Noshing on Nanos

Nanoparticles are so small that they are measured on the nanoscale. They are smaller than a cell and even most viruses. Sizes range between 1 and 2,500 nanometers (nm.): fine (100 to 2,500 nm.) and ultrafine (1 to 100 nm.). Particles this small often behave differently than their larger counterparts.

Though very small, nanoparticles can have a strong effect on the body. They can be used to increase the efficiency of drug delivery, detect proteins, and detect diseases. Nanoparticles are often added to processed foods for various reasons; they enhance flavor, increase the shelf life of a product, and thicken smooth liquids. In recent decades, manufacturers have been adding nanoparticles to many products, such as mayonnaise and cosmetics.

Nanoparticles enter our food supply through other means as well. Small particles of metal, carbon, and silica get into the food chain and the environment though the burning of wood, oil and coal. Other natural events such as forest fires can also cause nanoparticles to enter the food chain.

A common additive, titanium dioxide, is used whiten and brighten a food’s color. It is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The titanium dioxide particles are ground to tiny parts.

Nanoparticles are coated with amino acids and proteins that determine a their shape and surface properties. These properties can be made to do something specific and bind to certain molecules. Doing this allows scientist to control how a nanoparticle will react.

A study was conducted on the effects of nanoparticles in the human body. Scientists tested the effects of silicon dioxide, titanium dioxide, and zinc oxide on cells taken from the human intestinal lining. There were some negative effects; zinc oxide was shown to be particularly toxic. It impaired certain proteins and had the potential to cause cell death.

Nanoparticles do not always have to be listed on a foods ingredient labels. Many nanoparticles do affect the body; polystyrene nanoparticles cover the surface of intestine-lining cells. The villi are coated and are then unable to absorb nutrients. Studies have shown that eventually the body recovers by enlarging the villi; this then allows more iron to enter the system.

(Sources: Environmental Science and Technology, 2012; Small, April 2015; Nature Nanotechnology, 2012)


One pound = 3,500 calories. Reduce your caloric intake by 500–1000 calories per day to lose 1–2 pounds per week.

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