What is “Dirty Keto”?

So you’ve decided to commit to a Low Carbohydrate, High Fat (LCHF) or keto-type diet. Good for you! Soon you will be enjoying less brain fog, more energy, less inflammation, better immunity, decreased depression and anxiety, decreased pain, and many more benefits hard to believe in a culture struggling to survive on the Standard American Diet (SAD). There are, however, a few pointers I would like to mention before you get too far down your path.

While there is no one right way to do keto properly, there is certainly a wrong way. Unfortunately, the wrong way is what many people think of when they think keto. It is what I mean by “dirty keto” and it is one of the reasons keto has such a bad reputation. Dirty keto can actually aggravate the very conditions you are trying to remedy by committing to the keto diet. Making these dirty mistakes can increase inflammation, cause weight gain, suppress immunity, wreak havoc on your hormones, and cause digestive issues.

Since no one wants that, let’s review some common dirty habits that will derail your keto experience and explore how to avoid them.

Dirty habit #1: Valuing cheap food over good food

Quality matters when you are on this diet. You may be used to bargain shopping at the grocery store, valuing cheap food over good food. I would like you to change your mindset about this first since it is at the core of everything I will mention below. It isn’t always true, but most of the time you get what you pay for with food.

Grass-fed and finished meat, dairy, eggs, and butter are more expensive and harder to find than conventional animal products. How an animal is raised and cared for matters in the nutritional quality of the protein and fat, however. Grass-fed or wild animal fat has a significantly higher amount of Omega-3 and fewer toxins than conventionally raised animal fat, for example. Plus, how an animal is treated during its life matters from an animal welfare perspective.

This doesn’t mean you have to break the bank at the grocery store every week. Instead of buying more cheap food, buy less quality food. You actually need less food when it is of higher quality. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need as much protein as you think you do. This is not a high protein diet, it is a high-fat diet. You will be surprised at how satisfied you will be on a higher fat diet, which means you will need less food. Since meat is probably the most expensive thing on your grocery list, might I suggest buying less but focusing on quality?

If you are like me and don’t have a Whole Foods or Costco nearby, get high-quality grass-fed and finished meat delivered to your door from Butcher Box or Wild Idea Buffalo Company.

Dirty habit #2: Thinking any fat is good fat

The keto diet is an example of a Low Carbohydrate, High Fat (LCHF) diet. Fat is prized on this plan. That doesn’t mean that just any fat is green-lighted, however. Vegetable oils such as soy, sunflower, safflower, corn, cottonseed, canola, and grapeseed oils are nothing short of dangerous. Seriously. These oils are highly volatile and go rancid quickly. Rancidity is another way of saying that the molecules are breaking down. As they break down, free radicals are released. These free radicals bounce off of things and cause major damage to anything they come into contact with. Nothing is safe. Consuming vegetable oil can cause systemic inflammation affecting joints, your cardiovascular system, neurons in your brain, and more.

Once you throw out any toxic oil in your cupboard (it doesn’t have to be old, by the way, most of the oils I mentioned above are toxic right off the shelf), restock your supply with the good fats: olive, avocado, coconut, grass-fed ghee, grass-fed butter, wild duck fat, and MCT oil. Yes, these are more expensive.

Saturated fats are more stable and therefore safer. Our bodies require saturated fats for cell repair, brain structure, and the maintenance of important things like arteries. Fat does not make you fat. Let’s get over that notion right now. The quality of the fat matters, however. Again, grass-fed or wild animal fat is much preferable to conventionally raised fat because of the ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 fatty acids. Bacon is awesome! I love it, too. However, be sure to source bacon from pasture-raised pigs and choose a kind that is nitrate and sugar-free. This is really hard to find, by the way. Search for Whole30 Approved bacon or get your bacon delivered to your door from Butcher Box.

Last week we talked about MCT oil and how it is the king of fats. I use MCT oil every day. Be sure you are aware of the quality of your MCT oil, however. Most on the market today have been refined using chemicals or are of inferior quality. See What is the deal with MCT oil? for more on that.

Dirty habit #3: Not prioritizing vegetables

Since keto is a super low carbohydrate diet, many people assume that they can eat tons of protein and forget the veggies. In fact, since the Atkins Diet was originally released amid an even stronger low-fat craze than we have now, it was marketed as a high protein diet instead of high fat (ketosis wasn’t mentioned at all because it sent up alarm bells in the medical community about ketoacidosis which is a dangerous condition and completely different thing).

It is a big mistake to forgo vegetables in favor of tons of protein. Yes, all vegetables contain carbohydrates, but they also contain vitamins, minerals, polyphenols, fiber, and other important nutrients we need for optimal health. I say again, this is not a high protein diet.

When calculating carbohydrates for the day, fiber is considered an anti-nutrient. Net carbs, which are total carbs minus fiber, is the number you’re looking for. Because vegetables are full of fiber, most count for very little in the scope of things. Especially if you stick to leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables like spinach, kale, broccoli, and brussels sprouts. Save starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes and beets for refeed days and eliminate fruit altogether (I make exceptions for berries, avocado, coconut, lemons, and limes).

Vegetables should take up 2/3 to 3/4 of your plate with your protein comprising the rest. Feel free to soak your veggies in MCT oil or grass-fed butter, and sprinkle with salt, however!

Dirty habit #4: Relying on keto snacks

If you are doing keto right, after the first couple of weeks you shouldn’t be hungry between meals. In fact, many people implement intermittent fasting simply because they aren’t hungry. Fat is very satiating. When you give up the low-fat crusade and stop worrying so much about where your next meal is coming from, you will notice that you are actually consuming fewer calories simply because you aren’t eating as much food.

Keto desserts and snacks are fun and nice for special occasions, celebrations, or that odd evening when a brownie sounds good, but try not to rely on them. I would actually put the keto bread into this category as well. It’s nice to have nut flour bread as an option occasionally, but it is very easy to over-consume. Especially if you are a recovering carb addict like me. Steer clear of packaged snacks altogether if they contain vegetable oils (listed above). Don’t focus on convenience foods and packaged easy to make meals. These are more expensive and less nutritious than their whole food equivalents.

Dirty habit #5: Making ketosis (instead of health) the priority

This one will kick your butt from behind without you seeing it coming. You think ketosis is the goal on a keto diet, but it really shouldn’t be. It is the lifestyle as a whole and the way you fuel your body that will get you the results you are looking for, not ketosis itself. Mark Sisson talks a lot about this on his blog Mark’s Daily Apple.

Yes, you want to become fat adapted. So the first months are important. You do want to be strict with your diet through this phase. Once you get over the keto flu and the fog clears, however, it is being metabolically versatile–meaning you have the ability to burn both fat and glucose for energy–rather than being deep into ketosis that is most important. Don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t in ketosis every day. Focus on how you feel rather than the number on the ketometer or the color on the stick.

Cyclic keto and protein cycling might be better for you anyway. Especially for women and athletes, cyclic keto can be the smarter way to go. This means you have high days and low days, pulling you in and out of ketosis. Again, this happens after you are fat adapted. Read about cyclic keto and protein cycling on the Bulletproof blog, on Mark’s Daily Apple, and on Naomi Whittel’s blog.

If you find this useful, there’s a good chance your friends will, too. Share this with your friends right away while you are thinking of it. Thanks for reading!

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References, inspiration, and additional reading

Deep Nutrition: Why your genes need traditional food by Catherine Shanahan, M.D.

Mark’s Daily Apple

Bulletproof Blog

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