Eating Your Veggies, Even in Space

Fresh food is so attractive to astronauts that they toasted with salad when they were able to cultivate a few lettuce heads on the International Space Station three years ago.

In 2021, beans are on the menu to be grown in space, planted in high-tech planters developed at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).

“Astronauts like gardening and everything that reminds them of life on earth. They enjoy tending and watering the vegetables, and getting them to germinate,” says Silje Wolff, a plant physiologist at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Space (CIRiS), which is part of NTNU Social Research.

Wolff has just completed an experiment that involved growing lettuce for space. The lettuce was planted in artificial soil made from lava rock. The goal is for the plants to grow directly in water that is supplemented with plant nutrients.

“The dream of every astronaut is to be able to eat fresh food – like strawberries, cherry tomatoes or anything that’s really flavorful. Someday that will certainly be possible. We envision a greenhouse with several varieties of vegetables,” says Wolff.

The longest stays at the International Space Station have been six months. People travelling to Mars will need to be prepared to stay in space for at least a year.

The European Space Agency plans to build a lunar base in 2030 as a stopover on the way to Mars. NASA plans to fly directly to the planet with a target landing date of 2030.

“The way space travel works today, it’s almost impossible to take along all the resources you need. That’s why we have to develop a biological system so astronauts can produce their own food, and recycle all of the resources,” says Wolff.

Today’s astronauts eat only freeze-dried and vacuum-packed foods.

“Astronauts struggle with having little appetite. They often lose weight. Addressing the psychological aspect of eating something fresh is one of our goals. Vacuum-packed food doesn’t really remind you of food. Having something fresh that triggers the appetite and the right receptors in the brain is important,” Wolff says.

NTNU and CIRiS are collaborating with Italian and French researchers in their quest to cultivate plant-based food for long space journeys.

CIRiS tests the new equipment made by NTNU’s technical workshop – very sophisticated planters that regulate all the water, nutrients, gas and air the plants need. In space, all the water and food has to be recovered. This means that plant fertilization needs to be as precise as possible.

Wolff has conducted experiments in climate-regulated growth chambers in the Netherlands as one aspect of this research.

Of all the nutrients plants use, they use nitrogen the most. During her experiments, Wolff looked at different nutrient doses and how they affected the plants’ water uptake.

“We found that plants can, in a way, ‘smell’ the amount of nutrients available to them. When the nitrogen concentration is very low, the plant will absorb more water and thus more nitrogen until it reaches an optimal level. The plant has a mechanism that turns on when the nitrogen level is adequate. Then it adjusts both nitrogen and water absorption down,” says Wolff.

Everything that can be tested on Earth has now been carried out. The next step is to grow beans in space to observe the effect of no gravity on plants’ ability to transport water and absorb nutrients. Simulating the absence of gravity can’t be done on Earth.

The beans are placed in a centrifuge to sprout and grow in the space station. The centrifuge is rotated to create different amounts of gravity.

“The art of getting something to grow in space can be transferred to our planet,” Wolff said. “This is how we create a setup that produces both the microgravity conditions in the space station and the 1-g force that exists on Earth.”

That will allow her to compare how the different gravitational levels affect the plants in space. On Earth, gravity causes warm air to rise while cold air sinks. In the space station, air is more stationary, causing astronauts to always have a low-grade fever. Plants are also affected.

“Stationary air affects a layer on the underside of the leaf where the stoma pores are located. When gravity disappears, the boundary layer in the slit-shaped apertures thickens. This reduces evaporation and causes the leaf temperature to increase. Water vapour diffusion to the environment is an important part of plant regulation and can be compared with sweating to cool the body in humans and animals,” says Wolff.

Food production in cities offers an opportunity to produce more food in the most sustainable way. Cities don’t have much soil for cultivation, but a lot becomes possible if you can plant directly in water in indoor closed systems where all aspects of the climate are regulated.

“Recycling and precise fertilization are key to achieving more sustainable food production. By growing plants directly in water with dissolved nutrients, fertilization and irrigation are much easier to control,” says Wolff.

“The plants become less sensitive to nutritional deficiency because the roots are in direct contact with the nutrients. They’re always able to access new nutrients through the water, and can use absolutely all the nutrients available – unlike with soil that binds the nutrients and affects their availability to the roots. And the roots don’t rot when the water is mixed with a little oxygen,” she says.

Source: EurekAlert!


Video: “Floating Farm” Design Could See Vegetables Grown at Sea

A British design graduate has created a prototype ‘floating farm’ that uses a simple water evaporation technique to allow vegetables to be grown at sea.

Watch video at Reuters (1:09 minutes) . . . . .

