In an article published by Military Times on the first of July, it states armed forces in the United States may soon move to a ketogenic diet. In this op-ed, I’ll be delving into the flaws of the ketogenic diet, how it’s heralded by broken logic, and why we don’t want our soldiers mandated to take part in this fad.
What You Need to Know About the Keto Diet
Also known as “keto”, the ketogenic diet minimizes the amount of carbohydrates (grains, breads, artificial and natural sugars, etc.) you eat. Carbohydrates process down to their most simple sugar form when burned by the body. The intent in near-elimination of carbs is to force the body into ketosis. This is when your body, lacking access to carbohydrates, begins to process fats (ketones) for energy instead of sugars.
On paper, burning fat sounds like a great thing when in pursuit of weight loss. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of misinformation out there about this latest fad diet:
Whether the energy source is fats or carbohydrates, your body burns the same number of calories based on the physical activity you do. Because of this, weight loss caused by a ketogenic diet is because you ate fewer calories; something you can do with both carbohydrates and fats.
A licensed dietitian (or doctor who has taken more than the minimum required credits on nutrition) will never recommend diet change as your sole method of weight loss. It comes through a balance of a well-rounded diet, exercise, and (oft-forgotten) sleep.
American culture has given too much power to the title of ‘nutritionist. In fact, there is no required education or certification process for an individual to become a “nutritionist”. If you’re looking for science-based changes to your health and diet, turn to a registered dietitian, and wholly avoid a nutritionist.
Does this mean keto is bad for you?
While there are no focused, significant, long-term studies on the effects of a ketogenic diet, there has yet to be any decisive findings that keto is bad for the average person. In fact, the only part of your body that needs sugars to function is your brain, but your brain has a natural method to create sugar on its own.
Pros of the Ketogenic Diet
- Carbohydrates, processed down to sugars by the body, are needed for the body to produce inflammation. Because of this, ketosis can cut back on inflammation in people with chronic pain disorders, like arthritis and endometriosis.
- Type-II diabetes is your body’s inability to produce enough insulin to process the sugars (carbohydrates) you put into your body. Individuals with type-two diabetes who cut back on carbohydrate intake and increase exercise have can cure their diabetes.
- In an Ohio State University study, a link exists between bodies in ketosis and prolonged ability to hold your breath underwater. The theory behind this adaptation is that burning fat for energy is less oxygen-intensive than burning carbohydrates.
Cons of the Keto Diet
- Carbohydrates are a much easier energy source for your body to process. During physical activity, ketosis will limit your ability to thrive in an anaerobic zone. For example, most CrossFit athletes who dabbled in the diet have since returned to other nutrition plans. They found they had lower energy levels during fast, explosive workouts and their bodies could not peak at the same level while burning fats.
- Transitioning your body to and from ketosis is not an easy thing. Low energy levels, irritability, and lethargy appear in what is sometimes called the “keto flu”. Ketosis is not something you can turn on and off.
- As a diet, keto restricts what someone can eat by eliminating a very (some would say ‘the most’) natural energy source. Managing ketosis in a healthy way involves daily urine tests to ensure your blood glucose and ketone levels are healthy. Eliminating a significant number of foods can lead to an unhealthy diet. No, you can’t eat all the bacon you want. There are still such things as bad fats and high cholesterol.
Unless you have Type-II diabetes, arthritis, or endometriosis, why would you change your nutrition?
The same goes for our armed forces. Let’s take this idea of higher function in low-oxygen environments:
Only a small percentage of a small fraction of the US Military operates at high elevation and below the water.
That leaves ‘lower inflammation’ as the sole benefit of ketosis to servicewomen and servicemen, and it comes at the cost of higher physical performance in high-demand activities. Until the science says otherwise, mandating a ketogenic diet for the military would be a huge mistake.