With so many dietary fats to choose from... which ones are the right ones for keto? We explore the best fats to include in your keto diet to get the most out of your lifestyle.
The Best Fats for a Keto Diet
Getting enough fat is a central component of the ketogenic diet. By significantly reducing carbohydrate intake and replacing it with fat your body can then shift into a metabolic state known as ketosis. This has been shown to help with weight loss, reduce insulin and blood sugar levels, improve metabolic wellbeing, and support healthy brain function.
But this doesn’t mean that you should dive in and eat any fat that you come across. There are some fats that are simply bad for you, causing inflammation and increasing the risk for cardiovascular disease and other chronic illnesses like type 2 diabetes. These fats include artificial trans fats, highly processed fats, such as blended vegetable oils and margarine, deep-fried foods, and excessive amounts of omega-6 oils.
The good news is there are plenty of healthy fats to choose from that are both keto friendly and packed with nutrition. Here is a list of eight of the best sources of fat you can choose when going on a keto diet.
Avocado and avocado oil
The health benefits of avocados have long been celebrated because of their nutrient-rich profile and therapeutic value. Native to Mexico and Central America, these fruits are abundant in prebiotic fibre, phytonutrients, antioxidants, magnesium, potassium, and vitamins including, β-carotene, vitamins A, C & E, B2, B3, B5, B6 and folic acid.
Perhaps the most notable feature of avocado is its high level of healthy, nutritious fats. A 100 g serving of avocado provides 15 grams of fat, most of which is made up of beneficial monounsaturated fat. And with nearly no carbohydrates, this makes avocado one of the most keto-friendly foods on the planet.
Avocados are a greater source of potassium than bananas. In fact, one avocado contains up to 1,000 mg of potassium. They also contain good quantities of magnesium. So, if you’re looking to maintain your electrolyte levels and avoid the symptoms of keto flu, like cramping, constipation, fatigue, lightheadedness, and headaches, you’ll want to include avocado into your daily keto menu.
You should also consider adding avocado oil to your keto shopping list. While it's not as popular as other plant-based oils, it has a delicious neutral, buttery taste and, with a smoke point of 271 C, is one of the most heat-stable vegetable oils for cooking (1), (2), (3).
Flaxseed and flaxseed oil
Nuts and seeds are a common staple in a ketogenic diet due to their nutrient-packed, high fat, low carb content. However, they can be very moreish, and you can very quickly find yourself overdoing it with these as snacks. The risk is you’ll end up eating more calories than your body needs which will then get stored as fat, even if you’re in ketosis.
This isn’t the case with flaxseeds. These small golden-brown seeds are a nutrient powerhouse loaded with fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids. Given you only need a small amount added to some yoghurt, a keto-smoothie or keto granola, you can enjoy all the benefits without exceeding your daily limit.
If you’re on keto, one of the most desirable features of flaxseed is its high fibre content. When you significantly reduce your carbohydrate consumption you might also be eliminating some of the more commonly consumed sources of fibre. Adding 2 tablespoons of flaxseed makes up for this in spades, providing about 6 grams of fibre made up of 20–40% soluble fibre (mucilage gums) and 60–80% insoluble fibre (cellulose and lignin). This not only promotes regularity and prevents constipation but also helps regulate blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Furthermore, as a prebiotic, flaxseed feeds beneficial gut bacteria to support gut health (4), (5), (6)
Make sure to get your flaxseed in ground form. Otherwise, the seeds will pass straight through you undigested. You can also freshly grind flaxseeds in a coffee grinder and simply add them to the recipe of your choice.
For those wanting to get the most out of flaxseed’s impressive fatty acid content, you may want to try flaxseed oil. With its mild, nutty, sweet flavour, flaxseed oil is one of the most concentrated sources of omega-3 in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), as well as other polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. This not only makes flaxseed oil a wonderful source of fat for generating ketones, but the ALA content is responsible for numerous health benefits including as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, supporting cardiovascular, metabolic, and gut health. (7), (8), (9), (10), (11), (12)
Coconut oil may have gotten a bad rap in the past because it is so high in saturated fat but, in light of recent research, our view of this has changed substantially. It turns out that carbohydrates contribute to obesity and heart disease more than we ever realised and saturated fat is a key nutrient that can provide a plentiful source of energy. This makes coconut oil ideal for inclusion in a keto diet.
Coconut oil differs from other sources of fat and cooking oils in that it is a rich source of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). These MCTs make up about 65% of coconut oil, with lauric acid being the most abundant at about 50% of total fats.
It’s the lauric acid content of coconut oil that plays a significant role in delivering many of the health benefits of coconut oil, including its antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties. This anti-microbial action against a variety of harmful microorganisms also helps activate its anti-inflammatory activity. (13), (14)
The MCTs found in coconut oil are quickly broken down in the body to produce ketones. These ketones provide a rapid source of energy that can contribute to thermogenesis and fat burning. (15), (16)
Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) are a type of fat found in foods like coconut oil. Given that they have a much smaller structure than long-chain triglycerides they are more readily absorbed by the body and are efficiently used for energy.
