Keeping Nutrients in Astronauts’ Food Vital During Long Space Flights

August 13, 2009

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Chicago – A new study in the Journal of Food Science explores the impact of space flight on the nutritional value of foods. Maintaining the health of the crew aboard a spacecraft is a critical issue especially during extended trips.  Because foods may lose their nutrients during extended space missions, food scientists are analyzing ways to increase shelf life of nutrients in the food.

Researchers at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Johnson Space Center in Houston evaluated the stability of fatty acids, amino acids and vitamins in supplements and in foods from a long-duration spaceflight on the International Space Station (ISS). Tested items included tortillas, almonds and dried apricots, commercially-packed salmon, freeze-dried broccoli au gratin, multivitamins, and vitamin D supplements.

“Destruction of even a single vitamin or nutrient in the space food system could be catastrophic to astronauts in a three-year mission to Mars,” said Michele Perchonok, manager of the NASA shuttle food system and member of the Institute of Food Technologists.

Scientists speculated that long-term storage and/or radiation from the space environment could degrade nutrients in foods.  Their findings showed:

  1. The vitamins in the tortillas decreased significantly.
  2. The vitamins in salmon decreased significantly after 353 days.
  3. Broccoli au gratin had 15 to 20 percent decreases in folic acid and in vitamins K and C.
  4. A multivitamin supplement that was used for the study showed that the vitamin A, riboflavin and vitamin C were all decreased after at least 353 days of storage.
  5. Vitamin D in the supplement declined over time, the longest point in the study was after 880 days of spaceflight.  

Researchers are exploring different packaging or other means to increase food shelf life for exploration missions exceeding three years.  Researchers are also exploring how the human body’s need for nutrients changes during space flight.  Both of these have significant implications for future exploration missions.

To receive a copy of the study, please contact Jeannie Houchins at jhouchins@ift.org.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For NASA footage and/or interview opportunities, please contact William Jeffs at william.p.jeffs@nasa.gov.

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About IFT
The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) exists to advance the science of food. Our long-range vision is to ensure a safe and abundant food supply contributing to healthier people everywhere. Founded in 1939, IFT is a nonprofit scientific society with 20,000 individual members working in food science, food technology, and related professions in industry, academia, and government. IFT champions the use of sound science across the food value chain through knowledge sharing, education, and advocacy, encouraging the exchange of information, providing both formal and informal educational opportunities, and furthering the advancement of the profession. IFT has offices in Chicago, Illinois, and Washington, D.C. For additional information, please visit ift.org.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Jeannie Houchins, MA, RD
312.604.0231
jhouchins@ift.org