The Dirty Keto Diet: What Is It and Should You Do It?

author avatar Dr. Eric Berg 05/18/2024

Dirty keto is a variation of the traditional keto diet that focuses on low-carb, high-fat meals regardless of their nutritional quality. 


A dirty keto diet is typically high in processed and fast foods. While it’s less costly than a clean keto diet, it may lead to nutritional deficiencies and adverse health effects. 


Learn more about the dirty keto diet and discover how it compares to a nutritious low-carb diet such as Healthy Keto®.


Doctor with digital tablet

What is ketosis?


Ketosis is a metabolic state characterized by increased fat burning, achieved by restricting carbohydrate intake. This state occurs when the body lacks sufficient carbohydrate intake.


Carbs and sugar raise blood sugar levels, which the body utilizes to generate cellular energy. However, a low-carb diet removes this fuel source, which forces the liver to switch to using fat as a primary energy source.


With limited access to glucose, fatty acids are released from fat stores and converted into ketone bodies. Ketones are a highly efficient fuel for your cells and are a preferred energy source for muscle, brain, and heart tissue.   


Watch the video below to learn more about dirty keto vs. Healthy Keto. 

What is the dirty keto diet?


Dirty keto, also known as the lazy keto diet, is a less restrictive version of the clean keto diet. 


Like the regular keto diet, dirty keto diets involve consuming 70 to 80 percent of calories from fat, 10 to 20 percent from protein, and 5 to 10 percent from carbs.  


However, a lazy keto diet doesn’t consider the nutritional quality of the foods consumed. 


Although many dirty keto meals meet keto’s macronutrient requirements, they often include inflammatory vegetable oils, processed food, artificial sweeteners, and fast foods.


Dirty keto is popular with those who don’t have the time or knowledge to prepare fresh meals. While dirty keto meals can maintain ketosis, this version of a low-carb diet lacks nutritional value and can lead to deficiencies and associated health problems.


Healthy ketogenic foods

Healthy Keto® vs. dirty keto


Both a dirty keto diet and Healthy Keto can trigger ketosis and promote weight loss. 


However, there are significant differences in nutritional value, quality of the foods consumed, and the long-term health implications between these two variations of a low-carb diet.  


Here’s an in-depth look at Healthy Keto vs. dirty keto.


What is Healthy Keto?

Healthy Keto focuses on high-quality, nutrient-dense foods and avoids ultra-processed foods. 


It also prioritizes organic, grass-fed, and pasture-raised produce over conventional products. This limits exposure to growth hormones, antibiotics, and chemical pesticides.


The goal of Healthy Keto is to eat foods that promote overall well-being, whether to lose weight or help manage diabetes, high blood pressure, or other metabolic disorders. 


In addition, Healthy Keto focuses on seven to ten cups of vegetables daily. This promotes the body’s nutrient stores, supports gut health, and strengthens immunity while supporting brain function and cardiovascular health.


A Healthy Keto-approved food list includes nutrient-dense whole foods such as:

  • Healthy fats, including coconut oil, olive oil, avocados, seeds and nuts

  • Grass-fed beef 

  • Wild game meat 

  • Pasture-raised eggs

  • Full-fat organic dairy and grass-fed butter

  • Wild-caught fish such as salmon, sardines, and tuna

  • Non-starchy vegetables such as asparagus, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts

  • Low-carb fruits, including strawberries, blackberries, blueberries


processed meats

How dirty keto compares

Dirty keto emphasizes carbohydrate restriction without considering food quality. 


Lazy keto is often used to burn fat fast rather than reap the impressive health benefits of a well-rounded, low-carb diet rich in nutrient-dense foods. 


Dirty keto foods often contain bioengineered ingredients, artificial colors and flavors, and remnants of chemicals like glyphosate. These ingredients have been linked to various health issues, including metabolic imbalances, fertility issues, and chronic inflammation.  


A dirty keto food list might include the following:

  • Processed meats such as hot dogs, sausages, and pre-cooked bacon

  • Diet or sugar-free sodas

  • Packaged and processed foods 

  • Vegetable oils, including corn, soy, and sunflower oil

  • Artificial sweeteners


However, those who don’t have access to 100 percent organic produce and grass-fed meat can still benefit from a ketogenic diet using conventional whole foods.  


“There’s two phases to keto. The first phase is going low carb, even if it’s dirty keto,” explains Dr. Berg. “The second phase is increasing the quality of what you’re eating, but do what you can. Something is better than nothing.”


Starting with conventional vegetables and animal products can help jumpstart weight loss and make the transition into a well-rounded and nutritious Healthy Keto diet more manageable and sustainable.


