Research project adds flavor to students’ diets

March 5th, 2021

Claire Groth
Claire Groth, senior in dietetics, was a co-host of the Virtual Cooking Class. She informed students what pulses are, their nutritional benefits, and why they are a convenient, sustainable food source. 

By Amber Friedrichsen

A Virtual Cooking Class had students learning about pulses and expanding their culinary skills with dorm-friendly recipes.

Donna Winham, assistant professor in food science and human nutrition, developed the Virtual Cooking Class research project because of two university-wide surveys she conducted in 2018 and April 2020.

The surveys indicated many Iowa State University students are food insecure (17-34%) and desire more convenient and sustainable food sources.

One solution for these issues is incorporating pulses into one’s diet. Pulses, which include beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas, are defined as both a high-protein food and a vegetable. They are considerably affordable and have many nutritional benefits.

“Most Americans don’t get enough fiber, vitamins and minerals in their foods,” Winham said. “Pulses fill that gap. Increasing them in the diet is going to improve nutrition, as well as reduce deficiencies in some short-fall nutrients like iron, folate and magnesium.”

Promoting pulses can be challenging because many people are unfamiliar with what they are and how to use them. The goal of the Virtual Cooking Class was to show college students how to incorporate them into their diet.

“It’s been a long-standing concern that people don’t know what the term ‘pulses’ means,” Winham said. “What a better way to expose people to pulses than by tasting them? The class focused on canned pulses specifically since college students may have limited kitchen space or tools.”

Over 1,100 students completed an interest survey for the Virtual Cooking Class. Winham randomly selected 80 participants, who were then randomly divided into a test group (40) and a control group (40).

Each week, the test group was given hard copies of recipes, as well as the groceries needed for those recipes. They also joined the Virtual Cooking Class and cooked alongside Spencer Winn, RDN, graduate student in apparel, events, and hospitality management, who demonstrated how to make the recipes.

The control group, on the other hand, was emailed each week’s recipe. They did not receive any groceries to prepare the recipes and were not a part of the online instruction.

Claire Groth, senior in dietetics, was one of the students assisting Winham with the project. She analyzed how receiving groceries and being a part of the Virtual Cooking Class impacted participants’ pulse consumption.

One way pulse consumption was measured was with weekly goal sheets participants completed stating how many pulses they aimed to eat.

“The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest eating 1 ½ cups of pulses per week, which really isn’t that much when you think about it because they are super versatile,” Groth said. “We want people to work toward that goal in the end.”

Another way the researchers tracked pulse consumption was through post-cooking questionnaires and surveys. These quizzed participants on information students learned from making the recipes and asked attitude questions about incorporating pulses into their diet.

“[The surveys] are to test how much people are retaining what they are learning,” Groth said.  “And if they are actually applying it to their diets and sticking to the goals they set during the class.”

Spencer Winn
Cooking demonstrations, like the one of this mediterranean salad, were given by Spencer Winn, RDN, graduate student in apparel, events, and hospitality management. The salad is made with lentils, cucumbers, tomatoes, onions and olives.

Groth predicted the test group would hold themselves more accountable to increasing their future pulse intake than the control group thanks to the added guidance of the virtual cooking demonstrations.

“We will see how people have grown from the first class to the last survey,” Groth said. “I think if people try a few recipes in the virtual class, they will feel comfortable to try things on their own.”

Winham is also looking forward to the Virtual Cooking Class having a positive impact on the understanding and use of pulses among participants. Students should be better equipped to recognize pulses in the dining halls, grocery stores and restaurants. She also wants to thank the students who helped her develop the research study.

“I really want to highlight my students on this because they have done an extraordinary job,” Winham said. “They have pulled this together and it’s been really good.”

Students assisting Winham with the Virtual Cooking Class research project include:

  • Kimberly Chew, senior in dietetics
  • Claire Groth, senior in dietetics
  • Michelle Heer, RDN, staff member in food science and human nutrition
  • Stefanie Jensen, RDN, dietetic intern
  • Simon Knoblauch,RDN, staff member in food science and human nutrition
  • Megan Lampright, sophomore in dietetics
  • Eileen Moran, senior in dietetics
  • Spencer Winn, RDN, graduate student in apparel, events, and hospitality management