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Carrots going into space to help nourish astronauts with phytonutrients

Saturday, November 14, 2009 by: S. L. Baker, features writer
Tags: astronauts, carrots, health news

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(NaturalNews) NASA has announced there's evidence of frozen water on Mars and the moon, raising hopes humans will eventually explore and colonize those and other neighbors in our solar system and beyond. Already, astronauts live for long periods aboard the International Space Station. And, like their earth-bound counterparts, those space travelers need good nutrition -- especially when you consider they are faced with the extra stresses of cramped living conditions and exposure to excessive radiation.

Now new research just published in the Institute of Food Technologists Journal of Food Science has provided a way astronauts can grow their own gardens of health-enhancing fresh veggies, starting with carrots, aboard their spacecraft.

So why should carrots in particular be such an important part of astronauts' diets? Carrots are loaded with phytochemicals in the carotenoid family (highly pigmented fat-soluble compounds found in many fruits, grains, oils, and vegetables). Alpha, gamma and beta carotene, which is particularly plentiful in carrots, are antioxidants that are transformed within the body into an active form of vitamin A. Researchers believe adding unprocessed, carotene-rich carrots to astronauts' diets can help protect space travelers from the negative effects of excess radiation which include an elevated risk of cancer.

In fact, as previously reported in NaturalNews (http://www.naturalnews.com/026756_cancer_brs...), scientists have associated the high carotenoid content of carrots with protection against not only cancer but also cardiovascular diseases, cataracts and macular degeneration.

In order to investigate ways to incorporate natural and fresh antioxidants into the diets of astronauts, researchers from Tuskegee University in Alabama grew carrots using hydroponics, a technology for growing plants in nutrient-enriched water instead of in soil. In all, the scientists grew 18 different varieties of carrots using two different hydroponic approaches. In one, called the nutrient film technique (NFT), roots were exposed to a nutrient solution held inside a plastic film trough. The second method, known as the microporous tube membrane system (MTMS), involved planting carrots in nutrient tubes embedded into a material dubbed Turface which is similar to crushed clay.

Seventy days after planting, all the carrots were harvested and tested for moisture, fat and carotene content as well as for color and texture. The researchers also had consumer volunteers test the hydroponically grown carrots. The group evaluated the color, crunchiness, sweetness, fibrousness and blandness of each of the 18 different carrot types grown using NFT and MTMS. The volunteers also told the scientists which carrot they preferred overall.

The results showed that all the hydroponically grown carrots had similar moisture content and contained close to the same amount of carotenes. However, the hydroponic carrots grown using the MTMS method were most appealing to consumers, primarily because of their better color and more carrot-like appearance. There was one carrot variety that had the highest overall ranking. "The Nevis-F carrot cultivar grown using the NFT method had the highest carotenoid content and acceptability among consumers, and therefore, it will be the most likely choice for inclusion in NASA's food system, lead researcher A.C. Bovell-Benjamin said in a statement to the media.

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