American Society For Nutrition

Teaching Nutrition

Teaching Nutrition

Excellence in Nutrition Research and Practice
Posted on 12/08/2009 at 07:45:49 PM by Student Blogger
By: Alison K.


Over the past year and a half, I have taught roughly 250 students in a class called Current Topics and Controversies in Nutrition. This general education course, which is taught by TAs and overseen by Dr. Liz Applegate, is a writing course enrolled in primarily by non-nutrition majors throughout the UC Davis campus. All kinds of students take this course—from economics majors, to dance majors, to biochemistry majors. Teaching nutrition to non-science majors is a challenge, and teaching this course has given me the opportunity to develop skills to explain nutrition and science at large to people who really don't have an understanding or background in this area.

During my time in the classroom, I have been asked some very interesting questions by students. Questions that make you tilt your head to the side; questions that make you wonder, where do these people hear this stuff? Here are some examples:

1. Is it true that drinking really cold water is bad for your metabolism?
2. Is it high fat diets that make you fat? I eat a lot of nuts, and they have a lot of fat, is that ok?

3. Is it true that eating late at night makes you fat?

These are just a few off the top of my head that I can think of. However, it comes to mind that most questions students ask me regard weight maintenance or weight loss. One student told me “they had read” that eating celery was bad for your health because of the strings inside of the stalk—stuff you can't make up! How do we answer these questions effectively? I have learned a few ways to describe some basic fundamentals that I use regularly in the classroom:

       1. It's not about fat, it's about calories. I try to explain that the idea that perhaps it's not the macronutrient itself, but rather, the amount of calories ingested that is really the concept we should try to stick to. I usually say something like “calories in = calories out.” This is something they can understand without much science, and it may not be exactly true, but it's a good way to get them away from being scared of eating fat.

       2. I try to encourage regular exercise as part of diet. This is something even the USDA has begun to acknowledge in the new MyPyramid. By exercising regularly, you are able to better increase your metabolism and hopefully help reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.

       3. I always acknowledge the fact that most things are not set in stone—particularly in regards to macronutrient metabolism and obesity. These things are still being explored and are trying to be understood. We must not take some findings as doctrine, but rather, use them to guide us in a particular direction of research.

Although I realize these above statements are “preaching to the choir,” it is important for us as educators of nutrition to always remember our audience. In my case, that's 19 year old undergraduates who are worried about their “Freshman 15.” I try to keep things simple and understandable for my audience. Much of the United States is continually mislead by popular news about nutrition—eat egg yolk, don't eat egg yolks, for example. The tug of war that is scientific research leaves most people confused and frustrated about nutrition and metabolic health. So take a step back before answering questions for students, or average adults. It'll be invaluable to them!

Posted Jan 27, 2010 3:29 PM by Max

I think the USDA try to inform the individual of the importance of nutrition. A Food Pyramid is the way they illustrate it through and it´s based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. A new version will come out in late 2010.

Posted Feb 05, 2010 1:34 PM by Alison

@Tom- I understand what you're saying; however, I'm trying to teach students to not be scared of eating fats in this example. A lot of students will bulk their diets with carbs just to avoid eating fats-- that's all. Of course it's not entirely about calories in and calories out, which I do mention in my blog. Hope this clarifies.