The Ultimate Guide to Dirty Keto
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The Ultimate Guide to Dirty Keto

Heard of dirty Keto? It’s slang for a ketogenic diet that ignores food quality. 

Dirty Keto is when you order a greasy burger, remove the bun, and call it dinner. Dirty Keto is also when your plate has nothing green on it. 

The opposite of dirty Keto is ‘clean’ Keto. On a ‘clean’ Keto diet, you get most of your energy from nutrient-dense whole foods. 

If you care about your long-term health, it’s important to differentiate between the two. That’s what we’ll be doing today. 

What Is Dirty Keto?

Dirty Keto is not a precise term. In general, it describes a ketogenic diet that’s high in junk like vegetable oils and processed meats and low in nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Dirty Keto is a type of ketogenic diet. Like other forms of Keto, it entails consuming around 55-75% of your calories from fat, 15-35% from protein, and less than 10% from carbohydrates.  

For all its bad press, a dirty Keto diet still follows the main rule of Keto dieting: it keeps carbs low. Keeping carbs low keeps insulin low, facilitating the breakdown and release of stored body fat.[*] In other words, a dirty Keto diet can promote the fat-burning state called ketosis.

Weight Loss on Dirty Keto

Most studies on Keto don’t focus on food quality when structuring ketogenic diets for participants. Instead, they focus on how carb restriction affects a variety of health outcomes. 

Some potential Keto-related health benefits include:

Let’s expand on weight loss for a moment, because it’s a primary reason folks go Keto. Can a dirty Keto diet help someone lose weight?

Perhaps. The mechanisms by which Keto promotes weight loss are largely independent of food quality. 

For instance, low insulin facilitates fat burning, especially the burning of visceral belly fat.[*] And you don’t need to eat whole foods to keep insulin low. You just need to restrict carbs. 

Lowering carbs can also curb your appetite. Keeping carbs low reduces spikes and dips in blood sugar, so you aren’t crashing, listless, and hangry at 4 PM. A Keto diet has also been shown to lower the hunger hormone ghrelin.[*

But dirty Keto isn’t the best way to capture these benefits. 

Drawbacks of Dirty Keto 

Dirty Keto is called dirty Keto for a reason. It’s a sub-optimal way to eat. Here’s why.

#1: Inflammatory vegetable oils

On a Keto diet, you consume most of your calories from fat. The type of fat, however, is up to you. 

A dirty Keto diet leans heavily into a group of fats known as vegetable oils. These oils include soybean oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, peanut oil, cottonseed oil, corn oil, and canola oil.  

Veggie oils are high in an omega-6 polyunsaturated fat (PUFA) called linoleic acid. While small portions of linoleic acid are healthy, excess consumption of this PUFA, researchers believe, is a key driver of the American obesity epidemic.[*

Why? Because consuming too much linoleic acid creates inflammatory conditions that drive fat storage. This has been shown in mice.[*]  

Cooking with vegetable oils is dangerous too. At high heat, the fragile PUFAs oxidize, creating compounds called oxidized lipids linked to heart disease.[*

#2: Micronutrient deficiency

If your Keto plate is devoid of low-carb vegetables, you’re probably not getting enough vitamins and minerals. 

Non-starchy veggies like spinach, kale, asparagus, broccoli, and cabbage are some of the most nutrient-dense foods around. These plant foods are rich in folate, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and a variety of phytonutrients with health benefits researchers are still unraveling. 

Take folate, for example. This B vitamin (vitamin B9) is crucial for energy production, nervous system health, cardiovascular support, and reproductive health.[*

The best natural sources of folate are lentils, but lentils have too many carbs to be Keto. That leaves Keto folks with spinach, asparagus, beef liver, and broccoli. Unfortunately, a dirty Keto diet spurns these foods. 

And that’s just folate. How many other vitamin and mineral deficiencies would occur on dirty Keto? How many health problems would result from these deficiencies? Best not to find out. 

#3: Lack of fiber

If you don’t eat vegetables on Keto, you won’t get much fiber into your system. Digestive consequences may follow. 

