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Food Ingredients that Could Reduce the Spread of COVID-19

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Some foods, like chocolate, could be altered to help prevent the airborne transmission of coronavirus. Credit: John Loo, CC BY 2.0

Researchers at the University of Central Florida are exploring the possibility of food ingredients helping to reduce the transmission of COVID-19. Researchers Michael Kinzel and Kareem Ahmed are interested in foods that actively thicken and diminish an individual’s saliva, thus minimizing the amount of COVID pathogens they may release into the air.

The two researchers published their results this Saturday in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.

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“This is a new concept in the context of source control,” said Kinzel, who is currently an assistant professor in UCF’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

“There are obviously masks, but this is the first research focusing on what comes out of one’s buccal cavity or mouth.”

Ahmed, who is also works in UCF’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering as an associate professor, has been working with kinzel for quite some time to determine the impact of masking in classrooms, as well as features an individual might have that could enable them to be a super spreader of the virus, and, now, these studies on the role of food ingredients in limiting airborne disease transmission.

“The group has researched droplet formation for years,” Kinzel says.

“When we heard sneezes transported aerosols over 27 feet early in the pandemic, we realized that this has to be small aerosols, similar to what you see in a misting nozzle. Our thinking has been let’s focus on altering those droplets such that they fall to the ground and not travel so far.”

The researches looked closely at the various aspects of saliva, including its thickness and quantity, and how those qualities affect how far droplets and aerosols from sneezing and coughing can travel– both factors that are key to airborne spread.

The team used high-speed cameras to capture the sneezes and analyze them frame-by-frame. They then used image processing software to determine the exact amount of droplets and aerosols.

How certain food ingredients reduce the spread of COVID-19 by changing your saliva

The saliva was modified with a variety of food ingredients, including agar agar, cornstarch, ginger, and xanthan gum.

The researchers noticed that ginger brought the amount of saliva produced from sneezing down by over 80% and worked just as well as a mask at reducing the distance travelled by droplets and aerosols.

Xanthan gum increased the thickness of saliva by 5%, while cornstarch raised it by a whooping 2000%. Both ingredients reduced the distance travelled by aerosols, but masks remained more effective at containing aerosols than both substances.

The study used a neck gaiter and a surgical mask to get their results.

The study implies that existing food products could be altered to enhance their saliva changing effects, and thus decrease airborne transmission. The researchers suggested that perhaps a bar of chocolate would work well:

“Much like vitamin gummies, this would not be a candy, but rather a form to deliver the solution,” he says. “It could perhaps be referred to as a ‘chocaceutical.’”

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