Vegetables May Help Protect Elderly Women from Hardening of Neck Arteries

Elderly Australian women who ate more vegetables showed less carotid artery wall thickness, according to new research in Journal of the American Heart Association, the Open Access Journal of the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association.

Cruciferous vegetables including broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts proved the most beneficial.

“This is one of only a few studies that have explored the potential impact of different types of vegetables on measures of subclinical atherosclerosis, the underlying cause of cardiovascular disease,” said Lauren Blekkenhorst, study lead author and Ph.D. candidate at the University of Western Australia in Crawley.

Researchers distributed food frequency questionnaires to 954 Australian women aged 70 and older. The women noted their vegetable intake in a range from “never eating vegetables” to “three or more times per day”. Vegetable types included cruciferous, allium (for example, onions, garlic, leeks and shallots), yellow/orange/red, leafy green and legumes. Sonograms were used to measure carotid artery wall thickness and entire carotid trees were examined to determine carotid plaque severity.

Researchers observed a 0.05 millimeter lower carotid artery wall thickness between high and low intakes of total vegetables. “That is likely significant, because a 0.1 millimeter decrease in carotid wall thickness is associated with a 10 percent to 18 percent decrease in risk of stroke and heart attack,” Blekkenhorst said.

In addition, each 10 grams per day higher in cruciferous vegetable intake was associated with 0.8 percent lower average carotid artery wall thickness. Other vegetable types did not show an association with carotid artery wall thickness in this study.

“After adjusting for lifestyle, cardiovascular disease risk factors (including medication use) as well as other vegetable types and dietary factors, our results continued to show a protective association between cruciferous vegetables and carotid artery wall thickness,” Blekkenhorst said.

However, due to the observational nature of this study a causal relationship cannot be established. “Still, dietary guidelines should highlight the importance of increasing consumption of cruciferous vegetables for protection from vascular disease,” Blekkenhorst said.

Source: American Heart Association

Consumers Now Have More Tasty and Healthy Choices of Frozen Vegetables

Jesse Hirsch wrote . . . . . . .

As farmers market season heads into full swing, you may find yourself dreaming about freshly picked ears of corn, peas in their pods, and tender asparagus spears. So why would anyone want to hear about frozen veggies now?

For starters, it’s not always easy to find—or afford—what you want in the supermarket produce aisle. And how many of us have gleefully scooped up a basket’s worth of goodies only to find that we didn’t have time to prepare a meal fast enough before the bounty wilted in the crisper drawer?

No matter how you get your veggies, we all need to get more: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention esti­mates that only about 1 in 10 Americans consumes his or her daily recommended amounts of veggies (3½ and 2½ cups, respectively). Frozen produce, of course, also cuts down the prep and cook time. (See our cooking tips for frozen vegetables, below.)

That’s why veggie lovers will be cheered to learn about the greater number of inventive new frozen offerings. You’ll find veggies that are mashed, riced, roasted, and spiralized, as well as mixed with grains and beans. There’s also a cost advantage: Data from the Department of Agriculture show typically higher average prices for fresh produce, with some items (cauliflower, for one) significantly cheaper in frozen form.

Consumer Reports’ food testers sampled a variety of frozen vegetable products, rating them for nutrition, flavor, and texture. Some innovations missed the mark in terms of taste, and others lost points for excess sodium or other concerns. But overall, our testing team found plenty of products to be both healthy and tasty.

A Nutritional New Day

It’s a long-held belief that anything not fresh can’t possibly be good for you. But when it comes to frozen vegetables, recent research shows that’s not the case. Culinary scientist Ali Bouzari, Ph.D., led a study at University of California, Davis, in which his team tested eight hand-harvested items—blueberries, broccoli, carrots, corn, green beans, peas, spinach, and strawberries. They then flash-froze half of the bounty and stored the other half in typical industry conditions for fresh produce. The researchers periodically tested the content of 11 nutrients in both the fresh and frozen produce.

Comparing like fruits and vegetables with like, there was little difference in nutrient content overall. In some cases, fresh items were slightly better; in others, frozen items had a slight edge. Nutritionally speaking, “good frozen produce is essentially a head-to-head toss-up with good fresh produce,” Bouzari says.

Crazy for Cauliflower

If you’re browsing the supermarket frozen veggie aisle, you may be surprised by the wealth of cauliflower in the cases. What’s up with that?

According to Kara Nielsen, culinary trends analyst at the food and beverage innovation firm CCD Innovation, cauliflower has become de rigueur at trendy restaurants in the past few years. “It’s the next kale,” she says. Cauliflower mania has spread to home cooks, with sales of products containing the cruciferous vegetable rising 71 percent in the last year, according to market research firm Nielsen.

