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 ultra-processed foods like vegetable oils, artificial sweeteners, 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:
- Fat loss and weight loss in both obese and non-obese populations.[*][*]
- Reversing type 2 diabetes.[*]
- Inflammation control.[*]
- Hunger control.[*][*]
- Potential therapy for neurodegenerative diseases and cancer.[*][*]
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.
QuiltMaven 3 months ago
I am switching to Clean Keto; Dirty Keto has enabled me to lose weight and control Type 2 Diabetes. However, it also increased my LDL/HDL levels and that impact was enough to require an angiogram plus now dealing with high blood pressure. Both primary care physician and cardiologist said since keto does work for the Type 2 and overall I am in good health, just switch it to clean keto so I am heart aware also. Nice to know. I was aware that my LDL/HDL would increase but did not know to what extent nor possible impacts. My Drs are the ones who told me about Clean Keto; I never knew there was a difference/option. (Also I am 66 yrs old so you know age had a play in all this too.)
FabulousKetone741163 a month ago
I also switched to clean keto for different, but similar reasons. Research shows that diets rich in unhealthy fats and processed foods, promote harmful gut bacteria and lessen beneficial bacteria. People might be tempted to overlook gut health, but studies show a strong connection between the gut microbiome and your ability to burn fat efficiently. This is why it's worth looking into a high quality weight loss probiotic to promote beneficial bacteria. You can find a very good one at: www.LeanProbiotic.info - Just to be clear, I absolutely love Keto but it's worth knowing the very few downsides too. Technically I'm somewhere in the middle between clean & dirty Keto.
OutstandingCauliflower168221 5 months ago
HI, I think what I am doing is Dirty keto , dont really know any other version, been doing it for 5 days, very strange eating habits I have had the past 5 days , my food intake today has been for brekky, Omelet with blue cheese and mozzarella , made with butter , followed by a snack of salami , lunch I had some chicken on its own ( grilled) snack , i had today was a Mozzarella ball , and evening I had steak strips , and a late night snack of a tin of Tuna with Mayo .. does this sound ok ?
FabulousKetone741163 a month ago
Any update on how you're doing now?
PositiveP 3 months ago
I Just read your message now wondering how you doing? I did a dirty keto a yr ago for a few months lost 13 lbs, but cholesterol did go up a bit. Hope you are doing well.
IncredibleAvocado682378 8 months ago
Low Fiber As per research by Dr Paul Mason, research show research show that the information of fiber is outdated...built on a house of cards. Kenny Croxdale
Mary a year ago
More fiber for me, cabbage tomorrow
Txmomof2 a year ago
Lol Dirty ketoing and have excellent report from doctor.
Becca a year 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 a year 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 2 years 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 2 years ago
Based on the description in the article, yes.
RemarkableArugula413099 2 years ago
Are you supposed to eat your burnt calories and carbs? Will you still lose weight?
Pen 2 years 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 2 years ago
Perhaps you could do the shopping for your meals only?
LavenderBlueDilly 2 years ago
That’s a hard mindset to change.
SpectacularKale286269 2 years ago
I do drink lots of water. Eat good. But stuck.
ME 2 years ago
What about Atkins bars? I’m assuming these are dirty keto?
LavenderBlueDilly 2 years ago
It’s a processed food so yes.
SplendidArugula954780 2 years 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 2 years ago
Allergic to eggs, and avocados. I do the best I can and can afford. Redneck keto I guess!
Lita237 2 years 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 2 years 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 2 years ago
I feel I'm 60/40, 60 being clean. I gotta live! Lol just kidding, recovering carbaholic and foodie here 😋
SuperMacadamia726628 2 years ago
I am doing 100% clean keto
jebuckingham01d2 2 years ago
Well, then. Good for you!
AwesomeCauliflower168006 2 years 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 2 years 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.