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This diet could help astronauts get to Mars

An enhanced diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables and seafood improves health and performance compared to regular spaceflight food.

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Medium close-up of a male astronaut filming his spacewalking crewmate from inside a spacecraft
(True Touch Lifestyle via Shutterstock)

By Mark Waghorn via SWNS

Freeze-dried prawn cocktail, butternut squash and braised red cabbage could help astronauts get to Mars, according to new research.

An enhanced diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables and seafood improves health and performance compared to regular spaceflight food.

The findings are based on experiments involving 16 individuals in simulation chambers on Earth.

Corresponding author Dr. Grace Douglas of the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, said: "Long‑duration spaceflight impacts human physiology, including well-documented immune system dysregulation.

"The space food system has the potential to serve as a countermeasure to maladaptive
physiological changes during spaceflight."

Rocket size and power limit what can be taken on board - with mass, volume, shelf-life, and storage requirements having to be considered.

Four individuals participated in each of the four 45-day missions that mimicked a confined spaceflight environment.

The ten men and six women ate either an enhanced or standard diet. The former included an increased number of servings and a variety of fruits and vegetables, along with more fish and sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

The latter is currently used on the International Space Station. Typical meals include eggs, bacon, toast, chicken, macaroni and cheese or corn.

They meet most requirements - but could be better, say the U.S. team.


The enhanced diet provided more than six servings of fruits and vegetables a day and two to three servings of fish a week, amongst other healthy foods.

All products were shelf-stable, which is a requirement to support storage conditions on current missions.

To copy real-life conditions, the food was stored in the chamber before the start of each mission.

Individuals provided samples of saliva, urine, blood, and stool and completed cognitive assessment tasks throughout.

Douglas said: "Individuals who consumed the enhanced spaceflight diet had lower cholesterol levels, lower cortisol levels suggesting lower stress, greater cognitive speed, accuracy and attention, and a more stable microbiome than individuals consuming the standard diet.

"An enhanced spaceflight diet has significant health and performance benefits for individuals and may be beneficial for astronauts, even on short space missions.

"Although no substantial changes were observed in the immune response, there were
also no immune challenges, such as illness or infection, so the full benefits of the diet may not have been apparent in these analog missions."

She added: "Although further investigation is needed to assess healthier diets in space, these findings may help to guide food resource priorities on space exploration missions in the future."

The study is published in the journal Nature Astronomy.

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