The ketogenic diet is a low-carb, moderate protein, and high-fat way of eating.
There are different types of ketogenic diets, such as cyclical, moderate, and targeted. One of the most common debates is dirty and clean keto. However, there is still a lot of confusion regarding these types.
This article will explore the similarities and differences between clean and dirty keto.
Here, the key is to focus on eating high-quality and nutritious foods while limiting your intake of carbohydrates to 5-10% of your total calories.
This means you eat whole, natural foods that are high in nutrients, such as non-starchy vegetables, healthy fats, lean proteins, low-carb fruits, and nuts and seeds.
When consuming proteins, if possible you aim to have grass-fed and wild-caught options since they may be higher in some nutrients than farmed-raised animals.
Studies have shown that wild-caught fish can have up to 50% more omega-3 compared to farmed-raised.
On a clean keto diet plan, you also reduce your consumption of highly processed foods. So, you’re eating real foods and cooking from scratch using whole ingredients, instead of eating food that comes out of a can, jar, or bag. While you still make an exception once in a while, the idea is to mostly have minimally processed food.
If you do eat packaged foods, they should have a short list of ingredients from natural products.
On the other hand, with a dirty ketogenic plan you don’t pay attention to food quality.
It doesn’t matter where your calories come from as long as you stay under your carb limit. This means you can consume as much highly processed food as you like as long as you don’t go overboard on your calories or macros.
In theory, this means you can have bacon cheeseburgers dipped in mayonnaise for every meal and packaged keto bars for every snack, while washing it all down with diet soda.
Clearly, this is not a very healthy approach. Ideally, you would only allow yourself to eat dirty occasionally, when you don’t have much time to prepare a meal.
They both follow the same principles of a ketogenic diet.
This means they both look to reduce their carb intake to put your body in metabolic adaptation for you to enter ketosis, using fat to create ketones as your energy source.
Therefore, they both have the same goal in mind: to make your body go into a ketosis state.
Since they follow the same principles of getting your body into ketosis, they follow the same macronutrient breakdown:
There might be slight modifications based on whether you are following another type of ketogenic diet (like the moderate keto). There is a range because each person’s macros are different, depending on things like your age and how active you are.
Finally, since they both rely on ketosis, they can both be used to lose weight.
One of the biggest differences is the food quality.
On clean keto, you focus on having healthy, nutrient-dense whole foods.
With dirty, you have a greater processed food intake.
While it might be easier to follow a dirty ketogenic diet when going out (it’s usually easy to find a cheeseburger and toss away the bun), it also increases your risk of nutrient deficiency.
However, more on that later in the article.
Another major difference is the sodium content.
The American Hearts Association recommends consuming less than 2,300 mg of sodium daily to decrease heart disease risk.
However, when most of your foods come from processed sources, it is very easy to consume more than this amount.
Processed foods have a high sodium content to help extend their shelf life and to boost their flavor.
Thus, you need to be careful with your sodium intake when following a dirty ketogenic approach.
Finally, while it is not always the case, a dirty keto diet can increase the risk of chronic conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes.
When you consume more processed food, you are likely to increase your saturated fat content.
Additionally, processed foods can be high in trans fats, increasing your cholesterol and inflammation levels and your risk of heart disease.
There are several benefits of following a ketogenic diet. Since both have the same principle, they have the same benefits.
While there are several benefits, there are also side effects you need to consider when you go into ketosis.
You can get the same side effects from either diet, but there is an increased risk of constipation and nutrient deficiency when following a dirty ketogenic approach.
One of the biggest differences between these diets is the foods you eat.
Remember that there is some overlap, meaning you can consume some foods from the dirty keto in a clean approach (and the other way around).
The main takeaway is that on a clean keto, the majority of your foods are natural, while on a dirty ketogenic diet, most of them are processed.
The following table compares the foods in each diet.
|Beans and legumes||In moderation||In moderation|
|Condiments and sauces||✓ (home-made)||✓|
|Dairy||✓ (low-carb)||✓ (low-carb)|
|Sugar-free drinks||X (natural teas and coffees are ok)||✓ (diet soda, sugar-free energy drinks are ok)|
|Alcoholic drinks||X||✓ (low-carb)|
|Fish and seafood||✓||✓|
|Fruits||In moderation||In moderation|
|Grains and starches||X||X|
|Herbs and spices||✓||✓|
|Meat and poultry||✓||✓|
|Nuts and seeds||✓||✓|
|Oils and fats||✓||✓|
|Processed foods||X||✓ (low-carb)|
|Natural sweeteners|| |
Only if low-carb, such as monk fruit, stevia
|White and brown sugars||X||X|
|Starchy vegetables||In moderation||In moderation|
As you can see they have similar food groups. They both reduce the intake of high-carb foods and sugars.
However, the biggest difference comes in the quality of the foods.
On a dirty ketogenic diet, you can consume ultra-processed foods and drinks as long as you manage to stay within your calorie limit and carb budget.
Take a closer look at which foods are keto-friendly
Typically, processed foods are less expensive compared to natural foods.
However, it also depends on what type of foods you buy and if you eat out at restaurants.
Grass-fed, wild-caught, and organic produce tends to be more costly, meaning the clean keto diet might be somewhat more expensive than a dirty approach.
Nonetheless, if you know where to buy and how to save on meal prep, you can save more money while following a clean keto diet and cooking your meals at home.
Clean keto is healthier than dirty keto since you consume more high-quality, nutritious foods.
While it is ok to have processed foods once in a while, basing your diet on processed foods increases the risk of constipation, nutrient deficiency, and serious health conditions.
Additionally, processed foods may be high in saturated and trans fats, which can increase the risk of heart disease.
A clean approach can also provide you with more nutrients and fiber.
Consuming processed food once in a while is okay as a treat, to make your life easier on a busy day or satisfy a specific craving.
However, the more processed foods you eat, the more you increase your health risks.
Make a balance between natural and processed food.
For example, you could aim to have 80% of your diet from natural sources and 20% from processed foods.
Ultimately, it’s up to you. But since you’re putting in the effort to transform your body, why not do it in the healthiest way possible?