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Good Fats vs. Bad Fats on the Ketogenic Diet

The ketogenic diet is a high-fat diet that’s great for weight loss, mental clarity, and more. 

On a keto diet, you get about 70% of your calories from fats, and for your long-term good health, you want to make sure you’re eating healthy fats. 

Not all fats are created equal — some are great for you, while others contribute to heart disease and increased  overall disease risk. It’s important to know which fats are good for you, especially if you’re going to follow a high-fat, low-carb diet. 

To help clear things up, this guide will outline the differences between good fats vs. bad fats.

Good Fats on Keto

good fats vs. bad fats

The four main types of fats that exist in diet are:

  • Saturated fats 
  • Monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) 
  • Polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs)
  • T rans fats

Within each of these categories, there’s a fair amount of variety — for example, omega-3s and omega-6s are each a type of polyunsaturated fat, but while omega-3s are great for you, excess omega-6s are unhealthy fats. 

Similarly, naturally occurring trans fats are fine, but artificial trans fats are a massive contributor to heart disease, and are illegal in many countries. 

Here’s a look at the healthy fats in each category. 

Healthy Keto Saturated Fats

For years, dietary guidelines suggested that you avoid saturated fat. The suggestion came from a flawed study back in the mid-20th century that found a modest correlation between heart disease and saturated fat intake. 

At the time, obesity and heart disease were increasing dramatically in the United States, and the government was desperate for a reason why. While the saturated fat research was far from conclusive, it was the best thing they had — so they took the idea that saturated fat is bad and ran with it, making low-fat dietary guidelines their new standard for health. 

This led to the low-fat and fat-free craze around the 1970s — an idea still preached by the American Heart Association

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However, more robust research is now coming out on the topic, and ideas about fat and diet are changing. It’s clearer and clearer that to the idea that fat intake is part of a heart-healthy diet

Recent studies show no significant link between saturated fats and the risk of heart disease[*].

In fact, in the case of good fats vs. bad fats, there are many benefits of including healthy saturated fats in your diet, including hormone balance, brain health, and liver function [*][*][*].

Most animal fats are saturated, including beef, pork, lamb, and to a lesser degree, chicken. 

There are also plant sources of saturated fat. Tropical oils like coconut oil and palm oil are rich in a special class of saturated fats called medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). Your body burns MCTs very quickly, giving you immediate energy without spiking your blood sugar the way refined carbs do. 

MCT oil comes with powerful health benefits, including better gut health, appetite suppression (which leads to potential weight loss), sharper mental clarity, a stronger immune system, lower risk of heart disease, and better athletic performance[*][*][*].

MCT oil is a great fat to eat on a keto diet. Other good sources of saturated fat include:

  • Red meat
  • Butter and ghee (preferably grass-fed)
  • Heavy cream, cheese, and other full-fat dairy products
  • Lard
  • Eggs (preferably pasture-raised; look for deep orange-yellow yolks, which are the sign of a healthy animal and greater nutrient density)
  • Coconut oil
  • Palm oil (look for a sustainable, rainforest-certified brand; unsustainable palm oil farming destroys rainforests)
  • Cocoa butter and dark chocolate

Saturated fats are an essential part of a balanced keto diet. In the context of a keto diet, health benefits of saturated fats include:

  • Improved HDL and LDL cholesterol levels, including raising HDL (good cholesterol) to prevent the buildup of LDL (bad cholesterol) in the arteries[*]
  • Strong bone density[*]
  • Immune health[*]
  • Healthy sex hormone production (testosterone, human growth hormone, estrogen, progesterone, etc.)[*]

Healthy Keto Monounsaturated Fats

Unlike saturated fats, monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) have been accepted as healthy for many years. Many studies link MUFAs to health benefits like good cholesterol and insulin sensitivity[*].

MUFAs are a staple of the Mediterranean Diet, and you’ll find them in a lot of healthy foods. Good sources of monounsaturated fats include[*]:

  • Olive oil
  • Avocados
  • Avocado oil
  • Cashews, pecans, macadamia nuts, almonds, and other nuts
  • Bacon fat

Health benefits of monounsaturated fats include:

  • Increased HDL blood cholesterol levels[*]
  • Lowered blood pressure[*]
  • Lowered risk for heart disease[*]
  • Reduced belly fat[*]
  • Reduced insulin resistance[*]

Healthy Keto Polyunsaturated Fats

Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) can either be great for you or actively bad for you, depending on how you use them. 

PUFAs are quite delicate — if you heat them too much, they break down and form compounds called free radicals. Free radicals contribute to cardiovascular disease, inflammation, and other health problems[*]. 

As a rule of thumb, you’re best off eating PUFAs in uncooked form (e.g. in salad dressings) and storing them in a dark place at cool room temperature. 

The two most important types of PUFAs are omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Your body needs both of them, but the ratio of the two is important. 