The cauliflower craze, says Kara Nielsen, took hold when paleo dieters and other carb-averse eaters discovered that processing it into small, rice-shaped pieces could create a substitute for carb-heavy items like potatoes and rice. The new diet star—bagged, riced cauliflower—became a supermarket fixture, both in the produce and the freezer aisles. Broccoli, sweet potatoes, and other vegetables in “riced” form soon followed suit.

Riced cauliflower fared particularly well in our tests. The four products that were rated Excellent overall each contain riced cauliflower. “It’s a fairly versatile ingredient,” says Maxine Siegel, R.D., who heads CR’s food-testing lab. “It has enough flavor that you could eat it on its own, but riced cauliflower can also replace some of the rice in recipes.” Mashed cauliflower also got high marks.

Though your healthiest option will always be to buy plain veggies and season them yourself, one of our recommended products was preseasoned. Green Giant Riced Veggies Cauliflower with Lemon & Garlic got a high nutrition score in part because it contained no added salt, but our tasters also rated it highly for its fresh lemony flavor. “It goes to show that it is possible to have a low-sodium packaged product that tastes good,” Siegel says.

Birds Eye Veggie Made Mashed Cauli­flower Original and Alexia Mashed Cauliflower with Sea Salt had their nu­tri­tion ratings dinged for rather high (470 and 460 mg, respectively) sodium counts. But they were the only products in our test to earn an Excellent rating for taste.

From Spirals to Tots

Spiralized veggies—low-calorie, low-carb substitutions for pasta—are also big news in the frozen food aisle. It’s not surprising: Spiralizing from scratch takes time and specialized kitchen equipment. For fans of these, we found that the frozen packaged Carrot Spirals from Trader Joe’s received one of our highest nutrition and sensory scores. (Green Giant recently released a spiralized frozen veggie line, but the items were not available in time for our tests.)

Also popping up in the freezer section are veggie “tots”—similar to kids’ fried potato tots but with other vegetables inside. “They do beat potato tots nutritionally. Some are lower in calories, fat, and sodium, and higher in fiber,” Siegel says. Of the three in our tests, the Green Giant Veggie Tots Broccoli got the highest Overall Score. But they’re not twins to kids’ beloved potato versions: According to Siegel, the broccoli filling was flavorful, but the texture was mushy, unlike typical tots.

Powering Up the Protein

Consumers looking to bump up their plant protein intake will also find frozen blends of vegetables, grains, and beans. We found these to be of varying quality. Sodium was a problem, but for Birds Eye Steamfresh Protein Blends California Style—which received Very Good nutrition and taste scores—its 12 grams of fiber and protein per cup compensated for the 450 mg of sodium.

The most disappointing innovation: The line of roasted vegetables from Green Giant. Siegel says her team had high hopes for the concept because roasting brings out vegetables’ sweetness, and having a frozen option means that you can skip the time-consuming process of roasting them yourself. But most of these frozen roasted veggies were barely edible, with a smoky, ashy flavor, according to our tasters.

5 Cooking Tips From CR’s Cooking Pros

1. Don’t thaw first. Cooking your vegetables straight from the frozen state is the best way to maintain their texture. Also, frozen veggies aren’t intended to be served raw, like on a crudité plate.

2. Cook in as little water as possible. The veggies’ valuable nutrients can leach out if you use too much water. Steaming and microwaving require little or no water. If you opt for a pot, use a cover so that the veggies heat through faster.

3. Mix and match. Sure, veggies make for a healthy side dish—and vegetable grain and bean blends can even be served as the main meal—but you can also incorporate them into soups, casseroles, rice dishes, and more. Veggies not only provide layers of complexity but also boost the health factor of, say, mac ’n’ cheese or other pasta dishes.

4. Step away from the salt shaker. Extra sodium can detract from the health benefits of your veggies, so get creative with seasonings such as pepper flakes, garlic, citrus zest or juice, herbs, or even a splash of balsamic vinegar.

5. Swap your cheese. Instead of goopy cheddar cheese sauce, sprinkle Parmesan or Romano on your veggies. These cheeses pack a powerful flavor punch, so a little goes a long way.

Should You Swallow the Health Claims on Packages?

It’s common to see lots of exciting-sounding health promises on food packages at the supermarket, and frozen vegetables are no exception. But a little skepticism is in order. “I’m all for touting the benefits of vegetables if it convinces people to eat more of them,” says Consumer Reports nutritionist Amy Keating, R.D. “But you don’t know how meaningful the claims are unless you check the nutrition facts panel on the back of the package.”

