FoodChange Nutrition Lesson: What is Really in Your Food?

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FoodChange Nutrition Lesson: What is Really in Your Food?

Lesson Title: What is Really in Your Food?
25 minutes

Plastic bags containing Crisco
Plastic bags containing sugar
Plastic bags containing salt
20 ounce Coke
Snapple bottle
Ingredients lists and pictures of products
Blown-up picture of a nutrition label

Hand outs:

Nutrition Label

Set Up:
Create your fat, sugar, and salt display following the guidelines at the end of this lesson.
Create flipchart that states “Good Characteristics of an Ingredient List: short,
understandable, simple, avoid extra sugar, avoid partially-hydrogenated oils.”
Download or cut out ingredient lists of products using the website at the end of this lesson.
Try to find a short, healthy ingredient list to compare to a long complicated, sugar-laden one.
NOTE: choosing breakfast cereals as your product is an excellent choice!

Participants will choose healthier foods when in fast food restaurants and supermarkets.

• Participants will understand the potential negative impacts of eating unhealthy meals and
• Participants will be able to distinguish healthy from unhealthy foods through reading
nutrition labels.

Today we are going to talk about what is really in some of the foods we eat. Then we are going
to discuss nutrition labels and how to read them so we understand what is in the foods we buy.
Before we talk about food labels, let me ask you a question. Imagine if there was no school
food, if the law to instate USDA school meals in 1946 was never passed. What do you think
your students would be eating for lunch? What are the things you see them bringing into school
now? Hopefully participants say soda, fast food, etc. Write responses on flipchart paper.

Activity #1: Looking Inside Foods


Let’s look at what is inside some of these foods.

Demonstration: Soda and Snapple
Show participants a soda. How many of you drink soda? How many teaspoons of sugar do you
think are in this soda? Show them the amount in the bag (16 teaspoons in a 20 oz bottle). When
you are drinking this soda, you are actually just eating this bag of sugar.

What about Snapple? How many of you drink Snapple? Do you think there is more or less
sugar in this Snapple? Now show the participants the amount of sugar in a Snapple to see if it is
really a healthier alternativ
e (number of teaspoons of sugar depends on size of the bottle used, 4
grams of sugar is equal to 1 teaspoon).
Discuss the similarities and differences between the
Snapple and soda. (per 8 ounces – soda had 27 grams of sugar and Snapple has 27 grams of
sugar- depending upon the Snapple flavor- some have more, some have less).

Demonstration: McDonalds Meal
Let’s move on to fast food. How many of you eat at McDonalds? Ask the participants to guess
the number of teaspoons of fat in this meal
. Tell the participants that the Crisco represents fat
and display a clear bag containing Crisco. (Bag should contain 14 teaspoons of fat, 4 grams fat
= 1 tsp).

This bag contains 60 grams of fat which contributes 90% of the fat you should consume in a
day. If you eat this one meal, you are consuming 1440 calories, contributing 72% of the calories
you should consume in a day and. So just think… all that from this one meal.

Show the participants the amount of sugar in the entire meal using a pre-filled clear plastic bag
of sugar (meal has 94 grams or 23.5 teaspoons of sugar). Now show the group a clear bag with
the amount of salt in the entire mea (.85 teaspoon of salt). Compare it to a sample of the amount
of salt that one is supposed to consume in an entire day (1 teaspoon of salt).

Why is all this a problem?
Eating sugary and greasy foods can increase your risk of becoming overweight and obese, which
puts you at risk for numerous health problems including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and
certain cancers
. This is especially dangerous for children and adolescents since disease risk
factors tend to persist throughout life. An overweight adolescent is at greater risk of becoming
an overweight adult, and with excess weight comes the risk for the diseases I just mentioned.
Through making small changes, like choosing healthier snacks, cutting back on snack and soda
intake, and limiting fast food intake, both adults and students can make major improvements in

It is also important to remember that McDonalds is not just the culprit. McDonalds gets a lot of
bad press for movies like Super Size Me and books like Fast Food Nation. But many fast food
meals are similar to this one. . even those huge Starbucks drinks can have tons of fat and sugar in

So what can you do as the consumer? Look at nutrition labels.


Activity #2: Reading Labels
Nutrition labels and ingredients list can help us determine what is really in the foods we eat.
Knowing how to properly read labels can equip us with the information needed to make better

Ask for volunteers. Hand out ingredients lists to a few people who raise their hands. Ask the
volunteers to read their lists out loud, without stating what the product is. Ask the rest of the
participants to pick which ingredient list they would consider to be the healthiest and which they
would consider to be the least healthy. Ask the participants to explain why they chose the
ingredients lists they chose. Review basic rules to reading an ingredients list, refer to flipchart
paper: short, understandable, simple. Tell participants you will get to the last two points (sugar
and partially-hydrogenated oils in a moment). See websites below to access ingredients lists.

