Space diet rich in veggies and fish could boost astronaut health

A new study showed results after just 45 days in a spaceflight-simulating chamber here on Earth.

NASA astronauts Scott Kelly (right) and Kjell Lindgren (center) with Kimiya Yui of JAXA snack on freshly harvested space-grown red romaine lettuce as part of the Veggie experiment.

An enhanced in-space diet augmented with fruits, vegetables and fish could help boost astronaut health and performance, a new study finds.

In the new study, "we were able to develop a wider variety of spaceflight-compatible fruits and vegetables and provide them at a greater level in the food," Douglas said. She and her team used these items to help build an enhanced diet with more servings and a greater variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as more fish, tomato-rich items and other rations rich in vital nutrients such as flavonoids and omega-3 fatty acids.

The scientists found that volunteers on the enhanced diet possessed lower levels of cholesterol and the stress hormone cortisol. They also performed better in terms of speed, accuracy and attention on a simple video game designed to test their mental performance. Moreover, their gut microbiome — the community of microbes that naturally lives in our digestive tracts — stayed more diverse and rich, a sign of good health, than in volunteers on the standard diet.

"We show benefits associated with diet in less than 45 days, which shows how critical diet is to health and performance," Douglas said. "Astronauts have to perform at very high cognitive and physical levels, and this information is important as we plan resources for upcoming missions."

The scientists are now testing this diet on missions in space, Douglas said.

Charles Q. Choi is a contributing writer for and Live Science. He covers all things human origins and astronomy as well as physics, animals and general science topics. Charles has a Master of Arts degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia, School of Journalism and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of South Florida. Charles has visited every continent on Earth, drinking rancid yak butter tea in Lhasa, snorkeling with sea lions in the Galapagos and even climbing an iceberg in Antarctica. Visit him at