Are MREs Nutritious Enough to Keep You Healthy in a Survival Situation?

As a military ration, on paper, Meals Ready to Eat (also known as MREs) seem like the perfect survival meal. However, MREs are not often well suited for survival; they can be great for short-term emergencies, but they are not intended to replace survival food. So what makes them so bad for this purpose?

Due to the lack of temperature control, MREs can not be guaranteed to survive their entire shelf life in a survival situation. The packaging of an MRE is not foolproof, so extreme temperatures in either direction may cause the growth of bacteria. Additionally, there are health concerns related to the extended consummation of these processed meals.

Though MREs are excellent for supplementing a rich diet in emergencies, they should not be frequently consumed as meal replacements. In the remainder of this article, we will discuss the truth about the usefulness of MREs.

Why Are MREs Bad for Survival Situations?

MREs are considered bad for survival situations because of these factors:

  • Inconsistent shelf life
  • Lack of temperature control
  • Poor nutritional value
  • Not a healthy long-term meal replacement option

Inconsistent Shelf Life

The average expiration time of an MRE is between six months and three years, depending on how the meals are stored. Typically, MREs can withstand high temperatures, but anything above 100oF will drastically lower the shelf life.

The consumption of expired MREs may result in adverse health effects, including:

  • Food-borne illness
  • Intestinal distress
  • Dehydration
  • Malnutrition
  • Gut leakage
  • Disturbance in the gut microbiome

Storing MREs in the hopes of having them for a future disaster isn’t the best option. Read Hour’s 3-month food supply is a better choice. It lasts nearly ten times longer and costs less for a similar amount of food.

However, further study may be needed to understand the decomposition rates of MREs fully. Gut and intestinal health of MREs are still being actively researched as meals change and develop. But, current studies have linked prolonged MRE consumption to these adverse effects.

Lack of Temperature Control

Due to how inclement weather can affect the packaging structure, MREs are unreliable for survival scenarios. Often, the food will spoil before you can consume it.

As mentioned above, most modern produced MREs have a shelf life of up to 3 years. However, this requires a temperature-controlled storage space to avoid the growth of bacteria. If the packaging is repeatedly exposed to temperatures above 100o F (38o C), the shelf life may be reduced to 6 months. This is due to the laminate film that covers the actual meal. The food is packaged sterile, but the laminate can only take a threshold of temperatures.

Additionally, freezing MREs can result in the shrinking and expansion of the airtight seals. This often results in air oxidation of the pouch, which can attract bacterial growth.
MREs for Survival

Poor Nutritional Value

Though many current MREs have been supplemented with vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, such as caffeine and maltodextrin, the food doesn’t have many health benefits.

To stay fresh and accessible, the foods have been over-processed and are heavily preserved. Most of these meals will contain a variety of chemical preservatives, such as:

  • Antimicrobial agents
  • Antioxidants
  • Antibrowning compounds
  • Oxygen scavengers

The abundance of preservatives added to prolong the life of an MRE can leave the meal nutrient-deficient. And since the human body absorbs natural nutrients from foods differently than from artificial nutrients, the body can begin to lack trace minerals or necessary vitamins for good health with long-term consumption.

In short, the nutrient balance of MREs is like that of processed meat and granola bars. They are a great temporary meal replacement but should not fully replace a balanced diet. These meals are often designed to account for minimum calorie consumption rather than actual health needs.

Not a Healthy Long-Term Meal Replacement Option

MREs are not a healthy option for long-term meal replacements. According to ongoing studies by the EPA, the “material composition” and “emission factors” of MREs could be linked to “future health risks associated with exposure to the materials.”

Prolonged reliance on artificial nutrients and ingredients present in MREs can lead to adverse health effects, including:

  • Malnutrition
  • Dehydration
  • Vitamin deficiency
  • Lethargy
  • Mental distress

Additionally, prolonged MRE consumption can negatively impact intestinal health, so consumers must eat various prepared and packaged foods. If they eat MREs every day, they would have to supplement them with a nutrient-dense meal at some point during the day.

Can You Survive on MREs?

Considering that MREs have an unstable shelf life, little nutritional value, and are not intended for long-term use, it is likely that you will not be able to survive solely by eating MREs only.

Current federal mandates on military rations do not even allow for the continuous consumption of MREs as meal replacements for more than 21 days. These guidelines are put in place to ensure the safety of United States military personnel. But this also sets an excellent example of how often civilians can keep up these habits.

Military members are expected to keep in continuous peak physical shape, so their use of these meals is balanced with corresponding exercise and training. Additionally, military units often have cooks and preparers to create meals when MREs are inaccessible. While some military personnel may eat several MREs a week as meal replacements, this is only the case when the mission does not allow for perishable meals.

Many survivalists base their MRE consumption on how often military personnel consumes these meals. The average civilian may be able to last the expected 21 days, but individual dietary needs should be considered. Consult your physician if you have questions about how MREs will affect your overall health.


Generally, MREs are great for emergencies or other short-term meal replacements. However, they are not manufactured to replace the nutrient-rich foods the human body requires.

Due to the inconsistencies in shelf life and nutritional balance, MREs are not made for a long-term survival scenario. They often spoil before consumption, and the meals are not meant to be the sole meal in a person’s diet.

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