With the growth in popularity of low-carb diets for weight loss, very-low-carbohydrate meal plans such as the Keto diet have gone viral with everyone wanting to try them. What makes this meal plan even more attractive is the allowance of fats in the diet. However, many people fail to differentiate between the unhealthy and healthy fats for keto.
In this article, we are shedding light on what are good fats and which ones you should avoid at all costs, show you some examples of healthy fats for keto diet, as well as how to go about incorporating these healthy fats for keto diet in your day-to-day meals.
What Are Good Fats?
When thinking about fats in general we tend to divide them into two groups: good and bad. While essentially these are the two main groups, in truth, there is more to this macronutrient than what meets the eye (7, 10).
What are the ‘bad fats’? They are identified as both saturated and trans fats and most diets call for an avoidance of them because they are seen to be potentially harmful to your health.
1. Saturated fats
The word saturated comes from the number of hydrogen atoms surrounding each carbon atom. One carbon atom holds on to as many hydrogen atoms as it can and thus a chain of the carbon atoms becomes saturated with hydrogen.
These are the most common kind of fats, especially in a Western diet. They are mostly found in animal products and will remain solid at room temperature. Are they bad for you? Yes and no.
While they are listed under ‘bad fats’ they are more of in-between; this is because when used sparingly they are perfectly safe for you but when overdone, they can cause health problems by increasing total cholesterol and ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol levels in the body with can lead to blocked arteries and heart problems. They are found in sources such as:
- Red meat and fatty cuts of meat
- Poultry skin and dark poultry meat i.e., legs, neck, and back
- Whole milk, cheese, ice cream, and other dairy products
- Lard and cocoa butter
- Coconut oil, palm oil, and other tropical oils
2. Trans fats
Now these are the worst kind of dietary fat available and should not make an appearance on any list of healthy fats for keto (or any other diet). They have no known health benefits and that there is no safe level of consumption.
Trans fats should be avoided at all costs as they have been linked to raising your LDL cholesterol while simultaneously lowering the ‘good’ HDL cholesterol levels in the body. They cause inflammation in the body which has been shown to trigger several illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, and insulin resistance, which increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
They are found in foods like microwave popcorn, frozen pizza, fried foods such as french fries, donuts and fried chicken, margarine, and baked goods, among others.
What are good fats? The best healthy fats for keto (and every other diet) are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These two kinds have multiple health benefits including (4):
- Lowering the risk of heart disease and stroke
- Preventing abnormal heart rhythms
- Lower bad LDL cholesterol levels, while simultaneously increasing good cholesterol.
- Lowering triglycerides which are associated with heart disease.
- Fighting inflammation and lowering blood pressure
- Preventing atherosclerosis, which is the hardening and narrowing of the arteries
Monounsaturated fats are defined as fat molecules that have one unsaturated carbon bond in the molecule, this is also called a double bond. Unlike saturated fats, monounsaturated fats are usually liquid at room temperature and turn solid when chilled. They are found in sources such as vegetable oils, nuts, avocados and nut butters.
On the other hand, polyunsaturated fats are fat molecules that have more than one unsaturated carbon bond in the molecule. They are essential fats – omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids – that the body needs but cannot make them and thus we have to get them from food.
What Are Healthy Fats For Keto?
Below are some goods that are high in fats but extremely healthy for you and your keto diet.
Avocado and avocado oil
The craze for avocados has taken the Western world by storm and all for good reason. Not only is this fruit delicious and can be served in multiple ways, but it also has incredible health benefits (11).
- It contains beta-sitosterol which when consumed on a regular basis can help maintain healthy cholesterol levels in the body.
- It has more potassium than a banana. Potassium can help reduce blood pressure and water retention, protect against stroke and prevent osteoporosis and kidney stones. It also helps to regulate fluid balance, muscle contractions, and nerve signals.
- Contain lutein and zeaxanthin. These two chemicals can help with your vision as they provide antioxidants that help minimize damage from UV light and reduce the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration.
- High in fiber. Dietary fiber promotes and maintains bowel movement, helps with weight loss by keeping you fuller for longer, and reduces blood sugar spikes which are related to an elevated risk of diabetes.
The high fiber in the avocado can also help significantly lower the risks of developing chronic diseases like coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and certain gastrointestinal diseases. Increased fiber intake has also been shown to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, improve insulin sensitivity, and enhance weight loss for obese individuals.
- May help prevent cancer. Some lab studies have shown that avocado extract can inhibit the growth of prostate cancer cells
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Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are good sources of protein, healthy fats, fibre, vitamins, and minerals. Nuts especially have been shown to (13):
- Improve cholesterol profiles by lowering bad cholesterol and raising good cholesterol levels in the body.
