Sugar Detectives Solve the Case

Young sugar detective points to evidence of hidden sugar in chocolate milk.
Young sugar detective points to evidence of hidden sugar in chocolate milk.
Mary Eyre student measures out sugar in an energy drink with coaching from OSU Extension SNAP ed program assistant.
Mary Eyre student measures out sugar in an energy drink with coaching from OSU Extension SNAP ed program assistant.
OSU Extension SNAP ed program assistant teaches the bi-lingual lesson about hidden sugars in beverages.
OSU Extension SNAP ed program assistant teaches the bi-lingual lesson about hidden sugars in beverages.
Popeye smoothies are made with spinach, orange juice, bananas and pineapple were served at Family Nutrition Night.
Popeye smoothies are made with spinach, orange juice, bananas and pineapple were served at Family Nutrition Night.
Students play games to learn how nutrition and fitness go hand in hand.
Students play games to learn how nutrition and fitness go hand in hand.
By Mary Stewart, OSU Extension Communications & Marketing Coordinator, West Central Region

“Mom! Look how much sugar is in the chocolate milk!,” said 10-year-old Joey as she points to the nutrition fact label on the back of the bottle. Joey, other students and their parents played detective as they discovered the amount of sugar hiding in containers of sodas, juice, milk and coffee.  

The scene of the investigation was a Family Nutrition Night at Mary Eyre Elementary School in Salem, and the evidence was presented by faculty and staff of the Oregon State University Extension Service as part of the SNAP Ed Nutrition Education Program.

The students and their parents were surprised to hear that one soda pop had 39 grams or nearly 10 teaspoons of sugar in a 12-ounce can. They were even more impressed when they measured out 10 teaspoons of granulated sugar to see what it looked like. The plot thickened as they continued to measure out teaspoons of sugar to visualize their entire week’s consumption of sugar.

“Seeing is believing,” says Tonya Johnson, the OSU Extension faculty who manages the Extension Family & Community Health program in Marion County. “Sugar is often a hidden ingredient. There is no nutritional value in sugar other than calories for energy. Most of us do not need that additional energy,” she explains. Tonya encourages everyone to limit sugar-sweetened beverages, and to choose water most often because it contains zero calories yet quenches thirst.

Sugar can also have a negative effect on teeth and health. “A little sweetness is okay if eaten in moderation,” says Tonya. “There are natural sugars in foods like white milk and fresh fruit.” The OSU Extension Service encourages families to check the nutrition fact label to identify out how much sugar is in a beverage before they drink it. 

Because nutrition and fitness go hand in hand to keep bodies strong, the students at Family Nutrition Night also took part in games that involved moving their bodies. One of the most popular activities was called “fitness dice.” The students rolled a large pair of stuffed dice and then performed that number of exercises: a dice roll of 10 meant everyone did 10 jumping jacks, for example.

The students and parents topped off the night by trying a green Popeye Smoothie, made with spinach, orange juice, bananas and pineapple. “The kids and the parents really liked it,” says Tonya. The recipe may be found at foodhero.org.

Four Family Nutrition Nights were held at Mary Eyre this school year. Each night had a different theme, from the five food groups to breakfast to energy balance. “We really appreciate the collaboration with Mary Eyre Elementary School to promote the family nights, provide space, and support healthy lifestyles” says Tonya.  The evening event complements the in-classroom work of the OSU Extension Service SNAP Education program staff.

“It’s nice to see how the families work together at these events. For example, Joey was teaching her mother how to read a nutrition fact label. Not only does this program cement what Joey is learning about nutrition, it builds relationships and communications skills in the kids,” Tonya explains.

As the students and families walked away from the scene of the hidden sugar mystery at Mary Eyre Elementary School, they left with some ideas about how to improve their eating habits and with the knowledge that they helped solve the whereabouts of hidden sugar in their own diets. The sugar detectives can say with confidence, “Case closed!”

Photos by Mary Stewart

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