Nutrition and Wellness and the Iowa Environment

LaRhee Henderson – Associate Professor of Chemistry Director, Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology

Charisse Buising – Associate Professor of Biology, Assistant Director, Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology, Director, Environmental Science and Policy

Dan Alexander – Associate Professor of Math and Computer Science, Director of Web Assisted Learning Technology

David Courard-Hauri – Assistant Professor of Environmental Science and Policy

All of Drake University

A 2003 SENCER Model


Nutrition and Wellness and The Iowa Environment are integrated laboratory science and math courses that aim to create exciting and relevant relationships between science and mathematics within the Drake University curriculum. Nutrition was selected as the first topic area because it is of general interest and “local,” in the sense that its scientific focus is molecular and organismal. The second topic area, The Iowa Environment, was selected because the science it addresses is “global,” in that it addresses large eco-systems. Both courses integrate mathematics. They were designed to incorporate national standards and learning objectives in science and mathematics.

The Nutrition course covers topics in biology and chemistry including physiology, homeostasis, metabolism, proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, and alcohol. The policy questions addressed include food labeling, diet trends and recommendations, the definition of “healthy body weight,” and the social and economic cost of the American diet. The Iowa Environment explores issues of specific relevance to this agricultural economy, including water quality, soil nutrients and contaminants, genetic engineering and diversity, and energy use. The policy questions raised include the handling of human and animal waste, the hazards of fertilizers, pesticides, and monocropping, and the impact of industrial farming methods on greenhouse gasses and air quality. Mathematical and statistical concepts are invoked in both courses, such as the metric system, linear equations, logarithms, and probability and risk.

Students in both courses apply the scientific method, develop data acquisition, hone their presentation and interpretive skills through research projects, and think critically about how science and social issues are interwoven in complex systems.


Goal: To study the concepts and rationale of nutrition in the context of personal, cultural and world aspects of human nutrition.

Learning Objectives:

  • Increase science and mathematics knowledge base as applied to nutrition.
  • Apply the Scientific Method (the process of discovery)
  • Develop Data acquisition, presentation and interpretive skills
  • Think Critically
  • Explore how science and society are interwoven
  • Improve Communication Skills (listen, speak, write)

Sample Learning Objectives

Learning Objectives Exam 2
Carbohydrates, Fats and Proteins
The Energy Yielding Nutrients

You should be able to

1. Define general chemical principles relating structure to solubility, energy content, and physiological function including

  • why simple sugars and amino acids are more soluble than complex carbohydrates and proteins, – than fats
  • why sugars and proteins have less energy per gram than fats
  • the key chemical differences between molecules with structural roles as compared to those with metabolic roles

2. Differentiate between monosaccharides, disaccharides and polysaccharides

3. Give common names for

  • glucose
  • lactose (what is the problem that some people have with lactose?)
  • fructose
  • sucrose

4. Describe structures and roles for

  • starch
  • glycogen
  • cellulose

5. Describe dietary recommendations for

  • Carbohydrates

a. Simple and Complex (How much is required to maintain glycogen stores)

b. Fiber – soluble and insoluble

  • Fats
  • Proteins
  • Minimizing Cancer Risk
  • Minimizing Heart Disease Risk

6. Describe at least three categories of sweeteners, including examples of their food uses, advantages and disadvantages

7. Describe at least three categories of artificial or replacement fats, including examples of their food uses, advantages and disadvantages

8. Trace the digestion of nutrients through the GI tract, including

  • Carbohydrates: digestion, absorption, energy yield
  • Fats digestion, absorption, energy yield
  • Proteins digestion, absorption, energy yield

9. Describe the physiological roles for each of the nutrient groups, including

  • Carbohydrates
  • Fats
  • Protein

10. Describe normal blood glucose levels over time (glucose tolerance test)

a. Describe the hormonal regulation of blood glucose concentrations

b. Define and apply the concept of glycemic index

11. Describe problems associated with inappropriate (too much and too little) intake of

  • Simple sugars
  • Fiber
  • Fats (especially unsaturated fats, and trans fats)
  • Protein

12. Identify structures for and describe roles for

  • triglycerides, fatty acids, phospholipids and cholesterol

Which one is most common in the diet?

13. Differentiate between saturated, unsaturated (poly and mono) and trans fatty acids.

  • Describe each of their relationships to health.
  • Describe examples of where you can find each of them.
  • What are the major classes of lipoproteins?
  • Describe the roles and healthy guidelines for blood profiles of LDL’s, HDL’s, and triglycerides.

