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5 Ways to Make Food Macromolecules a More Approachable Topic

Akanksha Saxena
Teaching with Labster
October 18, 2022

Introduction: Food Macromolecules

All living beings depend on some form of chemical energy to run their bodies. Usually, this chemical energy is delivered to the bodies of different organisms in the form of “food packets”. The different food macromolecules are a bunch of chemical entities that are broken down by the body’s metabolism to extract energy.

Our food is a complex mixture of several macromolecules like simple sugars, carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, and nucleic acids. Consumption of all these macromolecules together ensures that the body never runs out of its energy supply. 

Food macromolecules are important subjects to study and research as they form the very basis of life. The various indispensable roles that these macromolecules play are stupendous displays of what they withhold as chemical entities. From the ‘major energy providing carbohydrates’ to ‘building blocks of life called proteins’, food macromolecules serve a variety of body functions. Students are introduced to these macromolecules quite early in their school days but the concept remains complex for them for a very long. The human body is designed in such a way that it requires a proportionate diet where each of these macromolecules is assigned a specific role. And this points to the underlining importance of a balanced diet.

There are several aspects of macromolecules that are sometimes quite confusing for students. We, at Labster, have compiled those complexities faced by the students and provided some practical solutions that teachers and educators can incorporate in their next class. By the end, we’ll convince you why a virtual lab simulation will prove useful not only for your students but also for you as an educator to deliver concepts more efficiently.

Why can the Food Macromolecules be tricky to teach or learn?

There are 3 reasons why students dread and get confused about Food Macromolecules. Acknowledging these blocks is the first step toward making the topic more approachable. 

1. Confusion in basic Biochemistry 

Food macromolecules are different biochemical molecules with complex structures containing different numbers of bonds (single, double, triple) and atoms (oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and many more). Not knowing how the basic structure of carbohydrates differs from lipids and how the structure of proteins varies from nucleic acids could be a perplexing situation to be in. Since this basic structure is exploited in all the major food macromolecules tests like the Biuret test, Sudan test, Iodine test, and Benedict’s test, students who are oblivious of the basic chemistry of these macromolecules fail to comprehend the underlying principles of these tests too. 

2. Failure to understand the subject’s relevance and importance

Food is something that we need daily; still, many students fail to understand how important these macromolecules are. The lack of ability to relate textual science to real life is the prime cause for such a muddle. This problem becomes evident when students can’t explain the dominant presence of different macromolecules in different types of food. Not knowing which macromolecule is predominantly present in food grains, cereals, dairy items, vegetables, etc is a very poor situation to be in. Students should be able to identify these macromolecules as this is very preliminary to advanced techniques for differentiating various macromolecules, understanding food science, nutrient deficiencies, etc.

3. Unawareness of its practical uses

Before moving to complex science and research, it is important that students can identify why the basic science concepts should be crystal clear to them. Several techniques are used for testing different food macromolecules. Only when they have the basic concepts clear, can they identify the innumerable uses and practical applications of those concepts. From the use of the Biuret test in spectrophotometric analysis and the use of Benedict’s test in the clinical diagnosis of diabetes mellitus, basic knowledge about food macromolecules can’t be compromised. And many students struggle to identify these uses. 

5 ways to make Food Macromolecules a more approachable topic to understand

To address the issues encountered while teaching this topic, educators can engage the under-listed solutions in their classes. These can decode many different aspects of the Food Macromolecules. Not only can they make teaching easier for educators like you but they will also make lessons clearer and easier to assimilate for your students.

1. Strengthen the core concept of food macromolecules and their structures

This is our foremost advice to all educators dealing with food macromolecules. Before you start explaining complex science, it’s important that the core concepts about the biochemistry of different macromolecules are clear to students.  You can begin with the underlisted examples in your next class.

  • Different types of food macromolecules (You can use the Introduction to Food Macromolecules simulation from Labster)

  • Basis of differentiating between different food macromolecules

  • Introduction of carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, and nucleic acids

  • The basic concept of monomer, oligomer, and polymer

  • Different types of oligomers (dimers, trimers, tetramers, etc)

  • The polymerization process of different food macromolecules (with exception of lipids)

  • Different types of atoms involved in different food macromolecules

  • Different types (covalent, hydrogen, etc) and number (single, double, triple) of bonds involved in different food macromolecules 

Catering to these topics can come in handy when students move to concepts of complex biochemistry. Additionally, it will encourage students to raise questions in a more open-ended manner during classroom teaching sessions related to “basic science”.  

healthy nutrition plate

Figure: A snippet from the Food Macromolecules simulation by Labster showing lab experiments for the detection of different food macromolecules. It is available for School and University/College classes.

