"Nanofoods" Offer Big Flavor, Low Fat, Stealth Vitamins

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More radical is the possibility of making a low-fat milkshake by coating microscopic grains of silica, a sand-like mineral, with chocolate.

The silica doesn't have any calories, and the tiny amount of chocolate is all on the surface. "When it hits the taste buds, you have huge flavor," Chaudhry said.

Not Ready for Lunch

Hermann Stamm of the European Commission's Joint Research Center in Ispra, Italy, appreciates nanofoods as a "nutritional miracle."

But he warned that the body may react differently to nanoparticles than to conventional ingredients.

Because the particles are so small, they may be able to penetrate the gut more easily. This is good for vitamins or minerals but perhaps not so good for preservatives or other synthetic chemicals.

Once in the bloodstream, nanoparticles may be able to enter cells in a wide range of organs, with unknown effects.

Even vitamins and minerals might rush into the bloodstream too quickly, causing overdoses, warned Elke Anklam, also of the Joint Research Center.

Safe Applications

Right now nobody knows much about the safety of these products, said T. Scott Thurmond, a regulatory toxicologist with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

"It is still pretty much a crapshoot," Thurmond said. "We need to be proactive and take a look at this now to avoid any potential problems down the road."

Some nanofood products, like nanosalt, are probably safe. That's because, once the salt dissolves, nanosalt is nothing special. "It will behave like normal salt from then onward," the Central Science Laboratory's Chaudhry said.

And the fat-coated water droplets in nano-mayonnaise are likely to be safely broken apart in the gut, he said.

The Joint Research Center's Anklam agreed that anything likely to be fully digested probably poses little risk. "And we should really enjoy the mayonnaise having less fat."

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