14. Identify amino acids and protein structures from other nutrient structures

  • Describe what is meant by “denatured protein”

15. Define the terms Essential and Nonessential for fatty acids and for amino acids..

  • Give examples of essential fatty acids and where you can find them.
  • Give examples of essential amino acids and where you can find them.
  • Give examples of complete and incomplete proteins.
  • Discuss how vegetarians can get their full complement of amino acids.
  • Be able to identify the top 4 essential amino acids.

16. Compare other diet plans to USDA current recommendations

17. Analyze Risk when given appropriate data, including the following

  • Describe relative risk – an example would be the chart giving the relative risks associated with the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL.
  • Interpret what it means to be have a P% risk of developing a condition in a specified time period (this is absolute risk)
  • Use the handout to assess the risk of developing CHD over the next 10 years given age, total cholesterol level, HDL, Smoking/Non-Smoking, and Systolic Blood Pressure.
  • Interpret a negative risk factor; be able to cite an example of a negative risk factor for CHD.
  • Interpret a positive risk factor; be able to cite several examples of a positive risk factors for CHD.
  • Describe differences between a low risk and a high risk.
  • Describe various behavioral and dietary risks that are involved in the development of CHD.
  • Interpret graphs such as those in the handouts involving risk- assessment.

18. Recognize the effect of scale on a graph (recall the graph discussed on Wednesday, 2/26 where the scale on the vertical axis was 10, 100, 1000, etc).

The Course


Syllabus for Nutrition and Wellness and the Iowa Environment

Download (PDF, 198KB)

Catalog Description

Examination of nutrition principles using chemistry, biology, physics and mathematics. Content will include structure-function relationships of the food groups, energy and metabolism, regulatory processes, and health indices. Projects of real world application will be performed to gain hands on experience with the scientific method, data handling and interpretation, and scientific communications.

This course examines both the science of local issues and the tools that policy makers apply to them. Students will explore topics such as the effects of agriculture on Iowa’s environment, air quality in cities like Des Moines and Chicago, the chemistry of hog lots, genetic engineering, and alternative energies. Through the study of some of Iowa’s environmental issues, students will gain an understanding of the ways in which scientists and policymakers think about complex, dynamic systems.

About the Relation of Mathematics in This Course to the Mathematics in SMEC

Some students may have already taken the first SMEC course and some may not have. Since some mathematical tools are used in both classes (data analysis, exponential functions, and algebraic manipulation) students who take both classes will be exposed to the same concepts more than once. This is not a bad thing rather it is a strength of the SMEC sequence: first of all, we will attempt to minimize overlap by covering similar concepts from different angles. In addition, we feel that multiple exposures to the same concept but in different contexts deepens your understanding of that concept and increases your ability to apply the concept in new and unfamiliar circumstance.

Linking Science and Social Issues

What are the Capacious Civic Questions or Problems Addressed in the Course?

Drake has designed a series of two integrated science and math courses that aim to create exciting and relevant relationships between science and mathematics and the Drake Curriculum. We selected nutrition and the Iowa environment as our first two topic areas. The first course (nutrition) is local in nature. That is to say its focus is fairly molecular and organismal; some might call it micro level science. The second (The Iowa Environment) is global in nature. That is to say its focus is fairly systems and ecologic based; some might call it macro level science. Both courses integrate mathematics. In these courses, students apply the science to issues with which they are already familiar and that affect their everyday lives.

In constructing the courses, we reviewed national standards and current literature then set a list of learning objectives: increase science and mathematics knowledge base; apply the scientific method; develop data acquisition, presentation and interpretive skills; think critically; explore how science and society are interwoven; and improve communication skills.

Students completing the two courses will explore each of the above focus areas in depth. They will learn content in the context of each issue and will use scientific and mathematical methods to explore questions and do projects. By taking two courses, they gain experience on micro and macro level science issues and will get some sense of the breadth of science. The approach is constructivist and active. Students learn more about them by doing science. By learning science and mathematics in this setting, we hope to reduce the science/math ‘phobias’ and help them become better-engaged citizens. Below are tables illustrating the courses content and applications to civic and policy issues.

Topics Guide

Topics Guide for Nutrition and Wellness in the Iowa Environment

Download (PDF, 99KB)

Evaluating Learning

Sample Carbohydrates Worksheet

General Principles:

1. Solubility and structure

  • What chemical structure features suggest that a substance is water-soluble?
  • Explain why simple sugars and amino acids are more soluble than complex carbohydrates and proteins, – than fats

2. Explain why simple sugars and amino acids are more soluble than fats

3. Use chemical features to explain why sugars have fewer calories than fats

4. Describe the key chemical differences between molecules with structural roles as compared to those with metabolic roles


1. Structures:

a..What is a simple carbohydrate?, – a monosaccharide? -a disaccharide?

