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Red Madness: How a Medical Mystery Changed What We Eat


Found in: health & phys ed, science, social studies3-5, 6-8, 9-12 

Red Madness: How a Medical Mystery Changed What We Eat (2014) by Gail Jarrow tells how pellagra killed more than 100,000 Americans and affected the health of 3 million in the first half of the 20th Century before its cause was identified as a lack of niacin, or Vitamin B3. Jarrow traces the detective work of pioneering doctors, especially Joseph Goldberger who implicated the predominantly corn-based diet of the Southern poor. Grade 5-8 science, health & nutrition, and social studies students are the intended audience for Red Madness, but the book can be used to introduce or supplement lessons for students in lower and higher grades.  You can find this book for FREE at the library or for sale on Amazon.

  • The Pellagra Epidemic:

    Dr. Joseph Goldberger & the War on Pellagra is a biography and overview of Goldberger’s anti-pellagra career. It points out the regional and social obstacles he encountered.

    Disease And Social Policy In The American South: A Case Study of the Pellagra Epidemic ( PDF, 79 KB, 3 pg.) features 6 activities for students in grades 10-12 to investigate and compare the social, economic, and political contexts of the pellagra epidemic of the early 1900s and the Type II diabetes epidemic affecting Pima and Tohono O’odham Indians today. Worksheets, links to primary sources, evaluation rubrics, and references to relevant standards are included.

    Pellagra includes a video segment, (5:49) background essay, discussion questions and lists educational standards.

    The Pellagra Story: In Search of a Cure is a tutorial that demonstrates the scientific method using pellagra as a case study.

  • Teacher Background:

    Pellagra, Nixtamal, and the Dispersion of the Maya describes how the monoculture of corn and pellagra helped shape Meso-America and how the discovery of lime (circa 1600 BCE) and its usefulness in preparing corn eliminated pellagra.

  • Vitamins:

    Today, we take vitamins and vitamin-fortified foods for granted, but not long ago vitamins were supplied by diet alone. If the diet was poor, diseases were the result. Besides pellagra, other vitamin deficiency related diseases included scurvy, rickets, beriberi, and anemia. The richest sources of vitamins and minerals are still whole foods

In Why Are Vitamins and Minerals Important? ( PDF, 297 KB, 44 pg.) students in grade 5 discover how vitamins and minerals maintain healthy bodies.

Jigsaw Lesson Plan tasks students in grades 11-12 to list the sources and functions of 5 vitamins and 5 minerals and symptoms of deficiency. This lesson can be adapted for lower grades.

Essential Vitamins and Minerals is a printable infographic that lists vitamin type and function, signs of deficiency, and natural source.

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