- Rich in omega-3 fatty acids which prevents erratic heart rhythms and helps reduce blood clotting.
- Help relax blood vessels and ease blood flow due to being rich in the amino acid, arginine.
- Help you stay fuller for longer – Both nuts and seeds are high in dietary fiber, fat and protein, all which work together to help you stay fuller for longer throughout the day.
Some keto friendly nuts and seeds include Brazil nuts, chia seeds, pecans, flax seeds, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, hemp seeds, peanuts, sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds, among others.
MCT stands for medium-chain triglyceride which is an oil supplement that contains medium-length chains of fats called triglycerides. MCT oil has gained popularity as it is more easily digested and has some incredible health benefits.
Some of these benefits include (1):
- Promoting weight loss. One study showed that this oil prompts the release of peptide YY and leptin, two hormones that increase the feeling of satiety. When you feel full, you are less likely to eat over your recommended calorie intake, keeping you on a calorie deficit.
MCT oil is also good for your gut health as it prompts the growth of good and beneficial probiotic bacteria which can also prompt weight loss.
- Promote ketosis. As previously stated, MCT oil is easily digested as compared to longer-chain fats meaning that not only do they travel faster from the gut to the liver, but they also do not require bile to help break them down.
Once it is quickly broken, it is then used as an immediate source of energy by the body or turned into ketones to be used as a source of energy for the brain cells. This eliminates the needs of carbs for energy which falls in line with the ketogenic diet.
- Can help boost athletic performance. It does this by reducing lactate buildup, which if left unchecked, can negatively impact exercise performance. Taking MCT oil before working out also helps you use more fats not carbs as an energy source during the gym session.
- Could help manage blood sugar levels. Which helps lower your risk of and manage diabetes.
- Could help with the management of several illnesses including Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, and autism
Other than in the keto diet, olive oil is highly encouraged in the Mediterranean diet due to its impressive health benefits (11):
- It is rich in antioxidants which fight against free radicals that if left unchecked can cause oxidative stress leading to cellular damage which can cause cancer.
- Good for your heart health. Olive oil is rich in oleic acid, a type of monounsaturated fat that is thought to help reduce your risk of heart disease.
- Helps stabilize blood sugar. In 2015, a study revealed that participants who consumed a meal with olive oil registered a 22% reduction in blood sugar levels merely two hours after the meal (5).
- Supports bone strength. A Spanish study posted online in 2018, analyzed over 520 women revealed that the women who had been consuming about 18 g of olive oil per day had higher bone density than those who had less amounts than this (9).
- Can improve metabolic syndrome by reducing inflammation, blood sugar, triglycerides, and low-density lipoprotein – LDL – cholesterol.
- May help in treating depression and anxiety.
Also known as fatty fish, they include examples such as salmon, tuna, sardines, herring, mackerel, trout, and kippers. Shellfish are also very keto-friendly. All oily fish and seafood such as shellfish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids which fall under the good polyunsaturated fats.
When consumed these omega-3 fatty acids have the following benefits (3):
- Can help lower blood pressure which reduces your risk of a heart attack.
- Can help fight depression and anxiety. Multiple studies have shown that those who take omega-3 are less likely to be depressed and those already suffering from depression and anxiety have reported an improvement in their symptoms.
- Improving eye health. DHA or Docosahexaenoic acid is an omega-3 fatty acid that is essential for brain development during pregnancy and early childhood and has been linked to improved heart health, better vision, and reduced inflammatory response. In relation to eye health, DHA helps reduce the risk of macular degeneration which is among the leading causes of permanent eye damage and blindness.
- Improved heart health. These fatty acids help reduce triglycerides, prevent and slow the development of plaque in the arteries, lower blood pressure, prevent blood clots, and reduce inflammation, all factors that put you at a greater risk of cardiovascular diseases. They also raise the levels of good cholesterol which is good for your heart.
They are good sources of healthy fats for keto. Not only are they full of healthy minerals and nutrients, but they are also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, have protein, raise the levels of good cholesterol in the body, and are filling which helps with weight loss.
Why Should You Opt For Healthy Fats On Keto?
When you look up keto diet recipes online and on YouTube, you are likely to find people heaping insane amounts of cheese, cream, butter and other no so healthy fat options in their daily food options. While there is no doubt that these foods are delicious, using healthy fats for keto is much better for your overall health.
As we stated above, some saturated fats are okay on your diet but consuming too much of them can cause cholesterol to build up in your body.
