I’ve come to my love for food (and making the best condiments for it that I can!) via a circuitous route, through many years in the wilderness of IT and business solutions. But before that, I was a chemist—and this recent news about a fascinating advance in vitamin applications made me feel like I’d come full circle.
A team from MIT has shown that encapsulating vitamin A in polymer microparticles before fortifying food with it enables the vitamin to better weather storage and cooking. This allows higher than typical amounts of the key nutrient to make it into the humans eating it. As vitamin A deficiency is prevalent in developing countries (and is the leading cause of childhood blindness in the world), this easy, low-barrier way of boosting vitamin A intake could be a game changer.
“In a 2019 study, the MIT team showed that they could use a polymer called BMC to encapsulate nutrients, including iron, vitamin A, and several others. They showed that this protective coating improved the shelf life of the nutrients, and that people who consumed bread fortified with encapsulated iron were able to absorb the iron. […]
Using an industrial process known as a spinning disc process, the researchers mixed vitamin A with the polymer to form particles 100 to 200 microns in diameter. They also coated the particles with starch, which prevents them from sticking to each other.
The researchers found that vitamin A encapsulated in the polymer particles were more resistant to degradation by intense light, high temperatures, or boiling water. Under those conditions, much more vitamin A remained active than when the vitamin A was free or when it was delivered in a form called VitA 250, which is currently the most stable form of vitamin A used for food fortification.”
The technology was trialed in flour and bouillon cubes, both used extensively in sub-Saharan Africa, an area deeply affected by vitamin A deficiency. Testing then showed the bioavailability of the encapsulated vitamin A as being nearly the same as vitamin A consumed on its own. Two companies are now the proud licensees of the tech, and are planning to roll it out into the market soon. This tiny fix in the nutrient profile of common foods can mean a big change for health worldwide—and what a delicious way to do it!