The U.S. Army is looking for some troopers with guts. Literally. They're taking the fight inside the stomach with a three-week paid research study.
For volunteers, the mission is simple: Eat nothing but Meals, Ready To Eat or MREs during the entire time.
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MREs have been around since the early 1980s, but we don't actually know how they impact the millions of good bacteria living in soldiers' guts. The study, led by the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, seeks to change that. Ultimately scientists there want to make food that boosts overall health.
Volunteers will be split into two groups: one that that eats a normal diet for a month and another that eats only MREs. Participants who meet the study requirements must visit the Institute's lab in Natick, Mass., regularly to fill out questionnaires and provide blood, urine and fecal samples. In exchange, they get $200 apiece.
MREs aren't just packaged food. They've got to perform well even after several years, even in 100-degree heat. They're also expected to survive a plane drop, and meet strict nutritional requirements.
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Unfortunately the pre-packaged foods aren't known for being appetizing. Each MRE is a small, densely packed, 1200-calorie meal can be eaten without cooking or heating. Adding water and heating does improve palatability, in fact MREs come with a Flameless Ration Heater or can be boiled in water. Not exactly a gourmet meal and you have to wonder if $200 for the challenge is enough.
To help attract potential volunteers, U.S. Army research dietitians created a cookbook that shows how to combine MREs in new ways, producing tastier food. Recipes include battalion brownie pops, battlefield beef dip and parachute pork.
"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," Military Nutrition Division research dietitian Holly McClung said in a U.S. Army feature about the study.
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Maybe I watched too much streaming reality TV during long layovers, but this sort of sounds like a "Chopped" challenge. Your appetizers must include...a pudding pouch, a pork patty, dairy shake, and BBQ sauce. Time starts now!
But feeding soldiers food that protects their health and keeps them going is serious stuff. If one soldier is struggling to fuel up after a 20-mile march, the whole platoon could be in trouble. You never know, some mountaineer mousse dip might end up being a lifesaver.