What’s Dirty Keto and Should You Be Doing It?

By: Alison Moodie
January 1, 2020

What’s Dirty Keto and Should You Be Doing It?

  • Dirty keto is a version of the high-fat, low-carb ketogenic diet. It follows the same macronutrient breakdown as regular keto, but allows processed and fast foods.
  • A dirty keto diet can lack the nutrients your body needs to survive, and it fills your plate with preservatives that cause inflammation.
  • Regular keto doesn’t have to be boring and inconvenient. Enjoy fast and easy keto recipes like keto breads, fat bombs and keto pancakes.

What if you could eat fast food all day and still lose weight? That’s what dirty keto promises. Go ahead and eat that sausage, egg and cheese sandwich, minus the bun. While you’re at it, wash it down with a sugar-free soda. The dirty keto diet is a version of the high-fat, low-carb keto diet. But if something is this good, there’s got to be a catch.

Here’s the question: Is the keto diet good for you in the long-term? Read on to find out how dirty keto works, and if it can really help you lose weight fast.

What is “dirty keto?”

Bacon cheeseburgers on grill

The dirty keto diet seems like a miracle. It promises weight loss with the freedom to eat anything you want, with a few exceptions: no bread, fruit, sugar and sweets. That means bacon, cheese and pork rinds are fair game—and so is fast food (just nix the bun or crust). How can this possibly work?

In all styles of the keto diet, the majority of your daily calories come from dietary fat. You also eat moderate protein and very few carbohydrates—usually less than 50 grams of net carbs per day (about the amount of carbs in two slices of wheat bread and an apple, or one large bagel). Restricting carbs puts your body into ketosis, a metabolic state where you burn fat, not carbs, for fuel.[1] The result? Weight management and reduced inflammation.[2]

Dirty keto 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. A clean keto diet encourages you to eat organic vegetables, pasture-raised meat and quality fats like MCT oil and grass-fed ghee. On the dirty keto diet, you can hit a drive-thru for a bunless double bacon cheeseburger and diet orange soda.

The idea has caught on. Dirty keto groups are all over Facebook with taglines like “No shaming, no judgement, no negativity.” On a page called “The Dirty Keto Life,” a user posted an image of their morning snack: Powerade Zero and packaged bacon BBQ cheese crisps. But is this too good to be true? There’s got to be a catch, right?

Related: 7 Reasons You’re Not Losing Weight on Your Keto Diet

The dirty secret about dirty keto

Spoonful of pills in front of vegetables

Of course there’s a catch. Dirty keto might work in the short-term, but in the long run, you may not feel as good—and you may even run into nutrient deficiencies.

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 diet full of ultra-processed foods just won’t give you the vitamins, minerals and enzymes your body needs. Plus, the long list of preservatives and artificial flavors can do damage for your overall health.

Want to feel your best on keto? Eat primarily whole foods, not processed junk foods. Prioritize quality fats like MCT oil and grass-fed butter, not low-quality vegetable oils. And if you really, really want that bunless fast food burger, only make it an occasional indulgence—not your entire diet. Keep reading to learn about the potential effects of dirty keto.

The impact of dirty keto on your body

Person stepping on scale

If you’re eating junk food that doesn’t meet your body’s basic nutrient needs, there are going to be consequences.

Your body uses vitamins and minerals from whole foods to support everything from your cells to your immune system. These nutrients keep your immune system strong, strengthen your bones, keep your brain sharp and give you energy, to name just a few important roles.

The processed foods allowed in the dirty keto diet contain additives and preservatives that can decrease your healthy gut bacteria and actually damage the lining of your gut. Also, processed foods like chips, meat jerky and even soda can be loaded with sodium, which causes water-retention, bloating and puffiness.[3]

When you’re in ketosis, your body needs more water than usual in order to stay hydrated, so adding excess sodium to the mix can exacerbate dehydration, constipation, and other symptoms of the keto flu.[4] In short, preservatives reverse all the gut-strengthening, inflammation-busting benefits of a clean keto diet that encourages a diet high in whole foods.[5]

The bottom line: Dirty keto diets allow you to eat fast foods and processed foods, as long as they’re high in fat and protein. While a diet like this may keep you in ketosis, you probably won’t feel your best if you’re eating too many preservatives and not enough nutrients from whole foods.

Weight loss while eating junk food isn’t healthy weight loss. Your hunch was right—this is too good to be true.

How to enjoy clean keto

Chocolate cinnamon donuts with icing

If you’re choosing dirty keto for its convenience or its indulgences, know that clean keto doesn’t have to be time-consuming and restrictive. You can start your day with a creamy, satisfying cup of Bulletproof Coffee and feel fueled until lunch. Snack on a delicious Collagen Protein Bar. When it’s time for lunch and dinner, check out these 20 clean keto recipes that taste like your favorite comfort foods.

The biggest challenge can be avoiding the temptation from foods that will take you out of ketosis. On a keto diet, you can still enjoy sweet treats. Start with these Chocolate Cinnamon Keto Donuts, Keto Apple Pie Fat Bombs or this White Chocolate and Raspberry Keto Cake. They’ll keep your body and your tastebuds happy.

Read next: What to Eat on Keto: Your Complete Keto Food List

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