New research to help astronauts eat better on future missions

(ORDO NEWS) — A team of scientists is developing new ways to encapsulate omega-3 fatty acids so they can travel long distances.

Omega-3s are essential for mental sharpness. However, our bodies cannot produce it naturally, so we must get omega-3s from food or supplements.

“Astronauts and other space missions find it difficult to ensure that omega-3s remain fresh and viable in whatever form – capsules or liquid – they are stored in,” the researchers explain.

“Most omega-3 capsules have a shelf life of about two years, but spaceflight can go longer and must be self-sufficient. You can’t go grocery shopping every couple of months.

Research also shows that expired supplements can be carcinogenic, so the supplies you have should be kept fresh.”

There are currently no reliable ways to preserve omega-3s beyond two years, but the research team believes they have some pretty good options.

The current approach they are testing with ingredient manufacturer Ingredion is to encapsulate omega-3s in quinoa powder.

Another option is cellulose nanocrystals (CNCs), very tiny crystals made from wood fibers with unusual properties that make them capable of stabilizing mixtures of oil and water.

If the team is successful, this work could have an impact on how fats are packaged in products for spaceflight.

Dr. Roxanne Fournier explains: “The foods that astronauts take with them to deep space often need to be rehydrated and the texture can be watery or mushy and not very pleasant as a result.”

“Food fatigue can be a problem for astronauts who eat the same textures day after day,” says Dr. John Frostad. “Properly encapsulating omega-3s will not only prevent malnutrition, but may also make future space diets more tolerable and generally enjoyable to consume.”

While NASA’s touted crewed mission to Mars is the initial stimulus for exploration, the team of scientists also see potential applications for their findings here on Earth.

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