The Best Healthy Fats to Eat on the Keto Diet
You’ve probably heard about the keto diet, which focuses mainly on healthy fatty foods. Monounsaturated fats (in olive oil and olives, canola oil, almonds, cashews, peanuts, peanut butter, sesame seeds, and avocados) raise good HDL cholesterol, lower bad LDL cholesterol, and protect against the buildup of plaque in your arteries. In addition to lowering your LDL, polyunsaturated fats contain essential omega-3 fatty acids (in fish like salmon, mackerel, and herring, as well as canola oil, flaxseed, walnuts, and tofu), which boost brain function and may help strengthen your immune system and improve your mood as well as omega-6 fatty acids (in corn and safflower oil, corn-fed chicken and beef, and farmed fish), which in small amounts can keep skin and eyes healthy.
“The ketogenic diet (commonly called simply keto), is high in fat, extremely low in carbohydrates, and contains moderate protein,” explains Sheri Kasper, R.D.N., a dietitian, cofounder of Fresh Communications. That means the best keto foods are generally ones that are very high in healthy fat. “By way of comparison, keto diets are typically around 75 percent calories from fat, 20 percent from protein and 5 percent from carbs,” says Kasper. For some perspective, if you look at the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the recommendations for an average, healthy person is 20 to 35 percent of calories from fat, 10 to 35 percent of calories from protein, and 45 to 65 percent of calories from carbs.
When it comes to high-quality, healthy fatty foods, dairy earns top marks. “Aged cheeses, like cheddar, are naturally lactose-free and a great addition to the keto diet,” she says. “Cheese contains many essential nutrients like protein, potassium, and calcium. And emerging research suggests that fat found in dairy may be a healthy choice.” (Related: The Benefits of Milk Outweigh the Potential Downsides of Dairy.)
Ahead, 12 of the best healthy fats to eat—whether you’re on the keto diet or not.
Full-Fat Greek Yogurt
“Plain, full-fat Greek yogurt is a good keto choice,” says Julie Upton, R.D., cofounder of Appetite for Health. “While it’s high in protein, it’s also high in saturated fats,” she points out. A mix of saturated and unsaturated fats is typical when following a keto meal plan, but experts still agree that fatty foods rich in the saturated kind should be eaten in relative moderation. “However, there are several studies that suggest the saturated fat in dairy foods may not be as detrimental to heart health compared to saturated fats from meats and other sources,” says Upton.
Nuts are definitely one of the best healthy fats to eat, but “not all nuts are created equal when it comes to the keto diet,” says Kasper. “For example, cashews are higher in carbohydrates. Macadamia nuts are a great fit because they are high in healthy fat and low in carbs.”
Virgin Coconut Oil
“Virgin coconut oil is a highly saturated fat, but it also provides some medium-chain triglycerides that are readily burned as fuel,” says Upton. “One tablespoon of coconut oil has 117 calories and 14 grams of total fat, 12 of which are saturated. Using virgin coconut oil will help ensure that the oil contains some of the natural plant chemicals that may have other health benefits.” Still, Upton cautions that since coconut oil is so high in saturated fat, only use the fatty food in small amounts.
Salmon and Tuna
Look no further than the sea for healthy fats to eat regardless of whether you’re on the keto diet or not. “Fatty fish are keto-friendly food choices because they provide high-quality protein and are rich in beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, which help temper inflammation and reduce the risk for many chronic diseases,” says Upton.
Seeds are another example of healthy fats you’ll want to be eating on the reg—not just around Halloween. “Seeds are nutrient-dense, high in mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids, and offer a hearty dose of protein,” says Kasper. In fact, 75 percent of the fat in pumpkin seeds is monounsaturated or polyunsaturated.
One of the healthiest fatty foods, these seeds also provide fiber, protein, and other vitamins and minerals. “Pumpkin seeds are a great choice because they are rich in many minerals such as zinc, which supports immunity, and magnesium, which is an anti-inflammatory.”
“Algae is an unsung hero in the keto diet world,” says Kasper. “With plenty of omega-3s (where did you think the fish get it?), more than 40 vitamins and minerals, and zero net carbs, algae is a dream food for the health-conscious keto dieter.” It’s not just about fatty foods—fatty drinks can help keep you in ketosis, too. Throw a scoop of spirulina or chlorella, two kinds of green super powders made from algae, into your smoothie, or grab the healthy fat in tablet form to take as a supplement.
Quality sources of this healthy fats to eat matter, so make sure you get the good stuff. “High quality, cold-pressed olive oil is flavorful, high in monounsaturated fatty acids, and may have anti-inflammatory properties,” says Danielle Aberman, R.D.N., a dietitian and co-owner of Migraine Relief Coach. “Diets high in olive oil have been shown to lower the risk of several diseases.”
To lower overall saturated fat intake while consuming a diet with many fatty foods, use olive oil in place of butter to sauté vegetables and proteins. And ditch the store-bought salad dressings and try making your own simple vinaigrette using olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and Dijon mustard.
You probably could have guessed avocado would be on the keto foods list since they’re one of the easiest and tastiest ways to up your healthy fat intake. “Avocados are rich in healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats, plus fiber and antioxidants,” says Upton. “Avocados are a great choice as a fat because other fats, like oils, don’t have the fiber of avocados.” In fact, the fiber content in this fatty food might help you feel fuller longer, she says, which is always a win. This fruit also contributes antioxidants and nearly 20 different vitamins and minerals. ICYMI—or have cut yourself far too many times—here’s how to properly cut an avocado.
Eggs are also one of the best keto foods. “A large egg provides 13 essential nutrients, 6 grams of the most high-quality protein available, 5 grams of total fat, and 1.5 grams of saturated fat,” says Upton. And it’s not just the fat content that makes them so amazing. “Eggs are also one of the few natural sources of vitamin D, and they contain choline, which is essential for brain health. They also have antioxidants that are good for eye health.”
Full-Fat Coconut Milk
“This high-fat milk contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which aid in energy production and raise your (good) HDL cholesterol,” says Sarah Ashman, R.D.N., a dietitian based in Kansas City, MO. “It’s incredible in smoothies and coffee.”
Keto is high fat, not necessarily high protein, so you don’t need a ton of meat on your grocery list. But steak can be a good high-fat, quality-protein option, says Kasper. “Grass-fed steak is overall a bit leaner, but contains more heart-healthy omega fatty acids.”
These include avocado, grape seed, walnut, and sesame oils. “These plant-based oils are low in saturated fats and provide monos and polys,” says Upton. Plus, since they come from antioxidant-rich fatty foods, they have some of the same beneficial properties.