Since fiber helps with bowel regularity, avoiding this indigestible carbohydrate can lead to constipation. Avoiding fiber may also negatively impact your gut microbiome

Fiber is indigestible through normal routes, but it is digestible by gut bacteria.[*] When gut bacteria digest fiber (especially soluble fiber) they produce anti-inflammatory compounds like butyrate. Not something you want to miss out on. 

Clean Keto vs. Dirty Keto

A clean Keto diet is the opposite of a dirty Keto diet. When you eat clean Keto, you focus on whole foods, healthy fats, and non-starchy vegetables. 

A dirty Keto meal might consist of a bunless cheesesteak, pepperoni sticks, and a bag of pork rinds. Or just 3 to 5 bags of pork rinds. 

On the other hand, a clean Keto meal is a piece of salmon with butter-soaked broccoli. Or a low-carb green smoothie. Or a veggie packed salad

Eating ‘clean’ Keto means:

  • Using healthy fats like olive oil, avocados, coconut oil, butter, and ghee
  • Largely avoiding vegetable oils and processed meats
  • Filling your plate with low-carb vegetables
  • Eating a wide spectrum of real foods for optimal micronutrient and macronutrient intakes. (Use the Carb Manager app to track this). 

Pretty simple, right?

Practical Whole Food Keto

Whole food Keto isn’t all or nothing. You don’t have to be 100% ‘clean’ 100% of the time. That’s not realistic anyway. 

After all, some places won’t have suitable options. A bunless burger might be your only choice at a family gathering, and that’s okay. 

You also might want to have a cheat meal on occasion. Permit yourself to do so weekly or monthly, if you like. 

And be easy on yourself when you slip up. Instead of punishing yourself, just get back to whole food eating. 

Keep moving forward. That’s what life is all about.  

Comments 31

  • Mary

    Mary 25 days ago

    More fiber for me, cabbage tomorrow

    • Txmomof2

      Txmomof2 a month ago

      Lol Dirty ketoing and have excellent report from doctor.

      • Becca

        Becca 3 months ago

        I’m just not going to let the word “Dirty” stop me from trying to do better. I’m going to consider it “Low Carb” and manage them. It’s all good.

        • Courtyoes

          Courtyoes 4 months ago

          This is absurd. Some people can’t avoid doing this “dirty” keto. I don’t have access to wild caught salmon I live in Northern Saskatchewan, no where near a coast lol. There is no grass fed beef sold in my northern store. I eat traditional wild meats like moose, bison and elk because that’s what’s available to my community.

          • SplendidRadish422508

            SplendidRadish422508 10 months ago

            I’m assuming I’m doing “dirty” keto as I cook for two kids and husband and afterwards don’t want to cook for myself. I do eat tuna salad, salads, lots of eggs, rotisserie chicken from grocery store, and the lunch meat I buy isn’t packaged, I buy it from the delicatessen. I eat vegetables like cucumbers and zucchini and cabbage. So is this “dirty” keto?

            • LavenderBlueDilly

              LavenderBlueDilly 9 months ago

              Based on the description in the article, yes.

          • RemarkableArugula413099

            RemarkableArugula413099 a year ago

            Are you supposed to eat your burnt calories and carbs? Will you still lose weight?

            • Pen

              Pen a year ago

              My problem is my partner cooks and shops (he's retired but I still work) and it's been difficult to move him away from what's cheapest!

              • jebuckingham01d2

                jebuckingham01d2 8 months ago

                Perhaps you could do the shopping for your meals only?

              • LavenderBlueDilly

                LavenderBlueDilly 9 months ago

                That’s a hard mindset to change.

            • SpectacularKale286269

              SpectacularKale286269 a year ago

              I do drink lots of water. Eat good. But stuck.

              • ME

                ME a year ago

                What about Atkins bars? I’m assuming these are dirty keto?

                • LavenderBlueDilly

                  LavenderBlueDilly 9 months ago

                  It’s a processed food so yes.