High cholesterol puts you at a higher risk of heart disease. You develop fatty deposits in your blood vessels which grow overtime eventually making it difficult for enough blood to flow through your arteries. This blockage can lead to a blood clot leading to a life-threatening or even fatal heart attacks or stroke (6).
Weight gain – while keto has been praised for its effects on weight loss, consistently opting for high calorie high fat foods can lead to weight gain. Remember that consuming too much of this macronutrient can even prevent ketosis.
How To Add Healthy Fats For Keto To Your Diet?
If you are unsure how to use these healthy fats for keto diet to increase your fat intake of the meal plan, here are some ways to do this (8):
Garnish your food
Instead of eating that dry salad or plain pasta add a tablespoon of olive oil and some cheese to your meal. Olive oil is a great option for keto and while cheese is a form of saturated fat, consuming it in moderation will not harm your health.
Add healthy fats for keto to your hot drinks
A popular keto breakfast drink is bulletproof coffee which is often made using coffee, hot water, 1 tablespoon of grass-fed butter or ghee, 1 tablespoon of MCT oil or coconut oil and a sweetener or choice e.g. stevia. Butter, ghee, and coconut oil are all fat options allowed on keto but MCT oil might be the best health benefits of them all.
Use different fat and oil options in your meals
Keto says yes to almost all kinds of butters, ghee, and cooking oils so do not be shy to experiment. Try making some shrimp in butter on one night then switch to olive oil on the next two nights, then maybe throw in a dash of sesame, avocado or peanut oil. Not only do you get to consume these healthy fats for keto but experimenting allows you to enjoy food more which may help your chances of sticking to a healthier version of the eating plan.
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Eat snacks that are high in fat
There is no better way to increase your consumption of the best healthy fats for keto than by consuming keto friendly snacks throughout the day. Some healthy keto friendly snacks that can be had on the go include avocado-egg toast, coconut chips, boiled eggs, almonds and cheese, etc.
Make fat bombs
These are low-carb keto snacks that are made from high fat and low-carb ingredients.
Take a break from leaner cuts of meat
Instead of eating chicken or turkey breast all the time, switch and eat the legs or neck which are considered darker meat and thus are high in fat. Consuming poultry skin is another way of adding some fats to your keto diet. T-bone, rib-eye, and skirt steak are some oily cuts of meat that you can order from time to time to supplement fats to your diet.
Add nuts and seeds to your smoothies, salads, and smoothie bowls
They add a bit of texture and crunch when added to any salads or smoothies bowls when blended in smoothies they add some nutty flavour and much needed healthy fats to your drink, snack or meal.
The main point to note from this section is to always choose nutrient-dense, whole foods to offer this macronutrient and avoid those that come from ultra-processed oils, meats, and fried foods, as they are quite unhealthy and will cause illnesses down the line.
What Are Some High Fat Low Protein Foods?
If you are looking for some high fat low protein foods for your keto diet, they are the same as the ones mentioned above. Your diet should consist of avocados, cheese, eggs, nuts, chia, hemp and flax seeds, olive oil and even dark chocolate. Not only are they rich in healthy fats, but they also have vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that are great for your heart and general health (2).
The Bottom Line
Healthy fats for keto are not that hard to come by. They are found in some of the most common everyday foods that we often consume without thinking twice about their nutrient contents. If you are currently on a ketogenic diet, do not be tempted to indulge in all the fatty foods that you can come across. Remember that not all fats are made the same. Always strive to pick the options that do your body more good than harm.
If you are interested in healthy meal plans, you may be curious about other methods of supporting your body health. Supplement a proper meal plan with some exercise and take up this 20 Min Full Body Workout at Home.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any medical conditions. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- 7 Science-Based Benefits of MCT Oil (2020, healthline.com)
- 10 High-Fat Foods That Are Actually Super Healthy (2017, healthline.com)
- 17 Science-Based Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids (2018, healthline.com)
- Choosing Healthy Fats (2020, helpguide.org)
- Extra virgin olive oil use is associated with improved post-prandial blood glucose and LDL cholesterol in healthy subjects (2015, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Facts about saturated fats (2018, medlineplus.gov)
- Good Fats, Bad Fats, and Heart Disease (2020, healthline.com)
- Healthful fats for keto and how to use them (2020, medicalnewstoday.com)
- Olive Oil Consumption and Bone Microarchitecture in Spanish Women (2018, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The truth about fats: the good, the bad, and the in-between (2019, health.harvard.edu)
- Why is avocado good for you? (2017, medicalnewstoday.com)
- Why nutritionists are crazy about nuts (2017, health.harvard.edu)