By Norberto Barciela
In the near future, a cholesterol-lowering burger is not impossible. Nanoscience, defined by some as the restructuring of food to atomic or molecular level, aimed at obtaining nanoingredientes with better properties, is a reality in which both government and private sector invest in research and development.
Without necessarily having to refer to their order of importance, it is possible to define at least two basic functions of a food:
From a hedonic perspective, the role of food is to satisfy the expectations related to the sensory attributes of the same through the perception of flavors, aromas, colors and textures, complemented this with the appropriate intake to appetite generated by the energy product of both physical and mental activity.
While from the physiological, the main function is to provide quality and quantity of macro and micro-nutrients needed to meet the nutritional requirements in a balanced diet, will – in part – responsible for health and welfare of individuals.
In this sense, there is increasing scientific evidence supporting the hypothesis that certain foods, and some of its components have beneficial physical and psychological effects, thanks to basic nutrients, which is complemented by the fact that today day, the science of nutrition from the classical definition of how to avoid micronutrient deficiencies and maintain appropriate macro-nutrient adequacy has evolved into the concepts of nutrition “positive” or “optimal”.
As nutrition science evolves from the proposed “adequate nutrition” to “optimal nutrition”, researchers and technologists have become more focused on the identification of biologically active compounds in foods that have the potential to improve physical and mental conditions and reduce the risk of disease.
It has been found that many traditional foods such as fruits, vegetables, soybeans, whole grains and milk contain components that may be beneficial to health, to which is added the development of new foods that add or extend these beneficial components of the advantages they pose to health and appropriate psychological effects.
All this within a food group that has been called “functional” and consumed as part of a normal diet provides specific nutrients, which often act at the level of basic metabolic pathways in the human body.
This is especially necessary that added to their property “functional” perse, these nutrients must possess specific attributes of physical and chemical stability and bio-availability such as to ensure absorption, biologically active even at the point where they should be partakers of the corresponding metabolic reactions .
It is from this requirement where it is then possible to see the synergy between Functional Foods and Nanotechnology, giving rise to the innovative concept of “Functional nanofoods or Interactive”.
Particularities of nanotechnology
It is from the physicist Richard Feynman at a conference of the American Physical Sociaty conducted in 1959, refers to the beginning of an era in which individual atoms and molecules could be used to create complex structures with very small scale, which arises the concept of “Nanotechnology”.
Today, nanotechnology is characterized by the development of new products and processes using materials ranging in size from about 0.1 to 100 nanometers. Since a nanometer (nm) is one millionth of a millimeter, it really is the “science of the small”. To give an idea of comparison, the diameter of an atom is about one-tenth of a nanometer, a water molecule has a diameter of about 0.3 nm a DNA molecule is about 2.5 nm wide and thickness of a human hair is about 80 000 nm.
Nanotechnology exploits the fact that, at the nanoscale, material properties may differ substantially from the same material that has a larger scale. For example, emulsions using sunscreens with titanium oxide (TiO2) that normally is white opaque features UV blocker, but is transparent nanoscale keeping its blocking properties.
Among other applications, in pharmacopoeia products have been developed by nanoencapsulation, which is the inclusion of active ingredients such as vitamins and / or enzymes, in which biodegradable nanocapsules release their contents upon contact with certain cells or juices / organic secretions.
In areas such as agriculture, have already been developed and approved for intensive use, intelligent nanocidas or pesticides, using a delivery system controlled by a modified polymer nanocapsule to acquire selective adhesion properties on parts of plant bodies need to be protected. Thus the nanocapsules remain inert until they are ingested by insect predators and once in your digestive tract, the effect of digestive juices release the active substance within the body of the insect.
Just as has been revolutionizing the world of medicine and agriculture, nanotechnology has already begun to be incorporated as an emerging technology in the food world by developing the concept of what has been called “nanofoods”.
