The high-fat, low-carb ketogenic diet has helped all kinds of people lose weight. The diet is relatively simple; you want to put your body in a state of ketosis, so you burn fat (instead of sugar) for energy. But making real and permanent changes to your eating habits and food choices—that’s not always so easy.
Enter “dirty keto,” a trendy hack to this eating plan. As the name implies, it’s the less clean (read: less healthy) version of the OG keto diet.
Here’s the lowdown: On a regular keto diet (also called “strict” or “clean” keto), no more than roughly 5% of your calories should come from carbs, 75%-90% should come from fat, and the remaining 6%-25% from protein. With the dirty version, your macronutrient focus is no different, but the quality of the foods you eat to hit those targets matters a whole lot less.
Instead of noshing on an avocado and kale chips with a side of creamy ranch for lunch, you can cruise carefree through the Five Guys drive-thru. A hamburger topped with cheese and bacon, no bun? Sure. Wash it down with a diet soda and grab a bag of pork rinds from a convenience store for your afternoon snack. A keto-friendly chocolate bar has your name written all over it for dessert.
The benefits of dirty keto? There’s no meal prep, it allows you to eat virtually anything (as long as it’s not a carb), and you still get the potential weight-loss payoff of the regular keto diet, says exercise physiologist Chris Mohr, PhD, RD, of MohrResults.com.
If you have a serious fast food addiction, dirty keto is tempting (very tempting!). And when you’re traveling or on the go, it might be the only way you can stick to the keto diet. While it’s okay to eat this way on occasion, you’ll want to clean up your food choices asap—so you don’t miss out on all of the good-for-you micronutrients that keep your system healthy.
“Although you may lose weight [eating dirty keto], the quality of the food we eat impacts us beyond our weight,” says Dawn Jackson Blatner, RDN, author of the Superfood Swap.
Basically, dirty keto isn’t a version of the diet you want to follow over the long haul. “The vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other nutrients in high-quality foods protect our overall health,” says Blatner. “If you do want to try keto, though, go with a more holistic, clean approach and choose unprocessed versions of fats and round it out with quality proteins and produce.”
If you do go dirty keto every so often, seek out less-unhealthy items that hit your macronutrient targets. For example, pick up some sushi, sans rice, from the grocery store. It’s fairly easy to find pre-made hard-boiled eggs or jerky at a convenience stop; these are healthier than a burger or burrito. Or sign up for a keto-friendly meal delivery service or meal box, so nutritious, keto-approved food come to your door.
Although the dirty version seems easier than the old-school keto diet, it’s likely to wear out its welcome faster. Anecdotally, people say the “keto flu” (the nickname for the fatigue and nausea some keto followers experience when they first start the diet) is much worse when it’s fueled by junky, processed, fatty items. And from an overall health standpoint, this isn’t a diet you want to follow for the long haul.
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