Give common names for

  • glucose
  • lactose
  • fructose
  • sucrose

b.What is a complex carbohydrate?

Describe structures and roles for

  • starch
  • glycogen
  • cellulose

c. Differentiate between soluble fiber and insoluble fiber

2. Recommendations:

List the recommended distribution of carbohydrates and compare them to the average American Diet

3. Notes on Issues:

a. Describe the issue of refined sugars in our diet

b. Describe the bran, germ and endosperm in Grains and Flour

c. Differentiate between whole grain, white and enriched flours

Sweeteners –

a. List three categories of sweeteners

b. Describe use of sugar alcohols as sweeteners – foods used, advantages and disadvantages

c. Describe use of saccharine, aspartame and sucralose as sweeteners -foods used, advantages and disadvantages

Carbohydrate Digestion:

  • Trace the digestion of carbohydrates through the GI tract
  • Describe roles for carbohydrate as related to

a. Energy

b. Stored energy

c. Protein Sparing

d. Ketosis Balancing

  • Explain how blood glucose levels are regulated with hormones
  • Explain the glycemic index
  • List and Explain Dietary Recommendations in regard to Carbohydrates

Answer the Personal Analysis Questions:

1. Calculate your average carbohydrate and energy intake from your diet record.

2. What is your % energy from carbohydrate?

3. How does this compare with the recommended 55-60%?

4. Suggest ways to change your diet if it doesn’t meet the recommendations.

5. Compare the fat content of your original diet and your modified diet.

6. Compare the nutrient content of your original diet and modified diet

7. How is your diet with respect to refined sugars?

8. How is your diet with respect to fiber?

Answer the Self Test Questions

1. Are starch foods fattening?

2. Do Americans eat too much carbohydrate?

3. Do artificial sweeteners help you to lose weight?

4. List two simple carbohydrates and their common food sources. Does an average American diet have appropriate amounts of simple carbohydrates? Explain.

5. List two complex carbohydrates and their food common sources. Does an average American diet have appropriate amounts of complex carbohydrates? Explain.

6. How much energy is provided in a gram of carbohydrate? Compare this to energy in fats.

7. Fiber: Why do we say that fiber doesn’t produce energy?

  • Differentiate between soluble and insoluble fiber.
  • Does the average American diet have appropriate amounts of fiber?
  • List 3 good things about high fiber diets.

8. How does whole grain flour differ from white flour?

9. Some weight-loss diets suggest that you avoid an insulin surge. What is insulin and how does it relate to carbohydrate metabolism?

Sample Exam

Practice Exam

Sample Class Activity

The Carbohydrate Debate

Mary had been gradually gaining weight as she moved through her 30’s and now found herself to be about 20 pounds overweight. She went to her doctor who suggested that she follow the USDA food guide pyramid, eating several servings of carbohydrates (55-60% of Calories), especially complex carbohydrates but restricting her protein and fat consumption. He assured her that the high complex carbohydrate diet would decrease her appetite and make it easier to reduce her caloric intake to lose weight.

At the same time, her neighbor Jane also consulted her doctor about weight loss. Jane and Mary were about the same age and weight, so they thought that dieting together would help them keep to their targets. However, Jane’s doctor suggested she restrict processed carbohydrate intake and eat plenty of low-fat protein and fiber. He assured her that eating these complex foods would make it easier to reduce her caloric intake to lose weight.

Both of these diet plans can be scientifically justified. Let’s divide the class in half. Each group will take one position and elect two spokespeople to debate the other group during the last part of this period.

Design a day’s diet that would fit Mary’s or Jane’s diet plan. Use it as you discuss the rationale for Mary’s or Jane’s doctor’s suggestions. Include in your answer the following features

  • Complex vs simple carbohydrates
  • Glycemic index
  • Dieting and hunger satiation on high carbohydrate diets, protein diets
  • Starch isn’t fattening?
  • Typical American patterns of consumption of carbohydrates: simple, complex, processed, fiber

Sample Lab

Muffins: A Study in Carbohydrates

Muffin Carbohydrates Lab

Related Resources


  • Contemporary Nutrition, Wardlaw, McGraw Hill Publishers, 1999, Ed. 4
  • College Algebra and Trigonometry, Rockswold, Addison Wesley Longman