Teaching nutrition – vitamins

Teaching  vitamins 1970 style
After minerals we must now learn the vitamins which are named after vital so essential for life. Vitamins follow the letters of the alphabet and were named as they were discovered – A,B,C,D. There is a huge clutter of Bs which muddles things up. They learn that vitamins are either fat or water soluble and this distinction is important as water soluble ones leak out into cooking water and fat soluble dissolve in fat. We come up with learning devices. Buoyancy – floating in water – for B and C, which leaves A and D dissolving in fat.
For learning by heart I create memory prods and more stories.

Let’s start with vitamin A, the first vitamin to be named in 1916. I show them wartime pictures of Dr Carrot, the character who encouraged mass carrot eating to boost our vitamin A intake, when foods rich in vitamin A, such as butter and oily fish, were in short supply. Fighter pilots in World War 11 were given extra helpings of carrots to help prevent night blindness so that they could see in night raids over Germany and carrots were supposed to help the rest of us see in wartime night blackouts.

Doctor Carrot

Doctor Carrot

‘The Germans must have eaten lots of carrots then, when they flew around here. Me nan’s house was flattened by them.’ Alan is showing unexpected interest in my lesson.
‘So class, the message is simple – vitamin A is found in fats and carrots and helps you see in the dark.’

 Vitamin D is added to margarine and the body can manufacture it when we are exposed to sunlight. I tell them stories about slum children who ate a poor diet and lived in areas with lots of smog and pollution who ended up with rickets, as the body needs vitamin D and calcium to form strong bones. During revision time, my students have a plentiful intake of vitamin D as they snooze in the summer sun with copies of Cookery for Schools flattened over their faces to shield the rays.
I remind them of my childhood which they believe happened in the time before the invention of electricity and television.
‘I had to have a teaspoon of cod liver oil every day to make sure I had enough vitamins.’
So what? I must be stupid. Why eat oil from a cod?

Vitamin C
has the best stories. In the 17th century British sailors carried lemons and limes on board ship to prevent the crew from dying of scurvy and this earned the sailors the nickname limeys, which is still used today. Severe scurvy caused the ultimate deficiency disease, death, so that is a warning to them to have a daily dose of orange juice. I tell them again, that as a child we were given free, concentrated orange juice to boost our intake since there was a shortage of fresh fruit. Free food? No oranges? How ever long ago was that?

Teaching vitamin B is the biggest muddle as there are eleven B vitamins, many listed on the cornflake packets. The best story is for Thiamin and goes like this. In 1897 a scientist noticed that chickens fed on left-over white polished rice became ill. I don’t know whether they had snuffles or turned upside down, but the point of the story is that when they ate rice husks they got better. So the moral of this tale is, eat rice husks and you won’t get chicken sickness! The consequence for Britain was that food scientists decided to put thiamin in white flour which has had its wheat husk removed in milling.
Deficiency symptoms for many of these minerals and vitamins include tiredness and lack of energy, and by the end of this lesson we all feel we need to pop a multivitamin pill to counter this feeling of complete exhaustion.

History note
The Nutrition Program (www.nutritionprogram.co.uk) is our modern day tool for analysing diets and recipes – a quick online resource that will show you the nutritional value including all the vitamins, at the speed of your internet connection. Keep up to date with our Nutrition Programblog.

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