If You’re Eating These Foods, Your Keto Diet Isn’t as Clean as You Think
By: Allie Flinn
- Just because a food is keto-friendly doesn’t mean it’s helping you optimize your health.
- It’s the difference between eating clean keto (aka Bulletproof) and dirty keto
- Common (and delicious) foods that fall into this dirty keto category include cheese, bacon, mayo, and canola oil.
- These foods can all increase inflammation levels in the body, and in some cases even contain carcinogens.
If you were drawn to the ketogenic diet because you were promised copious amounts of cheese, no one would blame you. Cheese is delicious. However, “I’m on keto” does not mean you have carte blanche to eat three mozzarella cheese sticks plus a couple bites of cheddar followed by some shredded cheese eaten out of the bag in front of your fridge at midnight. It’s easy to fall into the trap of foods that are technically keto, but not good for optimizing your overall health. Like the aforementioned cheese. (And if you’re following the Bulletproof Diet or just want to feel like the most kickass version of yourself, it’s highly recommended to avoid cheese — more on that shortly.)
There’s actually a name for that way of eating: dirty keto. Instead of focusing on healthy fats like avocado and olive oil, it essentially allows for anything that fits within your daily allotment of carbs (usually around 20-50 grams). If the below foods are part of your ketogenic diet, then you’re not eating as clean as you think — and you’re definitely not eating Bulletproof. Keep reading to see which foods you should get rid of — and why.
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There’s homemade mayo using organic, pasture-raised eggs and avocado oil, and then there’s Miracle Whip. “The fatty-acid profile of conventional eggs, plus the omega-6 dose of the oil used to make conventional mayo is pro-inflammatory,” Dana Hunnes, PhD, MPH, RD, senior dietician at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center says. Plus she says it could be at higher risk for antimicrobial contamination due to the lack of sanitary conditions for chickens raised in a conventional farm.
A study that analyzed the nutrient profiles of eggs from a conventional farm versus a free-range farm found that the eggs from range hens contained more monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat. These are the healthy fats that help fuel your body when you go into ketosis (aka the magical state where your body burns fat for energy).
Most conventional mayos are also made with canola oil — and you’re about to go a little deeper into why canola oil is bad with a capital “B” in a moment, and definitely a part of the dirty keto family.
If the number of recipes with cream cheese that show up when you type “keto recipes” on Pinterest is any indication, the spread is sort of the holy grail of keto foods. But if you want to do clean keto and be Bulletproof, cream cheese shouldn’t be on your plate.
“Dairy products are in general inflammatory, so I recommend most people stay away from them,” Hunnes says. Cream cheese also contains the milk protein casein, which Hunnes says is potentially carcinogenic. Casein tends to be inflammatory, especially if you can’t tolerate it, which could create a possible link between cancer and the milk protein.
Perhaps the only thing more divisive than politics is canola oil. People have thoughts about it. Given the research available, Bulletproof and a growing number of nutrition experts are of the opinion that you should toss your canola oil. Canola oil is extracted via a process called hexane solvent extraction. This process uses chemicals and high heat to extract the oil and process it, and the final product is high in oxidation and trans fats. In studies, canola oil has been linked to lower antioxidant levels in the body and lung inflammation.
If you’re on keto and have a sweet tooth, keep this sweetener out of reach. Artificial sweeteners have no place in a clean keto diet like Bulletproof, for several reasons. A recent study in rats found that sucralose does not pass through the body undigested as previously thought. They also found that it showed up in rats’ fat deposits two weeks after the animals had stopped eating it, raising concerns about safety. Other research shows the low-carb sweetener wreaks havoc on your gut, worsening inflammation in people with conditions like Crohn’s disease. Besides, if you’re using the non-pure version of sucralose (e.g. Splenda), it’s loaded with fillers that skyrocket its glycemic index up to about 80 — that’s higher than sugar.
Meat With Sulfites
Processed meats, like hot dogs, deli meat and sausages, typically contain sulfites. “Sulfites are not healthy for anyone, they are carcinogenic and may be harmful to people with respiratory disorders,” Hunnes says. “Also, processed meats are carcinogenic (class I) according to the World Health Organization.” Beyond that, sulfites can cause certain vitamins — like folate, thiamine, and nicotinamide — in your food to break down more rapidly and you miss out on those nutrients. Thiamineand nicotinamide have been shown to have powerful neuroprotective properties, and folic acid helps with DNA production. So, yeah, pretty important stuff.
Just when you thought your midnight-snacking of shredded cheese could be considered a healthy habit thanks to keto… (You kid, you knew it was too good to be true all along.) Cheese in general is not recommended on clean keto or the Bulletproof Diet. Dairy proteins are among the worst offenders for allergies and inflammation. If your body doesn’t like casein, your immune system will attack every time you eat it. The reaction may be subtle and chronic, or it could trigger an autoimmune flare-up and other inflammatory conditions. Cheese also harbors tons of toxic mold from the animal’s diet.
Shredded cheese is especially problematic. Hunnes explains that shredded cheese contains additives that can be bad for our digestive tracts, plus they’re sprinkled with starches to keep the pieces from sticking together.
If you can’t have cheese on clean keto, at least you can have bacon? Well, sort of. Traditional bacon contains those pesky sulfites from before, along with nitrates (aka another carcinogen), Hunnes says. One recent study found a link between nitrate consumption and mania by looking at both humans and rats. And nitrates are a common migraine trigger — one study found that they can actually alter our oral bacteria, which is what can set off the migraines. 
Research also shows that pigs fed corn oil had significantly higher levels of cancer-causing nitrosamines in their bacon, suggesting that you should only eat bacon from pastured pigs.
To keep your keto diet as clean as possible, download the free Bulletproof Diet Roadmap, which lists the best and worst foods to eat when following a ketogenic diet. Stick with foods in the green section, and you’ll lose weight and feel amazing.
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