Why have just a cheat day, when your whole diet can be a cheat? That’s the idea behind “dirty keto,” one of the latest trendy weight-loss diets. This one promises you’ll drop pounds following an unprecedented regimen consisting of unhealthy foods.
What Is Dirty Keto?
“Dirty keto” is a spinoff of the keto diet (also known as “regular” or “clean” keto), a super-low-carb eating plan. Adherents of the keto diet are advised to derive no more than 5 percent of their daily calories from carbohydrate, 75 to 90 percent from fat, and the remaining 5 to 20 percent from protein.
Keto — be it clean, dirty, or any hygienic status in between — is really nothing new. It’s the latest variant in high-fat, low-carb diets, which first blew up in the early 2000s with the Atkins Diet. The somewhat controversial premise is that carbs are more responsible for body fat formation and storage than fats and protein. The goal of keto is to keep your body in ketosis, a state in which the body burns fats for energy instead of glucose (aka the form of sugar that circulates in the blood).
What’s the difference between clean and dirty keto?
A regular keto dieter might eat primarily whole foods and “good” fats like grass-fed beef, olive oil, and avocados, adding some cheese and bacon. To a “dirty keto” disciple, as long as they hit those overall daily macros — a high percentage of fats, moderate protein, and a very low percentage of carbs — those fats and proteins can come from anywhere.
Seriously, just about anywhere.
What Can You Eat on the Dirty Keto Diet?
- Fast food. A Double WHOPPER with cheese and bacon? A-OK, as long as it’s bunless and you skip the fries.
- Candy and snacks. Chocolate bars? Fair game. Just avoid the ones with diet-destroying interlopers like raisins and puffed rice. Feeling peckish between butter-basted rib-eyes? Enjoy the crunch of a pork rind or 12.
- Sauces and dressings. Feeling virtuous? Go for that restaurant-sized Caesar salad with 600 calories of cheese and dressing. Just inspect it for croutons first. Feeling naughty? Get your In-N-Out burger animal-style; the mayochup sauce is low-carb enough to be keto.
- Diet soda. Artificially sweetened drinks are no-carb, so wash things down with as much Diet Coke as you like. (Even though some studies show that the consumption of artificial sweeteners is correlated to weight gain and metabolic syndrome.)
Is the Dirty Keto Diet Healthy?
It might go without saying that most nutritionists — inasmuch as they’re invested in the concept of “nutrition” — are not big fans of dirty keto.
“Dirty keto is not a nutritionally sound diet in the least,” says Dana Hunnes, Ph.D., MPH, RD senior dietitian at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and an adjunct assistant professor at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. “The diet you are describing may ‘help’ you lose weight, because it may be lower in calories, perhaps, but I would hate to see the inside of your heart or arteries.
“In my opinion, weight loss should never be an excuse to eat unhealthy food,” she continues. “Would you put sugar in your car? No, you put the best fuel you can afford in your car. Fast food burgers or other unhealthy foods are inflammatory and bad for overall health. So I don’t believe a ‘dirty keto’ diet could ever be healthy, and I would never, ever recommend it.”
Hunnes adds about the concept of keto in general: “There are very few people in the world who should be following any type of ketogenic diet, which is truly a specifically prescribed diet regimen of absolutely minimal carbohydrate, and these are people who have seizures. Even then, it is a somewhat short-term diet.”
Dirty Keto vs. Lazy Keto
A cousin to the dirty keto diet is “lazy keto,” which simplifies the keto diet’s macros to one: You eat no more than 20 grams of carbohydrate per day. That’s the only thing you have to track — no worries about calories or percentages of fats or protein.
But when it comes to diets that are dirty, lazy, or otherwise, nutritionists caution against simplifying your diet down to a box score of stats to hit, without considering the total picture.
“Our food choices are more than just calories in vs. calories out, or a specific macronutrient profile,” says Katie Valley, RHNP, a certified holistic nutritionist based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “Food is information — it determines what our cell membranes are made up of, how our brain functions, what’s going on in our digestive system, and much more. So quality does matter.”
“A ‘dirty keto’ diet might check off all the macronutrient boxes to reach your goal weight, but at what cost?,” she adds. “Are you getting antioxidants to clean up free radical damage? Are you getting the essential fatty acids necessary for healthy cell membranes and optimal brain function? Are you getting enough fiber to feed the good bacteria in your gut, which is responsible for the majority of your immune system? The focus should always be on the quality of your food, not necessarily the quantity or macronutrient profile.”