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Could the 3D Printing Technology be a Useful Strategy to Obtain Customized Nutrition?

Severini, Carla PhD; Derossi, Antonio PhD

doi: 10.1097/MCG.0000000000000705

Within the concept of personalized nutrition we want to introduce the terms of “customized food formula” which refers to the preparation (at home) or the production (at industrial level) of new food formulations having nutrients and functional compounds necessary to prevent diseases or to reduce the risk for each subject (or subjects category) who exhibit a susceptibility to diseases. Three-dimensional (3D) printing is a group of technologies of growing interest able to produce, slice by slice, materials with any desired shape, dimension, and structure properties. The application of 3D printing in food science, as called “3D food printing,” is a pioneering technology that could allow to build personalized foods by depositing nutrients and functional compounds or soft-materials obtained by their mixture. Also by 3D food printing it is expected to obtain personalized food formula having desired shape, dimension, and microstructure. This would be useful for people having swallowing problems. In this paper we analyzed the first examples of 3D food printing available in literature as well as we reported our results focused on the production of 3D printed wheat-based snacks enriched with insect powder (Tenebrio molitor) with the aim to improve the quality and the content of proteins.

Department of Science of Agriculture, Food and Environment, University of Foggia, Foggia, Italy

The authors declare that they have nothing to disclose.

Address correspondence to: Carla Severini, PhD, via Napoli no. 25, Foggia 71122, Italy (e-mail:

