If you’re on the keto diet, it’s all about those fats—literally, about 80 percent of your daily calories come from it! And since you’re cutting carbs to around 20 net grams a day and keeping protein moderate, you really are getting your main sources of nutrition and fuel from fats all day long. So, it’s pretty important to get the right kinds of fats to better your body and get those weight loss, health-promoting results you’re looking for.
Yet, which are the best fats to choose on keto? It’s a misconception that all fats are fair game and created equal—you should not be eating piles of butter and bacon when going keto. Not only are fried, greasy foods bad for your health, but also they’ll probably lead to weight gain, which defeats the whole purpose of taking on the ketogenic diet. Instead, treat unhealthier fats as a treat and stick to clean, nourishing fats for the most part, like avocado, nuts, grass-fed beef and fatty fish.
For a clearer breakdown, here are the best and worst options to choose, backed by experts.
The Best Fats to Eat on Keto
Organic, Grass-Fed Animal Products
“Organic range fed/grass fed animal products contain more healthy fats and especially more omega 3 fats,” says Randall Evans, MS, RDN, LD. That means you can eat animal meat, like steak, chicken, and pork, as well as eggs. “They also contain a better and more anti inflammatory balance of omega 6 to omega 3 fats being range fed and not grain fed (more omega 3 and less omega 6 than conventional meats),” he adds.
Remember, healthy fats are very anti-inflammatory, meaning they’re great for your health and can aid in weight loss and weight management.
Prepare meat and eggs for hearty meals and add on some other good fats to complement the fat in the meat, such as an avocado topper or a creamy yogurt sauce. You can even make a keto-approved breading with nuts or seeds. You’ll get some good protein and fats for strengthening and repairing muscle damage (great post-workout!) and have higher levels of satiety to avoid cravings.
Wild, Fatty Fish
“Wild cold water fatty fish like salmon or tuna contain good amounts of anti inflammatory omega 3 fats,” says Evans.
These healthy fats can lower risk of disease, like heart disease, and keep your body in tip-top-shape. Fish is also a good source of protein for fuel and muscle building, which is also needed when on keto.
Nuts and Seeds
“Unless there is a known sensitivity most people use nuts, seeds and nut butters. We prefer raw versions of these as commercial roasting can damage the omega 3, 6, and 9 fats,” says Evans. Store them in a cool area, like a fridge or freezer to keep the healthy omega fats fresh, he says.
Plus, you can add a little sea salt to nuts and seeds if you need a salty pinch to balance out electrolytes after a workout. Feel free to add nut butter or almonds and pistachios to yogurt and smoothies, or you can add to toss the nuts into a veggie stir-fry or eat the nut butter straight out of the jar.
There are a few keto specific nut butters you can also enjoy, which have MCTs in addition to nuts for more fats, like Perfect Keto’s Nut Butter, for instance.
Enjoy your favorite green fruit when on keto (since most other fruits are off limits).
“Avocados have a ton of micronutrients and things like potassium which are often challenging to get on a Ketogenic diet,” says Dr. Ryan Lowery, PhD, co-founder of The Applied Science and Performance Institute, author of the Ketogenic Bible, and CEO of Ketogenic.com. Since keto can lead to dehydration, it’s important to get enough potassium to balance out electrolytes.
There are a few carbs, but they’re low net.
“An avocado does have carbs usually about 10-12 grams which most people think rules them out. But looking closer you see about 9 grams of the total carb is fiber meaning it is still pretty low carb,” says Evans. And the fat content is huge!
“The fat content is about 21 grams along with some protein. It is a great addition to a ketogenic diet which some people think does not give enough fiber,” he says.
Using real whole foods, like crunchy veggies, to pair with avocado dip can help boost fiber intake and provide other vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Coconut Oil and MCTs
“Coconut oil is for sure a top fat for most keto crazies. For years we demonized the saturated fat in coconut oil as being the primary case of cardiovascular disease but there was little science behind that claim and at least 20 years of new science support coconut oil as a healthy alternative to many of the commercially heat and chemical processed oils like corn, soy, safflower, sunflower, canola, and peanut,” says Evans.
