With potential significance for the retention and readiness of the American armed forces, the ketogenic diet has been tested for the first time among members of the military and provided “striking” weight loss results.

Participants were recruited from the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps and other local groups with a military affiliation. The aim was to “replicate the demographics of the American armed forces in respect to age, sex, race and body mass.”

Generally, what we recommended is that the monounsaturated fat be the primary fat source, there will be some animal fat and butter, but obviously olive oil is huge, being one of the healthier (fat sources).- Richard LaFountain, co-author of the study

In a 12-week study, researchers at the Ohio State University (OSU) found “striking” results among “consistent loss of body mass, fat mass, visceral fat, and enhanced insulin sensitivity.”

A ketogenic diet is high in fat, low in carbohydrates (often 25 grams each day) with a moderate intake of protein.

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The 29 participants who completed the study self-selected into either a ketogenic or mixed diet. Participants were on average overweight, but not obese.

Mixed diet participants consumed their normal diet and were allowed to increase their intake of whole, non-processed foods. The researchers requested only that they maintained a minimum carbohydrate intake of 40 percent. There were no limitations regarding caloric intake for either group and all were instructed to eat until they were full.

Keto diet participants lost greater mass, their mean weight loss was about 7.7 kilograms (17 pounds) more than any participant in the mixed diet group. Average visceral fat volume decreased considerably more in the keto group than a mixed diet.

Richard LaFountain, a co-author of the study report, ‘Extended Ketogenic Diet and Physical Training Intervention in Military Personnel,’ noted that the study duration, which allowed biochemical changes to take place, and the daily blood ketone and glucose monitoring were key factors that contributed to the increased weight loss.

The amount of daily fat required on the keto diet was a critical part of the learning process for participants.

“Generally, what we recommended is that the monounsaturated fat be the primary fat source, there will be some animal fat and butter, but obviously olive oil is huge, being one of the healthier [fat sources],” LaFountain said. “We incorporated a lot of olive oil with our coaching along the way.”

Unlike other keto studies that focus solely on weight loss, the OSU research team wanted to determine if the diet would compromise physical performance.

“Based on the weight loss [average of nine percent of initial body mass], you might assume that the keto group might have some kind of deficit or might be a little sluggish during training, and their performance might have been affected by the weight loss,” LaFountain said. “We did not see that.”

Keto and mixed diet participants trained for approximately one hour with the research team two to three times a week in a standardized program designed to increase “whole-body strength and power movements important for military relevant tasks,” according to the study.

Although military dietitians may not suggest a keto diet to all soldiers they counsel, parts of this eating plan have merit in their conversation about performance nutrition.

“We promote the mentality of we are soldier-athletes and capitalizing on that athletic performance and really eating for performance,” First Lieutenant Jennifer T West, the clinical dietetics chief at the Eisenhower Army Medical Center, said. “It’s easy for me to ask soldiers: Think of your top-level Olympic athletes. What do you think they’re eating.”

West added that in her clinic they focus on what she called the balanced “generally healthy diet.” This is similar to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s dietary guidelines, which are followed by military installations.

“If I could make my own plate, right in the middle I would have healthy fats,” West said. “Olive oil is definitely a healthy fat and I’m glad that we’re moving away from the fat-free fad of the past. And now we’re starting to realize the importance of heart-healthy fat and what that does for our heart, what it does for our brain development. Healthy fats are required for our overall health.”

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