Fat is the main macronutrient on the keto diet. A whopping 70% of your calories come from fat once you adopt this lifestyle. And a big portion of it is in the form of edible oils — many used for cooking.
Because you’ll also be increasing your intake of this macronutrient through keto oils, you definitely want to pay attention to quality and variety.
Quality cooking oils will ensure you’re doing what’s best for your health, while variety will ensure you’re not overfed and undernourished (a paradoxical state of our times).
Below, you’ll learn everything you need to know about what constitutes healthy oils on a keto diet.
But before we get into the best oils for keto, let’s look at what types of fat we need for optimal nutrition and which ones you’re better off without.
Different Types of Keto Fats
Fat is one of the three macronutrients, the other two being carbohydrates and proteins. Like other macros, your body uses fat to make energy and support basic physiological functions, like hormone production and tissue building .
Fats are composed of fatty acids classified by their degree of saturation into saturated and unsaturated and by their chain length into short-, medium-, and long-chain fatty acids.
Different fatty acids have different effects on health, and based on this, can be further classified as:
Good Keto Fats
Good fats are those that are high in monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs). Some sources of MUFAs include:
- Olive oil
- High-oleic sunflower oil
- Nuts and seeds
MUFAs are believed to be responsible for the healthfulness of olive oil and Mediterranean diets in general .
They help lower bad (LDL) cholesterol levels, including more damaging, small, and dense particles.
They also seem to help reduce blood triglyceride levels. Both things are believed to reduce a person’s risk of heart disease.
Bad Keto Fats
Bad keto fats are those high in trans fatty acids. Luckily, these are rare in natural food, and their once biggest source — partially hydrogenated oil — has been phased out since 2018.
Store-bought foods that may still contain them, however, include :
- Pie crusts
- Stick margarine
They’re also found in trace amounts in dairy products.
Trans fats are considered bad for health because they simultaneously raise bad (LDL) cholesterol and lower good (HDL) cholesterol .
They also seem to promote fat storage in the liver, whole-body inflammation, and oxidative stress.
The best way to avoid these fats is by reading labels, as manufacturers must list their content on the label.
Fats deemed unhealthy for decades and now increasingly seen as neutral are saturated fatty acids.
Major sources of these fats are:
- Butter and ghee
- Cheese and cream
- Red meat and poultry
- Coconut and palm oil
Saturated fats took most of the blame for the growing epidemic of heart disease in the latter half of the 20th century or ever since the Seven Countries Study found an apparent link.
The American Heart Association and similar organizations worldwide hold this stance even today.
Furthermore, saturated fats comprise a wide group of fatty acids with different chain lengths and effects on health.
In other words, different saturated fats have different effects on us . Medium-chain-triglycerides (MCTs), for example, are digested and used completely differently than medium and long-chain saturated fats.
There’s also a group of fats you can’t do without; that is why they’re called essential. Essential fats include omega-6 fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids.
Sources of omega-6 fatty acids include:
- Soybeans and soy products
- Safflower and sunflower oil
- Most nuts and seeds
Foods rich in omega-3 fats are:
- Fatty fish
- Flax and chia seeds
- Algae oil
- Canola oil
Studies show most of us today are eating way more omega-6s than omega-3s , leading to chronic disease states.
The problem with this is that omega-6 fats are pro-inflammatory, while omega-3s are anti-inflammatory. Your focus, then, should be to control your intake of the former and boost your intake of the latter as much as possible to improve health.
Knowing which fats are good, bad, or essential can help you decide which cooking oils to use for your keto meal preparations.
Best Oils on a Keto Diet
Cooking oils and other edible fats are 80-100% pure fat. Most are a mixture of several fatty acids, but usually, one fatty acid predominates in a given oil.
When choosing the best oil for keto, you want ones that are rich in healthy, essential, or neutral fats. With that in mind, examples of oils and fats people most commonly include on their keto diet are:
Butter is at least 80% fat and a keto diet favorite.
It was seen as unhealthy for a really long time due to its saturated fat content .
But over the past decade, people have started viewing butter differently, especially after a 2016 systematic review and meta-analysis found no evidence butter has a negative effect on health .
Go for grass-fed butter whenever possible since this type has more essential omega-3 fats, CLAs, and is better for the environment .
Ghee is 100% milkfat, most of which is saturated.
It’s a special type of clarified butter that originated in ancient India.
It’s popular among keto eaters as a source of ketogenic fats but also for its high smoke point, nutty taste, and greater fat content.
