Meals Ready to Eat or Must Re-Examine?

As a former Army Soldier who has eaten countless MREs and as an American and as a Health Expert, I am ASHAMED of what we feed our US Military. Not to mention the fact that most of the entrees are DISGUSTING. That’s a matter of opinion, so we will move on from that. What is NOT A MATTER OF OPINION is the complete lack of nutritional common sense MREs make. I took this right off the US Army web site, so I am not fabricating this. According to the US Army web site: “Each MRE provides an average of 1,250 calories (13 percent protein, 36 percent fat, and 51 percent carbohydrates) and one-third of the Military Recommended Daily Allowance of vitamins and minerals. A full day's worth of meals would consist of three MREs.” HOLD ON, let’s just break down the insane information contained in this one little paragraph.

First of all, it claims that each MRE is on average 1,250 calories and you are supposed to consume 3 of these a day. I am not good at math, but thank goodness for that invention called a calculator, that equals 3, 750 calories a day. The US Health Administration's 2015 guidelines for caloric intake per day for “active” men ages 21-40 ranges from 2,800 to 3,000 calories. So MREs are 750-950 too many calories per day. 3, 500 calories equals one pound of body weight. So, if Army Joe is deployed and eats 3 MREs a day for 365 days, he could gain up to 99 pounds in a year. OK. We are laughing because no one could choke down 3 MREs in their entirety every day for 365 days. But COME ON, really? 100 pounds!

I know what you are thinking, when you are eating MREs (i.e. deployed or on some sort of training exercise), you are usually very active, going on convoys, movement to contact, clearing buildings, digging latrine trenches, etc. Gotcha. Remember that post a few days ago about current scientific data completely refuting the concept that we burn more calories the more active we are? If not, go check it out, but I will summarize here: On average, sedentary people spend about 200 fewer calories per day than very active people. The human body “maxes out” on calorie burn in order to preserve. So even though your fancy smart watch says you burned 1,000 calories doing that workout, that is not true. Our bodies are designed to preserve calories and it takes extreme measures to burn past the average rate of 2,600 calories a day for a very active adult male. So for every calorie above your daily burn rate, those calories add up to pounds. Bottom line, your Fitbit has been lying to you all this time. Humans are not biologically equipped to burn through that amount of calories without storage of fat. 

Back to the paragraph of insanity:  MRE’s consist pf 13 percent protein, 36 percent fat, and 51 percent carbohydrates for those 1, 250 calories, according to the USDA. Adults daily recommended allowance of the total food intake should consist of 45  to 65 percent Carbohydrates, 10 to 35 percent Protein and 20 to 35 percent fat. There are numerous arguments explaining why these percentages do not correlate with current nutritional scientific data. You know who makes this stuff up? Lobbyists from the various US Agriculture interest groups: dairy, poultry, sugar, wheat, etc. None of this was actually developed with your health in mind. But I digress That is for a different blog on a different day. Let’s just compare the MRE to the US recommended daily percentages, just to show how off they are.  Taking a look at the MRE numbers again, the protein levels are on the low end of the recommended spectrum. The fat is on the highest end of the spectrum and the carbs are mid-range. What they fail to tell you is that the carbs in an MRE consist of very little fiber, and a common complaint of every person who has ever eaten an MRE is that it makes them constipated. That’s because most of the carbs in an MRE are simple, not complex fibrous carbs. The National Institute of Medicine, they recommend that women have at least 25 grams of fiber per day, and men have 38 grams per day. Unless you get an item with beans or any dried fruit in your MRE, you are pretty much out of luck when it comes to any substantial amount of fiber. Current science shows that a calorie-controlled, low carb, high fiber, moderate to high protein, and moderate to high healthy fat diet is the healthiest for MOST people. This would look more like 30% carbs, 35% fat, 35% protein with some variance depending on which plan you are following. Bottom line is, MREs are not within a healthy range of percentages for each macronutrient. 

Don’t believe me? DoD finally launched a web site where you can look up the nutritional content of your specific MRE.  See for yourself. Pull up random meals and take a look. The amazing level of carbs and sugar is downright enraging. How they expect Service Members to meet the standards of body fat, but provide meals that counteract that expectation is amazing.

Here is the bottom line. All of us who have worn the Uniform at any time know that the military is doing a terrible job at providing healthy meals for their Service Members. With the military spending over 1.2 BILLION dollars ANNUALLY in obesity related health care spending and lower productivity costs (Dall, et al, 2007), if anything, it makes fiscal sense to spend the money up front providing healthy meals to their Service Members and not have to pay as much on the back end for obesity related chronic medical conditions and attrition problems. I totally understand that the military operates on a budget, but when the numbers show how the military is paying more NOT addressing this issue than they would need to address this issue, it’s just a head-scratcher.


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