Monday, November 7, 2011

Pour Some Sugar on Me

Flu and cold season is upon us again and if you are anything like me, a day of 30 coughing kids can make you want to go home and dive into a bath of hand sanitizer. Helping students understand what germs are and how they spread is essential for the health of you and your students this winter.  A class full of germ-conscious kids who properly wash their hands regularly would be great, right?  Joann and I featured germ-related activities in our posts about germs last year.  Be sure to check them out on our blog archive here and here. 

On a similar note, Halloween traditions can bring up a whole new set of healthy eating teachable moments for your classroom.  As the kids are slowly coming out of the sugar rush of Halloween and building up to the feeding frenzy (more commonly known as Thanksgiving) in America, teachers have a chance to set a good example and teach kids more about the food they are putting into their bodies every day.  I know that I had more than my fair share of added sugar on Halloween, and as I was enjoying it, I started thinking about the added sugar in my diet.  There are lots of nutrition related activities you can implement into your class, but this week I thought sugar would be a timely and appropriate topic.

How much added sugar are we really supposed to be getting anyways?  According to the American Heart Association, women shouldn’t have more than about 5 teaspoons a day (20 grams) and men shouldn’t have more than 9 (36 grams).  Children should be limited to 3 teaspoons (or 12 grams) of added sugar per day.  Most Americans get more than 22 teaspoons, a fact that might surprise some of your students.  These numbers don’t include the sugar naturally founds in food like fruit.  This is the sugar that is added into many foods for extra sweetness.

This fall, I want to help students hunt down the hidden sugar in their diets.  They probably have plenty of Halloween candy to use in this activity, so I plan to ask them to each bring in a few pieces.  If they don’t have candy, they can bring in wrappers and containers from other popular items like yogurt, cereal, soda, and other packaged snacks.  Unfortunately, the nutrition information isn’t on most fun-size candy passed out during trick-or-treating, so you might need to do some online research.  Looking up the information online is a good technology lesson in itself, or you can provide students a list of sugar content in popular candies.  This list is a good starting point.

When looking at ingredients, remember that the sugar content is usually listed under carbohydrates. Sometimes it’s hard for students to figure out which sugar is naturally occurring and which is added, but the numbers will give you a rough idea of the amount of added sugar.  The amounts are generally listed in grams, a weight measurement students might not be familiar with.  They might be more familiar with a volume measurement like a teaspoon.  What does a gram of sugar look like?  The following idea is for an activity that will let students see the amount of sugar in each of their snacks.

For this activity, I will start with 3 baby food jars (or snack size zipper bags) in the front of the classroom, each one representing the maximum amount of daily added sugar that kids and adults should get per day (3, 5, and 9 teaspoons).  After a discussion of added sugars, I will let the kids research their own snacks and create jars or bags of the amount of sugar in each of their snacks. 

For kids old enough to do the math themselves, there is roughly 4 grams of sugar in each teaspoon (this can vary slightly by granularity of the sugar, but it makes for a easy conversion for kids to use).  They can simply divide the number of grams of sugar by 4 to determine the approximate number of teaspoons of sugar in the snack.

I will also make a few examples, so I am sure there is a wide range of snacks.  I will do an example bag for a can of soda, a sweetened yogurt, and a typical serving of a sugary cereal.  Once the kids have created their bags of sugar, I will let them creatively present their results to the class.  It might be a neat exercise to line up the bags with their wrappers in order of how much added sugar they have.  If we do this, we can make a class chart so we can remember and compare our results. 

Here are some more Gateway resources that will help you study added sugars with your class:

Reading Labels: Which Snack is the Best Choice?

Put Your Favorite Beverage to the Test

Good Snack, Smart Snack

Sugary cereals

Candy bar fractions

~ Peggy's Corner - November 1, 2011~

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