Up for a unique diet challenge in the new year? If you live in Natick, Massachusetts, you're in luck. Army researchers are seeking around 60 Natick local volunteers to eat only Meals, Ready-to-Eat (MREs) for 21 consecutive days. Participants will only consume water, black coffee, and the meals provided. Each MRE packs 1,250 calories (13 percent protein, 36 percent fat, and 51 percent carbohydrates) and includes an entree (like spaghetti or beef), a side (like rice, corn, or fruit), crackers or bread, a spread, a dessert, candy, a drink, and hot sauce or seasoning, according to GoArmy.com.
The guinea pig volunteers will undergo multiple blood tests and medical scans over six weeks so the scientists can observe how the MREs are digested in the human body and how they can be improved both taste- and health-wise. Specifically, the Army wants to find out how MREs can be manipulated to cater to gut bacteria, nutrient absorption, and illness prevention.
Focusing on gut health will allow researchers to see which foods digest and interact best with gut bacteria to improve overall wellness. They will also be tweaking certain existing recipes to incorporate more nutrients that can aid with indigestion.
"We think we can manipulate the bacteria in a way that helps the bacteria fight foreign pathogens—things that could cause food-borne illness, for example," said Dr. J. Philip Karl, head of the MRE study in a press release. "Oftentimes, war fighters are overseas and they eat something off the local economy that can cause [gastrointestinal] distress. Potentially, what we could do by increasing the amount of beneficial gut bacteria is to help prevent some of that." He also added that there are cognitive benefits to targeting gut health, which can help soldiers to remain alert and ready for battle on a moment’s notice.
According to Natick dietician Adrienne Hatch, some soldiers have formed negative stereotypes about MREs, and she’s aiming to change that. She and colleague Holly McClung have collaborated to curate a recipe book that will give trial participants and soldiers more MRE options.
“Working with this cookbook project has shown me a lot about what the MRE can offer,” Hatch said in the release.
Participants must be driving distance from the Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine’s military nutrition division. Details and registration information can be found here.