Clean Keto vs. Dirty Keto: What’s the Difference?

In fitness and nutrition circles, the term clean has gained a specific meaning in recent years. No longer just a word used to describe a crisp, white T-shirt fresh out of the laundry, clean now refers to all manner of food items and diets.

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Even specific eating patterns, such as the ketogenic diet, have come to be described using the terms clean and dirty. But what does it mean if you’re following a dirty keto diet versus a clean keto diet? And what’s the keto diet to begin with?

What Is the Keto Diet?

The ketogenic or keto diet is a strict eating pattern that seeks to severely limit the percentage of carbohydrates in the diet. While the keto diet is sometimes thought of as a high-protein diet, it’s actually a very high-fat, low-protein and very low-carb diet. The classic version of the diet is composed of 90% fat, 6% protein and just 4% carbohydrates, which forces the body to use fat as its primary source of energy. This triggers a biochemical process called ketosis.

Ketosis is when your body breaks down both dietary and stored fat for fuel and creates ketones in the process. Ketones are a byproduct of burning fat that are generated in the liver and can be measured in the blood. If you’re going to be strict about the keto diet, you’ll likely be testing your blood regularly to track the level of ketones to make sure you’re in the target zone for fat burning.

The ketogenic diet was originally developed in the 1920s to help control severe epilepsy in children. It’s still used to treat people who’ve not had success with other interventions, and more recently, it’s been suggested that the keto diet could help prevent the spread or recurrence of certain types of cancer. It can also help you drop weight quickly, and thus, some individuals are adopting this diet as a means of managing their weight.

What’s Clean or Dirty Keto?

If you’re following a clean keto diet, that means you’re avoiding processed foods, whereas a dirty keto diet is one that doesn’t focus as much on whole foods, but rather seeks to adhere only to the macronutrient ratio – that is, the ratio of fat, protein and carbs – of the diet.

“Dirty keto is a variation of the traditional keto…

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