Fortified & Functionalized, Soon to be Nano-fied?

Articles
August 03, 2009

The Federal Government has allocated $1.6 billion from the proposed 2010 Budget to the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI)! And why, might you ask would "foodies" even have an interest in nanotechnology, a science based on matter that is approximately 100,000 times smaller than the thickness of one sheet of paper?

The Federal Government has allocated $1.6 billion from the proposed 2010 Budget to the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI)! And why, might you ask would "foodies" even have an interest in nanotechnology, a science based on matter that is approximately 100,000 times smaller than the thickness of one sheet of paper? These days, food scientists around the globe are working to create, change, and alter certain foods on a nano-scale; to taste better, increase their health properties, and make our food overall more safe.    

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and CSREES's Agriculture and Food Research Initiative's (AFRI) plan to use nanotechnology to study and improve upon food safety, agricultural biosecurity, bioactives in functional foods, general health and wellness, and product traceability and identity preservation.

David Julian McClements, a food scientist at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, is currently working on a USDA and UMass supported project to develop a fiber-encapsulated acid with potential anticancer properties. Naturally occurring in milk, butyric acid is thought to provide anticancer properties on the colon. The glitch and the reason for McClements' research is that when we consume milk, the acid is absorbed well before it reaches the colon, thus any possible anticancer benefits are forgone. The fiber coating would allow the butyric acid to travel intact to specific parts of the large intestine where it is thought to be beneficial.

McClements' lab is also working with omega-3 fatty acids and looking to encapsulate fats in food to create "low-fat" foods that taste, smell and are identical in appearance to their full fat versions. We may never look at that cherry chocolate cheesecake topped with crème fraiche the same again, and what might happen to good 'old fashioned' moderation?

Will this research finally push “functional” foods into mainstream applications? It is doubtful. Unfortunately as we look at the past two decades, the only clear winner of functional foods has been Quaker Oats who received the first approval for their claim of lowering cholesterol. Probiotics have certainly made an impact both in sales volume and in consumer education. In both cases the malady that the foods could help was simple to understand. The reality is that no matter how good the science, shoppers want to keep “foods that heal” simple. If McClements and others follow the keep it simple path, these discoveries may wind up in the foods on our shelves; if they don’t it will be yet another waste of a billion plus dollars by our government.

 

Click here for information regarding McClements research.

Click here for further information about NNI.