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The majority of your calories on the keto diet comes from healthy fats. But wrapping your head around eating that much fat isn’t as easy as it sounds!
For years, there’s been a misconception about fats being bad for us. We’ve heard all the stories – too much fat leads to heart disease, weight gain, and a host of other ailments.
But science doesn’t actually back those claims up with evidence. The truth is we need healthy fats for essential bodily functions.
The primary purpose of fat in your diet is for energy. But fat plays other roles as well, like providing essential fatty acids, promoting the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E, and K, and helps promote the production of healthy cells.
But not all fats are good for you. It’s important to know the difference between healthy fats and bad fats if you’re going to have success on the keto diet.
Healthy Fats Are Crucial On a Keto Diet
The keto diet is a low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) diet. This is different than just a low-carb diet because on the keto diet you’re increasing your fat intake where on a low-carb diet you’re more focused on just reducing carbs.
This is an important distinction to note. If you’re just eating fewer carbs, but not focusing on eating healthy fats, you’re not really “doing” keto.
When you’re no longer consuming carbs your glucose and blood sugar levels will drop which prompts insulin to release your fat stores. Once that fat is released, it will head to the liver to get turned into ketones which your body will burn for energy. If you’d like to learn more about the keto diet, check out The Beginner’s Guide to the Keto Diet.
The reason fat is so important on the keto diet is because you need to replace the calories you used to get from carbs.
There are 3 primary macronutrients that comprise the main components of every diet:
Once you stop consuming carbs, the calories that were associated with them are also gone. A calorie deficit (taking in fewer carbs than you burn) is a major factor in weight loss. But not eating enough calories isn’t healthy either. If you’re consuming too few calories it can lead to metabolic or other health issues.
You also need a certain amount of protein for your body to function its best. A lack of protein can lead to muscle loss, fatigue, weight gain, and a constant feeling of hunger.
So to sum it up, on the keto diet you need to restrict carbs in order to reduce the glucose your body is used to burning for energy and start burning fat, increase your healthy fat intake to replace the lost calories from carbs, and eat enough protein to keep your muscles strong and healthy.
Types Of Healthy Fats
Just because you need to eat a lot of fat on the keto diet doesn’t mean you should just gobble up any kind of fat and call it good.
There are both healthy fats and fats that aren’t so good for you. The keto diet emphasizes healthy and “clean” eating habits. Your best bets for choosing fats to consume are those which come from natural and organic sources like plants and animals.
Further, there are 4 main groups of fats:
- Saturated fats
- Monounsaturated fats
- Polyunsaturated fats
- Trans Fats
Let’s dive into each type of fat so you can recognize them and make smart food choices.
Saturated fats have had a bad rap over the years from health and medical professionals who’ve touted that too much saturated fat is bad for your heart. As a result, we’ve been told to reduce the number of saturated fats in our diet.
But recent research has disproven this and it’s been shown that saturated fat actually has health benefits.
Saturated fat can improve both HDL and LDL cholesterol levels. In fact, it’s been shown that it can raise HDL levels (the good cholesterol) which prevents the buildup of LDL (the bad cholesterol).
Besides cholesterol, saturated fat can also help your immune system, improve bone density, and help create cortisol and testosterone.
Best Saturated Fats For Keto
- Coconut Oil
- Red Meat
Monounsaturated fats haven’t had quite the image problem as saturated fats. These fats have generally been accepted as healthy fats for some time and have been linked to improved HDL/LDL cholesterol levels as well as improved insulin resistance.
Monounsaturated fats can also reduce belly fat and lower your risk for heart disease.
Best Monounsaturated Fats for Keto
- Olive oil
- Nut oils like sunflower and macadamia
Polyunsaturated fats can be confusing. This is a case where quality matters and you should understand the source of any polyunsaturated fat before you eat it.
Your safest choice when it comes to polyunsaturated fats is to choose a natural source like fish or nuts. Healthy polyunsaturated fats contain omega 3 (mostly fish) and omega 6 (seeds and nuts) nutrients. You want to strike a balance between the 2.
