The importance of fat on a keto diet
The ketogenic diet and the low-carb diet are often used interchangeably, as many people think they are essentially the same thing.
However, there is one big (fat) difference between the two.
A keto diet emphasizes adding more fat to your diet, while a low-carb diet does not.
The general caloric breakdown for the ketogenic diet is 75% fat, 20% protein, and 5% carbs.
(If you don’t know much about the keto diet, read here for The Ultimate Guide for Keto Beginners)
As you can see, fat is the cornerstone to the ketogenic diet. The high fat and low carbs is what puts your body into ketosis, and burns through body fat.
Beginners to the keto diet often struggle with eating enough fat, and eating the right kinds of fat. There is still a lot of misconception out there about the role that fat plays in the diet. We have been told for so many years that fat = bad and carbohydrates = good.
It can be difficult to get used to the idea that eating a lot of fat can actually be good for you. This makes replacing the calories from the carbs you have drastically reduced, a bit of a challenge in the beginning.
A common concern that people have is that they will end up eating too much fat.
If you are worrying about over-eating when it comes to fat – know that it will likely not happen. Fat is very satiating, unlike carbohydrates, so you will feel satisfied quite quickly. Listening to your body, and knowing when it has had enough, will help.
But don’t worry – overeat on fat and you will know it. You will feel very uncomfortable, and probably even a bit sick. You won’t make that mistake easily again.
If you are not getting enough fat while following a ketogenic diet, this means that you will also likely not be getting enough calories overall – this can lead to metabolic and thyroid problems down the line.
So now you see why eating enough fat is important on the ketogenic diet, but now we need to know which fats to eat, and which ones to avoid.
Where to find healthy fats
For many years saturated fats were put in the ‘bad fats’ category, along with trans fats.
However, studies have proven that saturated fats are necessary for healthy functioning.
Saturated fats will improve your HDL/LDL cholesterol levels.
Saturated fats are found in meat, eggs, and butter.
This type of fat is linked to improved insulin resistance, as well as better HDL/LDL cholesterol levels.
Monounsaturated fats can be found in avocados, olive oil and sunflower oil.
Fats to avoid on a keto diet
Polyunsaturated fats (processed)
Now this one can get a bit confusing.
Fatty fish is high in polyunsaturated fats, but we are told to eat a lot of fish. What gives?
The important difference here is that the polyunsaturated fat found in fish is natural, i.e. not processed.
We want to avoid the processed polyunsaturated fats.
Processed polyunsaturated fats are found in vegetable oils and margarine.
Trans Fats (processed)
This is the big ‘no-no’ when it comes to fats.
Trans fats are found in processed fatty foods. They are created by a chemical process, and this process is done to increase the shelf life of the products.
The chemical process used is called ‘hydrogenation’. This process adds hydrogen to the fats in the foods.
(Trans fats can be found naturally in certain foods -specifically dairy fat and grass-fed meat. This kind of fat is actually good for us.)
If you are unsure about the kind of fat you are eating, consider this – is it processed? If it is, then avoid it.
The Cholesterol Connection
Cholesterol will almost always come up when discussing the topic of fats, and the role of fat in the diet. There is a lot of confusion around how cholesterol actually works in the body, and the effect is has on your health (particularly health health).
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a substance that is found in your blood.
It is a waxy substance that is made by your liver. It is also found in certain foods.
There is a misunderstanding that cholesterol on its own is bad for you, and dangerous for heart health.
In fact, cholesterol plays a vital role in how the cells work and are needed by the body to make Vitamin D, certain hormones, and bile (for digestion).
Cholesterol travels through the blood by being attached to a protein called lipoprotein. There are two types of cholesterol.
LDL cholesterol is the ‘bad’ cholesterol. Too much LDL cholesterol unhealthy. HDL is the ‘good’ cholesterol. It helps remove other (bad) forms of cholesterol from your bloodstream.
Basically – you want low levels of LDL cholesterol, and high levels of HDL cholesterol.
In the past, it was thought that eating fatty foods increased the ‘bad’ cholesterol, and in turned led to heart disease. Low-fat diets were recommended as ways to reduce the bad cholesterol, and improve heart health.
It is now known, however, that a diet low in carbohydrates can actually increases your HDL (good) cholesterol and improve your HDL/LDL ratio.
How to get more fat into your diet
Use whole, full-fat dairy (ignore low-fat and fat-free)
Dairy forms a big part of the ketogenic diet. It is important to choose the full-fat versions rather than low-fat.
Dairy that is low-fat or fat-free tends to have higher carbs.
If possible, raw and organic dairy is preferred as processed dairy tends to have much more carbohydrates.
Add fat to your drinks
I know – this sounds like an odd suggestion. But adding fat to coffee and smoothies work really well.
You can add heavy cream into your coffee or tea, or even melt some butter or coconut oil if you are up to it.
Smoothies are an easy way to get a good amount of healthy fats in. You can add avocado (which also provides a healthy dose of fiber), nut butter, heavy cream, and even cream cheese!
Choose fattier meats and fish
Move past the skinless chicken breast and lean steak, and choose options with more fat such as chicken thighs, ribeye steak, and salmon.
Cook in fat
Cook your meat and veggies in natural fats such as butter, duck fat, or olive oil.
Top with dressings containing fat
Top your veggies and salads with delicious, fat-filled dressings. You can even use a combination of different fats/oils. Sour cream, mayonnaise, melted butter, olive oil.
What I like to do is cook some bacon to add to a big salad, then pour the grease from the frying pan over the salad as a dressing.
Garnish with high-fat toppings
You can add whole-food, high-fat toppings to any meal (really – there is no one stopping you).
Cheeses, avocado, olives, seeds, nuts are all good options.
Choose fat bombs for snacks/desserts
If you are following a keto diet and eating enough calories, you will rarely need a snack or dessert. But on those occasions you do have a hankering, choose a high-fat option.
Or even better – make a fat bomb. Fat bombs can come in many forms, and can be sweet or savory. If you are looking for some recipe ideas, have a look at 11 Sweet & Savory Keto Fat Bombs to Help You Reach Your Macros.