The ketogenic diet is a very low-carb eating plan where you’re allowed only 20-50 grams of carbs per day.
Scientific studies show that the diet helps with weight loss and health conditions like diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), Alzheimer’s disease, and symptom management of other chronic diseases. 
If you’re thinking of starting a keto diet, you’ve probably heard about clean keto and dirty keto and are wondering how they’re different. Here’s more about these two dietary approaches, a list of clean keto vs. dirty keto foods, and, more importantly—which approach is right for you.
What Is Clean Keto?
The clean keto diet or clean keto focuses on real, unprocessed foods or foods that are close to their natural state.
Eating clean allows you to get as many nutrients as possible. At the same time, you’re avoiding added sugars and food additives like monosodium glutamate (MSG), artificial food coloring, and carrageenan (a thickener and preservative).
Adopting this practice doesn’t just keep your body fit, but it also helps you avoid allergic reactions caused by food additives, and lowers your risk of disease. 
Clean Keto Food List
Whether you’re trying keto for the first time or are looking to clean up your keto diet, here’s a list of foods to meet your macronutrients:
The dirty keto diet or dirty keto (also called lazy keto) includes low-carb processed foods ranging from canned goods to processed meats to chips.
Getting packaged foods can mean less time in the kitchen while also making sure you hit your keto diet macros. However, relying on convenience foods for your nutrition can sometimes do more harm than good.
For starters, a lot of processed foods contain empty calories, meaning they have too little or no nutrition (vitamins, minerals, protein, and healthy fats). Your body needs the right amounts of nutrients to function properly and thrive.
For example, omega-3 fatty acids are essential for improving heart health and reducing inflammation, and they’re abundant in fish and shellfish. Missing out on omega-3s can increase your risk of problems like joint pain, dry skin, and anxiety—even when you’re meeting your macros on keto. 
Dirty Keto Food List
Unless you have to, it’s best to steer clear of dirty keto foods. Common examples are:
Packaged keto snacks like bars, candies, chips, and cookies
Processed meats (hotdogs, bacon with added sugars, ham, pepperoni)
Bunless fast food burgers
The Differences Between Clean Keto and Dirty Keto
Feeling your best on the keto diet, and not just losing weight, starts with prioritizing whole, nutrient-dense foods. That said, the main difference between a clean keto and a dirty diet lies in food quality.
People on clean keto consume a wide variety of animal foods, non-starchy vegetables and fruits, nuts, and seeds. Meanwhile, those on dirty keto consume mostly packaged foods and fast food items as long as these fit their macros.
Here’s more about clean keto and dirty keto:
Fat Loss (Short Term and Long Term)
You can lose body fat on clean keto or dirty keto as long as you’re restricting carbs to 50 grams or less per day. This depletes your glycogen stores and mobilizes fat in your adipose tissue. 
However, following a dirty keto approach can cause weight loss plateaus down the road. Processed foods contribute to weight gain by adding unnecessary calories and sugar to your diet. They’re also highly palatable, which can cause overeating. 
Verdict: For long-term fat loss, follow a clean keto diet.
Some people opt for keto-friendly convenience foods because it simplifies their lives while helping them meet their weight loss goals. They prefer dieting without meal prep.
Dirty keto can sometimes be helpful if you want to stick to a keto diet despite a busy schedule, while you’re traveling, or during situations where you can’t access natural low-carb foods.
But if you’re choosing dirty keto for the sole purpose of skipping meal prep and saving time, know that there are lots of clean keto meals that don’t require elaborate meal prep.
Verdict: Dirty keto is best only for when you’re running short on time, such as hectic days and emergencies.
It’s true that eating healthily can sometimes cost more because a lot of nutrient-dense foods are expensive, for example, grass-fed beef and cage-free organic eggs. This is why some people try to save money by buying cheaper packaged food.
However, in the long term, processed foods may lead to health problems like allergies, obesity, cancer, and heart disease. While this kind of food can be cheap upfront, its negative effects have bigger costs down the road due to hospitalization and medical treatments. 
Verdict: A clean keto diet saves you money by protecting your health.
Processed meats, yogurt, energy drinks, and pasta sauces are common sources of hidden sugar. Sugar can come with different names like dextrose, fructose, sucrose, corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, and agave nectar. If you find any of these sugar names on a food label, avoid them to prevent a blood glucose spike.
Verdict: You’re more likely to enter and stay in ketosis with a clean keto diet.
Clean Keto Vs. Dirty Keto? Focus on Whole Foods
Clean keto and dirty keto diets follow the same macros (very low-carb, moderate-protein, and high-fat), which makes them useful for weight loss. Doing dirty keto can be beneficial in certain situations where meal prepping is impossible. That way, you’ll still be able to hit your macros.
As much as possible though, keep your diet clean by prioritizing whole foods. A clean keto approach doesn’t only lead to sustainable fat loss, but it also supports optimal health. This is because whole foods retain their nutrients and are free from added sugars, trans fats, colorings, and other preservatives.
The good news is that keeping a clean eating lifestyle on keto can be made easier through planning and simple meal prep.Here’s a14-day basic keto meal plan to get you started.
Tiffany is a health writer and registered nurse who believes in low-carb nutrition, exercise, and living simply. She has carefully followed the ketogenic diet (mostly clean keto) since 2019, which helped her lose 44 pounds, heal PCOS, and gain more energy. She hopes to educate and inspire others through her content here at Ketogenic.com and on her personal blog Ketogenic Buddies.
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. 7 Things To Know About Omega-3 Fatty Acids. National Institutes of Health, National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/tips/things-to-know-about-omega-fatty-acids
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