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A pdf version of the syllabus can be found here.

Course Description

Eating and understanding the nuances of food has become a complicated and often confusing experience. Virtually every day brings news about some “miracle food” that we should be consuming or some "poison" we should be avoiding. One day it's tomatoes to prevent cancer, then flaxseed against heart disease or soybeans for menopause. At the same time we may be warned about trans fats, genetically modified foods, aspartame or MSG. Dietary supplements may be touted as the key to health or a factor in morbidity. According to some, dairy products are indispensable while others urge us to avoid them. The same goes for meat, wheat and soy; the list goes on. This course will shed light on the molecules that constitute our macro and micro nutrients and will attempt to clarify a number of the food issues using the best evidence available.

At the end of this course, students will be able to:

  1. Identify the main nutritional components of their diet.
  2. Explain some of the issues surrounding food production and health.
  3. Assess the strengths and weaknesses of food related research that is commonly presented in the media.


  1. Ariel Fenster, Associate Director of the Office for Science and Society, McGill University
  2. David N. Harpp, Sir William Macdonald Professor of Chemistry, McGill University
  3. Joe Schwarcz, Director of the Office for Science and Society, McGill University

Teaching Assistants

  1. Alexander Steeves-Fuentes, McGill University
  2. Angela Guadagno, McGill University

Course Schedule

Week Release Date* Topic Due Date**
Introduction to Food for Thought
Welcome January 22 Meet the Instructors
Week 1: Introduction January 22 Lesson 1: A Sampling of Food Topics
Lesson 2: Perspectives - Health, History, Science & Society
Lesson 3: Scientific Research and Publishing
Assignment 1 April 30
Unit 1: Nutrition Basics
Week 2: Micronutrients - Vitamins January 29 Lesson 1: Vitamins I
Lesson 2: Vitamins II
Assignment 2 February 14
Week 3: Micronutrients - Minerals February 5 Lesson 1: Minerals I
Lesson 2: Minerals II
Lesson 3: Minerals III
Assignment 3 February 21
Week 4: Macronutrients February 12 Lesson 1: Carbohydrates
Lesson 2: Sugar
Lesson 3: Fats
Lesson 4: Protein
Assignment 4 February 28
February 19 Unit 1 Test March 11
Unit 2: Food Production - Techniques, Issues & Health Impacts
Week 5: Agriculture February 19 Lesson 1: Agricultural Science I
Lesson 2: Agricultural Science II
Assignment 5 March 7
Week 6: Food Additives February 26 Lesson 1: Food Additives I
Lesson 2: Food Additives II
Lesson 3: Sweeteners
Assignment 6 March 14
Week 7: Adverse Food Reactions March 05 Lesson 1: Adverse Food Reactions I
Lesson 2: Adverse Food Reactions II
Lesson 3: Cooking Demo
Assignment 7 March 21
March 12 Unit 2 Test April 1
Unit 3: Food and Health
Week 8: Weight Control March 12 Lesson 1: Chocolate
Lesson 2: Weight Control I
Lesson 3: Weight Control II
Assignment 8 March 28
Week 9: Diet & Disease March 19 Lesson 1: Diet & Cancer
Lesson 2: Diet & the Heart I
Lesson 3: Diet & the Heart II
Assignment 9 April 4
Week 10: Wrap-up March 26 Lesson 1: The Health Food Business
Lesson 2: Wine
Lesson 3: Cheese
Lesson 4: Sense and Nonsense
Assignment 10 April 11
April 2 Unit 3 Test April 23
* Lesson materials, assignments, and tests will be released on Wednesdays at 17h00 UTC
** All assignments and tests are due at 23h30 UTC


This course has 10 assignments that will be posted every Wednesday along with the lesson materials. If you have any questions about an assignment we encourage you to post them on the discussion forum so that other students can provide input along with the teaching assistants and professors. With the exception of Assignment #1 which is due the last day of the course, you will have a minimum of two weeks to complete assignments. When calculating your final grade, your lowest two assignment scores will be dropped.

Unit Discussions

CHEM181x: Food for Thought is divided into three units that are comprised of 3 weeks of lectures. At the beginning of each unit you will be assigned readings and a prompting question around which a multi-week discussion will be structured.

Over the course of the unit, the professors and teaching assistants will share their thoughts and identify themes coming out of the discussion threads. We encourage you to use the up-vote tool to flag posts that you find particularly interesting.

Discussion and collaboration guidelines can be found here.

Note: It is important for you to be involved in the discussion forum. Up to 3 questions on the main ideas/themes of the unit discussions will be included on the Unit 3 Test.


8 Assignments x 5 points (your lowest two scores will be dropped) 40%
3 Unit Tests (all required, 20% per test) 60%

Certificate of Completion

To obtain a certificate of completion, a final grade of 60% or higher needs to be achieved. EdX will issue and send the certificate under the name of McGillX via email after the end of the course. The certificate will not include a final grade.