You’ve probably heard this already, but it’s worth repeating: there is no one perfect diet for humans. While we are generally more similar than different, we are all still different—with different genetic backgrounds, environmental stressors, goals, and preferences.
Because of our unique and fascinating bio-individuality, it is up to each of us to learn about and experiment with different approaches to diet and find the one that’s best suited to us. When we find this perfect diet, we have to keep in mind that it may change as we grow, age, face different challenges, and find our goals evolving.
Across the board, a great starting point is always to cut processed foods and sugar and focus on unprocessed, whole foods—ones that don't have an ingredient list. After that, the sky's the limit: you can tweak and finesse your approach in search of the greatest benefits to how you look, feel, and perform.
What Are The Basics Of The Keto Diet?
Before we outline the main types of ketogenic diets, here's a little refresher on the basics.
At its core, keto is a high-fat, low carb diet, with moderate protein intake. The idea behind it is that a drastic reduction in carb intake will force your body into a metabolic state called ketosis. In ketosis, your body doesn't have any carbohydrates to use for energy so it burns fat instead. The chemicals responsible for this process are called ketones.
Keto was originally used in medicine to help patients control epilepsy. Because it allows the body to maintain a low but healthy level of glucose, it can also be beneficial for people with type 2 diabetes. Another important principle of any keto diet is that it should be built on whole, unprocessed foods—as mentioned above.
What About Dirty Keto And Lazy Keto?
The 5 types of keto we discuss below do not include the popular "lazy keto" or "dirty keto" diets.
What is lazy keto? It's simply a modification of the standard ketogenic diet (SKD) that focuses on restricting carb intake but does not require dieters to track or balance other macros or monitor their total calorie intake. Obviously, "lazy keto" is easier to do. However, by overlooking the other macros, it can miss the point of keto—which is not merely a low-carb diet but a high-fat diet as well.
Is the keto diet hard to follow? That depends on perspective but as is true with most things in life, you only get out what you put in.
What about "dirty keto"? This variation of SKD that allows you to eat unhealthy and processed foods such as fast-food burgers, provided you stick with the restriction of carbohydrates. Basically, eat the patty and ditch the bun. But can McDonald's really be keto-friendly? It certainly doesn't sound healthy to us. Instead, we'll be focusing on targeted keto diet plans with various potential benefits.
5 Types of Ketogenic Diets
Even within the ketogenic diet, there are many approaches you can take. Just because you’re an elite athlete, struggling with an autoimmune condition, a vegetarian, or even someone who doesn’t like avocados (gasp!) doesn’t mean keto won’t work for you.
Below, we’ve listed a few different targeted keto diet approaches to provide you with a starting point for your own research.
1. Plant-Based Keto
Just ask Dr. Will Cole, author of Ketotarian, about plant-based keto. He'll convince you that a nutrient-dense, whole-foods, and plant-based approach to keto absolutely can be done.
Think about it: some of the most popular and nutritious fat sources are plant-based: avocados, nuts, coconut and olive oil, and the list goes on.
Of course, doing plant-based keto will take more effort than the standard keto diet. You'll have to work harder to make sure you're getting adequate levels of complete proteins while avoiding animal sources. But it can be done. Base your meals on healthy, plant-based fat sources, add vegan proteins that are keto-friendly, throw in an abundance of green leafy vegetables, and you're well on your way!
2. Keto Carnivore
The polar opposite of plant-based keto is the keto carnivore. But eating only animal products can be tricky because too much protein is known to kick people out of ketosis. However, if you're following a meat-based diet or eating strict carnivore for personal health reasons, a simple keto—or at least keto-adjacent—approach can be to focus your attention on portion sizes and opt for the fatty cuts of meat.
Keep in mind that for many people, “eating keto” doesn’t mean you have to reach a certain ketone level or test your blood glucose every day. Simply cutting most carbohydrates from your diet is enough to help many people achieve the health benefits they’re seeking—and a carnivore/keto mashup can accomplish this.
Anecdotally, many individuals who were having issues on a paleo or keto diet heavy in vegetables found that their overall health, energy, and digestion improved on a strict carnivore diet.
3. Cyclical Keto
Want to “be keto” and have your carbs too? Perhaps you’re training for an athletic goal or working hard to gain muscle mass. If you can't do without your carb days, cyclical keto might be the answer you're looking for.
You can be “mostly keto” to maximize autophagy, fat loss, optimal cognition, and metabolic flexibility, and still work in strategic refeeds of carbohydrates to boost energy for training. And, yes, that means you can enjoy the occasional higher carb meals. We’ll talk in more depth about ways to incorporate cyclical refeeds of carbohydrates in another article.
4. Paleo Keto
In our opinion, the ideal starting point for a ketogenic diet is one that is also Paleo—that is, full of nutrient-dense whole foods rather than an abundance of packaged, processed “keto treats.” While there is certainly room for the occasional keto dessert or snack, a diet largely comprised of satisfying whole foods is a great framework to test your tolerances and macronutrient needs.
Eggs and bacon for breakfast, a steak salad for lunch, salmon and avocado for dinner: a delicious and sustainable day of keto eating that is easy, healthy, and also happens to be Paleo.
5. Therapeutic Keto
While more and more people are incorporating a keto diet for fat loss and cognitive benefits, the ketogenic diet was first adopted to treat specific illnesses such as epilepsy, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease. If you have a history of these issues in your family or are dealing with chronic disease yourself, it may be worth speaking with your doctor—or a functional medicine physician who is educated in nutrition—about your options.
Still wondering which keto diet is the best? Now that we've outlined the 5 main types, the ball is in your court to experiment which one benefits you the most. Simply start by getting rid of carbohydrates and replacing them with healthy fats. And remember, we're all different.