In the last 20 years, the health has become one of the most important personal and societal value. Because of the costs of health care are very high, the prevention of health diseases has become of uttermost importance. As reported from several authors, among the pathways able to improve the prevention of health status of people, the diet is one of the most effective. The health benefits occurring by the adoption of a correct diet has been widely reported. The protective role of fruits and vegetables against several chronic diseases has been extensively proved.1,2 Prebiotics are short-chain nondigestible carbohydrates for human being3; however, they are very important because, after arriving to the colon, stimulate the growth and the activity of several bacteria4 which have positive effects such as the production of short-chain fatty acid, the reduction of cancer risk, the increase of calcium and magnesium absorption. The consumption of fatty fish which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids was proved to be inversely related to coronary heart disease.5,6 Phitosterols have shown a positive effect in the reduction of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol concentration. These compounds are widely contained into plant-based food such as vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole-grains, etc. but also non vegetable foods such as mollusks, crustaceans, and egg yolks are a good source of phitosterols.7 The introduction of good amount of fibers in daily diet has been associated with the reduction of cardiovascular risk.8 From these a daily intake of fiber, especially from vegetables, between 25 and 30 g has been recommended. Under this scenario, according to the concept that nutrients are able to interact and affect the molecular mechanisms controlling the individual physiology, two new researches began: nutrigenetics and nutrigenomics. The first one studies the effect of genetic variants on the tolerance of nutrients while the second one studies as food consumption affects gene expression. Given these evidences the consumers have paid more attention on the choice of food. This is significantly controlled by the information that they have on the relationship between food component and health. Functional foods (FF) are defined as foods that, in addition to supplying nutrients, offer potential health benefits that can enhance the well-being of people. As widely reported, the FF “affect one or more target functions in the body, beyond their nutritional effects, to either improve health and/or reduce the risk of disease” and “they are not as a pill, a capsule nor any form of dietary supplement.”9,10 The market of FF has been constantly growing although more information is needed to improve the spending behavior of consumers.11 On the bases of the above consideration we would like to pay attention on concept of “personalized food formula.” The idea of personalized food is not completely new. Assman et al7 reported the importance of a personalized nutrition designed to provide a sufficient care to each individual, reducing the risk of diseases and health care costs. However, the authors also stated that the personalized nutrition based on genetic information (from individuals or specific consumer groups) is considered premature. Under the field of FF, Poulsen12 defined 4 main strategies to produce FF: (1) upgrading (ie, to improve by adding a substance which is already present in the product); (2) substitution (ie, the substitution of a component with another one having healthier properties); (3) enrichment (ie, the addition of a functional substance not naturally present in the product); (4) elimination (ie, the removal of unhealthy component). However, we believe that another aspect that will play a fundamental role in this scenario will be the use of technologies able to produce personalized food formula. By this term we would like to refer the capacity to prepare foods by ingredients having nutritional and functional compounds necessary to prevent diseases or to reduce the risk for subjects who exhibit a susceptibility to diseases. Jonsen et al13 used the terms “unpatients” to labeled people who is being in a kind of limbo between health and disease. In the last 5 years, some customized food products have appeared on the market, most of which are designed and prepared by artisans. Of course few pieces can be produced with very high costs, reducing the possibility to meet the demand of special consumer categories. Three-dimensional (3D) printing is a technology of growing interest by which a material is manufactured layer by layer. More generally it is one of a wide series of technologies known as additive manufacturing or also called as solid free form fabrication. These technologies enable to obtain objects by adding, layer by layer, several slices of materials such as metals, polymers, etc. Many additive manufacturing approaches may be applied such as selective laser sintering, stereolitography, inkjet printing, fused deposition modeling, etc.14–16 The most important application of 3D printing are in the field of material science such as polymers, metals, ceramics, etc., as well as for manufacture pharmaceutical dosage forms.17 However, interesting researches in the field of 3D printing living tissue have been recently published.14,15,18 For instance, Sobral et al,18 who studied the application of 3D printing for tissue generation, produced several 3D scaffold architectures able to improve the cell seeding efficiency and cell distribution. Other interesting biomaterials fabrication, animal tissues as well as edible polymers may be found by Mironov et al.19 Despite these, few applications of 3D food printing have been performed. The most important are in the class fused deposition modeling or soft-material extrusion. The deposition of fused chocolate into complex 3D structures was for the first time introduced by the Cornell University by using the Fab@home Fabrication System (Godoi et al16). Later, several companies produced 3D chocolate printers such as Foodini by Natural Machine Company and CocoJet.20 Figure 1 shows an example of 3D printing chocolate deposition. However, taking into account the developing of customized food, the deposition of several ingredients having different nutritional and functional properties or the printing of soft-food formula obtained by mixing ingredients before being extruded could be a useful solution to obtain customized food. Recently TNO and Barilla s.p.a. have produced innovative shape of pasta by the 3D printing of traditional pasta recipes with wheat semolina and water.21 The company Natural Machine printed pizza dough which was decorated by tomato sauce. Moreover, the company TNO has extruded a pork puree obtaining a food with desired shape and dimension. By using 3D printing we obtained cookies in which a mass fraction of 15% of fat was substituted with inulin which is non digestible oligosaccharides with several functional properties such as its actions to stimulate bifidobacteria growth in the intestine, calorie, and fat reduction, lipid modulation, calcium absorption increase, etc.22,23 Figure 2 shows the designed 3D structure (Fig. 2A), the obtained cookies (Fig. 2B) and a microtomography image of the internal structure of a sample of coockies (Fig. 2C). Our research team produced innovative snacks enriched with insect powder (Tenebrio molitor) with the aim to improve the quality of the traditional snacks available on the market in terms of protein content as well as for their biological quality (submitted paper). Figure 3 shows the obtained samples enriched with increasing content of T. molitor powder. More generally, any type of food formula having a consistency as a paste can be used to print complex 3D structures. Cohen et al24 suggested the use of hydrocolloids in addition with food ingredients to obtain customized food. By this technique, printable gels containing nutritional and/or functional compounds from fruits and vegetables could be used without use cereals as structuring compounds. More generally, 3D printing would allow to directly control what we put into our food also adding custom amounts of protein, sugar, vitamins and minerals, functional compounds into the mix. Furthermore, under the terms “customized food formula” no less important is the ability to obtain food with specific shape and dimension which could help the nutrition of people having swallowing difficulty (dysphagia) which is a consequence of several medical conditions but also associated with aging. More generally we believe this technique would be able to “build” whole customized diets to be applied, for example, to hospitalized patients with specific needs in terms of feeding, because of their diseases. Without doubt in the near future we will need more information on the application of 3D printing in the field of food science with the aim to make possible the obtaining of customized food formula both at industrial level as well as at home.







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personalized food formula; personalized nutrition; 3D food printing; insect powder

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