One food scientist is hard at work making all-natural nanoparticles. In the pharmaceutical industry, nanoparticles are already being used to deliver drugs, but scientists have yet to discover a low-cost way to make the particles using natural ingredients like milk protein or tree gums for use in food products. David Julian McClements, Ph.D., at the University of Massachusetts Amherst is using a $400,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to figure out how to make these all-natural nanoparticles, ones that can deliver everything from carotenoids (which act like vitamin A and as antioxidants), omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins A, D and E.
Vitamins and nutrients are already added to a host of food products outside of the supplement aisle, but because of the way they are added, we don’t always reap much of the nutritional benefit. Nanoparticles, because of their small size, make the nutrients being delivered more bioavailable
“With some nutrients, such as carotenoids, you only get a small fraction of the nutrition when you eat it in conventional foods,” said McClements in a related release. “Using nanoparticles would change this, making much more available to the body…” He adds that with that concentrated dose of nutrients comes both potential benefit and harm. It opens up the possibility that people might receive a dose so high that it’s toxic
McClements and other researchers are looking into various ways that these natural nanoparticles can be designed to increase the stability of nutrients and to improve their digestibility all while ensuring that they will be absorbed in a way that’s beneficial to the body. Related research at UMass Amherst involves stabilizing nano forms of omega-3 fatty acids and other healthy lipids inside foods; discovering what happens to nanoparticles inside the digestive tract; and encapsulating the anti-cancer agents from citrus fruits in nano form to see if they can be safely used to enhance foods and beverages.