Whether it’s from people in your virtual fit squad, your neighbor, or an influencer you follow on Instagram, it’s highly likely that you’ve heard someone going on and on about the benefits of the ketogenic diet. Keto devotees credit the low-carb, high-fat eating plan for everything from weight loss and better cognitive function to decreased anxiety.
Here’s the thing though: There’s debate amongst health experts over whether sticking with the ketogenic diet long-term is actually healthy. And admittedly it’s not the easiest eating plan to follow. (Must…Not…Eat…Bread.) It’s no wonder many are starting to look into a tweaked version called “lazy keto.”
Basically, lazy keto eaters cut carbs to less than 20 grams a day, but don’t follow any hard and fast rules when it comes to protein or fat intake. This means followers don’t have to keep a strict macros ratio in mind, which theoretically makes the eating plan easier. But what do health experts think of lazy keto? Here, a registered dietitian and a ketogenic expert both give their insight as to whether the tweaked eating plan is worth it—or too lazy to work.
The big question many have when comparing a traditional ketogenic diet to this more simplistic version is which one is healthier. As with any eating plan, Kristin Kirkpatrick, RD, says the answer depends on your eating habits. “If you’re eating junk food, though still staying within your carb range, then it’s not healthy, especially if you are someone that feels that if carbs are just a little lower, there are no limits on protein and calories,” she says. In other words, just like a person can technically be vegan while on a steady diet of exclusively cookies and processed fake meats, it’s very possible to be a junk food keto eater, too.
Kirkpatrick says lazy keto can provide a more approachable way for people interested in reducing their carbohydrate intake, and could lead to more long-term success than going all-out keto. “The sustainability of keto for many people can be difficult,” she says. “I’ve seen it in my own patients. They do great for three to nine months, but many fall off the wagon… A keto-like concept may therefore be beneficial to some individuals who need a bit more flexibility.”
“Lazy keto is really just a lower carb diet with no other restrictions.” —Kristin Kirkpatrick, RD
Perfect Keto founder Austin Gustin, DC, MS, agrees: “Lazy keto can be great for people who get too freaked out to start a change to their nutrition if they have an aversion to counting every single calorie that goes into their body,” he says. Dr. Gustin adds that if someone has a tendency to get overly fixated on food (think: obsession over counting macros or calories), lazy keto’s more relaxed framework could help someone make healthy changes without leaning all the way in to the more restrictive ketogenic diet.
However, Kirkpatrick says that if your goal is to achieve ketosis (you know, when your body switches from burning carbs to fat for energy, which comes with the potential benefits of mental clarity and increased energy), lazy keto isn’t going to get you there. “Lazy keto is really just a lower carb diet with no other restrictions,” she says—if people aren’t tracking their protein and fat intake along with their carbs, they likely won’t find the sweet spot that will help them achieve ketosis.
Both Kirkpatrick and Dr. Gustin say following a lazy keto diet can be beneficial if practiced mindfully. “As long as people are eating real food, they probably aren’t going to be overeating because of how satiating a high-fat real food diet is,” Dr. Gustin says.
While lazy keto followers are likely not going to hit ketosis, Kirkpatrick points to a 2018 study that links a moderate carb diet to longevity and better overall health, which she says makes a good argument for being mindful of carbohydrate intake. (This is still up for debate in the health community— two other studies published in 2018 looking at low-carb diets found contradictory results about their benefits.) “It’s also worth noting that the study shows that the best results were achieved when plant sources of protein and fat replaced the carbs in the diet,” she adds. Think of a plate full of low-carb fruits and vegetables, some lean or plant-based proteins, and healthy fats like nuts, olive oil, and avocado and you’ve got the right idea.
Dr. Gustin adds that it’s important to not mistake lazy keto for dirty keto, which he defines as “eating any low-quality foods as long as they hit your macros.” The former can be healthy; the latter is not, he says. “If people are guzzling down liquid fats and drinking butter coffees all day long on the side of their endless fake food keto desserts, they probably aren’t going to find the results they are looking for,” he says. Kirkpatrick agrees: “I would not want someone to think that it’s a free-for-all in food choices if you simply limit carbs a little,” she says. Both experts emphasize that whole food choices are best.
Dr. Gustin also says that because this diet is more simplistic, many people might not feel the need to track their carb intake so they end up not knowing how many carbs they’re truly eating. “Some people who aren’t used to keto and how many carbs are in certain foods might think there are fewer carbs than there are,” he says, which is why it’s important to still read labels and be aware of what’s on your plate even if you’re not counting out all your specific macros.
It’s also crucial to recognize that no one eating plan is right for everyone, and carbohydrate needs in particular can be unique from person to person (especially among women). That’s why Kirkpatrick always recommends that people considering a new eating plan discuss it first with a doctor or a dietitian. That advice applies to something even as seemingly chill as lazy keto.
All of that said, Kirkpatrick says that lazy keto can be a “great alternative” to traditional keto for people who struggle to stick with it—or who are wary about the long-term potential effects of the restrictive eating plan. Depending on a person’s individual needs, getting “lazy” with eating could be the way to go.