According to Defense Department officials, the ketogenic diet, or “keto” for short, may be the future of the military.
A recent proposal from Special Operations Command (SOCOM) recommends changing to the low-carb, high-fat keto diet.
Lisa Sanders, director of science and technology at SOCOM, commented in May at the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference that the diet could enhance the performance of elite units on the battlefield.
If the keto diet works well in trials with special forces operators, it may become mandatory for the entire military.
Read on to learn why the keto diet captured the military’s attention, how mandatory keto might look, and what it means for people who aren’t in the military.
Why is the Defense Department considering adopting a mandatory keto diet for combat personnel?
The reason keto caught the eye of top military officials is primarily because of a recent study by Dr. Jeff Volek at the Ohio State University published in the journal Military Medicine.
While some people are citing legal and ethical concerns over requiring the keto diet, the scientific evidence is promising for health, performance, and combat readiness.
In the 12-week study, Dr. Volek and his colleagues put overweight ROTC cadets on the keto diet while measuring their body composition and performance compared to a high-carb control group.
Here’s what the researchers found:
- The keto diet group lost an average of 17 pounds, decreasing their average body fat percentage by about 5%
- Visceral fat, which is associated with increased inflammation and risk of heart disease, fell by over 43%
- Insulin sensitivity improved 48% on average
- The keto group maintained equal exercise performance to the high-carb group
The keto diet deprives your body of glucose, forcing it to burn stored body fat instead. Based on the 2019 results published in Military Medicine, it’s not hard to see why these benefits have attracted attention from military officials.
Here’s How Mandatory Keto Might Work in the Military
Although the military may require mandatory keto for all combat personnel in the future, they’ll roll it out among special forces operators like Navy SEALs first.
If the results are favorable among elite units, there’s a good chance the Defense Department will require other branches to go keto. Here’s what that would look like.
Daily ketone testing
For keto to work, you have to follow it strictly. For soldiers, that includes after-hours and on weekends.
To ensure compliance with the keto diet, soldiers would likely receive daily blood or urine ketone testing. This isn’t just speculation–Lisa Sanders has said as much. In May, she stated, “That kind of technology is available today. We can tell whether you are or are not in ketosis.”
On military bases, the new diet could result in dining facilities serving zucchini spirals instead of pasta, mashed cauliflower instead of pasta and rice, and avocados and salad bars instead of ice cream and dessert bars. Pizza and beer would be a thing of the past.
Not only that, military spouses and households would need to shift to menus higher in vegetables and whole food sources of fats and protein.
Meals ready to eat, or MREs for short, are self-contained individual field rations. Service members rely on MREs during combat, or in field conditions without food facilities.
MREs are energy-dense, and usually rich in carbs and sugar. But if the military adopts the keto diet, they’d also need to revamp the current MRE selection, which includes choices like pepperoni pizza, chili mac, and beef enchilada.
Obesity and Readiness
Over 60% of military personnel are overweight or obese[*]. That’s a big issue for a group of people who are expected to maintain optimal health and combat readiness. That’s why the CDC recently declared that “obesity is impacting national security”[*].
With that in mind, it’s no wonder that the Defense Department noticed the 2019 Military Medicine study. Dr. Volek demonstrated that soldiers could lose up to 20 pounds of fat in 12 weeks without compromising fitness or combat preparedness.
Lightweight and Efficient Source of Calories
In addition to carrying their own food, weapons, and ammo, many soldiers wear body armor weighing nearly 100 pounds. A study of the energy requirements of military personnel found that they burn up to 7000 calories each day[*].
While carbs and protein provide 4 calories per gram, fat has 9 calories per gram. Because the keto diet is typically 75% fat, keto rations would weigh significantly less than current high-carb provisions.
That means that a day’s worth of keto MREs would weigh up to 500 grams less than a high-carb MRE. Combat personnel could carry more food or reduce the amount of weight they carry.
Not only that, soldiers could lose 20 pounds or more of body fat without counting calories, allowing them to maneuver more effectively with their equipment.
Oxygen Metabolism for Divers
The ketogenic diet changes oxygen metabolism in your body, allowing you to maintain a constant state of fat-burning[*]. As a result, you can also use oxygen more efficiently and withstand oxygen deprivation better[*][*].
That’s one reason why elite Navy SEALs are on the front lines of the keto rollout.
As Lisa Sanders says, “One of the effects of truly being in ketosis is that it changes the way your body handles oxygen deprivation, so you can actually stay underwater at depths for longer periods of time and not go into oxygen seizures.”
Evidence is mounting that the keto diet could be a fantastic choice for military personnel, but the Defense Department may not be able to mandate it.
There’s no precedent for the military exerting 24/7 control over a service member’s diet. Instead, they might offer financial incentives, promotions, and other bonuses for voluntary adaptation of the keto diet.
But whether or not you’re in the military, there’s no question that keto is an excellent way to lose weight without counting calories, enhance your mental and physical performance, and improve your health and wellness.
If you want an edge on the battlefield of life, going keto is a winning move.