Tiny particles packed with vital nutrients could provide a better way of delivering supplements to individuals at risk of malnutrition.
The particles protect their contents from moisture and resist heat during cooking before breaking down in the stomach.
It is estimated that some two (2) billion people globally have nutrient-deficient diets.
This is the leading cause of cognitive and physical disorders in the developing world, according to an international team of researchers led by Ana Jaklenec and Robert Langer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Anselmo et al., 2019).
A major challenge in adding nutrients to food is that many are destroyed by the heat of cooking or add a bad taste to dishes, the pair say.
Their team has overcome these issues by trapping nutrients inside small, protective particles that can be added to food.
The microscopic particles measure less than a quarter of a millimetre across and can package 11 different nutrients individually, or combinations of up to four nutrients together.
They are made of a material that is resistant to heat, light and moisture, but disintegrates when exposed to stomach acid, ensuring that the nutrients inside are released and absorbed by the gut.
The researchers baked particles containing iron into bread, which was then eaten by 24 volunteers.
Almost three weeks after eating the bread, iron levels in their blood were equivalent to levels detected after they had a conventional iron supplement.
Giuseppe Battaglia at University College London says the approach could have applications beyond delivering nutrients: it may also be possible to encapsulate some therapeutic drugs using the particles.
Anselmo, A.C., Xu, X., Buerkli, S, Zeng, Y., Tang, W., McHugh, K.J., Behens, A.M., Rosenberg, E., Duan, A.R., Sugarman, J.L., Zhuang, J., Collins, J., Lu, X., Graf, T., Tzeng, S.Y., ROse, S., Acolatse, S., Nguyen, T.D., Le. X., Guerra, S.A., Freed, L.E., Weinstock, S.B., Sears, C.B., Nikolic, B., Wood, L., Wlkhoff, P.A., Oxley, J.D., Moretti, D., Zimmermann, M.B., Langer, R. & Jaklenec, A. (2019) A Heat-Soluble Microparticle Platofrm for Oral Micronutritient Delivery. Science Translational Medcine. 11(518), eaaw3680. DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aaw3680.
Liverpool, L. (2019) Minute Nutrient Pod Could Tackle Poor Diet. New Scientist. 23 November 2019, pp.18.