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Nutrition in the Military 

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Since the existence of the Roman Army over 2000 years ago, military commanders have long known the importance of providing their units with adequate provisions such as nutritious food and water. Without those two things, an entire army can expect or expect to be a successful war combating unit. Adequate food and regular supply of water, ensure the maintenance of proper physical capabilities and mental performance expected of a soldier. Whether it is a history of military personnel dying from poor nutrition, nutrition suitable for military operations, or promoting wellness throughout all 3 branches of military, nutrition and the military and fundamentally entwined.

Throughout history, there are many examples of how nutrition affects operational performance. One example can be seen where Scurvy (lack of vitamin C) accounted for more deaths than the enemy had killed onboard the HMS Salisbury. During Lord Anson’scircumnavigation of the world (1740-1744), 636 of the 961 sailors about his ship succumbed to Scurvy. While serving as the ship’s surgeon on the HMS Salisbury, James Lind, Royal Navy, observed that many of the symptoms were caused by lack of citrus fruits and fresh vegetables. In his book “A Treatise of the Scurvy” published in 1753, he recommended more intake of citrus fruits and celery stalks to prevent Scurvy. Along with Lord Anson’s circumnavigation, many lives were lost during the Crimean war due to poor hygiene and severely inadequate nutrition. It was until Florence Nightingale and Alexis Soyer, two civilian French chefs, intervened and improved the sanitation and structure of the nutrition distribution to the fighting troops and the sick.

Operations or military exercises where there is no field kitchen and fresh food is not available, military personnel is issues often called Operational RationPacks (ORPs), Meal Individual Rations (MIRs), or Meals Ready to Eat (MREs). These rations packs are designed to “sustain troops on operations and during field exercises, with the aim of preserving life, preserving physical and mental functions, maintaining mood and motivation, preventing fatigue, and speeding up recovery”. Even with all the nutrient-packed rations, most militaries recommend replacing ration packs with fresh food after no more than44 days (14 in combat duties, and 30 subsequent days). Issued in the UnitedKingdom, the MCR (Multi-Climate-Ration), contains an energy intake of 4098calories, 651 grams of carbohydrate, 130 grams of protein, and 92 grams of fat all components of food are eaten. “The soldier who is well fed is not only better bodily health and better able to resist disease, but he is more cheerful in difficulties and therefore more equal to any strain he may be called upon to endure” (Boot Camp and Military Fitness Institute, 2017).

Fortunately, in addition to nutrition for performance, attention is also being given to nutrition for wellness within the military. Without a doubt, the constant promotion of nutrition for performance has given way to nutrition for wellness. The growing awareness of the need to keep its workforces healthy and in optimal function has created an increase in awareness and concern in both the civilian contractor and military side. Dietitians look at the whole patient and asses where they are in the military life cycle. Most the education from there is addressed in order to meet the needs of some unique individuals may have. Military dietitians are always actively collaborating with health care providers and health promotion program coordinators and in disease prevention efforts with the end goal of reducing chronic conditions and diseases such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, etc., to improve the quality of life in the armed forces.

One may often ask, “What does nutrition have to do with the military?” Whether is it better preparing the forces for combat operations throughout history or having optimal physical and mental performance during combat duties, nutrition plays a major role in the operations of militaries around the world. Even after members are not selected for combat duties, there is always a promotion for health and nutrition in the armed forces. After all, you can’t fight on an empty stomach.

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