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Body Needs

  • Teacher Resource
  • Posted 09.26.03
  • NOVA

Why do we eat? How do our bodies use the foods we eat? What organ or system in your body may not be getting enough of what it needs? This interactive feature from NOVA "Dying to Be Thin" Web site will fill you in. Just click on a body part or on the name of a nutrient to find out what you need to eat to stay healthy.

NOVA Body Needs
  • Media Type: Interactive
  • Size: 121.0 KB
  • Level: Grades 3-8

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Source: NOVA: "Dying to Be Thin" Web site

This resource can be found on the NOVA: "Dying to Be Thin" Web site.


Standards of beauty have changed over the years. In the late 1800s, advertisers regularly used models who would be considered overweight by today's standards. Times have changed dramatically. Most Americans are exposed to thousands of media messages every day -- in magazines and newspapers, on television, on outdoor billboards, and over the Internet. These messages promote bodies that are thin and, in some cases, unrealistically proportioned, and they are creating a culture of young people who are obsessed with losing weight.

As a result of this obsession, many people have sworn off fat. They avoid eating fat in any form and, instead, obtain most of their calories from carbohydrates, like bread and pasta. For decades, doctors and health experts supported this fat-free nutritional strategy. Fat was the enemy, they said; it was the cause of obesity and heart disease. Carbohydrates were your friends and could be consumed, many thought, in mass quantities with few concerns about health consequences. Recent studies, however, have begun to reveal the flaws in this thinking.

A nutritional plan that shuns fat ignores this food's important role in the body. While fat's main purpose is to store energy, it serves many other functions as well. Either in its whole form or broken down into small molecules, fat does the following: provides insulation, builds membranes, aids digestion, promotes proper nervous system function, regulates hormones, keeps the skin healthy, and aids the chemical communication between cells. And these are just a few of the important things that fat does for us. Still, many people continue on a fat-free path.

Somewhat surprisingly, fat-free diets often result in the accumulation of excess body fat. Carbohydrates, including sugars and starchy foods, provide the body's most efficient form of energy. They are broken down quickly into glucose, the sugar that cells need in order to function. This is why energy bars used by athletes are made up primarily of carbohydrates: They are quickly broken down in the stomach, and the resulting sugars are easily transported throughout the body via the bloodstream.

When the body is active at high intensity for long periods of time, carbohydrates must be eaten regularly to provide the cells with the energy they need. Carbohydrates that are consumed when the body is at rest, however, are stored. Relatively small amounts of carbohydrates can be stored in the muscles and the liver as a complex sugar called glycogen. When glycogen stores are full, however, and there is no further demand for sugar, carbohydrates are stored as fat.

Although most doctors and nutritionists still recommend that people get the majority of their calories from carbohydrates, they also suggest that many people would benefit from increasing their fat intake. According to most nutritionists, the ratio of carbohydrate, fat, and protein calories should, in fact, be much closer to equal -- at 40, 30, and 30 percent respectively. They stress that exercising and eating moderately from all of the food groups is the proper path to better health.

Questions for Discussion

  • Could you stay healthy eating three or fewer of the foods shown here? Explain your answer, using information from the site.
  • Why do you think 75 percent of the U.S. population doesn't meet daily recommended dietary needs? What ideas do you have about changing the nutritional habits of people in this country?

Resource Produced by:

					WGBH Educational Foundation

Collection Developed by:

						WGBH Educational Foundation

Collection Credits

Collection Funded by:

						National Science Foundation

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