At this point the unit will divert somewhat to introduce the nutritional aspects of the food we eat. While some of the information is complicated, I believe that it is a good time to begin the children’s awareness about good health practices. The depth of explanation will depend on the class and what individual teachers feel makes sense within their classrooms.
Food provides the energy that we need to live our lives and perform our daily activities from running, swimming and walking to thinking and breathing. Food also provides the nutrients our body needs to build and repair tissue and to regulate the body organs and systems. Human beings get food from plants and from animals.
There are six kinds of nutrients that we need in varying proportions. They are necessary for us to live and each has a specific function. The main four are water, carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. We need lesser amounts of the other two, vitamins and minerals.11
is the most important nutrient we need because without it we cannot live. Water in our bodies carries the other nutrients where they are needed. We also need water to carry away waste products and to keep ourselves cool.
Carbohydrates are foods that are made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. They come mainly from plants. There are simple and complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates are sugars and they usually taste sweet and dissolve in water. Sugars or saccharides are found in fruits and some vegetables, maple sap, and honey. There are two kinds of saccharides. Monosaccharides which are simple sugars including fructose found in fruits, glucose found in our blood and galactose found in milk products. The other called Disaccharides are made two sugar molecules include sucrose (normal table sugar), Lactose or milk sugar, and maltose found in sprouting grain.12
Complex carbohydrates or polysaccharides are made of more complicated links of saccharide molecules. The two main complex carbohydrates that we eat are sugars and starches. All carbohydrates simple or complex are turned into glucose in your body. They are carried in your blood to every cell. It is like the gasoline in a car fueling the cells that make up your body. Usually it is recommended that you eat cereals, breads, potatoes, grains, peas and beans in order to satisfy the need for carbohydrates.13
If your body produces more glucose than it needs the extra is changed to glycogen and stored. When the body needs more energy it can be changed back into glucose. If you have more glucose than you can save it changes into fat and you gain weight.14
Fats are necessary for the body. They store energy, help to transport some vitamins, help to keep your skin healthy and to insulate your body from the cold and acts like a cushion around your body to keep it from being injured. Fat is the most efficient source of energy. Each gram of fat provides 9 calories of energy, while each gram of protein or carbohydrate gives 4 calories of energy.15
There are two main types of fat: saturated and unsaturated. If the fat is saturated it will usually be in the form of a solid at room temperature. Most animal fats and some plant fats contain a high level of saturated fats. This includes butter and coconuts. These fats have been found to contribute to heart disease, cancer and other health problems. 16
The more unsaturated the fat the more likely it will be in the form of a liquid or oil. Fats from plants tend to have more unsaturated fats than animals. The best sources for this fat are corn, peanut, or olive oil. It should be pointed out that both fats very often occur in the same food. A food will be labeled saturated or unsaturated by the fat it has the greatest percentage of. For example the walnut has high polyunsaturated content but it also contains saturated fat. 17
Proteins supply most of the building for the body. Muscles, skin, cartilage, hair are mostly made of protein. Proteins are large, complex molecules that contain smaller units called amino acids. Our bodies need 20 amino acids. It can manufacture sufficient amounts of 11 of them. Nine other of these necessary amino acids cannot be made by the body or cannot be supplied in sufficient amounts. These must be supplied through a proper diet. 18
The best sources for protein are cheese, eggs, fish, lean meat, and milk. These foods are called complete proteins because they contain the proper amounts of all the amino acids. Cereal grains, legumes (peanuts and other plants from the pea family) are called incomplete proteins because they lack the proper amounts of one or more of the amino acids. A combination of incomplete proteins such as rice and beans can provide the correct balance of amino acids when served together. 19
Vitamins are necessary for good health because they help to regulate the chemical reactions in the body that convert food into energy and tissues. There are 13 vitamins. They are vitamin A, the vitamin B complexes, which is a group of 8 vitamins, and vitamin C, D, E, and K. 20
Minerals are needed for the growth and maintenance of body structures and to maintain the composition of digestive juices and the fluids that are found around the cells. Unlike proteins, carbohydrates, fats and vitamins, minerals are inorganic compounds - that is they are not created by living things. Plants get minerals from the water or soil and animals get minerals by drinking water and eating plants or plant eating animals.21
The body requires calcium, chlorine, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and sulfur. Other minerals are needed in very small amounts. These minerals are called trace elements and they include chromium, copper, fluorine, iodine, manganese, molybdenum, selenium, and zinc. 22
The nutritional information will make more sense when students are introduced to the Food Pyramid, which was introduced in 1991 when people began to question the previous nutritional advice, which stressed meat and Milk groups. The pyramid stresses more grains, fruits and vegetables, and suggests limited amounts of meats, and dairy products, with even less of fats, sugar. The USDA website provides a copy of the pyramid for educators to use without copyright worries at www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/Fpyr/pyramid.html