WASHINGTON, DC — Do military-themed culinary creations like parachute pork, battalion brownie pops or Ranger red hot party mix sound appealing to you? If so, Uncle Sam wants you to participate in a research study.
The U.S. Army Institute of Environmental Medicine is looking for volunteers to eat military food rations for 21 consecutive days for a study of the impact of Meals, Ready-to-Eat, or MREs, on gut health.
Researchers want to learn how MREs influence the millions of bacteria in troops’ digestive systems.
“Interactions between the millions of bacteria living in our gut and what we eat is a very important factor in gut health, but we don’t know how MRE foods interact with those bacteria to impact gut health,” Holly McClung, a research dietitian working on the project, said on the Army’s website. “Ultimately, discovering how eating MREs influences gut bacteria and gut health will help our efforts to continually improve the MRE.”
Much like on the battlefield, one of the main obstacles in the study is finding people to commit to a steady diet of ready-to-eat meals. MREs are generally regarded as tasteless, if not bad, which is perhaps understandable considering the wide battery of requirements they must meet to guarantee shelf life and meet strict nutritional benchmarks.
MREs must be capable of withstanding parachute drops from 1,250 feet, and the packaging is required to maintain a minimum shelf life of 3½ years at 80 degrees Fahrenheit or nine months at 100 degrees.
“What is nutrition if you don’t consume the food?” McClung asked. “We need ways to keep warfighters interested in and excited about eating in the field after they have been training and eating MREs for several days.”
To entice volunteers, Army dietitians created “MRE Recipes: A collection of recipes bringing a creative twist to your MRE experience.”
The cookbook features combinations of the limited ingredients available for MREs. Mountaineer mousse dip is made up of a pudding pouch, a dairy shake and water mixed to a mousse-type consistency, McClung said. Dip pretzels in it, and you might have something approximating the sweet and savory experience of salted caramel gelato.
The hope is that the concoctions hatched in the study will translate to culinary inspiration on the battlefield.
“We want to benefit the warfighter in as many ways nutritionally and physiologically as possible,” research dietitian Adrienne Hatch said. “We hope that the ideas offered in this book help entice Soldiers to eat the foods needed to sustain health and energy in the field and ultimately benefit them as they carry out their missions.”