The Best (and Worst) Keto Fats to Eat and Avoid, Says a Dietitian
When you follow a ketogenic (keto) diet, a large part of what you eat will need to be made up of fat.
Not all fat choices are created equal.
You want to be sure you are choosing nutrient-dense foods high in fat to help reach your health goals and remain in a state of ketosis.
How Much Fat to Eat on Keto
At least 70% of your total calories on a keto diet need to come from healthy fats.
If your daily goal is to eat 2,000 calories you will need to consume a minimum of 156 grams of fat, equal to about 52 grams per meal.
The key to entering into and maintaining a state of ketosis is limiting the daily intake of carbs to no more than 30 to 50 grams.
That means at most 200 calories from carbs, regardless of how many total calories you consume.
The remainder of your calories, usually less than 20% of your total intake, should come from protein.
This is equal to 100 grams of protein if you follow 2,000 calories of intake.
It is also important to remember that excess protein can be converted to blood sugar and push you out of ketosis.
Check your ketone levels and lower your protein intake if necessary.
Some foods high in fats are far more nutritious than others.
Pay extra attention to your food choices to make sure you are meeting your nutrient needs, choosing healthy fats, and keeping your macros at the correct levels to stay in ketosis.
17 Healthy Fats to Eat on Keto
To help you reach your health goals, here is a list of 17 healthy high-fat foods to incorporate into a balanced and nourishing ketogenic diet.
1. Avocados and Avocado oil
Avocados are considered a ketogenic diet staple.
One medium avocado provides 218 calories and 20 grams of heart-healthy fats.
Research has shown that regular avocado intake can support heart health, fight heart disease, assist with weight management, and play a role in healthy aging (1).
Avocado oil is an excellent oil to use when cooking proteins.
It has a very high smoke point meaning it remains stable even when heated to high temperatures.
This makes it a better choice for cooking than other healthy oils.
2. Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds should be part of any healthy eating pattern.
They are an especially great food to include in a ketogenic diet because they are a food with high-fat content.
Frequent nut intake has been associated with a lower risk of heart disease, cancer, and death from both diabetes and infections (2).
Walnuts, pine nuts, macadamia nuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios, Brazil nuts, and pecans are all excellent nut choices to include in a ketogenic diet.
A one-quarter cup serving of nuts contains 175 to 200 calories.
For example, a one-ounce serving of walnuts provides 185 calories, 18.5 grams of fat, and 4.5 grams of total carbs.
3. Fatty Fish
Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines, and anchovies are a great source of high-quality protein and heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids.
Aim to include a three or larger ounce serving of fatty fish one to two days per week.
Salmon is also one of the few dietary sources of vitamin D.
Three ounces of wild Coho Alaskan salmon provides 118 calories, 20 grams of protein, 3.6 grams of fat, 10 micrograms of vitamin D, and no carbohydrates.
Bake or grill a fillet of fish and serve it with a salad or generous portion of non-starchy vegetables for an easy weeknight ketogenic friendly meal.
Eggs are a great breakfast choice for a ketogenic diet.
They are packed full of beneficial nutrients and a great source of easily digestible protein.
One large egg contains 70 calories, 6 grams of protein, and 5 grams of fat. There are no carbs in eggs.
Be sure to eat the whole egg as most of the nutrients and about half of the protein are found in the yolk.
The nutrients lutein and zeaxanthin that are found in egg yolks are antioxidants that have been shown to support eye health (3).
5. MCT Oil
Medium-chain triglycerides or MCTs are popular ketogenic diet supplements.
They are broken down and used by our bodies in a different way than other dietary fats.
MCTs enter our bloodstream quickly and are digested and used as fuel in the liver, making them a preferred energy source for our body when in ketosis.
One recent study showed that individuals taking an MCT supplement three times daily reached ketosis in two days compared to four days for a control group following a similar diet but not taking an MCT supplement (4).
It is recommended to start slowly if you plan to increase your intake of MCTs.
At high levels, many people experience stomach pain and digestive troubles.
While these symptoms are temporary, it’s easier to start slow and gradually increase your intake as your body adjusts to this new fuel source.
To increase your intake of MCT oil, use it in place of other oils with cooking, add it to a beverage (it has no taste), or use it in when baking ketogenic friendly snacks.
Begin by taking one tablespoon per day with a meal. As your body adjusts, gradually increase your intake to one tablespoon with each meal.
6. Krill and Fish Oil
Omega 3 supplements such as krill and fish oil are rich in EPA and DHA, two long-chain fatty acids that have been linked with numerous health benefits.
