Clean keto vs dirty keto: what is the difference?

Clean keto vs dirty keto: what is the difference?

Keto is a low-carb, high-fat diet that is gaining its well-deserved momentum worldwide. 

But did you know that there are many Keto Diet spin-offs? Cyclical keto, dirty keto, keto OMAD (one meal a day), carnivore... and the list goes on. 

The ketogenic lifestyle is an excellent tool to upgrade your health - but not all keto diets are the same. If you want to lose weight, revert your insulin resistance, type 2 diabetesor even improve the symptoms of an autoimmune disease... whatever your goals are, it's important to find the right diet that'll help you reach them.

A lot of people associate the 'clean' Keto Diet with its dirty version. However, dirty keto may not be the best option if you're focusing on the health benefits of keto - and not only on short-term weight-loss. In this article, we'll share the differences between clean and dirty keto and the importance of eating quality foods. 

What is dirty keto? 

If you do a quick search with #keto you will see a variety of menus focusing on different kinds of foods: avocado, eggs, salmon, sausages, bacon, cheese plates, salads… and even cakes, pizzas, cookies, bread, and all kinds of keto sweets. So which one is dirty keto?

Dirty keto (also known as lazy keto) is a version of keto in which you can eat whatever you like, as long as it fits your macros. Most people who follow this version of keto do not pay attention to the quality and nutritional value of the foods they eat. This means that "it's ok" to eat fast food and a lot of other highly processed foods containing preservatives, trans fats, additives, and even diet sodas. These dirty keto foods are usually not part of a clean Keto Diet (we will get to that in more detail).

What happens is that often you see people eating a lot of processed foods and very little of whole foods when on dirty keto. You can achieve ketosis and weight loss like this (if there are no hidden carbs in these products), but it's quite debatable if this is the healthiest option for you in the long-term. When you eat primarily highly-processed foods (which are often calorie-dense), you're likely missing out on essential nutrients. 

And what if, for example, you have an inflammatory disease? What if you have hormonal issues? In some cases, indulging in artificial, highly-processed foods may not be the best option for you. Keto doesn't always mean healthy.  So if you are resourcing on keto for any of these reasons, you might need to rethink your food choices. 

Not every food is made the same way

It's important to point out that it's not just about the food in itself but the process of making it. For example, a grass-fed natural cured bacon with just salt and spices is not the same as grain-fed industrial bacon with salt, additives, and a large list of ingredients. 

A keto chocolate bar made with additives or artificial sweeteners is not the same as a keto chocolate bar made with clean ingredients (like our keto chocolate bars). Paying attention to what foods are made of is very important, especially if you are focusing on an anti-inflammatory keto diet. 

It must be said that most artificial sweeteners (like aspartame and sucralose) haven't been studied enough. Some studies show that they can negatively impact our gut microbiome, and pregnant women, children, and ill people must be aware of some components of artificial sweeteners.

I don’t think it's a bad idea to have eggs and bacon for breakfast with a bulletproof coffee (or even drinking an industrial soda on a special occasion), but it's always good to be aware of which bacon and eggs you're buying. And also the quality of the dairy you're choosing to boost your coffee with. 

(If you want to know if, and which, dairy products are the best option for your Keto Diet, we recommend this article for more info). 

Likewise, processed meat is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes mellitus. So, I recommend choosing for the natural version of meat as much as possible and leave bacon and other cured meats for special occasions. 

Dirty keto sweets and snacks

I know that while on a ketogenic diet we sometimes miss sweet treats. Totally normal, of course! Humans were made to love sugar because it means easy fuel for our bodies.

When we were hunter-gatherers finding honey was a real party. Hunting was never easy, and having a faster option to fill our bodies with high amounts of energy was appreciated.

The problem now is that we have large amounts of high carb foods and sugary treats all around us. People recovering from an addiction to this kind of food may find it amazing to enjoy sweet treats.

This is totally fine. But the problem is focusing on replacing a variety of high carb, high sugar foods with dirty keto treats, every day, and forget to reconnect with real food. Changing from an American or European Standard Diets (soda, pizza, bread, pasta…) to a keto diet means changing radically the way we think about food - and learning to enjoy real, wholesome foods too. 

If you want to feel your best on keto, consider this: 

Don't eat too much highly processed foods - but integrate a variety of whole, natural foods into your diet. Eating primarily junk food and other dirty keto foods contributes to inflammation and nutritional deficiencies. Give preference for healthy, high-quality fats like olive or MCT oil, and not processed vegetable oils. 

