A study published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry suggests that a diet of MREs (Meal, Ready-to-Eat) may contribute to a dwindling frequency of bowel movements among U.S. service members in the armed forces.
The study included more than 60 volunteers from military and civilian backgrounds who, over a period of 21 days, provided gastrointestinal data to the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine. The volunteers were divided into two groups—one cohort was instructed to consume an MRE-only regimen of two to three meals per day, while the other was directed to maintain a normal diet of relatively equal caloric intake. Meal types were tailored to each participant to avoid significant weight fluctuation, and both groups were asked to maintain a preestablished level of physical activity. In addition, the MRE participants were asked to drink mostly water but were allowed two to three cups of black coffee per day.
Participants documented their 21-day trial using food logs that were reviewed by the researchers, who also collected fecal, blood, and urine samples to study the diet’s impacts on intestinal health. Data was analyzed over a two-year period from 2015 to 2017.
At the conclusion of the three weeks, the authors reported that participants in the MRE group averaged one fewer bowel movement per week than the non-MRE group. The researchers attributed this to the MRE’s lack of good bacteria found in the sort of fresh foods, such as fruit or yogurt, that help bowels process food.
Despite the strict diet of non-perishable MRE items contributing to fewer bowel movements, participants in the MRE group fared just as well as their non-MRE counterparts when it came to gastrointestinal health. In fact, gastrointestinal irritation or inflammation was indistinguishable between the two groups. According to the researchers, these findings are likely indicative of an American diet increasingly devoid of fresh foods.
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