Ideally, your ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids should be around 1:1. Most Western diets eat a ratio of around 30:1 in favor of omega-6s, and the skewed ratio can cause inflammation and contribute to heart disease, cardiovascular disease, and other chronic diseases[*].  

Ideally, most of the PUFAs you eat will be omega-3s, or at least will have a balance of omega-3s and omega-6s. 

Healthy sources of PUFAs include:

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Wild-caught fatty fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel)
  • Fish oil
  • Sesame oil
  • Chia seeds
  • Raw nuts and nut butter
  • Avocado 

Avoid refined vegetable oils like corn oil and canola oil — they’re billed as heart-healthy, but are mostly omega-6s. 

Health benefits of high-quality PUFAs include:

  • Decreased risk of heart disease and stroke[*]
  • Decreased risk of autoimmune disorders and other inflammatory diseases[*]
  • Improved mental health, including relief from depression and ADHD[*]

Natural Trans Fats

You might be confused to see trans fats listed under the “good” fats category. 

Most trans fats come from vegetable oils that manufacturers hydrogenate in a lab, making them solid instead of liquid.

These trans fats don’t occur in nature and your body doesn’t know how to process them, and they contribute massively to heart disease risk[*] — so much so that vegetable-based trans fats are illegal in many countries. 

However, there’s a healthy type of trans fat, known as vaccenic acid, found naturally in animal and dairy products, like grass-fed meats, butter, and cheese. 

Vaccenic acid is perfectly good for you. Health benefits of vaccenic acid can include[*]:

  • Reduced risk of heart disease
  • Reduced risk of diabetes and obesity
  • Possible protection against cancer risk

Bad Fats on Keto

good fats vs. bad fats

One of the great aspects of the keto diet is that you can fill up on plenty of dietary fats, making it easier to lose weight and stay satisfied with your diet long-term. 

That said, it’s important that you choose healthy fats and avoid unhealthy ones. Here’s a list of fats you may want to reduce while eating any diet, and a keto diet in particular. 

Omega-6 Polyunsaturated Fats

Omega-6 fatty acids are the unhealthy fats you read about earlier — most Americans get far too many of them. Excess omega-6 fats can contribute to inflammation and heart disease[*].  

The most common source of omega-6 fats is vegetable oil. Use the following vegetable oils sparingly, or avoid them entirely:

Artificial Trans Fats 

Artificial trans fats are the types most people are familiar with — and they can be very damaging to your health.

Artificial trans fats are largely illegal now, but manufacturers still find ways to hide them in products by exploiting loopholes in nutrition labeling. 

You may still find trans fats in the following ingredients:

  • Hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils
  • Mass-produced cookies
  • Crackers
  • Margarine
  • French fries
  • Fast food

Risks of consuming trans fats include[*]:

  • Increased risk of heart disease
  • Weight gain and increased body fat
  • Increased risk of cancer
  • Reduced HDL cholesterol and increased LDL, or bad cholesterol
  • Bodywide inflammation
  • Imbalance in gut bacteria

Good Fats vs. Bad Fats: Now You Know

good fats vs. bad fats

Good fats are part of any healthy eating plan, and they’re especially important on a keto diet. You’ll see and feel the difference if you focus on eating healthy fats like avocados, extra virgin olive oil, grass-fed meat, and full-fat dairy products, and if you avoid vegetable oils and trans fats.

Want to prioritize high-quality fats? Our recipe archives make it easy for you to find plenty of delicious recipes that use only healthy fats.

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60 thoughts on “Good Fats vs. Bad Fats on the Ketogenic Diet

      1. Atkins was low carb High Fat High Protein. So just saying it was high protein is misleading. Most people could still enter Keto on the traditional atkins diet.

  1. I really enjoyed the your article. I had the question of “are all fats ok on the keto diet?” Im glad that you got that cleared up. I was beginning to wonder if the keto diet had any limits lol.

    1. it says Processed vegetable oils are bad like sunflower but above we can see sunflower is an healthy Monounsaturated Fat sorry im confused and really want to know the difference or how to spot the difference while buying cooking oil.

      1. Cook with gras fed Kerrygold Salted or Unsalted butter. I use a table spoon usually. I’ll also use a table spoon of Coconut oil to cook with, but it lacks flavor so the grass fed butter gets more servings!

      2. Thankyou. That sounds like the perfect suggestion. There is no mention of milk. Should we drink full cream milk or alternative?

  2. My concern on Keto….saturated fat raises bad cholesterol levels; especially if you already have high cholesterol and are takin a statin. How can we eat bacon fat, cream and full fat dairy????

    1. Leigh – I have been eating keto for 2.5 years, my cholesterol has gone down bacon and all – with no statins

    2. You are very misinformed (by old bad science most likely… or doctors). If the body doesn’t get large amounts of cholesterol, it freaks out and makes its OWN cholesterol and doesn’t know when to stop. But if you take in a lot of cholesterol from your FOOD, you’re good to go. The body doesn’t start up a cholesterol factory that goes haywire.

    3. It doesn’t! Old beliefs 😉 However, the quality of these animal products is still SO important! Grass-fed, pasture-raised, free-range, organic animal products is a must if you will be purchasing these items 🙂

    4. I would like to point out that the WHO now classifies processed meat, such as bacon, sausage, etc. as a type one carcinogen. If the Keto diet endorses the elimination of processed food that needs to include processed meats as well.

  3. ”When heated, polyunsaturated fats can form free radicals, which are harmful compounds that increase inflammation along with the risk of cancer and heart disease in the body. Therefore, many PUFAs should be consumed cold and not be used for cooking.”

    Fish is listed in the good fats….so question, does the ”heated” part also apply to fish? Or only to the oils listed…I will stop cooking with Olive Oil immediately. I will start saving and chilling bacon fat now though. But I can’t eat raw fish LOL

  4. Hi, I’ve just started a ketogenic diet & would like to know what oil/s are best used for deep frying? TIA

  5. You mention omega 3 to omega 6 levels are typically 30:1, but I believe you meant 1:30? Otherwise we would need to reduce omega 3 to get down to 1:1 as suggested. I doubt that’s correct.

    1. Hi Gretchen, coconout oil is my go-to or you could use ghee, tallow, or duck fat which are great options as well.

  6. Is pork fat really ok? I used to eat pork but stayed away from the fat. Now I’ve switched to keto and would eat the fat. I eat bacon on a regular basis. I’m afraid I might clog my arteries and damage my heart.

  7. I make a spread out of softened Kerry Butter ” salted ” and softened Coconut Oil ” virgin ” I just whip 1 cup Kerry and 1 cup Coconut Oil with my electric mixer till its fluffy then if its warm weather I keep it in the fridge but if its a cool season I leave it out on the counter because Coconut Oil has a very long shelf life tastes great .

    1. Nestor, if we eat too much of anything, it means we have an excess of energy and if we can’t burn it, it will be stored. I would recommend starting by using our macro calculator to calculate your fat intake depending on your goals and then adjust from there. Here’s the link to the macro calculator: http://perfectketo.com/keto-macro-calculator/

  8. Are you saying that heating Avacado oil creates feee radicals? I thought it was ok to use avacado oil in cooking.

    1. Hey Collin, avocado oil is a MUFA (mono-unsaturated fatty acid) which are less stable than SFA (saturated fatty acids) like coconut oil and butter when heated. Avocado oil is best used for lighter cooking and using SFA are best for high heat cooking. If it is a refined avocado oil, it will have a higher smoke point than unrefined and could probably be used for a bit higher cooking. But to be safe, stick with the saturated fats for high heat cooking because they are more stable and less likely to create free radicals.

  9. I have a food intolerance to all fruit, including coconut, avocados berries etc. I Use mostly walnut oil and butter or ghee. For cooking oil, like sautering veggies, what would be best to use. My daughter can not have dairy products so when she is with us butter is out. Is walnut ok for low temp cooking?

    1. Hey Mary, unrefined walnut oil should be okay for low temp cooking. I’d stick with ghee as much as you can or use things like beef tallow or leftover bacon fat!

    1. Kale, Brussels sprouts, spinach leaves, few carrots, tomatoes (for potassium). Make sure you average them into your carb count. The net carb on these are not super high

  10. I also worry about over heating oils while cooking. I purchased a Sous-vide (water bath oven) that allows me to precisely control the temperature while cooking. It’s a bullet proof method of retaining as much of the nutrients from meats by cooking them as gently as possible. I add the olive or other delicate oils to the meat when it’s on the plate. The startup cost to cooking this way can be significant though, but I figured that my health was worth it. It also added a valuable time saving tool to my kitchen arsenal.

  11. Great post doing the Bulletproof Coffee and the diet that goes along with it getting good results.

  12. Hello. I came across this post when trying to research nuts that are suitable for keto. Would you recommend roasted and salted or raw brazil/pecans? I noticed that most are roasted in sunflower oil which makes me think it’s not a good idea. I just need an emergency salty snack once in a while! Any suggestions please?

  13. I still need help calculating the macronutrients. My husband is 5 ft 3″. He weighs 242 and is 68. I am female and 5′ 227lb and 65. He plays volleyball in pool 3 days a week. I am handicapped but work part time

  14. If fat is being used as fuel and not stored why should it make a difference if you eat good or bad fats on a keto diet

    1. Hi Steve, the purpose of the ketogenic diet is to improve your health—and that includes choosing food sources that are health-promoting as well. 🙂

  15. @John so long as it’s not breaded, Dry rubs (Parmesan garlic) and buffalo style wings are okay. Dip in bleucheese or ranch. Stay away from sugary sauces, mango, bbq, honey mustard. Some are okay if made with keto in mind, but i don’t think restaurants use low sugar bbq sauces. But should be okay if you make and use your own.

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