Keto Lingo Simplified

So what’s this “fad” diet that is all over social media and the internet called keto? And what do all the words mean like dirty keto, clean keto, keto, ketogenic or for that matter what is low carb?

Slow down — you don’t have to know all of the terms.  As the ketogenic diet has become very popular, terms are flying everywhere and making this lifestyle protocol far more complicated that it needs to be.

First off, no one diet works for everyone.  Fortunately, you are unique and that calls for a plan to fit your personal body. How? Well, that depends on you and how your body responds. My job as a keto health coach is to help you figure out what works for your body to achieve your goals and make it doable for a lifetime.  After all, who wants to be trying every new diet on the horizon? Not me.  I’m done with that.

This month I want to look at some of the keto lingo that might be muddying the waters of making keto doable for you.  As each new author, experiementer, dieter, celebrity or trainer enters the keto waters, they seem to bring new terms to the table to separate them from the masses.  Instead, I feel is makes the whole keto lifestyle complicated, much more complicated than it needs to be.

I. A Little Keto History

[The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living by Jeff S. Volek, PhD, RD, and Stephen D. Phinney, MD, PhD, Beyond Obesity: 2011]

No, the ketogenic diet is not new.  It has been around in various forms being called low carbohydrate, low carb high fat, keto or even Atkins through the decades.  Some claim that William Banting did when he wrote a pamphlet called, Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public in 1863. In this booklet, Banting outlined his personal testimony of his dietary changes of avoiding sugar, starch, beer, milk and butter, and enjoying meat, greens, fruits and dry wine. (If you want to check it out for yourself click HERE).  According to Volek and Phinney, “Recent examples of these low carbohydrate nomadic cultures were the Masai herdsmen in Central Africa, the Bison People of North American Great Plains, and the Inuit in the Arctic.” (p 2) Interestingly, many of our ancestors were not exposed to high carbohydrate diets until a few millennia ago. Fast forward to the last couple of hundred years where our doctors and politicians have hailed carbohydrates and demonized fats. The result? Look around you and you’ll see a number of obese and sick people.  I would support what Volek and Phinney suggest — insulin resistance or carbohydrate intolerance are driving the obesity epidemic and possibly a number of metabolic diseases. (p 3)

Quotable: “The human brain needs fat and cholesterol for proper functioning, and it can be fueled by either glucose or ketones.”

Jimmy Moore, Keto Clarity (Victory Belt Publishing, 2014) p 217. 

