In military medicine, there are many studies conducted to enhance human performance and make troops able to survive the challenges of deployments and combat. In one area, the military is examining ketogenic diets to see how they can make military divers better suited for underwater environments and undersea operations.
Military doctors say there is evidence supporting the idea that military divers whose bodies are in a state of ketosis (explained below) may be able to remain underwater longer, enhancing mission performance for scenarios that may require extended dive times. An underwater explosive ordnance disposal scenario, for example, could be greatly enhanced by extended dive times.
And that’s why some studies have been conducted specifically looking at how a keto diet could improve mission performance, in spite of certain risks associated with keto dieting that are well-documented.
The ketogenic diet was developed in 1924 by a doctor at the Mayo Clinic, but didn’t get national attention until much later-circa 2013 according to some reports.
If you know someone undertaking a “keto diet,” you have probably heard a great deal about the process of reducing carbohydrate intake in favor of higher amounts of protein. There are varying types of keto diets, but they all focus on lowering carbs in some way and raising the amount of protein.
According to Harvard Health Publishing, the media division of the Harvard Medical School, there is a big difference between keto weight loss diets such as the Paleo Diet, South Beach, and Atkins diets and a “true” ketogenic diet.
The Difference Between A “Keto Diet” And A “True” Ketogenic Diet
According to a Harvard publication from 2018, a true ketogenic diet differs from Atkins and other types. “Unlike other low-carb diets, which focus on protein,” the publication says, “a keto plan centers on fat,” which under the rules of the ketogenic diet, can potentially give the dieter 90% of the daily required caloric intake needed.
According to Harvard, “It’s not the type of diet to try as an experiment.”
Ketogenic Diets And Ketosis
Ketogenic diets work because they put the human body in a state of ketosis, where the usual fuel the body uses, glucose, is not utilized. A lack of consumption of carbs can, when administered properly, make the body shift into ketosis mode. What does that mean?
Ketosis happens when the human body begins producing its fuel from stored-up fat cells. The fuel comes from ketone bodies produced by the liver when the fat cells are used up for energy.
How The Ketogenic Process Works
- There is a requirement to deprive your body of carbohydrates by consuming fewer than 20 to 50 grams of carbs per day.
- Adjusting to a ketogenic diet can take days; to enter a state of ketosis is not an instantaneous process.
- Too much protein consumption may interfere with the start or continuation of ketosis.
A true ketogenic diet has a very high fat requirement. To create conditions in the body ideal for ketosis you must consume fat at every meal. A recommended daily 2,000-calorie diet could include more than 160 grams of fat, approximately 40 grams of carbs, plus about 70-75 grams of protein. Plant-based carbs are generally recommended to come from greens, with no simple carbohydrates, white starches, etc.
A true ketogenic diet does not make a distinction between the kinds of protein you get from unsaturated fat or saturated fat sources considered less healthy than unsaturated.
Why The Military Would Want Troops To Use A Ketogenic Diet
Not all those serving in uniform should consider the true ketogenic diet as a performance enhancing approach, but there are many types of work in the military that can be theoretically enhanced by doing so.
Ketosis changes the human body’s ability to cope with oxygen deprivation. Underwater missions that last too long run the risk of exposing divers to seizures brought on by oxygen deprivation. A diver whose body is in ketosis has a lower risk of these seizures.
Green Berets, Air Force Pararescuemen, Navy SEALs and other specialized career fields where swimming, diving, and related activities are a job requirement can greatly benefit from any enhancement to the ability to stay underwater with fewer physical consequences.
What Medical Experts Say About Ketogenic Diets
This type of diet is not to be taken lightly. Harvard Medical School advises that in addition to an elevated risk of heart disease due to the much larger consumption of saturated fat, the following issues can affect those who experiment with keto diets:
- Vitamin And Mineral Deficiencies including magnesium, Vitamin C, Vitamin B, and others.
- Liver issues especially for those who may have pre-existing problems. The ketogenic diet makes the liver work harder.
- Kidney overload due to increased protein consumption.
- Constipation due to a general reduction in dietary fiber.
- Cognitive problems due to a much lower level of carbohydrates, which the human brain needs for normal functions. Confusion, mood swings, and other issues often occur when pursuing a ketogenic diet.
Ketogenic Diets, Military Divers, And The Uniform Code of Military Justice
Many sources indicate that the military cannot order troops who perform water-based missions to undertake ketogenic diets-the legal authority to do so may be missing from the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
But there is active research into this approach to certain mission requirements that indicate that some want to introduce the concept to the troops as a “suggestion” that, if taken by the diver(s) ahead of certain kinds of missions, may increase their survivability in a water-based environment.
That may convince some to try it for short-term mission requirements; it’s important to know the process and the risks as well as the benefits.
But mission survival and/or mission enhancement isn’t the only thing some think of when examining the keto diet options on the table; some troops who are borderline on weight and fitness issues may consider it as a way to get back into compliance (or more in compliance) with military weight and fitness requirements.
For these troops, the choice to try a keto-type diet or a true ketogenic diet should be compared side-by-side with other alternatives, comparing risks versus benefits for each.
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