By measuring the sugar content in what they eat, three students reveal the reality behind food labels
Three students at the Sanford campus of Seacoast Career Schools recently got a wake-up call about the sugar content of foods they routinely eat. Medical Assisting students Devin Donnelly, Ashly Bell, and Priscilla Forziati showed off their hard work with a poster presentation showcasing a highly practical aspect what they’re learning in their 5th-term nutrition class.
Instructor Julie Higgins, herself a graduate of the Seacoast Sanford Medical Assisting program, assigns what she calls a “sugar board” project as a way to get the students more directly connected to the subject they’re studying. “We focused on items that were already in our diet—or our friends’ diets,” says Priscilla. “And we wanted to show sugar content for beverages as well as food.” The threesome devoted a poster board to each topic, and then featured the containers and wrappers for foods they’d consumed—glued right onto the board.
A visual impact
Included in the food section were items such as a Lean Cuisine meal, a Smuckers Uncrustables sandwich, and a vegan snack bar. Next to each item, the team included the ingredients on the food label, and then a baggie containing the equivalent number of teaspoons of sugar in each item. “This provided a great visual,” Priscilla says, “and helped us to see what we’re putting into our bodies without even realizing it.”
The beverage section of the project featured a bottle of water—with zero grams of sugar—for comparison with other items that are relatively high in sugar. “The students might know that there are 37 grams of sugar in a Coke,” Higgins says, “but when they start measuring out what that translates to in real sugar, the visual has a big impact on them.” She says a lot of students will bring a big sugary coffee drink with them to class, without even thinking about the sugar content, and this project starts to affect how they see the choices they’re making every day. She also takes this opportunity to impress upon the students how important it is to drink more water.
“My reaction was to say to myself, ‘Wow! I can’t believe I consumed that much sugar in one little packet of prepared food,’” Priscilla says. She adds that this unit on nutrition got her and her classmates looking more closely at food labels, not just for sugar content but also for other unhealthy ingredients like partially hydrogenated oils.
Ms. Higgins says she’d used a similar poster presentation when she worked as a Medical Assistant at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital in Dover, NH, in the endocrinology department, to provide patients a visual reference for their food choices. “People are usually surprised,” she says.
A team effort
“This group of students worked together particularly well,” Higgins notes. “It was obvious they were having a lot of fun, but learning at the same time.” She emphasizes that working as part of a team is a skillset that will come in handy for them in the working world.
“It was easy to work together,” Priscilla says. “We were all on the same page, and were able to divide up the work easily.” Priscilla took care of getting wrappers and containers for the food items they wanted to include. Ashly researched the ingredients online and printed out some of the information they had researched, and Devin was responsible for converting the grams of sugar to teaspoons, and then pouring the appropriate amounts into individual bags. The three also double-checked each other’s work.
The bigger picture
Other issues that Ms. Higgins asked the students to explore in their research included: Is sugar really that bad for your health? How much sugar should a person be consuming in their diet? Is artificial sweetener any safer?
“The project was a real eye-opener,” Pricilla says. “The class gave us all a solid understanding of the endocrine system and how it works. I see more clearly now the role of the pancreas and the kind of negative feedback the system can provide based on what a person is ingesting.” She says the Clinical III class helped her to understand the science behind why she and her friends were feeling drops in energy at certain times of day—like a lag at 2:00 pm in the wake of a big lunch that might have been unsuspectingly high in sugar.
Priscilla is especially motivated to learn about nutrition so that she can teach good habits to her son, who is 10. “Now I’m more careful about what I give him, and I’ve educated him, too, so he’s looking at labels now, and steering away from some of the bad stuff.”
Many opportunities for learning
“My entire experience at the Seacoast Sanford campus was great,” Priscilla says. “I adore all the teachers and staff—they’re all so helpful.” She maintained As in all her classes during her time at Seacoast, and she says that’s not only a reflection of her effort but of the teachers, as well. “They help you so much,” she says. “If I didn’t understand a certain topic, they didn’t ever get impatient. They were always able to help me to approach it from a different angle until it made sense.” She says she found the whole experience “invigorating,” and that she’d recommend the program to any of her friends who were interested in the medical field.
Soon Priscilla, Ashly, and Devin will all head out to begin their externships, where they’ll have the chance to put into practice what they’ve learned in their training program. Priscilla was looking forward to the 160 hours of practical experience. “It’s exciting that at the end of the externship there could be a letter of recommendation to take with you, or maybe even a job offer,” she says.
Higgins’s experience of this group of students—and of Seacoast Sanford students in general—is that they’re bright and eager to learn. “It’s great to watch them build their confidence as they make their way through the program,” she says.
Other members of campus can continue to learn from the hard work of these three students, since the posters are now hung in the clinical room where students perform their labs.
This post is part of the weekly blog of Seacoast Career Schools. We care about helping all our students strive to meet their career goals. If you’re interested in a professional training program, reach out to us online or call 800-758-7679 to learn more. Schedule a tour of one of our two campuses, in Manchester, NH, and Sanford, ME.