II. Keto Lingo Untangled

  • Carnivore diet: (the latest diet crave since keto!) a strictly meat- or animal-based diet; unlike keto, carnivore is essentially zero-carbs with the exception of organ meat, which contain some carbs; removing carbs may lead to improved insulin sensitivity and reduced inflammation
  • Clean keto: ketogenic supportive foods that come from whole and natural foods with healthy fats, moderate high-quality protein, and low nutrient-dense carbohydrates; macronutrient breakdown that supports low carb, moderate protein and higher fat (includes body and dietary fat)
  • Cyclic keto: incorporating a day or two of carbohydrate consumption in a week and following a keto diet the rest of the days
  • Dirty keto: same macronutrient breakdown as clean keto, but their sources may include refined and processed ketogenic foods like conventional dairy/cheese, pork rinds and fast-food burgers (without the bun, of course); check out this post HERE or HERE or HERE
  • Eating window: the timeframe that your eating falls within; for example, you “break the fast” at 9AM and you conclude eating at 3PM then fast from 3PM until you break your fast; usually used in conjunction with intermittent fasting
  • Fat-adapted: as defined by Healthful Pursuit’s Leanne Vogel, “is state of pure fat-burning where your body has climatized to low-carb eating enough that it sees fat as its primary fuel source. This fat adaptation process can take two, three, sometimes four weeks to complete after beginning to eat keto.”
  • Fatty Acids: building blocks of fat (one of 3 macronutrients) in food and the body; during digestion fat is broken down into fatty acids, which can be absorbed into the blood 
  • Intermittent fasting [IF]: fasting in intervals such as 16 hours without food and 8 hours of eating; simply put, periods of no food with periods of normal eating
  • Keto: abbreviation for ketogenic
  • Ketoacidosis: typically only occurs in diabetics, specifically type I; a metabolic state where blood glucose levels and ketone bodies are both high; check HERE for a list of symptoms
  • Keto-adapted: a stage where the body and cells can use fat as the primary fuel source; often leads to fewer cravings, feeling full longer, improved moods, improved sleep and increased energy
  • Keto flu: symptoms associated with the body adapting to a ketogenic diet; usually a result of electrolyte imbalance and/or dehydration; symptoms like nausea, constipation, headaches, fatigue/low energy, moodiness and possible food/sugar cravings (body’s demand for glucose)
  • Ketogenesis: the biochemical process of breaking fatty acids into ketones/ketone bodies
  • Ketones: created by the liver and made from free fatty acids during fat metabolism; body has no storage capacity for ketones, so must excreted or used; typically produced during carbohydrate restriction or fasting
  • Ketone bodies: also called ketones; compounds include acetone, acetoacetic acid and beta-hydroxbutyric acid
  • Ketosis: a metabolic state where the body uses ketones (fat burner) for fuel instead of glucose or glycogen (sugar burner)
  • Ketovore: a blend of carnivore and keto; more flexibility for those who want to eat more animal proteins and occasional or some low-carb vegetables and/or fruit and, spices
  • Lazy Keto: a low-carb approach with a belief in the science of ketogenic diet — laid-back approach to the keto trend; this approach removes careful macro tracking and puts a loose tracking of the carbohydrate intake to under 50 grams per day; not likely to become keto-adapted or reach nutritional ketosis though
  • Low carbohydrate/carb: carbohydrates are one of the 3 macronutrients used by the body for energy; for true ketogenic diet would account for 20 grams of total carbs; for moderate LC diet total carbs are generally 20-50 grams and a liberal LC diet consists of 50-100 grams of total carbs
  • LCHF: abbreviation for Low Carb/High Fat
  • Metabolic flexibility: the capacity of your metabolism to match fuel source to fuel availability; ability to switch between burning carbs (glucose as fuel) and burning fat (ketones as fuel); Mark Sisson explains this concept HERE
  • Nutritional ketosis: shifting the body’s primary fuel preference from glucose to ketone bodies; blood ketone levels 0.5-3.0 mmol/L (millimoles per litre)
  • Targeted keto: consuming carbs around workout or competition sessions and maintaining a ketogenic diet the rest of the time; thought to improve athletic gains and exercise performance
  • Well-formulated ketogenic/keto diet: a term coined by Volek and Phinney; according to Craig and Maria Emmerich in their book, Keto, “it is nutrient-dense…supplies enough protein to preserve lean [body] mass…reduces carbs to ensure that you stay in ketosis,…[and] helps you remember that to lose fat, you need to use more stored body fat and less dietary fat…” (p 77)

I am sure I have missed a term or two, but this is a good start of the most common ketogenic diet terminology. As I discover more terms you might be curious about, I will add them to above list.

III Resources

William Banting, Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public,1863

Maria and Craig Emmerich, Keto (Las Vegas: Victory Belt Publishing, 2018)

Jimmy Moore, Keto Clarity (Las Vegas: Victory Belt Publishing, 2014)

Dr Oz,

Mark Sisson, “Definitive Guide to Metabolic Flexibility,” Mark’s Daily Apple blog:

Jeff S. Volek, PhD, RD, and Stephen D. Phinney, MD, PhD, The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living, Beyond Obesity, 2011.

Drop me an email or call me to arrange your FREE Discovery Chat. Keto can work, but let’s design it for your body.  What’s stopping you?  Make the choice today to live a healthier, more vibrant lifestyle, and enjoy life again.

Quotable: “The best project you will ever work on is you.”

About Brenda

Brenda loves learning and sharing what she's learning with you. She is a certified keto/carnivore coach with Keto-Adapted (Maria and Craig Emmerich, a certified holistic nutritional consultant (CHNC), and a natural nutrition clinical practitioner (NNCP).