Suss out the sodium. “If a product is seasoned or in sauce, it likely contains added salt,” Keating says. Birds Eye Veggie Made Mashed Cauliflower, for example, says on its packaging: “50% fewer carbs than the leading mashed potato brand,” but it also has 470 mg of sodium in just ½ cup. A healthy sodium level for a vegetable side dish is 140 mg or less.

Check the calories. Green Giant Riced Veggies Cauliflower & Sweet Potato claims to be a “reduced calorie food” and a “good alternative to potatoes, pasta, or rice.” While true, these statements may give you the impression that those foods are packed with calories. But 1 cup of skinless baked potato has just 114 calories, for example, and 1 cup of cooked pasta just 200—higher than the 50 in 1 cup of the cauliflower/ sweet potato product but certainly not a calorie bomb.

Be sure about the sugars. Birds Eye Steamfresh Superfood Blends Quinoa & Spinach is claimed to be a good source of antioxidant vitamins, but it also has 10 grams of total sugars per cup. A little of that may come from the sugars naturally present in the veggies, but the majority is likely from the dried cranberries and sugars added to the sauce, Keating says.

Source: Consumer Reports

How Scientists Are Altering Your Vegetables

Enlarge image . . . . .

Kelsey Mckinney wrote . . . . . . .

All hail the Sunion, a sweet onion newly arriving at supermarkets in 2018 bearing an almost unfathomable promise: No matter how finely you chop it, no matter how stale the air is in your kitchen, no matter what names it calls you (kidding), it will never make you cry.

You might think, in these crazy days of seedless tomatoes and plant-based burgers that bleed, that this modern marvel was devised by a bunch of punning scientists high on the fumes of Johnson’s Baby Shampoo. But it’s actually the three-decade culmination of one farmer named Rick Watson’s struggle to inoculate America’s favorite bulb with the “no more tears” concept through crossbreeding, that ancient tradition of manipulating crops to suit our own preferences.

That Sunions are perfectly timed to capitalize on our culture’s general need for speed, as well as our aversion to tearing up in the kitchen, isn’t a coincidence. “There are, of course, trends in produce,” says Adam Brady, senior marketing manager at Golden Sun Marketing, working with Sunions. “And right now the trend is to make produce more convenient for preparation.” He points to the growing $5-billion-a-year industry, led by Blue Apron, that’s built up around delivering prepared groceries right to consumers’ doors and expected to surpass $10 billion by 2020. “It takes that fear of tearing out of the equation when you’re talking about prepping meals,” says Brady, “It’s one less thing that consumers have to think about.”

The earliest kind of genetic manipulation was done by selective breeding: picking out the favorable traits and weeding out the undesired ones intentionally. Farmers aim to give foods certain qualities (or take them away) and do so by controlling how the crop cross breeds. Think back to your middle school biology class: This is exactly what Gregor Mendel did with his pea pod experiments, just on a much larger, more sophisticated scale.

In 2018, the inherently slow process of crossbreeding may seem as quaint as Web 1.0. New technology has helped speed up the process; adjustments that might have taken 30 years in the field in the past can now be made almost instantly on a single machine in a lab. Just watch how you label it. “It’s really important you know this isn’t a GMO,” Mallory Johnson, president of bigInk PR, says about the Sunion, referring to genetically modified organisms.

The problem: There’s still no standardization in place to alert consumers to which of the produce in a grocery store has been genetically manipulated, much less how.

When you’re standing in front of, say, a neat pyramid of tomatoes, you’re missing some crucial insight into how that produce came to be. The results of the different ways to manipulate a crop (crossbreeding, GMOs, and a third category of gene-edited crops) look the same, but there’s no transparency about how those tomatoes — or mushrooms, or onions, or whatever — you buy in the supermarket have been grown, nor is there clear regulation of the science that goes into making this produce, which has been a controversial issue since GMOs were first commercially introduced in the 1970s. None of it is unsafe, necessarily, but don’t we deserve to know how food we’d otherwise presume weren’t subjects of science was made regardless?

In the modern era, when we use the word “genetic” in relation to a crop, we’re usually not talking about genetic engineering through crossbreeding by a farmer who just wants to grow onions that don’t make you cry. When we say “genetic,” the presumption is usually that some kind of science was involved. In 1973, two American scientists named Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen developed the ability to genetically engineer DNA. By 1974, other scientists had manipulated the DNA of a rat, and by 1975 a debate was already waging over whether or not genetically engineered food was safe for consumers.

