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Navy SEALs, Other Armed Forces Members Could Be Forced to Go Keto

The diet helps fighters breathe underwater longer, a recent study found.

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Navy SEALs, other Armed Forces Members Could be Forced to go Keto
Tamir Kalifa / Getty

In recent years, the keto diet has worked for countless people looking to lose weight. Now, the high-fat, low-carb approach to eating may be used to help ensure those protecting America are kept in prime shape.

Top U.S. military officials are looking into mandatory keto diets for members of the Armed Forces, according to multiple media reports. Navy SEALs and underwater dive mission specialists would be the first ones subject to the mandatory diet, the Military Times reported. Why them? An Ohio State University study found that the school’s ROTC cadets who followed the keto diet could stay underwater for longer because their bodies produced less carbon dioxide, meaning they needed to breathe less.

Lisa Sanders, director of Science and Technology at U.S. Special Operations Command, touted this discovery at a recent U.S. defense conference in Tampa. “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 [deeper] depths for longer periods of time and not go into oxygen seizures,” Sanders said at the conference.

ROTC cadets who ate keto also lost an average of 17 pounds in 15 months, the Ohio State study found, and as a group lost more than 5 percent of their body fat and 44 percent belly fat.

Most importantly, the study found that the cadets were able to maintain ketosis—the process in which your body burns fat for energy and ketones start to build up in the blood—for 12 weeks, so long as they stuck to the diet.

Making the keto diet mandatory would present a number of challenges. Primarily, it would require supervising soldiers’ diets 24/7—something U.S. defense officials don’t believe they have the legal authority to do, according to The Washington TimesSecondly, the military’s MREs (meals ready to eat) would have to be overhauled, meaning the ever-popular pepperoni pizza would be a thing of the past.

There have already been some dietary changes in military mess halls recently. Last year, the cuisine served to the Marine Corps was made to be similar to that of top NCAA athletic programs. And in 2014, the U.S. Navy stopped selling soda and fried food to troops stationed overseas. Healthy weight remains an important goal of the military. In 2018, close to one-third of people who sat down with an Army recruiter were immediately disqualified because they were too overweight.

Retired Maj. Gen. Jeffrey E. Phillips, executive director of the Reserve Officers Association, wrote in an op-ed that this poses a risk to national security. “Recruiting challenges caused by health-related factors such as obesity, it’s fair to say, increase pressure on the military to compensate by enlisting otherwise ineligible candidates,” Phillips wrote.

He also said the military spends $1.5 billion per year treating obesity-related health conditions and replacing those discharged because they’re unfit for duty. “I saw it myself: pudgy soldiers visibly pushing, or beyond, the ‘height and weight’ standards,” Phillips wrote.

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