Fried chicken

Pros and cons of the dirty keto diet


Though clean keto is recommended to promote a healthy body, the lazy keto diet is still a viable option for those looking to lose weight quickly, are on a tight budget, or have limited time for preparing meals. 


Dirty keto can also introduce a low-carb dietary approach to individuals new to carbohydrate restriction. However, lazy keto can lead to nutrient deficiencies and may lead to various health issues.


According to a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, a diet high in processed foods “...is perceived as the leading reason for an increased risk in the development of some of the major worldwide public health concerns, such as obesity, diabetes type 2, cancer, and cardiovascular diseases.”


Processed foods can also inflame the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, and a lack of dietary fiber may cause an imbalanced microbiome, also known as dysbiosis. 


Dysbiosis can lead to various gut issues and increases the risk of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). This condition causes fermentation in the gut and is associated with excessive gas, bloating, belching, and abdominal pain. 


SIBO is also linked to malabsorption, which makes it difficult for the gut to absorb nutrients, particularly fats and fat-soluble vitamins.


A study published in Gastroenterology & Hepatology found that SIBO-related malabsorption can cause deficiencies in vitamins A, D, E, and K. Researchers also found that fat-soluble vitamin deficiencies can cause neurological issues associated with numbness and weakness. 


Additionally, choosing dirty keto foods over whole foods can worsen deficiencies in other vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C and zinc. These deficiencies can impair metabolic energy-making processes, lead to low energy levels, and hinder weight loss. 


Packaged snacks and ultra-processed foods contain little to no essential micronutrients. While some are enriched with synthetic vitamins, these artificial nutrients are more difficult for the body to utilize and are often made from petroleum byproducts. 


A study published in Free Radical Research found that synthetic vitamins can also contain various contaminants, including heavy metals, pesticides, and other toxins that may contribute to GI dysfunction, cancer, and reproductive harm.


Woman holding salad and cheeseburger

How to choose between Healthy Keto and dirty keto


Those who are new to keto or accustomed to hyperpalatable foods may find it challenging to start with a clean keto diet, which can make dirty keto a good starting point for a low-carb lifestyle. 


Budget constraints may also limit some from eating a completely organic diet. While conventional produce and animal products are considered dirty keto, they’re healthier alternatives to heavily processed junk foods. 


Additionally, assessing your health goals can help determine the appropriate diet plan. A Healthy Keto diet rich in healthy fats, organic produce, and grass-fed animal products is recommended to curb cravings, lose weight, and reduce disease risk.


Although dirty keto may seem more budget-friendly and easier to follow, the long-term health advantages of a Healthy Keto can’t be ignored. Investing time and resources to promote a healthy body can enhance longevity, increase energy levels, and improve quality of life.


Keto diet foods concept

Key takeaways


Dirty keto requires dieters to stay within the usual macro constraints of keto regardless of food quality, which means fast food and ultra-processed foods are permitted. 


Compared to the Healthy Keto diet, which prioritizes organic produce and grass-fed animal products, a dirty keto diet can lead to nutritional deficiencies and may increase the risk of various health problems, including cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.



FAQ


1. What is the dirty keto diet?

The dirty keto diet is a less restrictive version of the traditional keto diet plan. 


Dirty keto is a low-carb diet that doesn’t consider the nutritional value or quality of foods. Dirty keto diets are often high in heavily processed and junk food. 


2. How many carbs a day can you have on the dirty keto diet?

Most versions of the keto diet recommend no more than 50 grams of carbs per day. Eating fewer than 50 grams of carbohydrates helps maintain ketosis, a metabolic state that prioritizes fat burning.


3. Can you lose weight on dirty keto?

Yes, you can lose weight on dirty keto. However, due to its low nutritional value, dirty keto can increase the risk of nutritional deficiencies that can hinder weight loss and increase the risk of health problems.  


4. Is dirty keto healthy?

No, dirty keto isn’t a healthy way to do the ketogenic diet. While reducing carb intake can boost weight loss, a dirty keto diet lacks nutritious foods, which may increase the risk of inflammation, deficiencies, digestive issues, and cancer.


5. What are the downsides of dirty keto?

Those on a dirty keto diet plan are at a greater risk for developing nutritional deficiencies and digestive issues due to a lack of fiber and whole foods. 


Additionally, conventional produce, meat, and dairy products often contain added hormones or are exposed to herbicides and antibiotics. These pharmaceutical and chemical residues in food have been linked to reproductive issues, endocrine disruption, and cancer. 


6. What’s the difference between keto and dirty keto?

Both keto diets track macronutrients to lower carbs and increase fat intake. However, a clean keto diet prioritizes nutritious whole foods, while a dirty keto disregards food quality. 



Sources


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9778909/ 

  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3099351/ 

  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31500469/

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