By Cameron Chai
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded a three-year grant worth $400,000 to David Julian McClements, a food scientist and a nutrient encapsulation expert at the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass Amherst), to explore the design and synthesis of all-natural nanoparticles to incorporate nutrients like oil-soluble vitamins in food products.
Present nutrient nanoparticle production process involves the use of high-energy machines to breakdown food materials into microscopic particles, which are then added with surfactants for stabilization. However, this process is costly due to the need for high energy and use of expensive machines.
McClements and colleagues at UMass Amherst intend to synthesize all-natural food-grade nanoparticles with various chemical compositions, sizes, digestibility and electrical properties for a wide variety of food and beverage applications. Since small particles increase the stability and shelf life of nutrients, manufacturers show more interest in using nanoparticles in food products. Liquids appear clear and translucent due to the usage of nanoparticles as their light scattering behavior is different from that of traditional particles.
McClements informed that nanoparticles also enhance oil soluble nutrients’ bioavailability. However, more research is needed to confirm whether the absorbed dose is safe or toxic. McClements together with Eric Decker, Yeonhwa Park, and Hang Xiao at UMass Amherst will study bioavailability and encapsulation of various nutrients.
Eric Decker is researching with nano-delivery systems for healthy lipids such as omega-3 fatty acids to find ways for stabilizing and integrating them in foods. Yeonhwa Park is studying food-grade microparticles and nanoparticles’ biological fate in the digestive tract. Hang Xiao is exploring bioavailability and nano-encapsulation of anti-cancer agents derived from citrus fruits to evaluate possible toxicity in animals.