The effects of the initial emulsion structure (droplet size and emulsifier) on the properties of β-carotene-loaded emulsions and the bioavailability of β-carotene after passing through simulated gastrointestinal tract (GIT) digestion were investigated. Exposure to GIT significantly changed the droplet size, surface charge and composition of all emulsions, and these changes were dependent on their initial droplet size and the emulsifiers used. Whey protein isolate (WPI)-stabilized emulsion showed the highest β-carotene bioaccessibility, while sodium caseinate (SCN)-stabilized emulsion showed the highest cellular uptake of β-carotene. The bioavailability of emulsion-encapsulated β-carotene based on the results of bioaccessibility and cellular uptake showed the same order with the results of cellular uptake being SCN > TW80 > WPI. An inconsistency between the results of bioaccessibility and bioavailability was observed, indicating that the cellular uptake assay is necessary for a reliable evaluation of the bioavailability of emulsion-encapsulated compounds. The findings in this study contribute to a better understanding of the correlation between emulsion structure and the digestive fate of emulsion-encapsulated nutrients, which make it possible to achieve controlled or potential targeted delivery of nutrients by designing the structure of emulsion-based carriers.
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