Go to our new-look site, it combines the Biotechnology and Science Learning Hubs with a new look and new functionality. This is our legacy site and is no longer maintained.


Writer's Insight – Digestion Chemistry

Colin Milne – Digestion Chemistry
Colin Milne – Digestion Chemistry

Food plays an extremely important role in the lives of all consumers. Most teenagers recognise this and have an interest in food. They are aware of the notion that food supplies the energy and nutrients the body needs to maintain health and wellbeing.

By developing their knowledge and understanding of some of the basic science ideas that underpin how food is digested and absorbed, how the energy from food is utilised and the role gut health plays in our overall feeling of wellbeing, students will have a firmer foundation on which to base their daily food and nutrition choices.

Research into foods and food chemistry is very much market driven, and with its strong agricultural and horticultural base, New Zealand is playing a leading role in some aspects of this. It is important that students be informed of this and given insight into some of the research programmes currently operating in the food innovation field. Plant & Food Research has areas of relevance to this context and is prominently featured with Dr John Ingram’s work on ‘satiety’ and Dr Juliet Ansell’s work on ‘gut health’.

Three big science ideas have been identified for this context:

  • Chemical and physical breakdown of food molecules in the human gut.
  • Balancing the intake of energy from foods with the energy demands of living.
  • Gut bacteria play a critical role in maintaining health and wellbeing.

Science Ideas and Concepts

Six science ideas and concept areas evolving from the overarching theme of digestion chemistry have been identified.

  • Human digestive system
  • Digestion
  • Rate of digestion
  • Large intestine function
  • Unlocking the energy in foods
  • Energy requirements of the body.

The Looking Closer collection picks up on several of the science ideas and gives a more in-depth analysis that fits in with the researcher stories, for example, Hormonal control of digestion extends some of the ideas outlined in Digestion.

New Zealand Research

Two research areas involving scientists from Plant & Food Research support and add interest to the context.:

  • Dr John Ingram’s work with satiety – with an obesity epidemic sweeping through the western world, John’s work is targeted at controlling appetite through plant food ingredients.
  • Dr Juliet Ansell’s work with gut bacteria and gut health.

Video clips of the scientists explaining aspects of their work and research programmes add interest and the human side of science to the context.

In addition, PhD student Jane Mullaney describes her journey from school to graphic art to busking to studies in psychology to her current PhD research into gut health.

Teaching and Learning Approaches

Activities have been developed to highlight the science ideas and concepts, which focus on digestion chemistry. In addition, there are activities that focus on energy input and output as well as the current obesity epidemic.

Food and nutrition knowedge is important

“All young people need to be able to make food and beverage choices based on their cultural preferences and on sound knowledge and information. Children and young people need to understand the importance of food and nutrition to all aspects of their health and well-being, including their mental, physical, and emotional health. They need to be able to interpret the many messages they receive and to make choices about changing their own eating patterns rather than being told “what is good for them”. They can also influence the eating patterns of others in their environment.” Food and Nutrition for Healthy, Confident Kids, Ministry of Education, 2007.

Food and nutrition are important to our young people and relevant to their lives. This context is designed to provide key information about:

  • the chemical and physical digestion of food
  • hormonal control of food intake and digestion
  • balancing the intake of energy from foods with the energy demands of living
  • the role gut bacteria play in determining the state of our health and wellbeing.