Studies show that regular intake of omega 3s can help lower the risk of developing heart disease, slow mental decline, and reduce inflammation (5).
Most individuals do not eat enough omega 3s, especially those who do not eat fatty fish once to twice per week.
Omega 3 supplements can maximize the intake of these valuable nutrients.
One study found that individuals following a keto diet and taking a krill oil supplement for four weeks saw greater improvements in blood triglyceride and insulin levels and lower levels of inflammatory markers compared to those following a high-fat ketogenic meal pattern alone (6).
Look for an omega 3 supplement with at least 1,000 mg combined DHA and EPA.
Supplements are unregulated in the United States so also be sure to look for labels showing evidence of third-party verification of supplement purity such as ConsumerLab or USP.
7. Nut Butter
Another great way to increase your intake of nuts is to consume nut butters. They offer the same benefits as nuts but in a more convenient package.
Almond butter and other nut butters can be added to smoothies or used as a base for making keto-friendly energy bites.
They can also be used in stir fry sauces and marinades for proteins and vegetables.
8. Olives and Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Olives are a great source of monounsaturated fat known as oleic acid.
This same fat is also found in high amounts in unrefined cold-pressed oil from olives.
Regular intake of oleic acid has been linked with a lower risk of developing heart disease and reduced inflammation (7).
Almost all of the calories in fresh olives come from their high-fat content, making them a great keto-friendly snack.
Use cold-pressed oil as a dressing for salads, mixed it in with fresh vegetables, or as part of a marinade for meat.
9. Grass-Fed Butter
Butter is a popular choice for keto dieters because it is a concentrated source of fat and contains no carbs.
Not all butters are created equal. Butters made from grass-fed and organic cow’s milk have been shown to have higher levels of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids (8), so be sure to choose a high-quality variety when you go shopping.
Add butter to vegetables or proteins when cooking, or use it when baking keto-friendly muffins and other low-carb treats.
10. Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is a natural source of MCTs. MCTs, do more than support a faster transition to ketosis.
Some research suggests that increasing the intake of MCTs can help increase weight loss when substituted for other oils as part of a weight loss program (9).
Try using coconut oil to add a tropical taste to your vegetables and proteins.
11. Chia Seeds
Chia seeds may be small but they are nutrient-dense.
Each 2.5 tablespoon serving provides 5 grams of plant-based protein and is a good source of the plant-based omega 3 fatty acid known as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).
They are also high in fiber, something that is often hard to get on a very low-carb diet.
Add chia seeds to your morning smoothie or Greek yogurt. Try mixing them in with a salad or use them as a coating for baked chicken and fish.
12. Flax Seeds
Flax seeds are another high-fiber seed that can be a great addition to a keto diet.
A quarter-cup serving of flax seeds provides 18 grams of fat, 11 grams of fiber, and 8 grams of protein.
Flax seeds are a significant source of plant-based omega 3 fatty acids with 9 grams of ALA per quarter-cup serving.
Studies suggest that regular intake of flax seeds may be beneficial for preventing heart disease, reduce the risk of certain cancers, and help improve gut health (10).
Try adding them to smoothies or salads and incorporate ground flax seeds into your favorite keto recipes.
13. Coconut Milk
Coconut milk is another natural source of MCTs and can help you increase your fat intake and stay in ketosis.
Look for full-fat unsweetened coconut milk and use it to make curries and sauces with a delicious tropical twist.
Be careful as even unsweetened coconut milk contains around 5 grams of carbohydrate per cup. Be sure to account for these carbs in your daily meal planning.
14. Sunflower Butter
Sunflower butter is a nut-free alternative to peanut products for those with peanut allergies or who simply want to avoid peanuts or tree nuts.
Use it with any recipe or food that calls for nut-based butters.
One word of caution; many sunflower butter products are loaded with added sugar.
Be sure to read nutrition labels and check the number of grams of carbohydrates per serving before you use them.
Cheese is another low-carb food that works well with a ketogenic diet.
There are many varieties of cheese to choose from, making it a versatile food that adds many flavors to your meals.
Many kinds of cheese are also a good source of protein and calcium.
Have a couple of pieces of freshly sliced gouda cheese as a snack or add shredded cheddar cheese to salads and your favorite proteins.
16. Greek Yogurt
Yogurt naturally contains a small amount of carbs due to the presence of lactose, a natural milk sugar. Full fat plain Greek yogurt can be an excellent base for a keto breakfast.
Due to the way it is processed, Greek yogurt is naturally high in protein.
