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Spotlight   | Summer 2012

Pass the lycopene

Consumers may one day be able to sprinkle vitamins, antioxidants and other beneficial compounds right onto their meals, thanks to discovery of a method that encases nutritional supplements in food-based products.

schematic drawing
Schematic encapsulation of nutraceutical compounds in the carbohydrate matrix. (a) Curcumin is encapsulated in a well-oriented and crystalline fiber of iota-carrageenan. (b) A cross section of the assembly looking down the helix with ordered curcumin molecules represented by red stars. (c) Curcumin molecules securely trapped between a pair of helices. (Figure provided by the journal Food & Function)

Many nutraceuticals, or nutritional supplements, added to foods today are not structurally stable, said Purdue University food science researcher Srinivas Janaswamy, who developed the new method. Heat, light, oxygen and other external factors can degrade the supplements, rendering them ineffective.

"There are many methods for adding nutraceuticals to foods, but the one thing they all have in common is instability due to non-rigid structures," said Janaswamy. Nutraceuticals such as beta-carotene, lycopene, resveratrol and vitamins, for example, are thought to play significant roles in treating or preventing disease.

Janaswamy's method involves creating crystalline-like fibers that embed the nutraceuticals, protect them from external influences and prevent degradation. "Once the nutraceutical is enveloped, it is thermally protected," he said. "Anything of interest can be used, even drug molecules, vitamins or hormones."

By Brian Wallheimer


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