The ketogenic (keto) diet is a very low carb, high fat diet that has recently grown in popularity due to its proposed health benefits.

Many people follow this eating pattern to promote weight loss and manage type 2 diabetes.

Dirty and clean keto are two types of this diet, but it’s not always clear how they differ. Thus, you may want to know more about what each one entails.

This article addresses the main differences between dirty and clean keto.

Clean keto focuses on whole, nutrient-dense foods and puts more emphasis on food quality than the traditional keto diet, which comprises no more than 50 grams of carbs per day, a moderate protein intake of 15–20% of daily calories, and a high fat intake of at least 75% of daily calories (1).

Restricting carbs puts your body into ketosis, a metabolic state in which you start burning fat for energy in place of carbs.

This may lead to several potential health benefits, including weight loss, reduced blood sugar levels, and even a lower risk of certain cancers (1, 2, 3).

Clean keto consists mainly of whole foods from quality sources, such as grass-fed beef, free-range eggs, wild-caught seafood, olive oil, and non-starchy vegetables.

High carb foods, including grains, rice, potatoes, pastries, bread, pasta, and most fruits, are severely restricted or banned.

Clean keto also minimizes your intake of processed food, though it can still be eaten in moderation.

summary

Clean keto refers to the traditional keto diet, which is meant to get your body burning fat as its main fuel source instead of carbs. This eating pattern consists of whole, minimally processed foods that are low in carbs but high in fat.

Although dirty keto is still low in carbs and high in fat, its food sources are often not as nutritious.

While you can technically attain ketosis and garner some of the keto diet’s benefits using this approach, you may miss out on several key nutrients and increase your risk of disease.

Contains processed foods

Dirty keto is also called lazy keto, as it allows for highly processed and packaged foods.

It’s popular among individuals who want to achieve ketosis without spending lots of time prepping clean keto meals.

For instance, someone on dirty keto might order a double bacon cheeseburger without the bun instead of grilling a grass-fed steak and making a low carb salad with a high fat dressing.

Dirty keto meals are often high in sodium. For people who are sensitive to salt, high sodium intake is associated with high blood pressure and an increased risk of heart disease (4, 5).

Processed foods are also likely to have far more additives and fewer of the micronutrients your body needs. What’s more, they are associated with several negative health effects, including weight gain, diabetes, overall mortality, and heart disease (6, 7, 8).

Certain additives, including monosodium glutamate (MSG) and trans fats, are linked to adverse conditions like cancer, obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes (9, 10, 11, 12).

Moreover, the added sugars in many processed foods may prevent you from reaching and maintaining ketosis.

May lack micronutrients

Dirty keto foods are lacking in vitamins and minerals that your body requires.

By choosing processed foods over nutritious, whole foods, you may become deficient in micronutrients like calcium, magnesium, zinc, folic acid, and vitamins C, D, and K (13).

While these nutrients can be obtained from supplements, studies suggest that your body digests and utilizes them better from whole foods (14, 15).

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While the dirty keto diet may be tempting for people on a busy schedule, it emphasizes processed food and may severely curtail your micronutrient intake.

The dirty and clean versions of the keto diet differ vastly in food quality.

Whereas the clean keto diet focuses on high fat, nutritious, whole foods — with only the occasional processed item — the dirty version allows for large quantities of packaged convenience foods.

For example, people following clean keto fill up on non-starchy vegetables like spinach, kale, broccoli, and asparagus — while those on dirty keto may eat very few veggies at all.

Dirty keto also tends to be significantly higher in sodium.

Generally speaking, it’s best to avoid dirty keto due to its negative long-term health effects, such as an increased risk of disease and nutrient deficiencies.

summary

Clean and dirty keto diverge in food quality. Clean keto includes far more whole, nutritious foods, while dirty keto contains many processed foods which may lack nutrients.

Clean keto allows for an array of diverse foods that can be fairly easy to prepare and satisfy your cravings throughout the day.

Here are a few examples of scrumptious foods to eat on this diet:

  • High fat protein sources: grass-fed beef, chicken thighs, salmon, tuna, shellfish, eggs, bacon (in moderation), full fat Greek yogurt, and cottage cheese
  • Low carb vegetables: cabbage, broccoli, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, spinach, kale, green beans, peppers, zucchini, cauliflower, and celery
  • Limited portions of berries: strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries
  • Fat sources: grass-fed butter, ghee, avocados, coconut oil, MCT oil, olive oil, sesame oil, and walnut oil
  • Nuts, nutter butters, and seeds: walnuts, pecans, almonds, and hazelnuts, as well as hemp, flax, sunflower, chia, and pumpkin seeds
  • Cheeses (in moderation): Cheddar, cream cheese, Gouda, Swiss, blue cheese, and manchego
  • Beverages: water, sparkling water, diet soda, green tea, black tea, coffee, protein shakes, milk alternatives, vegetable juice, and kombucha
summary

Keto foods include low carb vegetables, plus plenty of healthy fat and protein sources, such as fish, eggs, and avocados.

The keto diet is a very low carb, high fat diet that’s associated with several benefits.

While both clean and dirty keto can help your body burn fat instead of carbs for energy, the diets differ in their composition. The clean version focuses on whole, nutritious foods while the dirty version promotes processed items.

As such, it’s best to avoid dirty keto. Clean keto is much more likely to give your body the micronutrients it needs, making for a more wholesome, well-rounded diet.