By now you’ve certainly heard of the ketogenic diet. Also known as the keto diet, it’s hard to escape the impact this low-carb, high-fat eating plan has had on society over the last several years. In a nutshell, following the diet puts your body in a state of ketosis, which allows you to burn fat instead of your sugar stores (aka glucose). The main reason keto is popular? It pretty much glorifies fat, which means you don’t have to part with many of your favorite “guilty” pleasures. On keto, the guilt is gone. However, there’s a bit of confusion surrounding the keto diet, and this looms largely around the division of the definition. Are all fats in the picture or just the healthy ones?
Essentially, keto can be split into two types: “clean” and “dirty” keto. And, unsurprisingly, the two differ quite a bit. Although “dirty keto” has the same premise as regular keto — putting your body in a state of ketosis to try to increase fat loss — it has much more lenient rules, explains Roger Adams, PhD, personal trainer, doctor of nutrition, and owner of eatrightfitness. “With ‘dirty keto,’ as long as you keep your fats high and your carbs low, anything goes really, so things like processed cheese, pork rinds, and butter are all allowed,” he says.
Clean keto, on the other hand, is focused more on overall health and getting enough essential vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes from as many nutrient-dense foods as possible. “This version of the keto diet is more plant-based yet still high in fat and includes fiber and micronutrients that are not found in oils, butter, and meat,” says Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS, doctor of natural medicine, chiropractor, clinical nutritionist, and author.
To help break things down even further, we asked our experts how clean keto differs from dirty keto.
According to Dr. Axe, you can think of “clean keto” as an alkaline ketogenic diet. “An alkaline diet is one that is high in foods like green vegetables, fruits, herbs, spices, sea vegetables, and freshly-made green juices,” he says. “To boost alkalinity, try to consume a good portion of your produce raw or only lightly cooked or steamed, as raw foods can help supply high levels of alkalizing minerals.” When going clean, he also suggests adding in other superfoods like maca, spirulina, sea veggies, bone broth, and green powder mixes that contain chlorophyll.
Fresh produce and grass-fed, hormone-free meats are obviously cleaner and more beneficial to your body than, say, processed pork rinds or jerky. To reduce your intake of toxins and chemicals, Dr. Axe suggests purchasing organic produce whenever possible and to paying those extra few dollars for free-range animal products. “Plants that are grown in organic, mineral-dense soil tend to be richer in nutrients and supply the most bang for your buck,” he adds.
“A clean keto diet is helpful for promoting gut health, preventing nutrient deficiencies, and has anti-inflammatory effects, so it can help to curb the common side effects of keto, like nausea, fatigue, and constipation,” says Dr. Axe. “Long-term, a healthy, balanced diet is also beneficial for its anti-aging effects — especially lowering inflammation, boosting detoxification, promoting hormonal balance, immunity, and more.”
There is one potential downside to “clean keto,” Dr. Axe points out, and that is that it tends to be more time-consuming and potentially more expensive, since the convenience of packaged foods are mostly off limits. “A clean keto diet requires a good deal of home cooking, food preparation, and packing snacks/to-go meals when necessary,” he says. The good news: “It might seem difficult to eat a clean keto diet when dining at restaurants or traveling, but it’s definitely not impossible.”