Researchers at INL are using nanotechnology to develop functional foods that can be consumed by people with food intolerances and allergies.

Ana Isabel Bourbon, from the Food Processing and Nutrition research group, explains: “Our society is increasingly changing its eating habits and this has several effects on the intestinal microflora. When eating daily, people are subjected to increasing amounts of different compounds. This promotes microbial changes over the years, which causes diseases that previously did not exist, such as intolerances and allergies, to appear. Trying to understand how we can reduce these intolerances in the future is one of our group’s objectives”.

In this context, INL researchers are creating foods with added nutritional value using nanotechnology. The team develops nanostructures enabling the encapsulation and incorporation of active compounds, such as vitamins and antioxidants. The goal is to ensure that, after ingestion, these compounds reach the bloodstream in sufficient quantities to have a positive impact on the consumer.

However, obtaining information about the behaviour of these nanostructures during digestion and their effects on intestinal health poses a challenge. The Healthy-Gut project aims to address this gap by evaluating the behaviour of encapsulated systems using in vitro cell models. These models mimic the gut’s microflora, allowing for the monitoring of the digested encapsulated systems on microbiota profiles. Additionally, they facilitate the examination of the toxicity and inflammatory effects of digested nano and micro structures in contact with the intestinal epithelium.

Isabel adds “our goal is to ensure a personalised, careful and increasingly targeted diet for each individual, through nanotechnology.”

Recently, Isabel participated in “90 Segundos de Ciência”, a series of 90-second science communication episodes with daily broadcasts on Antena 1 Portuguese public radio, where Isabel explains how she is using nanotechnology-based products to enhance the quality and safety of food. You can listen to the episode (in Portuguese) here.

Text & Photography by: Catarina Moura, Science Communication Officer