What is Dirty Keto?


Let me know if this scenario ever happened to you. You’ve decided to try out the keto diet, and it’s all going well. It’s been a couple of weeks, and your macros are on point. Then all of a sudden, you get a call from a friend. They want to meet up for dinner.  

So you head on out to the local pub, and you order a burger. Now you’re doing keto, so you take all the carbs off the burger and just eat the keto-friendly stuff. Sound familiar? Perhaps it didn’t pan out exactly like that, but we have all experienced something like this before.

The most significant hurdle of trying to eat a healthy diet is the social aspect. On the one hand, you want to meet your health goals. On the other hand, you want to have a social life too. Going out to a restaurant that may or may not fit your particular diet style is challenging.    

The meal in the example above is known in the keto community as Dirty Keto.   

What is Dirty Keto?

There are two ways to look at it. The healthier way of eating a ketogenic diet is called Clean Keto. While the less nutritious diet is filled with primarily vegetable oils, processed meats, and low vitamin, mineral, and fiber meals, it is called Dirty Keto.

Despite its negative reputation, a filthy Keto diet adheres to the basic tenet of Keto dieting: it limits carbs to a minimum. Low carbohydrate diets keep insulin levels low, making it easier to break down and release stored body fat. In other words, a filthy Keto diet can help you get into ketosis, which is a fat-burning condition.

Can you get the same results eating dirt keto as eating a nutrient-rich, healthy, clean diet? No, probably not. There are many other factors in a clean diet that provide many benefits, but you can still obtain ketosis, and you can still reap most of the benefits of the keto diet.  

What do the experts say?

When designing ketogenic diets for participants, most studies on keto don’t pay attention to food quality. Instead, they concentrate on the effects of carb restriction on several health outcomes.

Not many studies focus on the Clean V.S. Dirty approach regarding keto. I did happen to find a few studies related to processed foods and their effects on the body. 

One of those studies can be found here:  Ultra-processed Foods, Weight Gain, and Co-morbidity Risk Scary title, I know, but let’s talk about the results of this study.

Are processed foods that bad?

When thinking about processed foods, you’re probably thinking bad. If you’re a dirty keto fan, you might be in luck. But first, we must define what I mean when I say processed foods.  

Many people and companies in the health niche have demonized processed foods. It has become a bad word, mainly because of the advertising. But what if I were to tell you processed foods aren’t necessarily that bad for you?

What exactly is the processing part of processed foods?

In food science, the word-processed foods is the terminology used to describe the operations utilized to enhance shelf life, food safety, food quality, and availability of edible parts of raw materials.   

Without the processing part, some of your favorite “natural” foods in your fridge wouldn’t be possible. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines processed food as “any raw agricultural commodity that has been subject to washing, cleaning, milling, cutting, chopping, heating, pasteurizing, blanching, cooking, canning, freezing, drying, dehydrating, mixing, packaging, or other procedures that alter the food from its natural state.”

Give it to me straight, is it bad or not?

The truth of the matter is that processed foods are not the problem. If you read the study I linked above, you’ll find that the study shows consumption of ultra-processed foods trends toward unhealthy individuals.  

The study fails to point out that it’s not necessarily the processed foods that are the consequence. It’s difficult to determine if it’s the processed food themselves or the lack of nutrients and overconsumption in many people’s diets. They do admit this in conclusion.   

There are little to no studies that dive into this issue. If you were to have what is known as processed food, would you be at higher risk of disease or unwanted health effects from the definition above?

Say you accounted for the nutrients as a control. Would the person eating the greasy burger be healthier than someone eating a salted grass-fed burger with avocado? Probably not.

Let me explain…

study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at the effects of a plant-based diet vs. an animal-based diet. 

In this study, participants had improvements in several cardiovascular disease risk factors during eight weeks of consuming alternative plant-based meat products relative to organic animal meats. This was due to the simultaneous decrease in saturated fatty acids and increased dietary fiber that the plant-based meats provided.

Why do I bring up this study? It illustrates that it’s not the processed food we put in our bodies. It’s the macro and micronutrients we provide our bodies.    

The participants in the study went from eating a very unhealthy diet that did not adhere to any common dieting principles. They saw positive results because they added more nutritious foods to their diet and not because they switched to eating plants and veggies.  

Stuffing your diet with nutrient-rich veggies will always result in better overall health. Too many people in modern society don’t eat enough vegetables. 

So, is Dirty Keto ok?

The answer is yes. Hopefully, after everything I wrote today, you’ve come to the same conclusion as me. The keto diet is all about nutrients. Keto is a way of structuring what you put in your body. As long as you’re following the system, you will still achieve ketosis, and you will gain many of the benefits of this diet.

Are there processed foods that have micronutrients that can cause ill effects in mass quantities? Yes, but if you’re doing keto correctly, you won’t have too many problems with this. Even the dirtiest of dirty keto styles can still work.

Now I’m not a doctor. I’m just a guy on the internet reading things and writing my thoughts. If you have any serious questions about what may be right for you, please talk to a medical professional.   


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