Review by Elena Isabel Nunez. I’m a citizen of Honduras, in the heart of Central America and live in a small community in the outskirts of San Pedro Sula, the second largest city in my country. I used to work for a large international company in the Food Industry in the area of Quality Assurance, which allowed me to travel all over the world. Last year, after a long and very fulfilling career, I finally retired and found that I had now in my hands the time to follow one of my passions: learning new things, and MOOC’s have provided the best way and the best sources to pursue my interests. I’m really enjoying this time..
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To my surprise, I have been invited to write an In-Depth Review about a class that I attended earlier this year: Nutrition and Health Part1- Macro Nutrients and Overnutrition (NUTR101x). I was surprised because this has happened when I was just enrolling for the second part of this course (which is about to start). While checking out the new class, I realized that I hadn’t submitted a review for Part 1, and I decided that it was unfair not to say how much I had enjoyed it, so I submitted a short review. A couple of days later I received the invitation to write an In-Depth Review
So…here I am!..trying to relate my experience with Nutrition and Health Part 1…
Intro to Nutrition – Food for Health
Right there, at the very beginning, I knew that I had come to the right place!
I decided to take this class because my profession is in some ways very connected to Nutrition Science; I studied Chemistry and then I went into Food Science and Technology. In grad school, we only had a brief stint with Nutrition Science, but it was enough to spark my interest on the subject. On the other hand, I firmly believe that good health rests on the basis of good nutrition and exercise, however, the information on nutrition available to the general public is oftentimes confusing and most of the time expressed by people who may or may not base their opinions in real science. Hence the best way to know about something is to learn from the experts. What an eye-opener this course is! Right there, at the very beginning, I knew that I had come to the right place!
Week 0: Introduction to the MOOC
In the introductory video for Week 0 (yes, the course begins in Week 0) Dr. Sander Kersten starts by saying that one of his main objectives in this course is to “provide the necessary knowledge and tools to be more critical towards the messages that we are constantly bombarded with”. This is one of the things I’m most grateful for from this course.
Dr. Kersten has an engaging personality and great sense of humor, which are wonderful tools to make interesting material even more interesting, and slightly complicated subjects a bit less complicated.
Before I go into the course material, I would like to mention that Dr. Kersten, a young scientist who received his Masters of Science degree in Human Nutrition from Wageningen University and his PhD degree in Nutritional Biochemistry from Cornell University is the professor in this course. He is chair of the Nutrition, Metabolism and Genomics group at Wageningen University and also has an appointment as adjunct professor within the Division of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell University; he has conducted research on the study of the mechanisms and functional consequences of gene regulation by lipid, and more recently on receptors for fatty acids. He has also worked on the development of the metabolic syndrome and related metabolic and inflammatory diseases and he has conducted interesting research on the role of certain lipoproteins in the plasma lipoprotein metabolism in connection with diseases like atherosclerosis and cancer. On top of all his brilliant qualifications, Dr. Kersten has an engaging personality and great sense of humor, which are wonderful tools to make interesting material even more interesting, and slightly complicated subjects a bit less complicated. And oh, yes!…Dr. Kersten is vegetarian!
Fundamental parts of the learning process in this course are the Peer Assessments and the Personal Food Quest.
The course is very well structured. The material is divided in weeks, starting with Week 0, in which you have an overview of the course, the learning objectives, assignments, grading, and the nuts and bolts and all the practicalities of the discussion forums. You introduce yourself and start getting to know you fellow learners and the friendly and ever helpful staff. Fundamental parts of the learning process in this course are the Peer Assessments and the Personal Food Quest. In the Peer Assessments, you have to grade the work of your fellow students and your work is graded by them, which help a lot in the process of analyzing and understanding the material you are trying to learn. The aim of the Personal Food Quest is to look critically at your own eating habits and how they relate to your health, and apply your learning to correct and/or improve these habits if you want to maintain good health.
The first part of Week 1 is dedicated to basic principles, and I consider that this is one of the most helpful sections in the course. Professor Kersten explains the differences between study designs in Nutrition research and stresses the importance of analyzing how the study was designed before accepting the conclusions of the author(s). In the second part of this week’s material, you find a brief, but very useful description of the functions of the alimentary tract, which is the preamble for the material in the following weeks.
At the end of Week 1 you have your first encounter with your Personal Food Quest assignments, which I would say is the fun part of the course, because it is very interactive and lets you get in touch with your peers’ different views related to food and health. There is a Personal Food Quest assignment at the end of each week and here you start by searching the most outrageous food or health claim that you can find in your daily life and sharing this in the Discussion Forum; and it goes on, passing through creating a Personal Food Diary that helps you to comply with subsequent assignments of determining your consumption nutrients and compliance with Dietary Recommendations and ends with determining and discussing your Body Mass Index in the assignment for week 8. The Discussion Forums, by the way, are lively and with lots of input from the TA’s and Professor Sanders as well.
Weeks 2 through 6 are dedicated to the three major macro nutrients: Carbohydrates, Lipids and Proteins; and the material is smartly organized in such a way that you first get to remember the chemical structure, functions and reactions of the macro nutrients, and the way they are digested, absorbed and metabolized followed the next week by the discussion on their effect on your health.
On Week 7, you will have the opportunity of connecting all the dots by studying Energy homeostasis and energy balance and how food intake and energy expenditure relates to weight, including the physiology of food intake regulation. And last, but not least, Week 8 is dedicated to Weight management, examining very closely the health risks of obesity, and the causes and possible solutions to this problem. One of the topics also examined during this week is dieting and the weight-loss industry, which I found very interesting and helpful because you get to know better what can work for you to achieve your goals.
Each week ends with a short exam to test your understanding of the material for the week, and the final overall grade for the course is composed by your grades in the 8 exams (80%) and your score in the final peer review assignment (20%). If you want to obtain the Honor Code or the Verified Certificate, you need a minimum score of 60%.
To succeed in this course you might need to have certain knowledge of basic Chemistry, Biology and Biochemistry and I think that you may have to dedicate about 8 hours a week to complete the course.
The course went beyond my expectations in the sense that it also sparks your critical thinking.
I found that the course is more or less what the syllabus suggests, but I must say that it went beyond my expectations in the sense that it also sparks your critical thinking. Nutrition is a science for almost immediate public consumption and nowadays, with poorly informed people making statements that sometimes make no sense all over the media, it is important to have the necessary tools to be more critical.
Finally, I would like to say that I had such a good experience with this course that I have already enrolled in Nutrition and Health Part 2-Micronutrients and Malnutrition (NUTR102x), which is about to start in a couple of weeks. I’m really looking forward to starting it!!
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