By the time the first commercial GMO food, the FLAVR SAVR tomatoes promising a longer shelf-life, were approved by the US Department of Agriculture in 1992 and shipped to market, Americans were already wary. What happened next was such an absolute public relations disaster even Monsanto, the parent company of the FLAVR SAVR, admitted to botching it. GMOs became so divisive that Monsanto lost a third of its stock value in 14 months. “Our confidence in this technology and our enthusiasm for it has, I think, been widely seen — and understandably so — as condescension or indeed arrogance,” the chief executive of Monsanto said in 1999. In other words, instead of hearing the public’s concerns and offering any reassurance on the company’s science-based safety record, Monsanto brushed right past us.

It makes sense, then, that the Sunion’s developer wants to emphasize that their product is not a GMO. Mostly because Americans still hate GMOs, or at least the idea of them, an incredible amount. According to data collected by the Pew Research Center in 2015, about 50% of Americans believe GMOs are bad for their health, while only one in five admitted to having a firm grasp of the topic. This suspicion is based in lore only. When Pew surveyed member scientists of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 88% said GMOs are “generally safe” in a conclusive exoneration. But that former statistic reveals a deeper anxiety about consumer confidence in the state of produce, and reveals that the majority of us do want to know the origins of our food.

In 2016, Yinong Yang, a researcher at Penn State University, found another way to manipulate produce, creating a white button mushroom that browns less quickly. This more precise method targeting specific strands of DNA made use of CRISPR-Cas9, a new popular gene editing tool. “I think of these things on a continuum,” says Gregory Jaffe, director of the Project on Biotechnology for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “You can’t make the kinds of very bright line distinctions [scientists] want to make between what’s a GMO and what’s gene editing.”

Even in the case of browning produce, this quickly becomes clear. Scientists had already created non-browning apples and potatoes by inserting new, altered genes into the crop’s DNA in order to “silence” a gene that already existed. That made them GMOs. In Yang’s case, CRISPR technology was used to simply pop in and snip out a tiny piece of the mushroom’s DNA, which disabled the production of an enzyme that handles mushroom browning. The result of the two methods is the same (produce that browns more slowly) but the process is different, and so, weirdly, are the governmental rules around them. In Yang’s case, the USDA exempt his mushrooms from review, citing that he did not introduce new “foreign DNA,” potentially setting the precedent for all CRISPR-Cas9 crops.

“Right now, if you make a genetically engineered potato, it is subject to different regulations than if you introduced the exact same gene using CRISPR. Same phenotype. Same environment. But one is regulated and one isn’t. So either you’re over-regulating one, or you’re under-regulating one,” Jaffe says. He notes that CRISPR can potentially manipulate more than just one individual strand of DNA, unlike a GMO crop, so it’s confusing that they would be subject to different regulatory systems under the USDA and the FDA. GMOs are only evaluated by the FDA on a voluntary consultation process, which, to be fair, many crop growers elect not to waive to raise confidence in their product. Before 2010, every GMO was regulated by the FDA, but in the last five years the USDA has stepped in to monitor GMOs that break new ground under the risk of being plant pests. Neither system, however, applies to CRISPR crops. Federal agencies have not decided how exactly gene-edited produce will be regulated, and so right now, they pass through untouched.

“I’m not suggesting that they all need to be overseen or that they all need the same oversight,” Jaffe says. “But the current system isn’t set up to regulate anything fairly.” As consumers, the answer isn’t to vilify all genetically edited foods, but to push for independent, science-based evaluations. “Oversight is to find the one in 1,000, or one in 10,000, that might have a food safety risk,” Jaffe says. “We regulate to to catch the exceptions, to find the needle in the haystack. If a gene edited crop isn’t regulated, the question will be whether the public or even other members of the food industry even know that a genetically edited crop is in the marketplace.”

Last year, Congress passed a law requiring labeling on GMOs to disclose that they were modified, lauded as a win for everyday consumers. No such law exists for gene-edited crops; they’re too new. Already anticipating backlash, DuPont Pioneer, a company developing a CRISPR-edited waxy corn, has already launched a PR campaign to help consumers understand what genetically engineered foods are long before its product will be available on the market. They need to win in the court of public opinion before they can win on the shelves.

CRISPR is the food industry’s first real chance at a do-over from the GMO fallout. Gene-edited crops aren’t on shelves yet, though soybeans, potatoes, and corn could be ready to go to market soon, possibly by the end of 2018, so the industry still has time to get this right. In the next five years, we could see massive scientific leaps in helping crops become more drought resistant, more nutritious, and have longer shelf lives. All things worth celebrating, but only if we can see enough of what’s happening to know to clap.

Source: Thrillist