Drinks are getting smarter. The ability to infuse beverages with functional ingredients like vitamins, adaptogens, and other health-boosting ingredients has reached a new high with the introduction of consumption nanotechnology.  

Say what?

Basically, food-grade nanoparticles infused into beverages that- by character of their smaller molecular size- allow the consumer to absorb more of the healthful ingredient faster. In other words, nanotechnology creates enhanced bioavailability of nutraceuticals. This means we can reap more of the healthy goodness of our beverage ingredients.  

Let's break it down: 

What is a nutraceutical? 

A nutraceutical is the part of food that packs its health benefits. These are the qualities or nutritional values of foodstuff that impart medicinal or health benefits that can prevent or treat diseases and increase overall wellness. For instance: an isolated nutrient, probiotic, prebiotic, fiber, mineral, antioxidant, etc. can be considered a nutraceutical.  


Right now nutraceuticals are having a moment, taking space as one of the fastest-growing segments in the global food industry. Why? Because they are used to improve health, whether by delaying the aging process, preventing diseases, or supporting bodily functions.  

Now imagine if nutraceuticals were given the Hulk treatment and made even stronger. That's what nanotechnology does.   

How can nanoparticles make us healthier? 

Nano: The Magazine for Small Science wrote a feature on nano-engineered beverages back in 2017 when whispers of the technology were first being muttered. They said nano-molecules are about one-tenth the size of ordinary water clusters and therefore get absorbed faster in the cells.   

Faster absorption is a plus for a couple of reasons.

1. People who experience anxiety, GI distress, or exhaustion can fortify and re-energize quicker with expedited nutrient delivery to the cells.

2. It's thought that faster absorption calls on the body to break down nutrients quicker, therefore making the process is easier on the body.  

Science, man...

Examine Bill Nye GIF by NETFLIX

In summary, nanoparticles carry a higher concentration of the nutraceutical and deliver it faster, with less of a processing toll on the body.  

Why is nanotechnology getting popular now? 

It's been around for a while but nanotechnology saw a noticeable bump in focus and tech development in the beverage industry when people began exploring its application with hemp.  

The ability this technology provides to infuse a drink with any oil-based functional ingredient has accelerated development significantly. However, the number of nutraceuticals that can benefit from the technology is larger than one single compound.  

Expect to see bottled waters, energy drinks, RTD coffees, and iced teas experiment with consumption nanotechnology in the coming years.

Going nano may become a badge of entry for the functional beverage category as a whole as consumers demand stronger, more efficient products.  

What are the side effects of consuming nanoparticles? 

We've only scratched the tip of the nanoparticle iceberg. New food and beverage nanotechnology applications have experimented in boosting the healthiness of products as well as improving shelf life and product safety.  

Dog Chemistry GIF

But are there potential negative effects?  

Both organic and inorganic nanoparticles are used in food-grade products. Organic nanoparticles can consist of lipids, proteins, and carbohydrates, while inorganic encompasses silver, iron oxide, titanium dioxide, silicon dioxide, and zinc oxide.  

Some nanoparticles never make it to the final consumable product but are used in its making.

Nanoparticles that are digested end up in the GI tract (GIT). Researchers say, "Any nanoparticles that are not digested or absorbed in the upper GIT will reach the lower GIT where they may alter the microbiome."  

Here's a rundown of exactly how nanoparticles move through the body: 

Animation Art GIF

After ingestion, nanoparticles travel through the complicated environment of the GIT before they are absorbed or exhibit their toxic effects.  

  • Initially, nanoparticles pass through the mouth, which has an approximately neutral pH and encounters saliva that contains mucin, digestive enzymes (such as amylase), and electrolytes.  

  • The nanoparticles then move through the esophagus and into the stomach, where they are exposed to highly acidic gastric fluids (pH around 2-3) that contain digestive enzymes (gastric lipase and pepsin) and electrolytes.  

  • The nanoparticles then pass through the pylorus sphincter and enter the small intestine (pH around 5-7) where they are exposed to saliva fluids that contain bile salts, phospholipids, digestive enzymes (pancreatic lipase, proteases, and amylase), and electrolytes.  

  • If the nanoparticles are not absorbed in the upper GIT, then they will reach the colon (pH 6-7) where they will encounter colonic bacteria and undigested food components.  

  • If the nanoparticles are originally trapped within a food when they are ingested, then they may be released into the GIT fluids as the food matrix is disrupted and digested. 

  •  The GIT region where they are released will therefore depend on the composition and structure of the food. 

Conclusion: Nano-drinks Will Change the Category  

With higher concentrations and faster absorption, consumption nanotechnology is a promising next-step for the functional beverage category. That being said, there's an equally strong current pushing the opposite direction- away from any type of processing or ingredient manipulation and toward letting real, untouched ingredients do their thing.  

Many brands have dedicated their efforts to stripping down recipes, removing artificials, synthetics, added sugar, colors, and anything that could deter from the core ingredients as they exists in nature. 

Either way the recipe swings- toward or against lab-based manipulation, it's an exciting time for functional beverages.

Happy Mad Scientist GIF by Fun'n'Fab LAB

Consumers can expect to be presented with an array of techniques and nutraceuticals that can potentially make healthy beverages even healthier.