2. Inform them about the relevance and importance of food macromolecules 

Since food macromolecules form the very basis of human metabolism, it’s important that your students can identify their significance. Reiterating the presence and distribution of different food macromolecules across the different food sources hence gains importance. One way to simplify this is by introducing the different food macromolecules to your students along with the related examples and their roles in the human body. We provide some hints that educators can use in their classes.

  • Carbohydrates

Role: Main energy source for the human body

Examples: Cereals like wheat, rice, ragi, potato, corn

  • Lipids

Role: Secondary energy source, cell membranes’ structure

Examples: Vegetable oils like olive oil, peanut oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, mustard oil, nuts, and seeds (chia seeds, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds)

  • Proteins

Role: Building blocks of the body (make body muscles)

Examples: Dairy products (milk, cheese, cottage cheese), eggs, chicken, fish

Educating your students about the real-life importance of these food macromolecules and their natural sources can not only make their basic concepts clearer but can also help them form good and healthier food habits. Such a way of associating science lessons with real-life potentially makes the science classes more interesting and less monotonous.

Food macromolecules virtual lab simulation

Figure: A snippet from the Food Macromolecules simulation by Labster. Knowing the science behind food macromolecules can help one in making healthier food choices. It is available for School and University/College classes.

3. Demonstrate the techniques for food macromolecules 

Students are more likely to remember teachings and their specifics when they get hands-on experience with lab procedures. We understand that it’s not always possible for educators to conduct individual practice sessions for all the experiments. In such cases, we recommend at least demonstrating the experiments. Since the different tests for food macromolecules are easily demonstrable in school and college labs, we encourage teachers to do them. 

  • Benedict’s Test (for distinguishing ‘reducing sugars’ from non-reducing sugars)

  • Biuret Test (for testing the presence of proteins)

  • Iodine Test (for testing the presence of starch)

  • Sudan Test (for testing the presence of lipids)

You can use different types of food items like wheat flour, egg whites, rice, cheese, salad, cottage cheese, tofu, broccoli, chips, cold drink, corn, nuts, chia seeds, etc which are prominently rich in some or the other food macromolecules for the demonstration. Using them in your class demonstrations can potentially make the concept clearer to your students.

Additionally, you can increase participation by asking your students to bring a variety of foods from home that they believe to be high in any food macromolecule they think so that you can include them in the experiment.

Food Macromolecules simulation

Figure: A snippet from the Food Macromolecules simulation by Labster showing a virtual lab demonstration. It is available for School and University/College classes.

4. Simplify, don’t complicate!

Educators must simplify the science behind technical experiments. It's crucial to explain how different tests and techniques work. If you simplify that for your students, half of the job is done! Take leads from the underlisted points and how to simplify them for your students.

While demonstrating the tests to students, educators can also choose to explain the following aspects of each test.

  • Test’s objective

  • Underlying principle

  • Requirements and reagents preparation

  • Procedure, results, and interpretation of results

  • Advantages and disadvantages of the test

  • Applications of test

  • Necessary precautions to keep in mind while performing these tests

When students are clear about these things, it becomes easier for them to use the tests for various experiments without confusion.

polymerization process of sugars - food macromolecules virtual lab

Figure: A snippet from the Food Macromolecules simulation by Labster showing the polymerization process of sugars. It is available for School and University/College classes.

5. Use virtual lab simulations

The topic of food macromolecules is fairly a very extensive subject to teach. From the complex biochemical structures to the variety in each macromolecule, the topic can sometimes be very overwhelming for students to assimilate. 

Overall, difficulty to relate the topic to real life or lab experiments can further demotivate students. It thus becomes the educators’ duty to generate and maintain the interest of students in the class when this topic is being discussed.

A very time-tested solution is to use more engaging tools and videos since textual teaching can be boring and intimidating as the food macromolecules topic is no doubt very heavy on content. 

We, at Labster, understand the issues faced by both students and teachers. Therefore, we encourage modern-day educators to make the most of the Food Macromolecules simulation. It takes your students into a virtual world where they can understand how different macromolecules are synthesized, their structures, functions, a source in nature, etc. It also helps your students to actively engage in the experiment using different food items like rice, eggs, green veggies, etc.

With virtual laboratory simulations from Labster, teachers can make more insightful points as students are rendered with better visual options where they can follow the different concepts in a free-flowing manner. 

Introduction to Food Macromolecules Virtual Lab GIF

Your students don’t have to struggle anymore as our interactive Food Macromolecules simulation along with gamification elements will help you. By using this way of active and immersive teaching, our virtual learning platform takes an advent in the field of Science to make the upcoming scientists thorough with the “basics of their respective subjects”. 

You can learn more about the Food Macromolecules simulation here or get in touch to find out how you can start using virtual labs with your students.

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