomach It?
Now you know that macronutrients and micronutrients are a thing. But how does that thing give you the energy to shake your thing?
To learn how it all works, you must join your food on a journey. It starts in your mouth and ends in your sewer system (or your septic tank, if you're one of those rural types). Don't be alarmed if your travel buddy gets crushed to a pulp along the way—it's a natural part of the digestive process.
Learn more about your digestive system here. As you do, trace the pathway food takes through the four main areas it "visits" (mouth, esophagus, stomach area, intestines) and note the main event at each location.
Keep an eye out for the meaning of these terms:
- gastrointestinal tract
- small intestine
- large intestine
And don't ignore the digestive system's hottest accessories: