If you’re interested in clean eating while also limiting your carbohydrates, you may have heard of the clean keto diet. Clean keto is a ketogenic diet approach that focuses on getting your nutrients from fresh, unprocessed, or minimally processed foods.
The thought of avoiding heavily processed foods might seem a lot of work, but eating cleaner can be easy — and even better, rewarding — with a few helpful guidelines at your disposal.
Here’s more about the clean keto diet, how it differs from dirty keto, health benefits, a keto shopping list and meal plan, and strategies to do it properly.
The clean keto diet is a low-carb, high-fat diet plan that prioritizes foods in their natural state — or are as close to their natural state as possible. Think non-starchy veggies and fruits, meat, fish and seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy, olive oil, and coconut oil.
As for your macronutrients on clean keto, they stay the same:
- 5% or fewer calories from carbohydrates
- 70-80% of calories from healthy fats
- 20-30% of calories from protein
Eating cleaner benefits your overall health in many ways. For example, it maximizes your intake of micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes) which are essential for optimal body and brain function, and disease prevention (* , *). More on that and other reasons to choose clean keto later in this article.
The dirty keto diet (also called “lazy keto”) is the opposite of clean keto. It allows for highly processed foods like pork rinds, margarine, sugar-free soda, and fast food. In other words, dirty keto focuses on meeting macros but tends to ignore the aspect of food quality.
While dirty keto is a convenient way to enter ketosis (goodbye, meal prep), it’s not the best approach for long-term health and weight loss for the following reasons:
- Additives: Dirty keto foods contain additives like artificial sweeteners, food dyes, monosodium glutamate (MSG), and industrial seed and vegetable oils. These additives enhance the appearance, taste, texture, and shelf life of foods; however, they can play a role in chronic disease, if consumed habitually. They contribute to inflammation, obesity, Type 2 Diabetes, and heart disease (* , *).
- Empty calories: Processing makes food more shelf-stable (meaning, it lasts longer and doesn’t spoil easily) but it removes certain vitamins and minerals. For example, certain heating temperatures destroy vitamin C, and vitamins B1, and B5 (*). Thus, food ends up having little nutritional value while being high in calories.
- Added sugars: Some dirty keto foods have added sugars in them, which cause your blood sugar levels to rise and ketones to drop. Watch out for different sugar names on food labels like fructose, honey, maple syrup, corn syrup, agave, and sucralose. Consuming small amounts of added sugars unlikely results in immediate weight gain, but habitual consumption increases cravings, eventually leading to increased body fat (*).
|Clean Keto||Dirty Keto|
|Macronutrients||✔ 5% carbs, 70-80% fat, 20-30% protein||✔ 5% carbs, 70-80% fat, 20-30% protein|
|Ketosis||✔ Yes||✔ Yes, as long as you watch your carb intake (total carbs or net carbs) from highly processed foods, which are easy to overeat.|
|Nutrient density||✔ Excellent source of micronutrients||✘ Doing it long-term can increase your risk of nutrient deficiencies because of empty calories in processed foods.|
|Long-term health and weight loss||✔ Yes; Long term health||✘ Short-term weight loss only; Doesn’t support long-term health|
Negative outcomes usually stem from a lack of nutrients and additives in dirty keto foods. If you want, you can check out our guide on dirty keto to learn more about the reasons to avoid it and other consequences to be aware of.
This isn’t to say that you must avoid dirty keto foods at all costs, especially for complete keto beginners who are trying to enter ketosis in the most convenient way possible.
However, it’s good to slowly make the transition from dirty to clean keto so you can get the most out of this way of eating. It’s no fun dealing with various health problems (despite the initial weight loss), and then you end up blaming keto for them — when it’s, in fact, the quality of your keto diet that’s causing these issues.
So, start by stocking your fridge with whole foods. Meal prepping in advance also helps! To help you with the transition and also support your wellness, know that Perfect Keto has everything you need. We have keto recipes, as well as supplements and snacks made with the fewest and cleanest possible ingredients.
Clean keto is all about eating a wide variety of real foods that are low in carbs and high in fat. Here are a few important points to explain why it’s the right approach for anyone on the keto diet.
1. Optimizes Nutrient Intake for Overall Health and Performance
In general, foods in their natural state or have undergone only a bit of processing, contain more nutrients. As mentioned earlier in this article, processing removes some micronutrients in food (*).
Vitamins and minerals carry out a wide range of functions which are extremely vital for you not just to survive, but also thrive. Unprocessed meat, for instance, which is close to zero carbs, is an excellent source of nutrients that are difficult to obtain in the right amounts from other food sources (*). Here are some of the nutrients it provides:
- B vitamins help form red blood cells and DNA and protect your nerves (*).
- Iron supports your overall energy and the normal production and function of hormones (*).
- Zinc keeps your immune system healthy and promotes wound healing (*).
So, you can imagine how missing out on nutrients from real low-carb diet foods affects your everyday life. Since different foods have varying amounts of nutrients, make sure you’re consuming a wide variety of low-carb foods. Doing this also keeps things fun and interesting!
2. Promotes Gut Health
The gut microbiome is the collection of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and archaea living in your digestive tract. Your microbiome affects many aspects of your health and wellness (*). Research shows that it influences your metabolism (likelihood to gain weight), immunity, brain function, and behavior (* , *, *).
Processed foods harm the gut, which then increases your risk of health problems.
For instance, a 2019 review published in the journal of Nutrients, suggests that long-term consumption of food additives — including emulsifiers, artificial sweeteners, and food colorants — may contribute to low-grade intestinal inflammation, colitis, colorectal cancer, and metabolic syndrome (*).
Another study done in male and female mice showed that emulsifiers directly affect the intestinal microbiome. Consuming emulsifiers CMC and P80 increased the subjects’ fat mass and triggered anxiety-like behaviors (*).
Since your gut microbiome can influence various aspects of your body, it’s imperative to support it by eating a keto diet rich in whole foods.
3. Promotes Sustainable Fat Loss
Losing body fat takes a lot of effort and patience, whether that’s visceral fat (around your internal organs) or subcutaneous fat (stubborn fat under your skin).
Although the dirty keto diet promises quick weight loss, changing the quality of your diet is the most powerful way to experience lasting results. Here’s why clean eating works for sustainable fat loss:
- Whole foods help you regulate your calorie intake because they’re typically lower in calories. For instance, a cup of raw blueberries has only 84 calories (*). Meanwhile, a cup of dried blueberries has 394 calories (*).
(When it comes to calories, it’s important to remember that a calorie deficit isn’t the only thing that matters for weight loss. The source of your calories matters, too. And our example demonstrates that not only do real foods control your calorie intake, but they’re also excellent sources of calories.)
- Unprocessed or minimally processed foods are more satiating than those that are highly processed. Furthermore, highly processed foods also have a higher glycemic index — meaning, they’re more likely to raise blood glucose levels (*).
- Whole foods aren’t as palatable (fragrant, tasty, and visually appealing) as their ultra-processed counterparts, which means that you’re less likely to overindulge in whole foods (*).
4. Costs Less In the Long Run
Some people think that eating healthily is expensive. But, as it turns out, diets rich in processed foods cost more since they increase your risk of having a disease and getting hospitalized.
For instance, a meta-analysis of 27 existing studies from 10 high-income countries noted that healthier diet practices cost about $1.50 more per day than the least healthy diets (*).
However, this difference is nothing compared to the financial costs of being sick.
Thus, focusing on eating cleaner is better for saving more money in the long run, especially with the help of a few cost-cutting tips.
You can check grocery stores for deals and discounts on meats and fresh produce, and stock up on them. Then, make sure you’re not wasting food (and throwing it away) by doing proper meal planning.
Dirty keto foods contain additives, including preservatives, that increase your risk of disease. Try to avoid these:
- Pork rinds (fried in vegetable oils and with added sugars)
- Processed cheese
- Deli meat (cured bacon, hotdogs, luncheon meats)
- Sugar-free soda and bottled or boxed juices
- Bunless cheeseburger from fast food restaurants
- Vegetable oils
- Low-carb packaged snacks with artificial sweeteners, vegetable oils, and other harmful additives
Below is a list of must-have foods for your next trip to the grocery. We also have a more detailed grocery shopping list for beginners which you can check out here.
What does a day of eating clean keto look like? Here’s a sample plan that you can easily follow to stay healthy all week.
- Breakfast: Cheesy breakfast tacos
- Lunch: Zucchini noodles “zoodles” and meatballs
- Dinner: Instant pot ribs
- Breakfast: Eggs and avocado slices
- Lunch: Garlic lemon zucchini pasta
- Dinner: Chicken thighs and cauliflower rice
- Breakfast: A bowl of eggs, uncured bacon, and cheddar cheese
- Lunch: Shrimp stacks
- Dinner: Instant pot pork chops
- Breakfast: Homemade keto mozzarella sticks
- Lunch: Spicy ginger salmon buddha bowl
- Dinner: Fried chicken with broccoli
- Breakfast: Eggs and spinach, topped with cheese slices
- Lunch: Spicy beef keto fajitas
- Dinner: Seared salmon with lemon sauce
- Breakfast: Bulletproof keto coffee recipe
- Lunch: Tender keto pork chops
- Dinner: Pulled pork and cauliflower rice
The good news is, certain strategies make eating keto the clean way easier for everyone, including beginners. Even better, they help you stick to this diet because of the positive changes in your health! Follow these guidelines.
