The Human Refinery
In this set of explorations, students are acquainted with the work of scientists and doctors who study nutrition and human health. The concepts of basic food nutrients as well as how these substances can be detected is a basic subject of this unit. Our bodies use food energy (calories) to fuel muscle movements and metabolic processes. Too few calories rob the body of needed strength for day-to-day activities and, over time, can be a serious threat to health. Too many calories can cause weight gain and related health complications, such as diabetes and heart disease. Food nutrients also supply the body with necessary fatty acids, sugars, proteins, minerals and vitamins. Without an appropriate balance of all nutrient sources, the body will develop disease.
The purpose of these lessons and explorations is to acquaint students with the structure, function, and use of sugar in the human refinery and to bring awareness to the issues of sugar intake and its short and long term effects on the body.
This section explores starch as a food and how starch is digested and absorbed in the human refinery. Students experiment with potato starch to “starch a collar,” they chew a cracker to see the effects of saliva on starch, do an experiment with saliva and starch to see how it is broken down into sugar, and test various foods for the presence of starch using Lugol’s iodine.
The purpose of these lessons and explorations is to acquaint students with the structure, function, and use of proteins in the human body and to better understand the role of the stomach and digestive tract in refining food into protein. Students will examine the structure of the stomach, “digest” a piece of protein (egg), and test various food groups for proteins.
This unit on fat is designed to acquaint students with fats as food. Students witness stored energy in a fatty food by burning a nut; determine how fats interact with water and the digestive system by mixing oil, water and emulsifiers; and test foods for fat content.
The purpose of this section is to acquaint students with other nutrients that are necessary for the human refinery to take in raw materials and operate properly. In this last section, students explore a mineral and a vitamin and learn about the essential characteristics of fiber. At the conclusion of this section students are invited to conduct food tests on the kinds of food they eat, to track their own weekly diet and determine their personal nutritional profile, and finally, are invited to take collective action to assist in providing nutrition assistance to their school, community or wider world.