Polyunsaturated fats can also be found in highly processed food like vegetable oils and margarine which you should avoid as much as possible.
The right kind of polyunsaturated fats can reduce your risk for heart disease and strokes and also support a healthy immune system.
Best Polyunsaturated Fats for Keto
- Fatty fish (tuna, salmon, swordfish, sardines, trout, pollock)
- Fish oil (if you don’t like fish)
- Nut oils like sunflower and macadamia
- Chia seeds
- Extra virgin olive oil
Trans fats are another confusing area when it comes to the keto diet. It’s fairly well known that trans fats are bad for us. Trans fats are present in many processed foods and we’re usually told to avoid them altogether.
But trans fats are also found in natural sources such as grass-fed beef and dairy.
It’s a good idea to limit your intake of trans fats as much as possible, especially if it’s coming from highly processed foods. But also know that trans fat from a natural source isn’t necessarily bad for you.
The healthy trans fats can also reduce your risk of heart disease as well as diabetes and obesity.
Best Trans Fats for Keto (Natural Sources ONLY)
- Grass-fed meat or dairy products
- Dairy fats found in butter or full-fat yogurt
Fats to Avoid on Keto
Hopefully, by now you understand that you should be consuming healthy food from a natural source as much as you can.
Avoiding processed food and opting for fresh veggies, grass-fed animal products, and organic food will get you most of the way there.
We’ve covered some of the unhealthy fats above but l want to go into a little more detail about the fats you should avoid and why.
Processed Foods, Trans Fats, and Polyunsaturated Fats
A processed food by definition is any food that’s been through a mechanical or chemical process that changes it or is meant to preserve it.
By that definition, even cooking or freezing food would qualify as processing it. But when we talk about avoiding processed foods, we mean the canned or boxed variety. The ones with ingredients you won’t find in any home kitchen.
The things food companies do to food in order to extend shelf-life or market them as “healthy” (low-fat foods, I’m looking at you) add unhealthy fats and ingredients that we just shouldn’t eat.
Foods that are packaged as “low-fat” often have added sugar and salt in order to improve flavor. Because food without fat tastes gross and no one would eat it. So-called low-fat food can actually have MORE calories than the full-fat version.
Trans fats are produced from the processing of polyunsaturated fats. Hydrogenation turns liquid unsaturated fat into a solid and gives food a longer shelf-life. Food companies use unsaturated fat because it’s cheaper. When you’re looking at food labels and see “hydrogenated oil” it’s best to just walk away.
Eating too much trans fat can increase your risk of heart disease and cancer, increase your “bad” LDL cholesterol and lower HDL, and also isn’t good for gut health.
How to Increase Healthy Fat Intake
There are a lot of components to getting the right kind of fat and the right amount of it into your diet.
Many people struggle with consuming enough fat at the beginning of the keto diet. It’s directly in opposition to everything we’ve been taught about healthy eating habits so it can be hard to fully embrace a full-fat lifestyle.
There are a lot of ways to get more fat into your diet and hit your macros every day.
Eat Full-Fat Dairy
Choose full-fat dairy products like sour cream, milk, cream cheese, and cheese.
Because of the added sugars, low-fat or fat-free foods have higher carbs than the regular old full-fat versions.
You’ll not only be increasing your intake of healthy fat you’ll also avoid adding unnecessary carbs!
Choose Fatty Fish and Meats
Again, this requires a change in mindset. You might be used to opting for skinless chicken and lean cuts of meat. But to get and stay in ketosis, you want to choose fatty fish and meat!
Add Fats to Your Vegetables
Cook veggies in butter, olive oil, lard or ghee. If you’re not a vegetable lover, cooking your vegetables in fat will make it taste a lot better!
Keep a Stash of Keto Fat Bombs Handy
Fat bombs are extremely popular among keto dieters. A lot of times they’re used to satisfy cravings for sweets but the real benefit is to give you a boost of healthy fat. Here are recipes for keto fat bombs to get you started.
But don’t rely on fat bombs as the primary source of your fat intake. They’re great for a treat but make sure that you’re getting fats from meats, nuts, and dairy too. And check out some of our other posts on keto:
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