The ingredients are listed from most to least so those that are added in the greatest amounts are
listed first and those in the least amount are listed last. Remember that the fewer ingredients
there are, the more wholesome the food. The more ingredients on the list and the more
complicated the ingredients, the less wholesome the food.

Show or tell participants the name of the products that match the lists the volunteers were

Distribute copies of the handout featuring a nutrition label.

What is the first thing you should look at on a nutrition label? Ingredient list, because as we just
saw, that can tell you a lot. What about the second thing?

Serving size. You need to know what the information on the label is referring to. For example,
can someone tell me how many calories are in this entire bottle of soda?

Give a volunteer the 20 oz bottle of soda. Have them read the calories. Ask how they got the
number they stated. Explain that you need to multiply the calories times the serving size in order
to get the correct amount of calories in the entire bottle.

A simple way to deal with the nutrition label is to look at daily value on the right hand side of the
label. The percent daily value tells you how much a serving of the product contributes to what
you should get in a whole day. The general rule to follow is that 5% is low and 20% is high. If
you look at your label the different colors tell you what you want to be a high percent and what
you want to be a low percent.
Let’s get back to the last points about what to look for in an ingredient list. I said, avoid partially
hydrogenated oils. Does anyone know why? PHO are trans fats. Trans fat is a specific type of
fat formed when liquid oils are made into solid fats like shortening and hard margarine. Trans
fat is made when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil, a process called hydrogenation.
Hydrogenation increases the flavor stability of foods containing these fats so it is mostly found in
processed foods since this allows them to stay on the shelves for a long amount of time. Such
foods include vegetable shortenings, some margarines, crackers, candies, cookies, snack foods,

fried foods, and baked goods. Trans fat is so dangerous because it raises bad cholesterol and
lowers good cholesterol, which increases your risk of coronary heart disease.
As of January 1, 2006, the FDA requires that the amount of trans fat in a serving be listed on a
separate line under saturated fat on the Nutrition Facts panel (point this out on the label).
However, trans fat does not have to be listed if the total trans fat in a food is less than 0.5 gram
(or 1/2 gram) per serving. Food manufacturers are allowed to list amounts of trans fat with less
than 0.5 gram (1/2 g) as 0 (zero) on the Nutrition Facts panel. As a result, you may see a few
products that list 0 gram trans fat on the label, while the ingredient list has "shortening" or
"partially hydrogenated vegetable oil" in it. This means the food contains small amounts (less
than 0.5 g) of trans fat per serving. If you are wondering if a food contains any trans fat at all,
read the ingredients list and search for “shortening” and “partially hydrogenated vegetable
”. Since trans fat can be more detrimental to your health than saturated fat, it is recommended
that no more than 2 grams are consumed in a day, but completely avoiding all trans fat is ideal.

Finally, let’s talk about sugar. On your label will be listed the grams of sugar in a product. This
is both added and naturally occurring sugar. There is no distinction. So if you are trying to
purchase a jam, juice, or apple sauce with only the sugar from the fruit in it, it would be difficult
to determine just from this number. Instead, you can go back to your ingredient label and look
for added sugars. Can people name all the things you might see on an ingredient label that is
actually sugar?

Write up on flipchart- sugar, honey, maple syrup, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, cane
sugar, raw sugar, dextrose, maltose, apple juice concentrate, etc.

Ask if anyone has any questions.


Contents of McDonald’s Meal including Big Mac, Large Fries, and a Large Coke:

Item Calories Fat Sodium
Big Mac
560 30 1010 8

570 30 330 0

310 0 20 86

Total 1440 60 1360 94
% DV
72% 90% 60%

Information on calories, fat, sodium, and sugar content of McDonald’s products obtained from
McDonald’s Website
Sugar Contained in Coca Cola and Snapple:

Information from Coca-Cola Classic Product and Snapple website (

Item Calories
of Sugar
12 ounce Coke
150 40.5 10
20 ounce Coke
240 65 16
16 ounce Cranberry
240 54 13.5
Raspberry Snapple
32 ounce Cranberry

480 108 27
Raspberry Snapple

1 teaspoon = ~ 4 grams fat or sugar

Fat in McDonald’s Meal:
60 grams = 15 teaspoons fat

Sugar in McDonald’s Meal:
94 grams = 23.5 teaspoons sugar

Salt in McDonald’s Meal:
To convert sodium to salt, you need to multiply the amount of grams of sodium by 2.5.
Recommended sodium intake = 2300 mg = 2.300 grams
2.3 grams of sodium x 2.5 = 5.75 grams of salt
5.75 grams of salt = ~ 1 teaspoon of salt

1360 mg of sodium in McDonald’s meal = 1.360 grams
1.360 grams of sodium x 2.5 = 3.4 grams of salt
3.4 grams of salt = .85 teaspoon of salt

Websites to access ingredients lists of different products:

General Mills:

Kellogg Website:


Image obtained from website of the US Food and Drug Association, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition,
Department of Health and Human Services. Last accessed on 11/9/06.