During class this week, we focused on finishing our presentations for the Public Information Campaign on April 26th. Our task was to use our chemical knowledge to create a presentation to inform the public about modern food productions and policies along with their relations to specific topics. Groups were working on projects about whole grains, antioxidants, and energy supplements.
My group was working on the presentation on whole grains. Preparing for this week’s class was far from our typical work load. This week we made three trips to our local grocery store, Wegman’s, a trip to Big Lot’s to pick up our “human sized boxes”, and spent a lot of time staring at people using the computers we wanted in the library. What on earth were we doing, you might ask? Well, in order to do our presentation, we began by surveying the various products we found at Wegman’s that claimed to be made with whole grains. We quickly realized as we walked around that aside from knowing that a whole grain was well… whole, we didn’t know much about it. We decided to go back to the library and find out exactly what makes up a whole grain. A whole grain is made up of an outer layer known as the bran that contains fiber, B vitamins, and some trace minerals. Within the bran are the germ and the endosperm. The germ also contains B vitamins and trace minerals, as well as Vitamin E and phytochemicals (chemicals that occur naturally in plants). The endosperm makes up a majority of the kernel and contains mostly carbohydrates and proteins along with some B vitamins.
Products made with whole grains are made with the bran, germ and endosperm whereas products from refined grains only contained the endosperm. This was how we got to asking Big Lot’s for “human sized boxes”. We decided that the best way to make this information accessible to our audience was through a demonstration. We used our boxes to cut out oval layers of cardboard that we fashioned into a costume with removable parts for one of our group members to wear. This enabled us to show the different layers of the whole grain as well as what parts are used in each type of product.
Our presentation focused on the properties of fiber found in whole grains. Fiber is a plant material that cannot be broken down by the digestive system. Whole grain products contain more fiber than their refined grain counter parts. We found that fiber exists in two different forms: soluble and insoluble. An example of an insoluble fiber is cellulose. Cellulose is made of glucose monomers linked at the 1 and 4 positions. This leads to a structure that is linear, which enables the polymer chains to stack on top of one another making it insoluble in water.
An example of soluble fiber is beta-glucan, which also consists of glucose monomers, however, these are connected at the 1,4 and 1,3 positions. The structure is less linear so it is harder to stack in layers, thus making the fiber soluble.
Another Group focused on antioxidants. Antioxidants are compounds that prevent oxidation reactions that in turn can damage fats, proteins, and most crucially DNA. They prevent a chain of oxidation reactions from occurring by donating hydrogen atoms to free radicals that have extra unpaired electrons. Oxidation reactions can contribute to cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, asthma, and other ailments. Examples of antioxidants include: Beta carotene, Lycopene, as well as Vitamins A, B, C, and E. Some antioxidants can only be obtained through one’s diet. Preparing foods with antioxidants in different ways can affect the body’s ability to absorb the antioxidants. For example, eating tomatoes with olive oil allows for better absorption of Lycopene by the body.
The 3rd group proposed their topic as an investigation into energy drinks. So I was very surprised to see that they were talking about energy supplements instead. I soon found out why. They had changed their title even though the topic had remained the same because energy drinks, such as Red Bull are not considered “food” by the FDA. And yes, orange juice is a food. So what are energy drinks considered to be? Well…they are supplements, which are regulated very differently than foods. The FDA does not approve the safety and/or effectiveness of supplements. One reason that energy supplements cannot be considered food is that all exceed the FDA’s limit of caffeine that can be found in a “food” product. In fact, the energy supplement cans should contain some indication that the beverage is an energy supplement. Typically, energy supplement manufactures will write “supplement facts” as opposed to “nutrition facts” on the can. However, as the group illustrated, some energy drinks still write “nutrition facts” on their can while labeling the can elsewhere with the phrase “energy supplement.” When looking at the ingredients list on an energy supplement, you will more than likely find more than one form of sugar. This is done to try and conceal the large amount of sugar in energy supplements. In one 16 oz can of Full Throttle, there are 58 grams of sugars. Other ingredients include several B vitamins, herbal supplements and amino acid derivatives such as taurine and L-carnitine.
It was obvious by watching the presentations that each group put a lot of working into their research topic. It was well worth it though. I had a lot of fun and I know a lot more about whole grains than I did before we started. I would like to think that we have been able to impart some of our knowledge to those who were able to attend the presentation. Overall the best advice is, as the energy supplement group said, BE AN EDUCATED CONSUMER!