Since they make up around 70% of macros on the ketogenic diet, fats are obviously important. However, the type of fat is really important too, and there can be some confusion about what’s best to consume.
Here’s a breakdown of what fats you should include and which you should avoid when going keto.
GOOD FATS ON KETO
The fats that get the green light when it comes to the keto diet—and good health in general—can be broken down into four categories: saturated fats, monounsaturated fats (MUFAs), polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs), and naturally-occurring trans fats. The truth is that all fats contain a mixture of these types, but the one that’s dominant is how we categorize them.
Now, we’ll break down each fat type when eating a ketogenic diet more thoroughly so you can recognize them in your own food choices.
Healthy Keto Saturated Fats
For years and years, saturated fats were seen as harmful for heart health and we were recommended to reduce them as much as possible.
However, recent studies have debunked this, showing no significant link between saturated fats, which humans have been eating for thousands of years, and the risk of heart disease. In fact, there are many benefits of including healthy saturated fats in the diet.
Plus, one type of saturated fat includes medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are mostly found in coconut oil (and in small amounts in butter and palm oil) and can be digested by the body very easily. When eaten, they’re passed directly to the liver to be used immediately for energy. MCTs are great for fat loss and athletic performance.
Health benefits of saturated fats on keto can include:
- Improved HDL and LDL cholesterol levels
- Maintenance of bone density
- Boosting of immune system health
- Support in creation of important hormones like cortisol and testosterone
- Raising of HDL (good) cholesterol in the blood to prevent buildup of LDL in the arteries
- Improved HDL to LDL ratio
Recommended types of saturated fats while eating keto:
- Red meat
- Coconut oil
- Palm oil
- Cocoa butter
Healthy Keto Monounsaturated Fats
Unlike saturated fats, monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) have been accepted as healthy for many years. Many studies have linked them to health benefits related to good cholesterol and better insulin resistance.
Health benefits of MUFAs on ketosis can include:
- Increased HDL cholesterol
- Lowered blood pressure
- Lowered risk for heart disease
- Reduced belly fat
- Reduced insulin resistance
Recommended types of MUFAs for a ketogenic diet:
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Avocados and avocado oil
- Macadamia nut oil
- Goose fat
- Lard and bacon fat
Healthy Keto Polyunsaturated Fats
The important thing to remember about eating polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) on a ketogenic diet is that the type really matters. 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.
You can find PUFAs in the forms of very processed oils as well as very healthy sources. The right types can provide a lot of great benefits as part of a keto diet, as they include both omega 3s and omega 6s, which are essential nutrients.
However, the amount is important here. Ideally, our ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 should be around 1:1. Most Western diets eat a ratio of around 1:30, so focus on your intake of PUFAs high in omega 3s.
Health benefits of PUFAs:
A healthy balance of omega 3 and omega 6 has been associated with reduced risk of:
- Heart disease
- Autoimmune disorders and other inflammatory diseases
Intake of PUFAs may even help improve symptoms of depression and help those with ADHD, which are more benefits associated with a ketogenic diet.
Recommended types of PUFAs:
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Flaxseeds and flaxseed oil
- Fatty fish and fish oil
- Sesame oil
- Chia seeds
- Nut oils
- Avocado oil
Natural Trans Fats
You might be confused to see trans fats listed under the “good” fats category. While most trans fats are very unhealthy and harmful, there’s a type of trans fat, known as vaccenic acid, found naturally in some foods like grass-fed meats and dairy fats.
Health benefits of vaccenic acid can include:
- Reduced risk of heart disease
- Reduced risk of diabetes and obesity
- Possible protection against cancer risk
Recommended types of natural trans fats:
- Grass-fed animal products
- Dairy fats like butter and yogurt
If you’re confused on where to find this, check out this article on how to purchase the highest quality dairy. We’ll talk more below about the most common forms of trans fats, which are harmful and you want to stay far away from.
BAD FATS ON KETO
One of the great aspects of the keto diet is the ability to eat plenty of filling, satisfying dietary fats like those mentioned above. However, we must also cover the types of fats you want to reduce or completely eliminate from your diet so as not to damage your health. It is popular on a ketogenic diet to just test and confirm you’re in ketosis, but the quality of the food still matters.
Unhealthy Processed Trans Fats and Polyunsaturated Fats
Processed trans fats are the types most people are familiar with—and they can be very damaging to your health.
Artificial trans fats are formed during food production through the processing of polyunsaturated fats. This is why it’s important to only choose PUFAs that are unprocessed and not overheated or altered. Not only does processing PUFAs create harmful free radicals, but trans fats are often created from oils that contain genetically modified seeds.
Risks of consuming trans fats include:
- Increased risk of heart disease
- Increased risk of cancer
- Reduced HDL cholesterol and increased LDL cholesterol
- Bad for the health of your gut
Examples of trans fats to avoid include:
- Hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils found in processed products like cookies, crackers, margarine, and fast food
- Processed vegetable oils like cottonseed, sunflower, safflower, soybean, and canola oils
Main takeaway for fats on a ketogenic diet
Don’t fear saturated fats, choose fats that are as unprocessed as possible, and avoid fats and oils found in processed, packaged foods that were made in a factory.
After all, the purpose of the ketogenic diet is to improve your health—and that includes not only maintaining the proper fat, protein, and carb ratio but also choosing food sources that are health-promoting as well.
Dr. Anthony Gustin is a board-certified sports chiropractor, functional medicine practitioner, entrepreneur, podcast host, and founder of Perfect Keto.
After growing his sports rehab and functional medicine clinics to six locations in San Francisco, he shifted his mission to help as many people as possible achieve optimal health and well-being.