Kale and Sweet Potato Part of Optimal Astronaut Meal, New Study Finds

Kale and Sweet Potato Part of Optimal Astronaut Meal Credit: Adapted from ACS Food Science & Technology 2023, DOI: 10.1021/acsfoodscitech.3c00396

The Space Report logo It may be the end of pre-packaged, freeze-dried meals for astronauts, following a new report in ACS Food Science & Technology. The study identified the best combination of plants and proteins to supply astronauts with adequate nutrients, while also incorporating crops that can be grown in space. Researchers based their study on NASA’s recommendations considering up to 36 nutrients and 102 crops.

The study found a salad with soybeans, poppy seeds, barley, kale, peanuts and sweet potato is the optimal, nutritious meal for astronauts, balancing maximal nutrients and minimal farming inputs. Researchers chose this meal out of 10 space dishes they created that would provide an astronaut’s daily full-nutrient supply. The 10 original dishes included six omnivore and four vegetarian dishes.

The team kept track of the macro- and micronutritional content of the astronaut food, while optimizing water load needed for crop farming, according to the paper’s abstract.

To date, astronauts have grown multiple crops aboard the International Space Station, including tomatoes, cabbage, kale and mustard. However, with current technology, other elements of the meal still would need to be grown on Earth and delivered into space.

Because of the unique conditions in space, astronauts burn more calories and require extra nutrients than people on Earth. With this in mind, the “optimal” meal includes extra calcium and other nutrients to help keep astronauts healthy.

According to the study, as plants contain edible and inedible parts and require fertilizer input, researchers also kept in mind the waste generation, degree of recyclability, and overall mass processed from their selected foods.

Finally, the researchers conducted a taste test to ensure the astronaut food combination was sufficiently tasty. One tester reported that they “wouldn’t mind eating this all week as an astronaut.”

“Modeling of Space Crop-Based Dishes for Optimal Nutrient Delivery to Astronauts and Beyond on Earth” was published by the American Chemical Society.

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