And what's very important: when you're buying packaged goods, don't forget to take a look at the ingredients, not just the “keto” label. Choose keto foods and treats that are made with natural, clean ingredients and do not abuse artificial sweeteners like sucralose or aspartame. Erythritol, for example, is the best option as it doesn’t spike glucose, insulin, and is well tolerated (no bloating).  

Do you know how to recognize the good from the junk? If not, here are some tips to follow when choosing the best keto-friendly packaged goods for your diet. 


What is clean keto? 


We can describe clean keto as a low-carb real food approach. That means that when on a clean keto diet, you will focus on eating natural, organic foods and include a large variety of vegetables, proteins, and healthy fats on your diet.

It's more time-consuming for some of us who are always rushing, for sure. But with some meal planning, it is definitely possible. A clean keto diet is more beneficial for your health in the long run as it is a more nutrient-dense approach to keto that does not promote inflammation.

Does this mean that you cannot have keto pancakes for breakfast or bake a fancy layered cake? No! It means that you focus mostly on eating real food. If your keto pancake is made with good ingredients, sounds like clean keto to me.

But what if you want to enjoy a “dirty keto” treat on a special occasion, is that allowed? You're the only one that decides that. A healthy diet is not a box that you need to fit completely in. It's not an either this or that.  You need to adjust your diet to fit your needs. If you want to have treats now and then, and you're healthy (meaning you actually can eat it) go ahead and enjoy it. Just be conscious and mindful about it. 

How to eat clean keto

I've already mentioned that clean keto is all about natural, organic whole foods. But that does not mean you should avoid eating packaged foods. You surely can enjoy a keto snack on the go - but just be sure that the ingredients of your snack are close to natural as possible. Step away from artificial sweeteners, fillers, and preservatives. 

If you're focusing on a clean keto or a real food approach, you can also try to eat your veggies and fruits from the season. It can be challenging because we know that broccoli doesn’t grow in the summer, but when it's possible, why not do it, right? 

So, how to do clean keto?! Just by filling your plate with organic low-carb vegetables, enjoying big salads with olives and MCT oil, and baking keto cookies when you feel you need a sweet treat. Or just grab one of our chocolate bars

Here is a short clean keto diet food list for inspiration on your next grocery shopping trip. 

  1. Meats: Give preference for grass-fed or organic. If you can afford it, choose local options and prioritize lean cuts.

  2. Fish: Give preference for wild-caught and small fish. The omega 3/6 ratio is healthier in wild fish because they are eating a “natural” diet. Farmed fish are often fed with fodder, made with grains and GMO products. Also focus on small fish because its content of mercury will be lower: sardines, mackerel, salmon… If it’s difficult for you to find wild salmon or other fishes, canned fish in olive oil is a practical and healthy option. You can read this article for more information about it.

  3. Dairy: Give preference to grass-fed or organic. Prioritize sheep and goat because the caseins are less inflammatory. Fermented is also better tolerated in general. I explained everything about dairy and keto in this other article as well if you're currently on a learning mode!

  4. Eggs: Give preference for free-range or organic eggs, which are the best options but, if you cannot afford it, code 1-2 eggs are ok. 

  5. Vegetables: Give preference for organic ones. f you are on a budget, have a look at the “dirty dozen” and “clean fifteen” lists on the internet so you know which products you should always buy organic and the ones you could buy regularly.

  6. Healthy fats and oils: Ghee, extra virgin olive oil, olives, lard, grass-fed butter, avocado, and avocado oil and…Our chocolate bars which are high in healthy fats thanks to our organic cacao and MCT oil. 

  7. Vegan/vegetarian protein sources: I recommend to buy organic tofu and tempeh because most of non-organic are GMO. Vegan protein powders are also a nice complement to your diet if you can reach your protein-intake goal.


Bottom line

No matter what diet you choose and how you adapt it to fit your needs, always try to be aware of the ingredients and the quality of foods you consume (because quality does matter!). It's highly beneficial for your health to embrace whole foods on your diet and not just live out of processed foods. It will pay off - now and in the future! 

Dirty keto can still allow you to be in ketosis and lose weight in the short-term. However, if you want to truly feel your best on keto, you might need to adjust your diet a little bit. By including more whole foods while avoiding too much processed foods - or even going all the way towards a 'cleaner' keto approach. You choose.

Hope you like our recommendations and leave a comment with any remarks or share this article with your keto friends that are still in doubt over clean vs dirty keto. 

And if you are looking for a treat that fits perfectly on a clean, dirty or any version of your own Keto Diet, you found it! Our keto chocolates are high in healthy fats from organic cacao and MCTs, and each bar contain only up to 2.5g net carbs. No sugar, hidden carbs or yucky ingredients. 

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