Engineered nanomaterials (particles and fibers with dimensions of less than one thousandth of the width of a hair, or the diameter of an influenza virus particle) are increasingly added to foods to improve quality, safety, or nutrition. One of these materials, nanocellulose, one of nature’s most abundant biopolymers, which can be derived from natural plant fibers, has many potential food applications, including stabilizing whipped toppings and salad dressings, improving the texture and appearance of breads, and reducing loss of moisture during cooking of ground meats.
In a new paper just published in the prestigious journal ACS Nano, scientists from the Center for Nanotechnology and Nanotoxicology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, engineered a nature-derived nanocellulose material, which can be utilized to slow down fat digestion and absorption in the gastrointestinal tract. Adding this nanocellulose material to a high-fat food can significantly reduce the amount of fat absorbed from the food.
Results across different test systems, including simulated digestions of high-fat food such as heavy cream, cell culture model of the intestinal lining, and rats given a high-fat meal, indicate the ability of the engineered form of nanocellulose to reduce fat absorption by up to 50%. These effects appear to be due in part to the ability of nanocellulose to bind and cause merging of fat droplets in the stomach phase, reducing the total surface area available for the action of fat-digesting enzymes (lipases), and the ability of nanocellulose to bind bile salts, which are biological emulsifiers that are required for efficient fat digestion.
Prof. Philip Demokritou from the Department of Environmental Health, Director of the Harvard Chan NanoCenter, and the lead author of the study stated that “…using such a novel, chemical-free approach to control fat digestion and absorption using nature-derived biopolymers like nanocellulose has the potential to make our food healthier.” He added, “such nano-enabled foods are expected to be introduced in the years ahead to deliver nutrients in a more efficient and targeted way and also to modulate a variety of unwanted substances from the gut such as fat, carbs, and chemicals, and help our society address emerging public health issues.” Dr. Glen DeLoid, a research associate in the Department of Environmental Health and the first author of the study stated that “these findings open up the possibility of using nanoforms of nanocellulose as a dietary supplement or food additive to reduce absorption of ingested fat, and could provide a new tool, in addition to diet, exercise, and existing pharmacological treatments, for promoting weight loss and for prophylaxis of obesity using a natural, non-chemical approach.”
Other researchers who participated in the study include Dr. Ramon Molina and Prof. Joseph Brain from the Department of Environmental Health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and Profs. Joachim Loo and Kee Woei Ng from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. This project is part of the Nanyang Technological University – Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public “Health Initiative on Sustainable Nanotechnology (NTU-Harvard SusNano).
The ACS Nano publication can be accessed here. For more information on nano–related research at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, please visit our website at www.hsph.harvard.edu/nano. For more information on the research of NTU-Harvard SusNano, please visit our website at http://healthtech.ntu.edu.sg/mainprogramme/NTU-HSPH.