“MCTs and coconut oil can help increase endogenous ketone production and coconut oil has lauric acid, which has been shown to have antimicrobial and antibacterial properties,” says Lowery.
Plus, you’ll really get the fats you’re looking for if you use coconut oil. “The advantage coconut oil has being mostly a medium chained saturated fat/oil is these oils are less damaged by heat when cooking,” says Evans. Medium-chained saturated fats in coconut oil, and especially the shorter ones that are used to make MCT oil, are very ketogenic, meaning they are more quickly absorbed that other longer-chain fats and can then be converted to ketones by the liver.
Coconut oil has a mixture of fats, which for the most part are C6, C8, C10, and C12, which is the carbon length of the medium chain fats. The shorter the carbon length the more ketogenic, says Evans.
In addition to coconut and MCT oil, you can also have coconut, avocado, or grapeseed. Just steer clear of the oils Evans mentioned, which don’t contain heart-healthy, beneficial fats.
The Worst Fats to Eat on Keto
“Vegetable oils are commonly used on a Ketogenic diet and should be avoided. They are inflammatory and when consumed in large amounts can stall progress and cause inflammation,” says Lowery.
Vegetable oils shouldn’t just be monitored when cooking at home but also in packaged foods, even those that are top sources of fats on the keto diet. “
“Additionally some nuts and nut butters need to be consumed in moderation. Not only do a lot of them have vegetable oils, but they also are easy to over-consume and can rack up your calories and carbs fast,” he says. The best way to handle this issue is to get your nuts and seeds raw or simply roasted with tons of vegetable oils and other weird additives from processing.
Butter and Cream Cheese
While grass-fed butter and cream cheese can be okay in moderation (what’s a low-carb bagel with it?), it’s not really a “good” fat like the others, as excess saturated fat from butter can be bad for your heart. Plus, there are just better cooking options that offer healthier fats, like the oils mentioned above. In comparing the two, you’re way better off having a heart-healthy oil, like olive oil or coconut oil, than slabs of butter and cream cheese, both of which don’t offer much nutrition.
Be wary of packaged dressings and sauces, which likely have carbs and sugars, making them not keto approved. Whip up your own creamy, rich dressing at home instead, like an avocado green goddess dressing, or use olive oil for your salad.
“Again, these typically have vegetable oils and what I call ‘sneaky’ carbs. You just need to be mindful that you can’t have ‘unlimited’ amounts of Ranch, etc. just because you are keto [and they are high in fat],” says Lowery.
Meats with Nitrates
You also don’t want to gorge yourself on bacon and sausages all morning or other fattening meats that contain nitrates and nitrites from processing (think processed deli meats, greasy bacon cooked in bad fats at a diner, and more).
These foods aren’t good for your heart and raise your risk of cancer, as research shows. They are also super high in sodium, which can lead to heart disease and make you bloated and puffy (not ideal when you’re trying to slim down, now).
Stick with cleaner cuts of meat that are grass-fed and organic or that say “nitrate and nitrite free” on packaging. These can be super appropriate for keto and they won’t jeopardize your health.
You might love those fat bomb desserts, but if you’re getting a packaged dessert that’s keto-friendly be sure to read the ingredient list. You want to make sure you’re not getting trans fats, vegetable oils, and other bad foods, or even too much fat (yes, you can have too much if you don’t keep it to 80 percent of your daily intake!). Plus these desserts often are treats and don’t have much protein and other nutrients to fuel you. Don’t eat desserts for various meals and snacks as a substitute for whole foods.
How to Best Manage Your Intake
Aim for bulking up on fats by adding fats to other fatty items, says Lowery, where you get some fat in with each meal. Think—putting a grass-fed egg on a burger with avocado or sprinkling chia seeds and avocado drizzle on top of a tuna poke bowl.
“Ketogenic.com has a great keto calculator to help people get started that can provide a guide of where to start with your carb, protein, and fat content,” he says. “It’s important to keep everything in context,” he adds.
Is it okay to consume some of the “bad” fats once in a while? Absolutely. “I’d rather someone make this a lifestyle and something sustainable than burning and crashing because they were afraid to have some ranch dressing or something along those lines,” says Lowery. But treat those not-so-great fats as indulgences, rather than a daily snack or meal.
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