Depending on who you ask, MREs are either a supremely convenient and long-lasting source of food when you are in the field, or something that sprang from the devil’s very own cafeteria.
The opinion is usually divided based on whether or not someone served in the military and was subjected to them!
But love them or hate them, there’s no denying that MREs definitely have a role to play in your survival food stash.
However, it has been alleged that MREs can cause serious problems when eaten regularly for a long period of time. Is it true? Are MREs healthy when eaten regularly?
MREs aren’t healthy when eaten regularly for weeks at a time. MREs may cause serious constipation, a change in gut flora, and a massive increase in sodium intake. MREs should be eaten sparingly, when there are no other options.
Hardly anything lasts longer or is more durable while being instantly ready-to-eat than an MRE. Despite all the fuss about them, I really like MREs for what they are, and don’t mind eating them.
There’s nothing more convenient for me than tossing one or two in my pack and heading out.
However, I’ve never had to live on them truly long-term, and talking to people that have it is not an experience that they would wish on anybody.
Keep reading and I’ll tell you everything you need to know concerning regular consumption of MREs.
Are MREs Real Food?
Yes, MREs are real food, or at least they are real food according to the common definition.
Although detractors and haters will swear up and down they are made from vat-grown proteins, a variety of harmful chemicals, and all sorts of other nasty things, the truth is that MREs are real food, albeit food that is packed with preservatives, highly processed and industrially produced for maximum longevity and stability.
If your definition of “food” is any item that is completely clean, chemical- and preservative-free, wholesome, and nutritionally balanced, then MREs might not meet your definition.
MREs are, though, food that is designed and proven to be as stable and durable as possible when being carried into the field in rough conditions and extreme temperatures.
When it comes to staying safe and nominally edible in such conditions, MREs are tops.
What’s the Nutritional Value of MREs Like?
Believe it or not, there is not just a giant question mark where the nutritional content of an MRE should be. We actually know exactly what they contain based on military specifications for the product.
MREs are packed with calories, protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals that will keep hard-working bodies going when times are tough. They also contain tons and tons of salt.
Though the calorie contents of an MRE varies depending on the exact brand and menu, they typically contain anywhere from 1,200 to 1,350 calories per meal.
In combat conditions, or just working hard inside a military theater of operations, members of the military will be burning up calories and will need constant replenishment.
MREs are designed to do exactly this, and just three MREs a day are said to contain absolutely everything that a soldier needs for the purpose.
Don’t MREs Contain a Lot of Salt?
Yes, they do. A whole, whole lot: an average MRE will contain anywhere from 1,900 mg to 2,600 mg of salt, that’s per package, minus any salt that is found in the condiments pack. That is a ton!
But then again, the military also prescribes soldiers consume anywhere from 2 to 3 times that amount when working hard in order to supplement mineral losses from perspiration.
That’s something to keep in mind. If you aren’t working as hard as the average soldier, the salt content of an MRE is going to make you devastatingly thirsty, and can play hell with your blood pressure.
Overtime, this can lead to other negative health effects as well. More on that in a minute.
What are Some Issues Associated with Eating Too Many MREs?
Before we get into this topic, we should clear something up.
The Department of Defense has, in the past, subjected some unfortunate soldiers, used as guinea pigs, to a study where they were
forced volunteered to eat MREs every single day for a period of 30 days.
Supposedly, at the end of that month-long trial, the soldiers were fine more or less – according to the DOD. Ostensibly, MREs are safe when eaten long-term.
However, countless anecdotes and even several independent scientific studies conducted on the subject have cast a lot of doubt on the long-term efficacy of MREs.
Ask any current or former member of the military that has been subjected to a steady diet of MREs, stateside or overseas, and they’ll probably tell you that they faced severe constipation or hideous diarrhea at turns, high blood pressure, headaches, and other issues.
As mentioned some studies, like the one linked above, have been conducted concerning the long-term safety of MREs and what was found was very troubling: MREs can actually start to change the gut flora health and composition in your intestines, and not for the better.
This can lead to issues with nutrient uptake, leaky gut syndrome, and more.
This isn’t to say you should not eat MREs, or that they aren’t safe at all, but they also aren’t whole and totally nutritious foods which should be a constant part of your diet.
Are All MRE Menus the Same When it Comes to Side Effects?
Yes, at least concerning typical highly processed, packaged MREs. Though MRE menus have varied significantly over the years (and even to this very day), there is one thing that they all have in common: they’re absolutely full of preservatives and highly processed.
Accordingly, there isn’t an option that is necessarily better or safer for your health long-term.
As best as I can find, there is no menu choice or combination of choices, that would spare you from the gastrointestinal trouble that typically results from eating too many MREs for too long a time.
Yes, some MREs are vegetarian. Yes, some choices have fewer ingredients or are similar overall. But all of them can cause trouble in time.
Can You Survive on MREs Long Term?
Is it possible to survive on MREs long-term? Yes. Should you? No, not if you have other food options.
MREs can help keep you alive, and even thrive under short-term circumstances.
They have plenty of macro- and micronutrients, they are produced in such a way that they are highly unlikely to spoil given even a tiny bit of care and they can give you short and long-term energy so you can get the job done, whatever your job is under the circumstances.
But, if you are forced to subsist on MREs alone the negative consequences are going to rack up quickly, and this could lead to potentially serious health problems.
Many soldiers have reported being so constipated from a steady diet of MREs that they did not experience a bowel movement for weeks. That can potentially turn life-threatening!
Save MREs for use when you’re actually out in the field and need food that is convenient and easy to transport without spoiling, or use them as supplementary food for your at-home stash.
Do not, if you can avoid it, buy only MREs for your survival pantry.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.