What is Dirty Keto? Should You Be Doing It?

What is Dirty Keto?
Is It a Miracle or Mirage?

Dirty Keto Cover Image

The keto diet revolutionized the way people approach weight loss. But while there's no doubt that it's effective, it can also be a lot of work because it requires you to do a bunch of counting and calculating in order to make sure you maintain a proper balance between carbs, fats, and protein.

But what if somebody told you that you could eat whatever you wanted and, as long as you limit your carb intake, you could still enjoy the benefits of the keto diet?

That's pretty much what "dirty keto" promises in a nutshell.

It’s Like Keto, Only Different...

With the traditional ketogenic diet, you're starving your system of carbs in order to trick your liver into producing ketone bodies which then burn fat for energy.

It's a perfectly natural process called "ketosis," but it's not without its risks. In order to maintain optimal health, the classic keto diet expects you to stick to the following formula: 70 percent of your calories should come from fat, about 20-25 percent should come from protein, and the remaining 5-10 percent should come from carbs.

foods for keto

What About Lazy Keto?

holding knife and fork in the table

Sounds simple enough. Until you realize the number of calories people eat can change a lot from day to day and each time you eat, you need to do the keto math to be sure this food or that isn't going to throw you off your delicate balance.

For some people, all the counterbalancing is just too much, and they look for an easier, softer way.

For many of them, that means "lazy keto," which does away with the calorie and protein-counting but keeps most of the other aspects of the classic keto diet, including limiting carbs to 20 grams per day and making sure you eat healthy fats. [1]

Let’s Get to the Dirty Details...

Others, however, go a step further and embrace the idea of "dirty keto." Sounds nasty, doesn't it?

Well, it's not really nasty, but it's not really keto either. At least it's not keto the way traditionalists would recognize it.

With dirty keto you don't just abandon the calorie-counting, you pretty much abandon the notion of any kind of limitations, except the one about restricting carbs to 20 grams per day. Beyond that, it's anything goes! Woohoo!

people eating dinner

The Down and Dirty Basics of Dirty Keto:

It's hard to figure out exactly where and when dirty keto originated. But the origin story isn't as important as the fact that lots of people are attracted to it as a lazier alternative to lazy keto.

That attraction is born of the idea that not only are they free of calorie-counting with dirty keto, they're also free to eat all kinds of stuff the keto-police would normally write them up for. That includes premade, prepackaged foods, fast food, sweets, and salty snacks.

The Convenience Factor

calorie snacks

Another major attraction of the dirty keto approach (hard to really call it a “diet”) is that it’s just so darn convenient.

No time to cook a healthy keto meal plan using whole foods and olive oil? No problem. Just hop over to McFastfood and cop a couple of bacon cheeseburgers. Just be sure to toss the buns before eating. We are, after all, trying to lose weight here.

But while we have nothing against yummy food and finding easier ways to do things it all sounds just a little bit too good to be true.

So, does dirty keto actually work or is it just an excuse to launch a thousand ships down the Denial River?

More importantly, are people endangering their health by practicing dirty keto?

Does Dirty Equal Dangerous?

Believers in the dirty keto approach are convinced that as long as they limit carbs to 20 grams per day, the world is their oyster.

Vegetables? Who needs ‘em? Cooking at home? Who has the time? Give them a sausage, egg and cheese biscuit (but hold the biscuit) washed down with a piece of bacon and a glass of chocolate frappe, and as long as they stay under 20 grams of carbs per day, they're on the road to sustainable weight loss.

Can it really be so easy?

woman deciding what to eat

Not So Fast

carbohydrates food group

While there’s no doubt that limiting carbs to 20 grams per day will cause you to lose weight, that's not a green light to bombard your system with junk food. Eat enough of those processed sausage patties and packaged bacon, and you're setting yourself up for heart disease.

Sure, it will be easier for the EMTs to lift you into the ambulance after your heart attack because you'll be nice and thin, but do you really want to sacrifice overall health in a quest for junk food-driven weight loss?  

Not only that, but if you're stuffing in calories at a fast enough rate, it won't matter how small your carb intake is, you either won't lose weight or you might actually gain weight.

On top of that, an imbalanced diet that ignores things like veggies and fiber and promotes the consumption of almost unlimited amounts of fat can do a number on your digestive system.

After just a short time on the dirty keto diet, you may find yourself experiencing everything from diarrhea to acid reflux. And if you've never experienced reflux consider yourself lucky.

So is that it? Is the dirty keto lifestyle just dirty? Or are there actually keto-related benefits to be had?

When Dirty Keto Makes Sense

The old adage “all things in moderation” might as well have been written for dirty keto.

There’s little doubt that ignoring nutritional basics and simply gorging on processed foods dripping with fat is going to boomerang on you.

But if you can restrain your enthusiasm for that tasty, tasty junk food, dirty keto might actually make sense in some cases. For instance:

diet meal plan
  • ​If you can't afford to buy sugarless bacon, it's probably okay to indulge in some with sugar in it.
  • ​If you simply ran out of olive oil to cook with then there’s no need to head for the burger joint. Use that sunflower oil instead.
  • ​Have a sausage, egg and cheese breakfast sandwich once in a while if it makes you happy. The operative words here being "once in a while."

The guiding principle here should be common sense. After all, the reason you wanted anything to do with keto in the first place was to lose some weight and improve your overall health.

And you’re not going to be able to do that by living on hot dogs and cheesecake, no matter what anyone says.

When Dirty Keto Doesn’t Make Sense

lady lookign at foods

If you are currently on the strict keto diet (or even the lazy keto diet) and it’s working for you, there is no reason to switch to dirty keto. What you’ll gain in convenience, you’ll lose in overall health.

The keto diet in its traditional form has a bunch of well-defined benefits including lower and more stable blood sugar levels, increased metabolism and of course sustainable weight loss. The same can be said - although to a more limited degree - of lazy keto.

The potential downside to dirty keto though is pretty substantial, and so it just doesn't make sense to go out on a limb with your health if what you're currently doing is working for you.

Okay, Thanks For The Warning. But Does It Work?

Again, if you are able to avoid irrational exuberance and rein in the impulse to gorge on bacon cheeseburgers smothered in mayo every day, you stand a good chance of losing weight even while practicing dirty keto.

However, you will have to deal with the downside we just mentioned. That downside potentially includes:

  • ​Bloating
  • ​Inflammation
  • Cravings driven by insulin spikes [2]
  • ​The risk of GI problems
man messy eating a burger

Keep in mind too that processed foods [3] are almost always loaded with salt. This will cause you to retain water, look and feel puffy and increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.

In addition, your body is going to need veggies and fiber. These are two things that often fall victim to both lazy keto and dirty keto.

People reach their carb limit by only tossing half the hamburger bun and compensate by tossing the lettuce because it contains carbs. Do that enough times, and your gut starts to rebel. Things get backed up. Nutrient absorption suffers, and well, you get the picture.

The Bottom Line

Dirty keto doesn't have to be a dirty word. You might even make it work for you if you can control the urge to overindulge in processed food.

At the end of the day, as long as you can adhere to the 20-gram rule when it comes to carbs and you don't go overboard on the junk, you will likely lose weight.

About the Author

Ryan is a personal trainer, athlete, health enthusiast, and entrepreneur. He is researching and expanding his knowledge about the ketogenic diet. He spends most of his time writing content about his new learnings of the ketogenic diet and shares it on Ketogenic Supplement Reviews. You can find me on: Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.