Recipe for Failure: A Meal in a Pill
George Jetson is relaxing in front of the TV when Rosie the robotic maid wheels up to him with a single pill sitting on a silver platter. Chili dogs with the works?! he exclaims, you're the best, Rosie. The pill proceeds to give him heartburn, just as a real fully loaded chili dog might.
Although the 30-second bit is actually a Tums commercial, rather than an episode of "The Jetsons," the food pill featured prominently in the TV show that spanned nearly three decades. While we're waiting patiently for our own real-life Rosie and flying car, we might be waiting forever for the full meal in a pill.
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There's just no way you'd have something like that, said Bill Franke, associate director at Rutgers Center for Advanced Food Technology. Even if you weren't worried about the safety, you couldn't do that.
Assuming a food manufacturer would be selling this, the first problem is regulation, Franke said. Meal replacements have to contain a certain amount of calories and nutrients to meet the criteria of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
It's easy to fit all of the micronutrients into a capsule, like a multivitamin, but a meal is much more than that. There is no physical way to fit all the protein, fats and carbohydrates that make up an entire meal into just a few grams. Franke said that meal replacement drinks and bars available today are about as concentrated as they can be.
Another technical hurdle is the flavor, he added. While flavor technology has come a long way, it would be difficult to make a single pill taste like a chili cheese dog because all of the flavors would be in your mouth at the same time. Even if some of the flavors were there, it would hardly taste like the real thing.
If a food pill were even remotely possible, the military would be working on it because troops in combat often don't consume enough calories to make up for all of the energy they use on patrols. Franke, who serves on the Institute of Medicine committee studying dietary supplement use by military personnel, said that he has not heard of the Department of Defense doing any research in this area.
Given the obesity epidemic in the U.S., current mainstream research is more focused on how to make people feel sated so they eat less, rather than fitting an entire meal into something that can be swallowed in an instant. There's a lot of psychology around chewing and delivering a taste and [the] odor of food, Franke said.
Even if you could reduce it down to a pill," he said, "I don't think it would be a big business.