Dirty Keto vs. Clean Keto: Everything You Need to Know
By: Alison Moodie
February 26, 2021
- Dirty keto is a version of the high-fat, low-carb ketogenic diet. On a clean keto diet, you prioritize whole foods while sticking to your regular keto macronutrient breakdown. On a dirty keto diet, it doesn’t matter where those macros come from.
- Dirty keto dieters might eat a mix of clean foods, fast foods, sugar-free drinks and processed snacks that fit keto macros. While this style of eating is more flexible, there are good reasons to prioritize nutrient-dense whole foods whenever possible.
- A regular keto diet doesn’t have to feel like you’re missing out on delicious, convenient foods. Find easy keto recipes below, like chocolate donuts and creamy Bulletproof Coffee.
“Dirty” is a loaded word when it comes to food. And for the keto diet in particular, “dirty keto” is open to interpretation. For some, it means eating fast food when the craving strikes, but making choices to stay within low-carb keto macros—like ordering a bunless bacon cheeseburger and diet soda. For others, it means occasionally breaking ketosis to include non-traditional keto ingredients.
How does it all work, and is dirty keto good for you in the long-term? Get the facts about dirty keto and how to maximize your keto results.
What is dirty keto?
First things first: In all styles of the keto diet, the majority of your daily calories come from dietary fat (about 75%). You also eat moderate protein (about 20%) and very few net carbs per day.
Dirty keto is a version of the high-fat, low-carb keto diet that follows the same breakdown of fats, protein and carbs. But compared to a regular keto diet, there’s one key difference: It doesn’t matter where these macronutrients come from.
That’s because the benefits of keto primarily come from carbohydrate restriction, whether you’re eating grass-fed steak seared in grass-fed ghee or a bunless cheeseburger with a side of pork rinds.
The difference is understanding how those foods make you feel, what’s sustainable for you and what results you’re seeing on the keto diet.
Dirty keto vs. clean keto vs. lazy keto
- Dirty keto: Eat whatever you want, regardless of ingredient quality, and track your keto macros.
- Clean keto: Emphasize high-quality ingredients and whole foods, and track your keto macros.
- Lazy keto: Following keto protocol and prioritizing ingredient quality, but not strictly counting your macros.
We’re going to use the terms “dirty keto” and “clean keto” throughout this article, but these terms are super subjective. Food isn’t inherently “dirty” unless, y’know, you drop it on the floor or pull it out of the ground.
Dirty keto is largely open to interpretation based on how you prioritize “dirty” and “clean” foods—namely, things like artificial sweeteners and food additives, ultra-processed oils and snack foods, sugar-free sodas and other foods that are technically low-carb, but not as nutritious as whole foods.
The key difference between dirty keto and clean keto is that the latter advocates food quality, or eating grass-fed, pasture-raised, organic foods as much as possible. The lazy keto diet also prioritizes ingredient quality.
Dirty keto’s only guideline is that you stay within keto macros. All other food is fair game.
Dirty keto food list
Dirty keto foods run the gamut from snacks to beverages to meal ingredients. Some of the most common dirty keto foods include:
- Processed cheese
- Sugar-free sodas and other drinks
- Bunless fast-food burgers
- Pre-packaged meats and other prepared foods
- Pork rinds
- Bacon made with conventional meat
- Mayonnaise made with vegetable oils
- Cheese crisps and other ultra-processed snacks
Is dirty keto good for you?
When you pick up a packaged food, it’s easy to scan the nutrition label and see if it works for your macros. But even though something is lower-carb and sugar-free, a dirty keto diet based around ultra-processed foods like chips, meat jerky and soda can hold you back from the overall health benefits of a keto diet that’s higher in whole foods.
With that said, it’s too black-and-white to classify dirty keto as a “junk food” dieting that happens to be keto-friendly. For some people, simply restricting carbohydrates can help them feel better by helping to reverse insulin resistance and stabilize blood sugar—even if every single meal isn’t “clean.”
Obviously, there’s a connection between optimal wellness and eating whole foods. Our point of view is that food is fuel, and if you want to feel your best, start with the right nutrients. But the best diet is the one that makes you feel your best and that you can stick with long-term.
If you’re used to eating whatever you want, jumping into a “cleaner” style of eating is a big change. Saying “hold the bun” is a starting point. As a short-term fix, dirty keto (or, said another way: eating foods that meet your keto macros) is a way to dip your toe in the keto diet and transition into a new style of eating—or stay in ketosis when you’re out or too busy to cook.
How to boost your results on a keto diet
There’s a reason we recommend avoiding inflammatory foods and additives: They can derail your health goals over time. If you really, really want that bunless fast-food burger, only make it an occasional indulgence—not your entire diet. Check out our keto food list for more details, including examples of healthy fats and proteins.
And if you’re choosing a dirty version of the keto diet for its convenience or its indulgences, know that clean keto meals, snacks and beverages don’t have to be time-consuming and restrictive. Keep reading for delicious ideas.
A day of clean keto eating
- Breakfast: Start your day with a creamy, satisfying cup of Bulletproof Coffee to fuel your morning. (Prefer cold brew? Bulletproof Cold Brew Latte is whole-body fuel.)
- Afternoon: Add a scoop of Bulletproof Complete Daily Energy Collagen Protein to a satisfying smoothie. For lunch, a Keto Chopped Salad hits the spot.
- Dinner: Cozy up to a bowl of No-Bean Keto Chili.
- Dessert: Satisfy your sweet tooth with these No-Bake Protein Brownie Bites.
On a clean keto diet, you can still enjoy delicious, indulgent keto meals and sweet treats. Set yourself up for success by creating a weekly keto meal plan and ensuring you have plenty of healthy snacks and veggies in the fridge. Talking to a registered dietitian or nutritionist can help ensure you’re getting enough micronutrients throughout the day, too.
Looking for more ideas to start planning healthful keto meals? Start here:
- These Pasture-Raised Egg Bites are perfect for a weekend brunch or light lunch.
- When it’s time for lunch and dinner, check out these 20 clean keto recipes that taste like your favorite comfort foods.
- Make a batch of Chocolate Cinnamon Keto Donuts to enjoy with a cup of clean coffee.
- Craving comfort food? Save this Zoodles With Keto Alfredo Sauce recipe.
- Keep your body and your taste buds happy with this Keto Hot Chocolate.
Want to take your keto results to the next level? Experiment with intermittent fasting on keto to support ketone production and reduce blood glucose levels.
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