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Dirty Keto vs. Clean Keto: What’s the Difference?

There's more than one kind of keto diet.


Let’s be honest: Striving for a healthy body composition is hard. Between the number of diet sabotagers we face on a daily basis to the many eating plans and supplements that saturate social media, it’s hard to know where to start. Sure, you could count calories or phone Jenny Craig — but honestly, when looking to achieve sustainable weight loss, keto has been the only thing that’s worked for me. I know what you’re thinking: “Eating little to no carbs via the ketogenic diet is unrealistic.” A few years ago, I would have agreed. But I’m here to tell you that it works. In fact, many people have found great success in the keto lifestyle, especially when practicing “clean keto.” So, what is the “clean keto diet,” and how is it different from the “dirty keto diet?” I’ll tell you.     

What is the ketogenic diet anyway?

The ketogenic diet (also known as “keto”) is a strict eating regimen that restricts the number of carbs in the diet. On average, macros on a ketogenic diet should be about 55 to 60 percent fat, 30 to 35 percent protein, and five to 10 percent carbohydrates, which forces the body to use fat as its primary fuel source. This triggers the desired biochemical process called ketosis.

Hold up — what’s ketosis?

In short, ketosis is when your body breaks down fat for energy and creates ketones in the process. Ketones are a byproduct of burning fat that is generated in the liver and can be measured in the blood. If you’re going the “clean keto” route, you’ll likely be testing your blood regularly to track your ketones and make sure you’re in the target zone for fat burning. 

What are the benefits of going into ketosis?

Believe it or not, there are a ton of potential health benefits to being in ketosis — here are just a few:

Appetite Regulation

One of the best benefits of reaching ketosis is that hunger is reduced. In fact, research shows that being in ketosis has the ability to suppress appetite. Some studies also show a drop in ghrelin, the “hunger hormone.” 

Glucose Control

According to quite a bit of research, the ketogenic diet is an effective strategy for managing blood sugar levels. Essentially, ketosis helps to normalize glucose and can even improve insulin sensitivity, which is especially great news for the 37 million Americans struggling with blood sugar issues. 

Weight Loss

On a mission to shed a few pounds? You may want to cut back on the carbs. Since keto is known to suppress appetite, keep glucose levels in check, and boost fat burning, it isn’t surprising that it’s been shown to outperform other diets intended for weight loss. Of course, no two people are exactly the same, but if you’re hoping to get slim and trim — the ketogenic diet might be the way to go. 

Difference Between Clean and Dirty Keto

After reading about these incredible benefits, you may be ready to hop on the keto train. And that makes sense given the power of eating a low-carb diet. But before you start, there are a few things to know — like the difference between clean keto and dirty keto. 

What’s clean keto?

Following a “clean” diet — such as clean keto — means avoiding processed and pre-packaged foods. Clean keto dieters focus on whole, nutrient-dense foods, ideally organic and sustainably raised. To keep it keto, it’s recommended that you eat no more than 50 grams of net carbs per day. This number is low enough to induce the fat-burning state of ketosis. Here’s what might be on the clean keto menu:

  • Grass-fed beef
  • Wild fish
  • Poultry eggs
  • Healthy fats (think butter, ghee, olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil)
  • Non-starch veggies
  • Berries
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Organic meats and cheeses
  • Avocado

Another fabulous advantage of clean keto is that the food you’re filling up on contains lots of essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients like fiber — which can boost weight loss efforts while supporting your overall health.

What’s dirty keto?

On the flip side, dirty keto (also known as lazy keto) is a less rigid version of the ketogenic diet’s meal plan that allows for more flexibility in food choices. While dirty keto still focuses on eating mostly high-fat foods, some protein, and very few carbs, it doesn’t restrict you from certain types of foods like clean keto does. This means that you could technically follow keto (when doing it dirty) while satisfying your cravings with keto meals made from processed meats, artificial sweeteners, and highly processed carbs — as long as you stay within your daily macronutrient limits.

Thinking about doing dirty keto? Here are some ingredients you can still eat under this diet:

  • Processed oils (canola oil, vegetable oil, margarine, etc.)
  • Processed meats (bacon, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, pork rinds, salami, etc.)
  • Sugar-free diet soda 
  • Roasted or salted nuts
  • Pre-packaged “low carb” snacks
  • Bunless fast-food burgers
  • Processed cheese

Note: Always check the label when purchasing these types of dirty keto foods. Steer clear of excess sodium and sneaky ketosis-sabotagers, such as hidden sugars and starchy additives.

Is clean keto better than dirty keto?

While the clean version may seem way more restrictive and time-consuming (*spoiler alert* it involves a whole lot of kitchen prep) than its counterpart, its focus on whole food means you’ll also be fueling your body with nourishing nutrients that come from good, quality ingredients. Along with excess sodium and other questionable fillers, eating heavily processed foods comes with many known risks that can negatively impact your health and overall well-being. With less of a focus on healthy, whole foods derived from Mother Earth, you wouldn’t receive as many wonderful nutrients as you would get while opting for the clean version. 

That said, some folks opt for keto-friendly convenience foods via dirty keto because it simplifies their lives while helping them meet their fitness goals. They prefer dieting without meal prep. With this in mind, it’s easy to see how dirty keto can be beneficial for people who might not have as much time to spend searching for perfect, low-carb foods. The bottom line here is that some folks thrive with clean keto while others are just fine on dirty keto. That’s because everyone is different, meaning what works for you might not work for your partner, sister, or best friend. At the end of the day, eating clean will always triumph over eating dirty, thanks to the awesome nutrients whole foods provide, but when push comes to shove, we have to work with what we’ve got — and if we don’t have the means to eat clean, eating “dirty” is just fine.   

Wrapping Up

So, what’s the difference between clean keto and dirty keto? Simply put, clean keto is all about eating natural, whole foods that come from the earth. Dirty keto, on the other hand, is quite the opposite and involves noshing on pre-packaged and processed keto-friendly foods with less concern for overall food quality. While each version can help you to reach your wellness goals, the clean version is generally better as it involves nutrient-dense foods that will push your body into ketosis while fueling it with the nourishment it needs to thrive. If you’re using keto to boost your long-term health or cut out junk food, the clean version is definitely a better choice.

Want to give the ketogenic diet a try? There are some potential side effects to following a low-carb diet plan, so it’s a good idea to speak with your healthcare provider if you plan to stay on the diet long-term. But once you get the go-ahead and decide which version of keto is right for you, take a deep breath and begin your low-carb journey. As someone who has experienced great success with the ketogenic diet, trust me when I say that good health is right around the corner — you’ve got this!

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