Here’s The Skinny On Dietary Fats & Keto
Fats have been a scapegoat for years: coronary disease, clogged arteries, high cholesterol, weight gain, and so on. Now, with a greater focus on macronutrients, and particularly dietary fats, we have learned fats have been getting a bad rap. There simply is no science to substantiate the above.
Given fats make up such an integral part of the keto diet, we need to enlighten you, make you more comfortable with fats, and help you to distinguish the good from the bad. In addition to making food taste great, dietary fats play a key role in keto. We’ll cover the basics about fats and how they affect your overall health as well as your keto success.
Fats Are Critical To Keto Success
Fat is the most calorie-dense of the macronutrients, containing 9 calories per gram, as opposed to carbs and protein which each have 4 calories per gram. One of the primary roles of fat is energy storage. However, fats also help our bodies function correctly in several ways: they help in forming the structural material of cells and tissue, in vitamin absorption (vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat soluble), and they supply essential fatty acids.
And obviously, in a keto diet, where fats comprise 70% of our intake, understanding fats is critical. First, we need to understand that there are different types of dietary fats.
Types Of Fat – Good Fat And Bad Fat
Dietary fats can be healthy or harmful. Typically, unsaturated fats are considered the healthy fats, while saturated and trans fats are considered not to be good for you. There is a plethora of information available online regarding the chemical structure of fats, so we’ll save that for your reading enjoyment at another time.
Saturated fats are responsible for elevating levels of LDL, the bad cholesterol associated with coronary disease and stroke.
Trans fats, although found in trace amounts in some animals, are much more frequently manufactured and also contribute to raising LDL levels.
Unsaturated fats come primarily from vegetables, nuts, and fish. And, as opposed to saturated and trans fats, unsaturated fats are good for your heart and other parts of your body. To complicate matters, unsaturated fats may be either monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. Again, we’ll leave the science for a later date, just understand that mono indicates that the fat will turn solid when refrigerated, while polyunsaturated fats will remain liquid both at room temperature and when chilled. Don’t worry, we’re going to provide examples of each type of fat, good and bad, in just a bit.
Recommended Fats On Keto…
Now that we’ve identified good and bad fats, we’re going to start you off with a curve-ball, a contradiction of terms, a bit of slight-of-hand. The first two “good fats” for use while on keto are a subset of saturated fats and trans fats. Consider the following saturated fats as okay during keto (in moderation): butter, red meat, cream, lard, coconut oil, and eggs. And “natural” trans fats also get a green light when they appear in grass-fed animal products and dairy products, such as butter. (Remember most bad trans fats are manufactured to improve taste and extend shelf life in products).
Examples of healthy monounsaturated fats: nuts, olive oil, and avocados.
Examples of healthy polyunsaturated fats: salmon, vegetable oil, walnuts, and sunflower seeds.
…And Those To Be Avoided
Fats are one of the areas where we like to emphasize “clean keto”. For many, keto is a dieter’s dream, as you’re allowed to consume quantities of satisfying dietary fats like those mentioned above. However, there are types of fats you should reduce or eliminate. The quality of the foods you consume on keto matters!
To be avoided are processed trans fats, the manufactured type, such as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils found in processed foods like cookies, crackers, margarine, and fast foods. And, processed vegetable oils such as sunflower, safflower, and canola oils.
Your focus while on Keto should be choosing fats as unprocessed as possible. And, just like Paleo, or any other clean diet, avoid processed, packaged foods. “IIFYM”(If It Fits Your Macros) doesn’t cover the whole picture: in addition to the correct fat, carb, and protein ratio, your diet needs to encompass promoting general health and wellness.
Coconut oil is great for weight loss, increasing energy expenditure and fat burn. It helps with satiety, keeping you feeling full longer and reducing hunger cravings. It can be used as an immediate source of energy, and it should become a staple in your ketogenic diet.
Other benefits: studies show that coconut oil aids in addressing visceral fat, the dangerous fat in the abdominal area; helps fight infections; reduces inflammation; improves cholesterol levels; lowers the risk of heart disease; and fights infection.
Coconut oil contains MCTs, Medium-Chain Triglycerides, a staple in any keto diet, and for very good reason. MCTs have been around in sports nutrition products going back to the very early days. Remember when Muscle Milk was first introduced? Great taste, good nutritionals, albeit a bit high in fat. Muscle Milk was many people’s first exposure to MCTs. Today, MCTs are ubiquitous in the keto world. They are converted in the liver into ketones, which are used by the body as fuel in lieu of glycogen. And they are used immediately rather than being stored as fat. Research also shows that MCTs are thermogenic, that is, used for fat-burning. Imagine, immediate energy, fat-burning properties, great taste. Who needs a pre-workout filled with carbs, sugars, and caffeine. The primary source of MCTs is coconut oil, but they are also found in butter and palm oil.
Today, many of the nutrition and supplement companies are offering MCTs both in liquid and powder form for use in smoothies and shakes.
As MCTs have risen in popularity in the keto and supplement worlds, so too has the grass-fed concept. Grass-fed beef, once the domain of Whole Foods and Sprouts, is now available in most major supermarkets. Whey protein from grass-fed cows is equally as popular.
It would seem intuitive that all cows feed on grass, so why the phenomenon? The long, detailed answer would repulse you, so we’ll just hit the key issues:
- To satisfy an ever-increasing demand for protein, most commercial cows today are not free range.
- They live in “concentrated animal feeding operations” and are fed grains and whatever else will get them the largest, the fastest.
- They are treated with antibiotics and hormones – bigger, stronger, faster.
- Conversely, grass-fed beef is raised on a forage diet in a pasture. There are even government standards in place today to identify the standard for grass-fed products.
Your choice: free-range or CAFO animals. Personally, I prefer my antibiotics and hormones prescribed by a physician. Not to mention, grass-fed beef is more nutrient dense and has a higher macronutrient profile.
This one is a bit of a no-brainer, it’s simply butter from a grass-fed cow. It’s thought that the butter from grass-fed cows is healthier as it contains a higher amount of unsaturated fatty acids. Also, grass-fed butter has only those natural trans fats and only about 100 calories per tablespoon.
Avocados are among the healthiest, high fat, low carb fruits (not a vegetable) on the planet. They contain fiber, copper, folate, and potassium, as well as the letter vitamins K, E, C, B1, B2, B3 B5 and B6. With only 2 net carbohydrates per 100 grams, the avocado is another staple of the keto diet.
Eggs: on keto, eat the whole egg, yolks and whites! Egg yolks contain HDL fats, good fats, and they are also one of the rare sources of Omega 3 besides seafood. Eggs are another staple for the ketogenic dieter. Not only are they nutritious, they are also low in carbohydrates – and remember, we are avoiding carbs, not fats.
Nuts are in complete compliance with keto principles and a great way of adding healthy fats to snacks or meals. Nuts are also a source of fiber which is important as many high fat keto foods do not yield much in the way of fiber. Fiber is essential for maintaining ketosis since it keeps blood sugar levels in check. And nuts offer the convenience of allowing you to achieve your macros with just a quick snack in an ultra-convenient format.
Better Health Through Better Fats
Your body has evolved to live off fat. We have ample stores of fat in the body and can go for weeks on end using fat as food. The body can store somewhere around 2000 calories worth of glycogen (stored sugar) at any given time. Compare that with anywhere between 50,000–100,000 calories of stored fat.
So don’t fear fats, and most certainly don’t blame the fats, they didn’t do it!