              • SplendidArugula954780

                SplendidArugula954780 a year ago

                I feel like my breakfast and lunches are clean. Had salmon and asparagus for dinner twice this week and am eating my first quest pizza tonight. My snacks are pork rinds and cheese sticks. I've been drinking 4 to 5 bottles of water a day, plus a sm coffee sometimes. So I guess I'm mostly clean. Had 2 mcdonalds hamburger patties no buns last night and I was on my back lethargic and ick feeling for about an hour afterwards.... so I guess ill just do my best and enjoy my Avocado toast that I love with my 1 net carb bread

                • Foxspirit

                  Foxspirit a year ago

                  Allergic to eggs, and avocados. I do the best I can and can afford. Redneck keto I guess!

                  • Lita237

                    Lita237 a year ago

                    Also allergic to avocado- trying to talk to anyone about trying Keto is frustrating because someone is always telling me to eat avocados!

                • AMYEKAS820

                  AMYEKAS820 a year ago

                  I started the keto way of eating more slanted to dirty keto type eating such as some products were quest protein bars and zero carb bread etc. For me, it helped me to lose 70 pounds very quickly and it was easier to transition to this lifestyle and way of eating as someone who is a carb/sugar addict and has BED. I also did a lot of research about keto and on many recipes to make healthier versions of foods. There is so much information out there and really is a recipe for anything. Going keto is one of the best things I have ever done to lose weight and keep it off.

                  • Cadamygirl

                    Cadamygirl a year ago

                    I feel I'm 60/40, 60 being clean. I gotta live! Lol just kidding, recovering carbaholic and foodie here 😋

                    • SuperMacadamia726628

                      SuperMacadamia726628 a year ago

                      I am doing 100% clean keto

                      • jebuckingham01d2

                        jebuckingham01d2 8 months ago

                        Well, then. Good for you!

                    • AwesomeCauliflower168006

                      AwesomeCauliflower168006 a year ago

                      I travel a lot with my husband for business. When we're home, I do clean keto. Traveling, I do dirty keto. Didn't realize I was doing both!

                      • AmyB

                        AmyB a year ago

                        I call my style "dingy keto" I eat clean about 75% of the time, but sometimes I'm on the road for hours, and a Wendy's Bunless Baconator is the best I can do.

                        • CarsonAnn

                          CarsonAnn a year ago

                          I have stayed well beneath my allotted 15 carbs per day and lost well (22 lbs) for the first 2 months. Now it's been up and down losing and gaining the same 3 lbs for about 6 weeks I rarely eat processed foods so what's up.

                          • jebuckingham01d2

                            jebuckingham01d2 8 months ago

                            I read somewhere (Noom?) that we should weigh in every morning. As horrifying as that sounds, it actually helps me in keeping my motivation as I can see how my weight fluctuates on a daily basis even if I do nothing different. I, too, am stuck at 10 pounds above my goal weight, so I started doing IF 12/12. It helped. Good luck!

                          • ChristinaSturdy929

                            ChristinaSturdy929 a year ago

                            The egg fast helped a lot! You can look it up in recipes or on Pinterest. It helps get you out of a weight loss funk plateau

                          • AmazingAvocado137923

                            AmazingAvocado137923 a year ago

                            Sodium? Fast food has a lot of it. Maybe you are experiencing fluid retention? True....We need sodium especially on Keto but not necessarily the amount found in most processed/fast foods. Don’t lose heart. Our weight can vary from day to day. I only weigh once a week for that reason. Cheers. 😊

                        • Julie

                          Julie a year ago

                          I mostly follow the clean Keto but monthly shopping trips require a swing through McDonald's as a treat. Dirty Keto at its best!!

                          • hpjones1989@gmail.com

                            hpjones1989@gmail.com a year ago

                            I'm doing a combo as well

                            • Fat2FitGabby

                              Fat2FitGabby a year ago

                              I'd say that I'm 70% clean keto and 30% dirty keto

                              • FantasticArugula935834

                                FantasticArugula935834 a year ago

                                Interesting. I just realized that I am not doing classic keto nor dirty. It's a combination 🤪

                                • Sarah

                                  Sarah a year ago

                                  Me, too. Having just read the 4 Types of Ketogenic Diets article, I now realize I'm doing a High Protein Ketogenic Diet.