Chem Connections

Would You Like Fries With That? The Fuss About Fats in Our Diet

Fats Image


Prerequisites: Particulate nature of matter, Lewis structures, VSEPR theory
Interdisciplinary aspects: Nutrition, biochemistry, food science, risk analysis, advertising and consumerism, epidemiology, economic and public policy issues
Interdisciplinary consultant: We have had helpful conversations with Dr. Hector Quemada, Asgrow; Susan Stewart, nutritionist; Walter Ogston, biologist
Classroom, laboratory, or both: Both
Number of one-hour class periods: 8-11
Number of 3-4 hour laboratory periods: 3 or 4

Sandra Laursen, CIRES, Boulder, CO
Heather Mernitz, ChemLinks Coalition, Beloit College


Fat is an important nutrient in our diets. Recently, however, dietary fat has been linked to an increased risk of chronic disease including coronary heart disease, diabetes, and some types of cancer. In this module we will learn about the chemistry behind the news. We will investigate the properties of fats and oils and relate these properties back to their triglyceride structure. We will gain experience with chemical notation, polarity, thermochemistry, and intermolecular forces. There will be a chance to explore bond strength, cis/trans isomerism, and basic organic nomenclature. We will also develop skills in the chemistry laboratory. Finally, looking at some of the fat substitutes on the market, we will both justify their properties from a chemical perspective and debate their effectiveness as a part of the American diet.

Tool Kit:

Chemical Principles:

  • Chemical notation
  • Polarity and solubility, chemical separations
  • Intermolecular forces
  • Thermochemistry: energy and enthalpy changes, calorimetry, HessÕs law
  • Introductory organic chemistry: functional groups, isomers, introduction to organic reactions (esterification, hydrogenation, oxidation)

Thinking Like a Scientist:

  • Critical thinking (recognizing trends, inference, dealing with ambiguity, formulating questions)
  • Accessing information (computer/library searching, using reference books, accessing current scientific data over the Internet, evaluating the reliability of information, questioning sources)
  • Data analysis (evaluating reliability of data, statistical analysis of data, analysis of the impact of the results on society)
  • Communicating results (oral, written, teamwork, lab notebook)

Audience: First semester general chemistry (may be adapted for first semester organic)

Materials to be developed

This module is accompanied by an instructor manual with sample syllabi, background material for instructors, suggestions for discussion topics and "concept questions," worksheets, exam/homework questions, writing and oral presentation assignments, and evaluation suggestions. There are also multimedia materials with suggested readings, relevant Web sites, and molecular modeling activities.

Copyright ©1995-2000 UC Regents
Last modified: 10/18/00 at 1:58 PM