You can easily make ghee at home or purchase grass-fed, quality brands in stores and online. Alternatively, choose plain clarified butter.
While there is some debate whether ghee is healthier than butter, we know that it has many of the same fatty acids and vitamins as butter .
Ghee can be used in place of butter for frying, sautéing, in butter coffee, in baking, and so much more!
A much-forgotten cooking fat that can replace butter and shortening in many recipes, lard can also be a great addition to your keto pantry.
Despite coming from an animal, lard is high in heart-healthy MUFAs. However, it’s also rich in saturated fats, which you need to consider .
Lard has a high smoke point and makes for crispy baked goods. You’ll see that there are many different types of lard out there, and some may be better for you than others.
Avocados are popular among low-carb dieters because they’re a unique plant food. They’re low in carbs but high in fats, especially MUFAs. Similarly, avocado oil is noted for its high MUFA composition (up to 70% avocado oil are MUFAs) .
Avocado oil can help you get heart-healthy MUFAs into your diet.
It’s also a great substitute for olive oil, where a more neutral, mild-tasting oil is needed. It is pricey, though, and there have been reports of adulteration and misleading sales practices.
Considered the healthiest oil on the planet, there’s no reason not to include olive oil on your keto diet.
It’s a must-have for Mediterranean-style recipes, where its fruity, nutty flavor can’t be beaten.
This traditional cooking oil has a similar nutrient profile to avocado oil, with 70% of its fat being heart-healthy MUFAs .
But unlike avocado oil, it’s a little bit cheaper, more available, and there are more standards in place for it to protect the consumer.
Always choose extra-virgin olive oil to get the antioxidant benefits responsible for its amazing impact on health .
If you love coconut flavor, definitely don’t pass on virgin coconut oil for your keto diet.
It’s great for making tasty fat bombs, as a replacement for butter in baking, as an energy-booster in keto coffee, as a keto cooking oil, and even as a skincare ingredient.
Along with palm oil, coconut oil is a tropical oil generally seen as unhealthy due to its high saturated fat content. In fact, it has more saturated fat than butter at 82% .
But what many seem to be overlooking is the fact that most of these saturated fats are of medium-chain length, which has unique health properties .
Ok, so MCT oil is not exactly a cooking oil. It’s more of a keto diet supplement that people add to salads, smoothies, fat bombs, and drizzle over their meals.
It is made from coconut oil or palm kernel oil, from which medium-chain triglycerides of up to 10 chains are extracted.
These types of MCTs are proven to have unique health benefits not seen with other types of fat, like weight loss and appetite suppression .
The main reason keto dieters use MCT oil is for immediate energy, which this oil definitely provides.
However, it would be best to consume it in moderation as it is known to cause a digestive upset at higher doses.
Of course, this is only a limited list of the most popular oils you can have on keto. But if you’re a beginner, stick to these options for now.
And Which Oils to Avoid on Keto?
Some cooking oils and fats are better avoided, keto diet or not. We’re talking oils that are highly refined, high in trans fats, or pro-inflammatory omega-6 fats.
Refined oils have undergone a lengthy process of purification to make them shelf-stable and safe for consumption. But this comes at a cost: these oils don’t have the antioxidants and vitamins naturally found in their unrefined form.
But the biggest problem with these oils is their omega-6 fatty acids.
In 2018, an article published in Open Heart proposed a theory of these oils being drivers of coronary heart disease, given that their intake has increased at the same time as the health problem .
It seems that omega-6 fatty acids oxidize easily when found in LDL particles, triggering inflammation in the arteries.
Oils that fall under this category include:
You’ll also want to avoid margarine and shortening since their effect on health isn’t well understood.
In the recent past, both were made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oil and were significant sources of trans fatty acids as a result — the worst kind of fat possible.
Now, novel production methods have changed that, with them containing trace amounts of trans fats.
Still, we can't be sure whether history will repeat itself with these highly processed products.
Cooking oils are an important ingredient in keto recipes. These will not only make for tasty keto dishes but will also contribute to your daily fat intake.
That’s why you want to choose only the healthiest keto oils for cooking there are.
We’ve explained what our current understanding of the effects of different fats is on health. This can help guide you in your choice of keto oils and fats.
But as a rule of thumb, the best ones are proven to promote good health or are even neutral, while the worst ones are high in harmful trans fats, imbalanced in their PUFAs, or of the highly refined type.
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