1. Keep Your Fridge Well-Stocked
When it comes to starting a clean keto diet, stocking your fridge with fresh foods is essential to your success.
At the same time, throw out those unhealthy treats like cereals, bakery products, processed meats, and sugary desserts. That way, you won’t get tempted to indulge when your junk food cravings strike.
Always try to rotate your keto diet by stocking your fridge with different cuts of meat, low-carb vegetables and fruits, and nuts and seeds. By increasing the diversity of your menu, you can maximize your nutrient intake even more.
2. Do Advance Meal Prep
Meal prepping works if you follow a routine. This entails planning when and where you’ll go grocery shopping, and what meals to fill your week.
For example, you might decide to buy food on Saturday mornings at Walmart or the nearest grocery store (depending on what’s more convenient and affordable for you), then start meal prepping for the entire week on Saturday evenings.
It will help to batch cook meals that you can easily freeze. There are lots of easy keto-friendly recipes that you can batch cook like ground grass-fed beef, egg muffin cups, and bone broth.
Finally, don’t forget to create an organized grocery list. This saves you a lot of time by limiting your trips to the store, so you won’t have to buy food more than once a week — or avoid last-minute grocery runs!
3. Keep Clean Keto Snacks on Hand
Hunger can strike anytime and anywhere, which is why it’s a good idea to always be prepared by having healthy snacks. Although a huge benefit of becoming fat-adapted on keto is less hunger — and therefore, you won’t always feel the need to snack (*).
But, in case you really need a snack, here are clean keto options that require only minimal preparation:
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Nuts (macadamia, almonds, pecans, walnuts)
- Veggie sticks
- Slices of cheese
- Tuna and lettuce wraps
For a grab-and-go option, you can try Perfect Keto’s snacks such as keto bars, nut butters, and cookies. We use clean ingredients with no sugars and preservatives to support your health while making clean keto easy.
4. Try Some Healthy Food Swaps
Making swaps for everyday foods is easy once you familiarize yourself with clean keto foods.
For example, instead of a bunless restaurant cheeseburger or hamburger patties with preservatives, you can make your own version at home by combining:
- Grass-fed ground beef
- Sea salt
- Your choice of spices
Then form patties with the mixture, and fry them. Finally, top a patty with unprocessed cheese. This is just one of the many tasty alternatives to try whether you’re preparing a meal or snack.
5. Cook with the Right Fats
Healthy fat sources to cook clean keto meals include coconut oil, olive oil, grass-fed butter, ghee, lard, and tallow.
Coconut and olive oil undergo only minimal processing, while animal fats can be obtained by simply cooking fatty parts of meat and straining the drippings to remove debris.
In case you’re wondering about MCT oil, a fat source and keto-friendly supplement — yes, you can cook or bake with it, on top of adding it to coffee or tea.
However, take note that MCT oil has a smoke point of 302 degrees fahrenheit, which is lower than coconut oil’s smoke point of 350 degrees fahrenheit (* , *). This means that you can’t use MCT oil for deep frying. Furthermore, avoid exceeding its smoke point; otherwise, it will affect the flavor of your food.
On the other hand, avoid vegetable oils like sunflower oil, safflower oil, canola oil, corn oil, and soybean oil. These oils are often used in salad dressings, margarine, and other processed foods. You’ll want to stay away from them because of their high omega-6 content, which can promote inflammation and contribute to the development of heart disease, obesity, and inflammatory bowel disease (*).
The clean keto diet is a very low-carb eating approach that focuses on unprocessed or minimally processed foods. It’s not as difficult as it sounds, as long as you know what to eat and avoid, and tips to increase your success.
We’ve discussed everything you need to know about clean keto in this article, including a shopping list and a 7-day meal plan. To support you in eating cleaner, we offer a variety of high-quality keto snacks that meet your weight loss, wellness, and performance goals.
Last but not least, it helps to hold yourself accountable each day by tracking what you eat. In that case, you might want to try our Health Journey 360 Scorecard which doesn’t only track your clean keto nutrition — but also your mindfulness and movement as part of overall health.