When we absorb MCTs they go straight to the liver, where they are used as an instant source of energy or turned into ketones. And those ketones are an excellent alternative fuel source for organs that normally rely on carbohydrates.
And, because MCTs can be converted into ketones, especially when we reduce our carbohydrate intake, this helps those on a keto diet get into ketosis (21).
For this reason, MCTs can assist with weight loss. They have also been shown to influence our feeling of fullness after we eat, meaning we end up eating less food (22).
MCT oil also seems to have benefits for the brain and mental performance. Whereas it was once thought that the brain exclusively relies on glucose for its energy needs, it turns out that ketones are a more efficient energy source. This in part may explain why some studies have shown that MCTs may improve brain function, cognition, and memory (17), (18), (19), (20).
Fatty fish and fish oil
Fatty fish, like salmon and sardines, are great keto foods. Apart from providing a good quantity of protein, they are one of the richest known sources of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, which include EPA and DHA. A 180 g piece of wild salmon provides around 1,800 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids.
These essential fatty acids perform a variety of essential roles in the body and most of us don’t get nearly enough.
DHA has been demonstrated to promote brain function and eye health, whereas EPA provides the body with impressive anti-inflammatory benefits. EPA has also been shown to assist with mood disorders, such as depression (23), (24). Together, both EPA and DHA have been shown to be beneficial in cardiovascular (25) and neurological conditions, fatty liver disease (26), autism (27) and even brain trauma (28).
The other type of essential fat is the Omega-6 fatty acids. While these are important, if we consume too much, they can have a pro-inflammatory effect on the body contributing to cardiovascular disease, stroke, and metabolic disorders (29). Therefore, to achieve the right biological balance, it’s critical that we get enough Omega-3 when we are on a ketogenic diet. This is because there is a tendency to increase our Omega-6 fats, which are found in plant oils. We need to aim for an Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio of approximately 2:1 to strike the right balance.
If eating fatty fish is not for you, you might want to consider supplementing with fish oil capsules or liquid. This provides a convenient, therapeutic dose of EPA and DHA that you can take every day.
For anyone who is on a ketogenic diet, the chances are that eggs are on their list of staples. That’s because eggs have the perfect nutritional profile required to enter and maintain a state of ketosis. They are low in carbohydrates, high in protein and high in fats. Beyond this, they are packed with essential nutrients such as vitamins A, B2, B5, B12, D, and E, as well as choline, folate, iron, potassium, selenium and the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin.
Egg yolk is approximately 58% fat, and one large egg can provide 4.5 grams of fat. If you source your eggs from free-range, plant-fed hens they are more likely to be higher in Omega-3 fatty acids. They also contain 6 grams of protein and less than 1 gram of carbohydrates, thus matching very well with the macronutrients prescribed in a ketogenic diet.
Eggs are probably the most convenient and versatile keto-friendly food you can prepare. They are quick and easy to cook and can easily be used in meals and snacks.
If you keep your calorie count in check you can really eat as many eggs as you like. And if you’re worried about your cholesterol levels there are countless studies proving that eggs only increase HDL (good cholesterol). They rarely increase LDL (bad cholesterol) and if so, only very slightly. (30), (31), (32).
Given its popularity, it can be easy to forget just how nutritious olive oil is. And as a calorie-dense oil that is incredibly rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, olive oil is as keto-friendly as you can get.
There aren’t that many oils extracted from berries. Avocado is one (yes, avocado is considered a berry) and olive oil is another. Most other oils are derived from nuts and seeds. This gives olive oil a unique nutrient profile, dense in vitamins, antioxidants, phytosterols and polyphenols.
It's the dietary polyphenols in olive oil that help make it one of the healthiest oils you can consume. These compounds, along with vitamin E, play an important role in reducing inflammation, cardiovascular disease, and LDL cholesterol (33) (34) (35), (36).
Given the versatility of olive oil, incorporating it into a ketogenic diet is especially easy. Drizzle it over roasted cauliflower, add it to keto dips or use it in salad dressings, the only limit is your imagination.
Just make sure that you use extra virgin olive oil over standard olive oil. It’s made from the first pressing and is the least processed variety and highest quality of olive oil available.
Sacha inch oil
You would be forgiven for thinking that this unfamiliar-sounding oil is a newcomer to the stable of healthy oils. However, Sacha inchi is a crop originally planted in Peru by ancient pre-Inca cultures many centuries ago.
What makes sacha inchi so impressive is its very high omega-3 fatty acid content with alpha-linolenic acid making up about 45% of total fat. This makes it comparable to flaxseed oil (37).
This superfood is also very high in vitamin E, predominantly of gamma-Tocopherol and delta-Tocopherol, as well as phytosterols, and phenolic compounds.
All these characteristics make Sacha inchia oil a perfect consideration for a ketogenic diet.
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