Nanotechnology applied to food design
Electron microscopy and more recently the development of tools such as probe microscopes, have provided unprecedented opportunities to understand the heterogeneous structure of food in the sub-levels of its molecular structure. This has provided new solutions to previously intractable problems in science and food technology to offer new approaches for the rational selection of raw materials or processing of these materials to improve the quality of foodstuffs.
This ability to use nanoscience to improve the quality of materials through the understanding and development of nanoscale structures is an example of a form of nanotechnology has been called incremental nanotechnology. While, when the reduction in the size of the structures is accompanied by changes in properties that offer radically new solutions to the level of innovation and development of new market opportunities, they are considered examples of what has been called evolutionary nanotechnology.
The potential impact of nanotechnology applied to the design of food, is no stranger to the governments of major developed countries, who so far of the decade have substantially increased investment in research and development in the area nanofoods. View supplemental material
The same levels of investment in research and development by their government, are countries like Japan and key members of communities like the EU, including Britain and Germany. View supplemental material
Today the application of this novel technology would facilitate the potential development of products with regular fat levels between 25.0% and 35.0%, redesigning with content less than 1.0%, and maintaining their texture characteristics and palatibidad the level of acceptance of regular product.
It would be feasible to produce burgers that may lower cholesterol or modify according to taste or nutritional requirements of the consumer, in addition to packaging in packaging that its composition “intelligent” detect and inactivate deteriorative microorganisms that may have contaminated the product, avoiding the effects or warning of their presence in it.
From this, some define this technology as the restructuring of food to atomic or molecular level, generating nanoparticles of ingredients and active components, with the aim of improving food security and improve the nutritional properties, and improve aspects characteristic organolápticos . At present, the food companies in the world, have established at Horizon I and II, innovation platforms associated with the development of processes and development of new ingredients to implement the design and development of functional nanofoods.
Some examples of these designs and their applications are: View supplemental material
What do we eat?
Nanoingredientes used in these applications include iron or zinc nanoparticles, nanocapsules containing coenzyme Q10 and omega 3 nanoadditives or stabilizers. It also has carotenoids nanoparticles soluble in water and improving its bioavailability in aseptic fruit juices and synthetic lycopene approved as GRAS.
Currently it is estimated that exists in the international market a range of nearly 600 nanofoods alreddedor products and 400 to 500 different applications of nanotechnology in packaging. You can find applications of the concept of functional nanofoods products prepared from canola oil, baking, food additives and supplements, margarine and canned juices.
For example, Israel has developed a canola oil-containing nanodroplets (micelles) with vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals and antioxidants. Another example can be seen in Australia, where a baking company has designed nanocapsules containing fish oil high in Omega 3, which is incorporated into their products so that ingested the same it is not released until the product into the stomach by removing the negative perception of the distinctive flavors of fish oils during consumption of bread.
Antioxidants including nanoparticles are prepared by encapsulation process and added to different products thus achieving level avoid inactivation in the stomach and first part of the gastrointestinal tract, which are incorporated into the bloodstream until concentrations above 70% , thus increasing the effectiveness of its function at the cellular level.
Orientation of nanotechnology in industry
Since the concept of nanotechnology is expanding rapidly, especially in countries with high technological development, it is expected that in a very short time nanofoods functional processors present to market a range of new products and packaging designed based on this technology.
In principle, the focus of development is aimed at obtaining nanoingredientes with improved properties in terms of absorption and bioavailability, which include vitamins, minerals, fatty acids and other nutrients and nutraceuticals, that in light of the existence of intake Recommended Daily mean the ability to optimize your content in the composition of the nanofoods where they are present.
This makes these same producers and marketers are facing a series of challenges that are key to success or failure in the development and market introduction of these new products, and related factors including:
From technology management and knowledge management so that it is available at the right time for decision making and the ability to get to market on time and are elements that are present from time to analyze the feasibility of new projects including the design of nanofoods as those mentioned above.
Taking into account that proteins in foods are often globular structures of between 1 and 10 nm in size, and that the majority of polysaccharides and lipids are linear structures of the order of nanometers, it is possible to think of hundreds of potential applications food nanotechnology.
