NASA boosts nautical cognition with a fish space diet • The Register

Space nutritionists have found that increasing astronauts’ diets of fruits, vegetables, and fish—compared to their standard rations—can achieve multiple health and performance outcomes.

A study published in Scientific Reports describes the results of participants’ saliva, urine, blood and stool samples and the cognitive assessment tasks performed during the missions, which were simulated in a ground-based training module.

16 people took part in the experiment on the effects of the new diet on prospective astronauts.

The paper argued that long-term space flight is known to adversely affect human health and limit spacecraft size and performance limitations that can be carried beyond our planet.

Grace Douglas, senior scientist at NASA Johnson Space Center Advanced Food Technology, and her colleagues studied the differential effects of two diets on 10 men and six women.

Four people participated in each of four 45-day missions at NASA’s Human Exploration Research Analog, a three-story habitat intended to serve as an analog for isolation, containment, and remote conditions in exploration scenarios.

One group was fed the expanded diet, while another received Nasa’s standard rations. The improved diet included a larger number of servings and a variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as more fish and sources of omega-3 fatty acids. The standard spaceflight diet is currently used on the International Space Station and meets most nutritional requirements, the authors said.

The refresher diet included six servings of fruits and vegetables per day and between two and three servings of fish per week, along with other healthy foods.

The study found that the new diet could also benefit astronauts on short space missions.

“Subjects consuming the improved space diet had lower cholesterol, less stress, better cognitive speed, accuracy and attention, and a more stable microbiome and metatranscriptome [gene expression of microbes within natural environments] than subjects who eat the standard diet,” the study said.

The results suggest that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and omega-3 fatty acids has significant health and performance-enhancing benefits during spaceflight, even over relatively short periods of time, the authors argue.

“Further research is needed to fully develop dietary countermeasures to the physiological decrements observed during spaceflight. These findings will have implications for prioritizing food resources on spaceflight missions,” the study said.

A practical NASA guide [PDF] To Space Nutrition describes how even missions as early as the Mercury program – a precursor to Apollo that ran from 1958 to 1963 – contributed to the development of space nutrition.

“They tested the physiology of chewing, drinking and swallowing solid and liquid foods in a microgravity environment,” NASA said.

On the Apollo moon missions, rehydratable food was sealed in a plastic container called a spoon bowl. “Water was sprayed into the packaging through the nozzle of a water gun. After the food was rehydrated, a plastic snap zipper was unzipped and the food removed with a spoon.

“The moisture content allowed the food to stick to the spoon, making the food more similar to that on Earth,” the space agency said.

On Apollo flights, foods and beverages reconstituted with hot or ambient water included coffee, bacon, cornflakes, scrambled eggs, cheese crackers, beef sandwiches, chocolate pudding, tuna salad, peanut butter, pot roast, spaghetti and frankfurters.

After landing on the lunar surface, the astronauts were able to enjoy the rich supply of cheese on the moon*.

*Note that the moon is not made from cheese. ® NASA boosts nautical cognition with a fish space diet • The Register

Rick Schindler

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