Technion-Israel institute of Technology researchers have engineered a way to deliver health-promoting nutrients using protein particles naturally present in milk as carriers. The breakthrough could lead to low fat or non-fat foods that contain nutrients now present only in fat-containing foods, and could be used to enrich foods with other important nutraceuticals like vitamins and antioxidants.
The team, led by Dr. Yoav D. Livney of the Technion Faculty of Biotechnology and Food Engineering, studied "casein micelles," which are nano-sized particles of casein, a protein present in milk and responsible for the transfer of body-building nutrients from mother to baby. They encapsulated vitamin D (which plays a major role in calcium absorption and utilization in the body) in the micelles. The findings are published online in Food Hydrocolloids.
Dr. Livney and graduate student Efrat Semo first formed a solution that did not contain micelles by using soluble casein. When vitamin D was added to the solution, it bound to the casein. And when calcium and phosphate - in the amounts normally found in milk - were added to the now vitamin D-enriched casein, the proteins reorganized into micelles very similar to those found naturally in milk. The difference: they were now enriched with high amounts of vitamin D.
"We are hoping to enrich non-fat milk and other low-fat food products with vitamin D and other essential health-promoting nutraceuticals - such as vitamins A and E, minerals and antioxidants - lacking in many people's diets," says Dr. Livney. "This could improve our diets without changing our eating habits." He adds that they also plan to develop the technology to enable mass-production of such micelles.
Dr. Dganit Danino and Dr. Ellina Kesselman of the Technion Faculty of Biotechnology and Food Engineering also took part in the research, using electron microscopy to visualize the tiny micelles, which measure in at a miniscule 150 nanometers (0.00015 millimeter).
Dr. Livney says that foods utilizing this technology could reach the marketplace within five years. The researchers are now studying whether, once ingested, the tiny size of the micelles and the natural structure of the casein will facilitate an improved absorption/uptake of the nutrients they contain.