Understanding the nature of the nanostructures in foods will allow better selection of raw materials and higher food quality through processing. Techniques such as electron microscopy and new probe microscopes, such as atomic force microscopy (AFM), have begun to reveal the nature of these structures, allowing rational selection, modification and processing them more efficient as functional ingredients .
Going aspects of food regulation, developments in the field of power to the concept of “optimal nutrition” and the fastest growing prospect of using nanotechnology products in this area generates much discussion.
For this reason, that without a doubt, the technical capacity of producers and distributors, as well as group research and development, must be added the ability to incorporate from the early stages of the project experts food regulation so as to know well in advance of legal requirements related to the development and commercialization of new products based on the use of nanotechnology, as well as promote the participation of experts in the forums for analysis and discussion of standards and current and future legislation incorporating these regulations well in advance the progress made by science.
For example, in the United Kingdom, the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering presented a report on nanotechnology. They identified a lack of knowledge on the bioaccumulation and toxicity of nanoparticles. On this basis we suggest caution in using nanoelements in the products until more information becomes available about their safety.
Although regulatory authorities promote policies to be cautious in the use of nanotechnology, anticipate that most of its food applications are considered for approval as safe and beneficial for consumers. In general it is suggested that there is a need to evaluate new products, case by case and consider a request to amend the regulations. He reasons that can not prohibit a nanotechnology product unless there was some evidence that the product is actually harmful to consumer health.
This is why that although nanotechnology promises much for the future, it is natural that, as in the case of any emerging technology, consumers worry about the potential risks to human health and the environment.
Studies in the U.S. market in 2007, show that at present the level of knowledge about nanotechnology by consumers in general is low, and more specifically its application in the area nanofoods, this makes proper communication to consumers about the role of functional foods in the diet or interactive, and the benefits associated with their consumption, is a clear challenge.
It is important to note that consumers Recent studies show a trend in increasing distrust of them, especially about the veracity of the properties and benefits declared on the labels of new products, which from a of view of the market is strong variable in making purchasing decisions by potential consumers. View supplemental material
The opinion of consumers tends to be vital to the successful application of nanotechnology in the food industry. Taking into account the lessons of the global debate on the use and application of genetically modified organisms, it is important that both benefits and risks of nanotechnology are discussed openly, considering it the issue of labeling. In particular, the use of the term “nano” or related terms, as part of a product brand is now a matter that is not clearly defined. It would be useful if the food regulatory agencies provide guidelines on how to use the correct terms and harmonized from the outset. For example, when the term “nano” is used it should be important to define the label how nanotechnology has been used in product development, and why this process improves the quality.
In general, significantly increased consumer interest in knowing the relationship between diet and health. Today, people recognize a greater extent, to keep a healthy lifestyle, including diet, can help reduce the risk of illness and disease, and maintain the health and welfare. This makes consumers more interested to understand and comprehend the properties of both finished products and their ingredients. View supplemental material
However, asked about the risks and / or benefits associated with consumption of nanofoods their knowledge is far below the values of other types of food, which gives also the opportunity to properly plan their communication.
A mixed approach by different government organizations on the definition of nanofoods and its labeling and labeling, could be perceived by consumers as a loophole that would introduce products to market without adequate testing protocols for approval. Given the ambiguity of the status of the use of nanoparticles of food, ingredients or additives authorized in foodstuffs or in contact with them, the authorities responsible for the regulation should make clear recommendations on their use and consumption.
Finally, it is likely that most of the incremental aspects of nanotechnology that improve product quality and choice of best ingredients, are seen as progressive changes in the standard technology.
However there are some issues, particularly those relating to accidental or deliberate use of nanoparticles in food contact materials or food that can cause consumer concern.
It is particularly important to ensure that consumers have the tools necessary to accompany the decision-making in the purchase of products designed around the use of nanotechnology, providing in a timely manner of information to evaluate the benefits and properties declared in their labels.