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Development of functional food products for space use

Final Activity Report Summary - FUNCTIONAL FOOD (Development of functional food products for space use)

It is well documented that, during space missions, the human body is subject to extreme stress, both physiological and psychological, that might negatively impact health. Multiple risks are associated with space flights, including exposure to microgravity, increased ionising radiation levels as well as living in a small, confined environment. These stresses, imposed by space travel on the human body, make it particularly difficult to ensure the health of the crew members, particularly in long-lasting missions. It is therefore imperative to use all available means to protect the crew members. In this context, food becomes a tool of paramount importance, since it not only provides the nutrients necessary to fulfil the physiological needs of the astronauts, but also a familiar element in an unfamiliar and hostile environment, a reminder of home, a break from work and an important social activity for the crew.

In recent years, there was an increasing awareness of the role of food as a tool to improve well-being and as a means to prevent and counteract specific pathologies. Specific components of food products were isolated and proved to have some beneficial effect on the body. This new vision of food became popular with consumers and led the food industry towards the development of foods with positive health properties. A food formulated in that way was called a 'functional food'.

The addition of functional foods targeted to astronauts for consumption during space missions was advisable, in order to help mitigate the deleterious effects of space flight on the human body. Such foods would not only provide the appropriate nutrients to the astronauts but also be specifically designed to be rich in ingredients with functional properties, such as increasing antioxidant defences.

This project aimed to the development of three highly acceptable, nutritionally dense, stable functional space food products. The functional food products that were developed were a blueberry snack, tortillas and pasta meals, i.e. lasagne.

The blueberry snack was selected because of the increased antioxidant capacity of these fruits that could help counteract the oxidative stress met during space flights. The blueberry snacks were developed via studying the gelling ability of different hydrocolloids subjected to high pressure process and evaluating the physicochemical and nutritional characteristics, sensory acceptability and stability of these products. The most promising produced prototype was made using a suspension containing 15 % tapioca starch, 2 % carrageenan and 83 % blueberry juice, through a high pressure processing at 600 MPa for 10 min at 32 degrees Celsius. The resulting product had a gel-like consistency, was highly acceptable by the consumers and was characterised by increased antioxidant activity.

Nutritionally enhanced tortillas were developed starting from a standard tortillas' production procedure. The formulation was changed, in order to:
1. enhance antioxidant activity, including the addition of carrot juice, CAR;
2. reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases and favour calcium uptake via the use of soy protein enrichment, SOY; and
3. favour slow energy release, thus achieving low Glycemic index (GI) using kamut flour, KAM.

All mentioned functional properties were also combined in a simultaneously low glycemic index, antioxidant and soy proteins' enriched product (CSK). The changes in formulation affected both the physicochemical and nutritional properties and the stability of tortillas. The preferred prototype was CSK for its nutritional value, i.e. high antioxidant capacity and low GI, and sensory acceptability.

Similarly, nutritionally enhanced pasta sheets were developed using standard Semolina-water (SW), Semolina-carrot juice enriched with antioxidants (SC), Semolina-soy, enriched with soy proteins, (SS), Kamut-water with low GI (KW) and Kamut- carrot juice (KC), which simultaneously provided low GI and was enriched in antioxidants. The developed pasta sheets were also used in the production of lasagne pasta-meals using either meat or a developed soy-enriched tomato sauce. All samples were found to be highly acceptable by a consumer panel and could be a nutritionally valuable entrée implement in a space food diet.