Clean Keto vs Lazy Keto vs Dirty Keto: What You Need to Know

Clean Keto vs Lazy Keto vs Dirty Keto: What You Need to Know
It's not an overstatement to say that ketogenic diets have rapidly transformed the health world.

Just a decade ago, many people (and medical professionals) would've scoffed at anyone who said they only eat 50 grams of carbohydrates per day.

Now, keto is backed by science, and many doctors recommend it for weight loss, and even some celebrities (like Tim Tebow and Halle Berry) swear by the benefits.

It's so popular, in fact, that many subsets of the original keto diet have appeared in recent years.

Modified low-carb approaches like 'lazy keto' and 'dirty keto' have become mainstream as well, which may lead to confusion if you're new to this way of eating.

Here's everything you need to know about clean keto, lazy keto, and dirty keto, the benefits and drawbacks, and which type of keto might be best for you.

What is Clean Keto?

'Clean keto' is the term used to describe the standard ketogenic diet, where you eat lots of low-carb vegetables, lean and fatty meats, and healthy fats, like nuts and coconut oil.

It's called “clean” because the majority of your food comes from whole-food sources. 

To be considered ketogenic, it's recommended that you eat 20 to 50 grams of net carbs per day [1]. 

This number is low enough to induce ketosis, which means your liver releases ketones that burn stored body fat for energy instead of glucose.

The major benefit of clean keto is that the food you're eating contains lots of essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients like fiber, which can promote weight loss and is important for overall health. 

What is Lazy Keto?

Lazy keto is a spin-off of the traditional ketogenic diet.

This eating philosophy doesn’t worry about counting calories. And dieters aren’t too worried about the amount of nutrients they get. Instead, they focus on one simple metric: eating less than 50g of carbs per day.

Because there is less emphasis on clean foods, you're free to eat other low-carb foods that you might only have occasionally on "clean keto." 

While you still try to eat clean foods, you don't have to all the time.

For example, foods like cheese, pork rinds, and keto-friendly ice creams are more commonly consumed on a lazy keto diet. 

What is Dirty Keto?

Dirty keto is occasionally lumped in with lazy keto. While the two are similar, there are some differences.

Basically, there are no requirements on dirty keto other than restricting carbs to induce ketosis. 

Once again, you don't have to count calories on dirty keto. But you're also free to eat anything you want, so long as you stay under 50g of carbs per day. 

In theory, you could eat Slim Jims (which only have 3g of net carbs per stick) or bunless cheeseburgers from McDonald's all day and that would work fine, so long as you keep your carbs low [2].

What are the Benefits of Each Type of Keto Diet?

Obviously, these three nutritional approaches are quite different. Here's what you'll stand to gain from each type of keto.

Benefits of Clean Keto

  • Reap the benefits of ketosis (weight loss, improved mental clarity, more energy) [3].
  • Emphasizes healthy, nutrient-dense whole foods, which boost your health.
  • More energy from eating "clean" food sources.
  • Lots of fiber, which helps keep you full and satisfied longer after meals and supports gut health [4].
  • Backed by science for weight loss (the other approaches work, but doctors won't publicly recommend them because those versions don't only allow whole foods) [5].

Benefits of Lazy Keto

  • Lose weight (if you stick to eating less than 50g of carbs per day).
  • Don’t need to count calories.
  • Fewer food restrictions.
  • More budget-friendly.
  • More convenient for busy/hectic lifestyles.
  • An easier approach to weight loss if you don't enjoy meal planning or cooking.
  • May be more sustainable for some people due to being easier and less restrictive.

Benefits of Dirty Keto

  • Lose weight (if you stick to eating less than 50g of carbs per day).
  • Never have to count calories.
  • More budget-friendly.
  • More convenient.
  • More flexible.
  • Doesn't "feel" like a diet—so if you've had trouble sticking to diets in the past, this might be a good approach for you.
  • May be more sustainable for some people because it’s less restrictive, more convenient, and more affordable.

What are the Potential Drawbacks of Each Type of Keto Diet?

Each nutritional approach comes with a few drawbacks, too. Here are some to consider.

Drawbacks of Clean Keto

  • May get boring after awhile. You eat lots of the same foods, which can get old. (Although there are plenty of delicious keto recipes out there to help you change things up.)
  • Can be expensive (fresh vegetables and quality protein sources are some of the most pricey ingredients at the grocery store).
  • May require more discipline and willpower to stay on track.
  • More restrictive, which may be challenging for some people.

Drawbacks of Lazy Keto

  • Less focus on nutrient-dense foods.
  • Less fiber in your diet may make you hungrier in between meals, and cause you to overeat or fall off the keto "wagon."
  • If you're eating an absurd number of calories each day, you might not lose weight (whether you're in ketosis or not).

Drawbacks of Dirty Keto

  • Less emphasis on nutrient-dense, filling foods.
  • May not develop the willpower or mental discipline that come with sticking to a diet.
  • Eating lots of processed meats (very common on dirty keto) has been linked to increased risk of certain cancers and cardiovascular disease (occasionally is fine, but nearly daily can be troublesome for some folks, especially if your genetic history puts you at higher risk) [6].

What’s the Best Type of Keto?

In short, the best type of keto diet is whatever works best for you and your lifestyle needs. Whatever helps you make the keto lifestyle sustainable for you is the best type. 

At certain times, you might be able to really dial in and stick to clean keto. But if you need to lean on a lazy keto or dirty keto diet approach for a few days because you're busy, that's okay, too.

Ultimately, being healthier is the end goal and the keto diet will help you reach that goal. Sticking to your nutrition plan, however you decide to do that, is an individual decision. Experiment and see what works best for you!

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