A 5.3-ounce container of whole milk Greek yogurt contains 146 calories, 13.5 grams of protein, and 7.5 grams of fat.
Try a keto yogurt parfait for breakfast by combining plain Greek yogurt, nuts, seeds, and a hand full of cacao nibs.
Ghee is often used in traditional Indian cooking.
It is made by heating traditional butter and separating the milk solids from the liquid fat.
Removing the milk solids also removes the lactose and the milk proteins, making ghee a popular choice for those who enjoy the flavor of butter but cannot tolerate milk products.
Add a small amount of ghee to your skillet before cooking as it has a much higher smoke point than other oils.
You can also use it to flavor mashed potatoes and roasted veggies, or drizzle it over keto-friendly muffins, waffles and pancakes.
5 Foods to Avoid on Keto
Not all fatty foods fit into a keto lifestyle.
While it can be tempting to rely on processed foods and convenience items for meals and snacks many of these foods are low in nutrients and full of substances that can be harmful to our bodies.
Here are some processed foods you will want to avoid.
1. Processed Meats
Processed meats include deli meats, hot dogs, sausages, and salami.
While they are touted as being keto diet-friendly, studies have found that a high intake of processed red meat is associated with a higher risk of developing colon cancer (11).
Avoid relying on processed meat and instead choose fresh, whole proteins for your meals.
2. Trans Fats
Trans fats are the worst of the worst. Regular intake has been linked to increases in LDL cholesterol, blood pressure, and heart disease.
Trans fats were once marketed as an alternative to the animal fats found naturally in foods.
After decades of research, we discovered that they are very harmful to our bodies.
As of early 2020, the FDA has removed the “generally regarded as safe” designation from trans fats and they are no longer allowed in the food supply.
Double-check food labels and if you see the words “partially hydrogenated” in the nutrition ingredients put that food down and choose another brand.
Hydrogenated oils are not trans fats. They are saturated fats.
However, because they are not naturally found in foods if you see “hydrogenated” in the nutrition ingredients you should not be eating much of that food.
Remember on a ketogenic diet we want the majority of our fats to be coming from whole food options.
Margarine was hailed as a miracle food when it was first created.
Because of the fear around dietary fats that started in the 1950s and really took off in the 1970s, food manufacturers were excited to create products that were perceived as healthier alternatives.
Unfortunately, margarine were packed full of artery-clogging trans fats.
While those trans fats are largely gone, margarine remains a highly processed food made up of plant-based oils, emulsifiers, and artificial ingredients that add color and flavor.
Use coconut oil, ghee, or liquid oil instead of margarine.
Shortening is a type of fat used in baking and cooking. For a long time shortening was a popular fat choice used in American cooking.
It has recently seen a decline in popularity because of its high trans fat content.
As trans fats are no longer allowed in foods, food manufacturers are now making shortening products that are free of trans fats.
It is typically used in baking because of its high-fat content.
However, because shortening is 100% fat it has very little nutritional value.
Select other keto-friendly healthy fats for cooking and skip the shortening.
5. Fried Foods
Fried foods are another fat you want to avoid on a healthy ketogenic meal pattern.
The process of heating oil creates trans fats (12) which are associated with an increase in heart disease risk (13).
Fried foods then absorb these unhealthy fats during the cooking process.
Avoid eating fried foods and instead look for foods that have been baked, roasted, or grilled.
A keto diet is by necessity high in dietary fat.
While it can be tempting to turn to convenient and fast foods, you are not doing your body any favors when you follow a “lazy keto” type of eating pattern.
This type of diet is also not sustainable long term.
Instead, focus on including healthy high-fat food that is low in carbs but provides plenty of vitamins and minerals.
Eat lots of avocados, eggs, and fatty fish like salmon.
Snack on nuts, add flavor to food with keto-friendly healthy fats and enjoy full-fat dairy products like Greek yogurt.
Many people follow a keto diet because they want to improve their health.
It does not have to be hard, it just requires more planning before you head out to the grocery store.
Keep a list of your favorite keto staple foods and replenish them regularly when they start to run out.
By choosing healthier foods you’ll feel better and start to look forward to meals and snacks every day.
Then you’ll be getting the best of both worlds; watching the pounds melt away while you look and feel better than ever before.
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- Benbrook, Charles M., et al. “Enhancing the Fatty Acid Profile of Milk through Forage-Based Rations, with Nutrition Modeling of Diet Outcomes.” Food Science & Nutrition, vol. 6, no. 3, 2018, pp. 681–700. Crossref, doi:10.1002/fsn3.610.
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