NANOFOODS & CHOICES

A Perspective … in the end it’s all about disclosure & transparency

TECHNOLOGY CREATES MORE CHOICES . . . MORE FOR US TO CONTEMPLATE … MORE FOR US TO BE PERSONALLY ACCOUNTABLE FOR … ARE WE READY ….?

As technology explodes might it be advisable to at least thoroughly examine the implications of NANOFOODS…?

Are Nanofoods Sustainable…?
by Sarah Parsons … May 27, 2010 04:59 PM

Imagine ice cream that fills you up after only a few bites. Or low-fat mayonnaise that carries the same rich, creamy taste as the full-fat stuff. Or maybe a candy bar that packs a chocolate-y punch without a heavy sugar load. Too good to be true?

Perhaps—but scientists are working on it. According to New Scientist, several researchers are attempting to alter foods at the nanoscale level, changing items’ teeny tiny molecular structures to enhance certain properties. In other words, monkeying around with molecules to make spices spicier, chips healthier, and diet foods that taste like full-calorie snacks. Scientists hope nanotechnology can even be used to boost intake of vitamins and minerals and help combat malnutrition.

As somewhat of a science nerd, I’ll admit that it’s fascinating stuff. For example, in traditional diet foods like low-fat mayonnaise, about half of the oil is replaced with water, which is why the skinny mayo doesn’t taste as creamy and delicious as fatty mayo. By using nanotechnology, scientists can actually stick that water within individual droplets of the remaining oil. Because oil will hit the tongue first, the diet condiment tastes like the original spread. By that same principle, researchers could use nanotech to “hide” nutritional elements like omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals in foods that typically don’t contain them.

Using other nanotech processes, researchers can even build foods from the ground up. According to New Scientist, scientists at Wageningen University and Research Centre (http://www.wageningenuniversity.nl/UK/) started with only milk protein and eventually created a meat-like structure.

Scaling that process up to produce actual foods from nanoscale particles is a long way off, but could have huge implications for solving world hunger.

Currently, none of the products on grocery store shelves are nanofood, but Unilever (a http://www.unilever.com/aboutus/introductiontounilever/) admit its looking into the field.

While food companies are notoriously tight-lipped, you can bet other major manufacturers are researching the topic, too.

The field is certainly fascinating from a science perspective. But being a food purist, nanotech also sets my “scary Franken-food” alarm off. I wonder if nanofood can be sustainable, and more importantly, safe.

Let’s start with the safety part. Technically speaking, food producers have been altering foods at the nanoscale for years. Just adding emulsifiers to ice cream to give it a smoother texture changes nanostructures. But with new imaging technology, scientists can get alterations down to, well, a science. The field is so new and diverse that not much research has gone into the safety of it all.

But nanotech endeavors using particles that don’t break down in the body, like nanosilver and silica, have raised concerns among some food researchers.

As for whether nanofoods could be sustainable, my general rule for finding healthy, environmentally friendly food is “The less messed with, the better.” When we’re talking about diet products, nanofoods do seem silly. If people want to eat ice cream, there are some supremely tasty organic brands—if you don’t want to gain weight, then get your tuckus on a treadmill.

But nanotech can also boost vitamin and mineral levels in foods, or even literally build food to give to the malnourished. Plus, it can extend the shelf life of items, which could reduce waste. Considering these food security and global public health benefits, I can’t with good conscience dismiss nanotech goods as mere Franken-foods.

The field is certainly controversial, and more research into nanofoods’ safety and environmental impacts needs to be done to give consumers a clearer picture. What do you think, readers? Are nanofoods a pathway to ensuring food security? Or a road paved with bad intentions?

NANOFOODS & NANOTECHNOLOGY ….. Really, really tiny particles on an atomic and/or molecular scale are manufactured to create many new materials or add desired properties to already existing ones.

Applicable to a myriad of uses, from medicine to electronic, nanotechnology is alive and well in the food and agriculture sectors.

Behold — nanofoods — little tiny (engineered) things added to what we eat. In the food industry, nanotechnology crops up in a number of areas. Nanotech is used in packaging materials, farming practices, food processing, and also in the foods themselves.
The use of nanotechnology in food packaging is already commonplace. Nanotech in this instance can include engineered materials added to packaging to provide a feature such as preventing oxygen from spoiling food. (Ever wonder why that celery in your frig stays crisp for months?)

McDonald’s uses hamburger containers and other cardboard products that incorporate nanomaterials, including starch-based glues sourced from renewable resources that replace petroleum-based glues. In the burger containers, nanomaterials are being used to replace polyvinyl acetate (PVA) and polyvinyl alcohol (PVOH), which bond graphics to their cardboard containers.

Other packaging that uses nanotechnology include plastic beer bottles made with nanocomposite materials — plastic films that increase shelf life and antimicrobial and antifungal packaging.

In the works are packaging that reflects heat to keep ice cream frozen in, say, a hot car; self-healing packaging that repairs itself if perforated, and packaging that can change its properties under certain conditions — for example, milk cartons that change color if the milk has spoiled.

Nanotechnology can shape agricultural practices, as well. In the works there are fields embedded with nanosensors that can measure everything from nutrient levels and water content to the presence of disease, fungi, or other pests. These sensors could also be engineered to interact with nanoparticles or nanocapsules to deliver precisely measured quantities of pesticides and/or fertilizers.

Nanotech is also used by livestock farmers. Animals are tracked, identified, and monitored though embedded nanochips. The same type of chips are being developed to deliver measured quantities of vaccines and treatments for disease.
Nanotechnology is (surprise, surprise) already in use by food processors.

Nanoparticles and nanocapsules are added to foodstuffs to increase shelf life, alter their properties, enhance nutritional value, and change taste. Take, for example, good old bread. Tuna oil (a source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are said to be of help in preventing heart disease) in the form of nanocapsules is added to some types of bread. No fishy flavor though. The capsules break and release their oil in the stomach so there is no unpleasant taste.
Nanotechnology is also in use as enhanced emulsifiers that give low-fat ice creams the flavor and texture of full-fat ice creams.

Kraft Foods has plans for a nanotechnology-enabled drink in which everyone buys the same drink but then can decide its color, flavor, and texture.

And you did not believe you had choices…?

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