Jun 7, 2006
Steve Feld, Editor of the ThinkQuest NYC Newsletter emailed to tell me about a multilingual collaboration going by the name of “Ten Best Foods Ten Worst Foods”. The site has been designated a Learning Fountain and a USA Today Educator’s Best Bet, and for good reason. It was also featured as a Good HouseKeeping Site of the Day and was selected as a Seven Wonders of the Web and featured in the Edutopia Newsletter!
The site, created by inner students, tackles the growing problem of childhood obesity head on by providing children with information on foods that are healthy and those to avoid. Childhood obesity has more than doubled in the past 20 years, and leads to a variety of health problems as a result of dangerous diets.
Children need to switch to healthy foods in order to avoid heart disease and raised blood pressure. This project looks at the best foods to eat to manage weight and cure common ailments and then identifies the worst foods which have become all to prevalant in society.
“The students involved in this exploration were fascinated to learn how their lives could be enhanced by selecting natural foods and be able to prevent common ailments,” Feld told me, “They were also delighted to learn how to create a self-scoring quiz to provide site visitors with a vehicle to demonstrate acquired knowledge.”
The two side by side top-tens make interesting reading with watermelon and pine nuts the top two foods, apparently, followed by lean meat. In the worst foods are the usual french fries, hamburgers, and cheesecake. But, they also single out a specific brand of chicken soup, of which I’m a bit dubious, I’m sure any brand of canned soup is going to have just about the same level of health effects as any other give or take a pinch of salt. I’m also curious as to why lean meat is listed, by that do they mean roast chicken as opposed to a fatty lamb cutlet or something else?
One of the foods they list is specific by brand – Campbell’s “red-and-white-label” condensed soups. These are rather high in salt, with half a can providing a person’s daily quota of sodium chloride. Of course, you don’t eat the soup undiluted, so it’s a bit unfair that this company is being singled out for their condensed soups. That said, public awareness has persuaded Campbell to offer a healther option, so the company must have been concerned to some degree themselves.
It’s the foods that heal page with which I am a little more concerned and it seems the students obtained their background information on this from a book on nutrition!
The claims for apples, for instance, would certainly suggest the fruit has a role in daily physician attendance, saying that they protect your heart, prevent constipation, block diarrhoea, improve lung capacity, and cushions joints. Similar claims are made for a whole range of other “natural” foods from peanuts to yogurt. Do strawberries really improve memory and mangoes protect against Alzheimer’s disease? Certainly, prunes are renowned for preventing constipation, but to a susceptible bowel they can achieve the other extreme! But, “olive oil protects your heart”, is not an unequivocal scientific research. There is evidence that the phenols in red wine beloved of the Mediterranean regions that purportedly have lower heart disease could explain the lower incidence of heart disease in France, for instance, but it might just be down to garlic, or olive oil, or hard water, or that more people die younger of liver disease before their hearts pack up!
Don’t get me wrong, the general message from the site is great and nicely put across, it really isn’t the fault of the students if their source of information makes general sweeping statements regarding individual foods. The general message of eat healthy and avoid the burgers is the crucial point. I just hope readers don’t leave the site with the feeling that an apple and a mango a day is all they need do to stay healthy, whereas the truth seems to lie, not in assuming specific foods can stave off ill health, but in having a varied diet that has excesses of no one food type, and generally avoids those associated strongly with particular problems such as fatty red meat with bowel cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Feld also tells me that, “The multi-lingual aspect of the site was translated into French and Romanian by our international peers to attract ESL learners.”