Food for Thought
McClements’s research has led to healthy food products, more efficient use of agricultural commodities, and technical practices that improve U.S. food companies’ viability in the global market.
In particular, his research aims at using natural ingredients—proteins and polysaccharides—to create foods that look and taste good, but that are also healthier than their current counterparts.
McClements’s research utilizes the fundamental principles of physics and chemistry to understand, design, and fabricate foods with increased quality, stability and healthfulness—for example, preserving nutrients during food storage and optimizing their delivery to the human body.
Eric Decker, professor and head of the UMass Amherst food science department explains that McClements’s research has benefited the food industry by leading to high-quality and healthy food products, by making more efficient use of agricultural commodities, and by developing technical practices that improve U.S. food companies’ viability in the global market.
McClements’s current project involves working on food materials less than 100 nanometers wide, a measurement many thousands of times smaller than the width of a human hair. He’s experimenting with nanoemulsions, a combination of two liquids with small particles of one liquid suspended in the other, to protect and encapsulate healthy food components for targeted release in the digestive tract. These nanoemulsions have the potential to increase the amount of nutrients or other health-promoting compounds that can be absorbed by the body.
Understanding both the challenges and benefits of working on such a small scale and making sure these new delivery systems are safe for consumption are what’s next for McClements and his research group. “We are investigating both the potential risks and benefits of using nanoscopic particles in foods,” McClements explains. “Smaller particles increase the bioavailability, which means the body absorbs the compounds in these particles better. When materials become more bioavailable it’s possible they might behave differently, such as become more potent.”
The Fergus M. Clydesdale Endowed Professor of Food Science, McClements is also the recipient of numerous research awards, including the 2010 Marcel Loncin Research Award from the Institute of Food Technologists, the top award in the field. He is nationally recognized as one of the most frequently cited authors in agricultural sciences, with 425 total publications and over 8,400 citations. In addition, his work has brought over $6 million in research grants to the campus.