Fats and Oils
On a ketogenic diet, your main source of fuel, and the majority of your calories, come from dietary fats, so choosing the best quality, easiest to digest fat sources can vastly improve your experience with and outcomes from going on a ketogenic diet. And since eating high fat food is sometimes challenging at first as your digestion gets used to the change, keto food choices should be made in part with digestive ease in mind.
Saturated and monounsaturated fats such as butter/ghee, macadamia nuts and macadamia nut oil, coconut cream, coconut butter and coconut oil, olives and olive oil, avocados and avocado oil, mayo made from avocado, macadamia and/or olive oil, and egg yolks are the high fat foods most easily tolerated by most people, and since they are more chemically stable and have more Omega 3 and less Omega 6 than other sources (including other nuts and seeds), they are less inflammatory and thus more health-promoting. Make these types of fatty foods into sauces and dressings and add liberally to all meals to increase fat content for increased energy and well-being!
The Healthiest Sources of Fats and Oils
- Avocado & avocado oil
- Butter or ghee, from pastured cows
- Chicken fat, organic
- Chocolate, 85-90% dark, small quantities
- Coconut oil, coconut butter and coconut cream
- Duck fat, organic
- Lard, from pastured pigs (non-hydrogenated)
- Macadamia nuts & oil
- Mayonnaise (zero carb, made with macadamia, avocado and/or olive oil and pastured egg yolks)
- Olives and olive tapenade (no sugar added)
- Olive oil, extra virgin (EVOO)
- Red Palm oil (non-hydrogenated)
- Seed and nut oils (walnut, almond, sesame, etc.) – limited use, and don’t heat them
- Tallow, from pastured animals
Fats and Oils to Avoid or Minimize
Avoid hydrogenated and trans-fats (such as margarine), and processed, refined vegetable oils (canola, grapeseed, sunflower, safflower, soy, corn, cottonseed and peanut oils), as these are highly processed and high in inflammatory Omega 6 fats (ie. they go rancid quickly and lead to free radical formation in the body, which accelerates inflammation and aging). Also, as mentioned above, minimize the use of nut and seed oils such as walnut, almond, and sesame, do not heat them, and store them in the refrigerator.
For high heat cooking such as grilling, broiling, frying and sautéing, use coconut oil or pastured lard, tallow or ghee, since these have higher smoke points (meaning they do not become denatured and inflammatory as easily as other oils when heated). Olive oil, avocado oil and macadamia nut oils have medium high smoke points; these are best used for low to medium heat cooking.
Sources of Protein
Fattier cuts of meat are best. Choose pastured or wild animal products as these are the most nutritious and least inflammatory. Visit www.eatwild.com or www.localharvest.org to find local sources. The proteins below are good choices for the keto diet:
- Meat: beef, lamb, veal, goat and wild game
- Pork: pork loin, Boston butt, pork chops, ham. Watch out for added sugar in hams.
- Poultry: chicken, turkey, quail, Cornish hen, duck, goose, pheasant
- All seafood: anchovies, calamari, catfish, cod, flounder, halibut, herring, mackerel, mahi-mahi, salmon, sardines, scrod, sole, snapper, trout, tuna, etc.
- Canned tuna and salmon are fine as long as they have no additives besides salt and oil (Wild Planet is a good quality brand)
- Shellfish: clams, crab (NOT imitation), lobster, scallops, shrimp, squid, mussels, and oysters
- Whole eggs from pastured poultry: Nature’s perfect food!
- Bacon and sausage: check labels and make sure they’re very low in carbs (<1g per serving) and don’t contain additives such as soy or wheat
For a fairly complete list of the best veggies to have on a keto diet, visit my post Low Carb Vegetables. In general, most non-starchy, above-ground-growing vegetables are low in carbs, especially leafy greens and brassicas. When eating veggies, make sure to serve them with a robust amount of fat – butter, olive oil, mayo/aioli, fatty sauces (ex. hollandaise, bernaise, lemon-garlic butter) or keto-friendly dressings (ranch, blue cheese, etc. – make sure they are made with healthy oils and have no sugar added)
To get the best results on a ketogenic diet, avoid all starchy vegetables completely, especially during the first few months, including corn, peas (English, snap, snow), potatoes (sweet, blue, white, yellow), root vegetables (incl carrots, beets, turnips, rutabagas, parsnips), and all winter squashes, as they are higher in carbs.
Also, limit vegetables such as onions, shallots, tomatoes and bell peppers to very small amounts (a couple of tablespoons for flavor) due to their higher carb content.
Full Fat Dairy Products
Raw milk or lower-heat processed dairy products are preferable, such as those from Kalona brand; and dairy from pastured cows is ideal, as it is the most nutritious and least inflammatory.
Please note that dairy proteins (whey and casein) are very insulinogenic (meaning they cause a strong insulin response) in the body, so if you are dealing with a lot of inflammation and/or are having trouble losing weight and/or are having trouble getting into or staying in ketosis, minimize or avoid all dairy products (except for ghee), at least until you’ve reached your goal weight/restored your insulin sensitivity/minimized your levels of inflammation.
- Heavy whipping cream
- Full fat sour cream with no fillers (ex. Green Valley Organics)
- All hard and soft cheeses (1 ounce is typically about 1 carb)
- Cream cheese (count each 1 ounce portion as 1 carb generally)
- Mascarpone cheese
- Double cream / Devonshire cream
- Clotted cream
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are healthiest if soaked overnight and sprouted briefly to remove gut-irritating anti-nutrients and make them more digestible and nutritious. And except for macadamias, nuts and seeds are higher in carbs per serving than the other protein sources listed here, and have more inflammatory Omega 6 oils, plus it’s very easy to go nuts on eating nuts 😛 without realizing it! So limit your consumption of nuts and seeds (and their butters) to an ounce or two a day (a small handful of nuts, or two tablespoons of seeds or butters), and if you are dealing with a lot of inflammation, and/or are having trouble getting into ketosis or losing weight, reduce or avoid nuts for a while.
Beverages – all unsweetened
- Clear broth, bone broth (preferably homemade)
- Decaf or regular coffee or espresso
- Decaf or regular black or green tea
- Herbal tea – watch out for ones with hidden sugar, such as Tazo’s Passion Tea and Celestial Seasonings’ Bengal Spice
- Filtered water
- Flavored seltzer water
- A squirt of fresh lemon or lime juice in water or seltzer
- Coconut milk (unsweetened, canned, full fat, with no additives – I like Trader Joe’s brand – best price and no added junk)
Any sweeteners, even non-caloric ones such as Stevia, Monk Fruit (Luo Han Guo), Erythritol and Xylitol, and natural ones such as Stevia and Monk Fruit (Luo Han Guo), can stimulate an insulin response, especially in those with insulin resistance (which we are trying to fix!), so consuming them will impede getting into ketosis. Avoiding sweetened foods altogether will not only help “reset” the taste buds, but will aid in getting into ketosis faster. But, they can be used in moderation to help ease the process! Just know that at any point, if you feel like you want to make faster progress, taking these out altogether for a while might help.
- It is best to avoid fruit altogether at first while you are working on getting into ketosis; after you’re solidly in fat burning mode and happy with your progress, then berries (any ending in -rries) can be enjoyed occasionally in small amounts (1/4-1/2 cup), as they are relatively low carb.
- Zucchini noodles, Japanese Shirataki noodles and Tofu Shiratake noodles are decent noodle substitutes that are very low carb
- Pork Rinds (these are great with dip, or as a substitute for bread crumbs, but note they are also high in protein, so limit amounts) – Epic brand are of good quality