Not many people who have ever indulged in an MRE would say they were overly concerned with things like "nutrition" or "recommended daily allowance."
Still, on the label of every one of the U.S. military's Meals, Ready-to-Eat (MRE) is a note about troops having unique nutritional needs.They want you to keep that in mind when you notice that one pouch contains more than a full day's worth of sodium or when you remember that eating it will ensure you won't need to hit the port-a-john for a few days.
The Army has created ComRaD, a digital combat ration database that allows you to view the nutrition information on all of your favorite or least favorite MREs, including total calories, carbs and sodium.
If you're a service member who really cares about what you're eating, that could be very useful for understanding what you're consuming in the field. Now we can look closely and verify that everything from the pepperoni pizza MRE to the unitized group ration (UGR) and even the specialized food for cold weather and intense operations actually has nutrition.
Or, you can just go online and preview where the jalapeno cheddar cheese spread is in every MRE. That's right, the age of digital rat----ing is upon us.
Users can also view the nutritional information on every food component within a ration. Although no one is likely to care about how much selenium they're getting from their Asian-style beef strips (hint: it's a lot. I think), everyone should be interested in other content. Like fiber.
While the database offers a lot of information about the food, there are significant limitations. The most important one is that ComRaD doesn't show the list of individual ingredients for every component because MREs aren't made by just one manufacturer, and different manufacturers use different ingredients.
Rather than rely on an ingredients list, troops with food allergies are advised to pay attention to each ration's allergen statement, which isn't listed on the ComRaD site.
If you are actually interested in the nutrition information, you might be surprised to learn that the ComRaD site is much more reliable than any civilian manufacturer's set of nutrition facts. The (alternative) facts on that labeled food are only required to be within 20% of the food's actual nutritional values.
The Army's actual facts were done using a complex, expensive chemical analysis paid for by the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine (USARIEM). This was so important to the service, it mentioned it twice in a 2015 news release.
"The user will be able to get nutrition on every individual component, the composition of complete ration lines, and individual MRE menus that are 100-percent chemically analyzed," USARIEM research dietician Holly McClung said in that release. "So we feel confident in the nutritional data."
And you will too, if you manage your expectations. Looking at these nutrition analyses, troops will notice the percentages seem high. You may choke a little when you see that the chunk light tuna ration has nearly 1,400 calories, 180 grams of carbs and 273% of the daily recommended amount of fat.
That's because those values are still based on the daily values designed for the general civilian population.
But like it says on the MRE, "Warfighters have unique nutritional requirements compared to the general public." Rations are for those operating in a combat environment. If you've been burning those calories in heavy activity, eat up. If not, be wary. Even though the military will issue three MREs a day, that doesn't mean you should always eat all three MREs every day -- especially if you value your bowels.
While ComRaD will tell you what you're putting in your body, it won't tell you how to get all those MREs out of you. Some of us have been carrying around Country Captain Chicken for decades.
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