All About Fat

Healthy fats on a low-carb diet.

Have you been on a low-carb diet for a while and find yourself wondering what types of fat are healthy? Maybe you’re curious about low-carb, but want to know the basics before getting started. In this guide, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about fat to help get you started and make the best choices.

There are two types of fats in our food: unsaturated and saturated. Unsaturated fat is found in plant-based foods, such as avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil. Saturated fat is found primarily in animal products like butter or fatty cuts of meat.

Healthy fats are essential for many bodily functions, including maintaining healthy skin and hair, building cells to form tissues like bone marrow or brain tissue, regulating hormones that affect mood and blood sugar levels (like insulin), protecting organs from injury during exercise or illness by providing energy when needed—and more! It’s important to know which type you’re consuming, so you can make the best choices for your body.

What Is Fat? The Functions of Fat in the Body

Fat is a type of macronutrient that our body needs to survive. It helps regulate blood sugar levels, builds cells, regulates hormones, and protects organs. But not all types of fat are good for us, so it’s important to know the differences so you can choose healthy fats.

What are Healthy Fats?

Top view of foods containing healthy natural fat laid out on a table.Healthy fats have the following properties:

  1. Unsaturated fats are found in plant-based foods like avocados, nuts, seeds, or olive oil.
  2. Saturated fats are found primarily in animal products like butter or fatty cuts of meat.
  3. They’re either monounsaturated (m-fat), which includes oleic acid or omega-9 fatty acids; polyunsaturated (p-fat), which includes omega-fats; or both.

Types of Healthy Fats & Their Functions

Unsaturated Fat: Monounsaturated vs. Polyunsaturated

Unsaturated fats can lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels. These fats help the body absorb other nutrients better, like vitamin E, beta carotene, and essential fatty acids.

There are two types of unsaturated fats: monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats.

Monounsaturated Fats

Monounsaturated fats are found in plant-based foods like avocados, nuts, seeds, or olive oil. These oils are liquid at room temperature due to their low content of polyunsaturated fat. They contain more of the healthy omega-9 fatty acids than any other fat. Monounsaturated fats are considered the healthiest type of fat.

Polyunsaturated Fats

Polyunsaturated fats are either monounsaturated (m-fat), which includes oleic acid or omega-9 fatty acids; polyunsaturated (p-fat), which includes omega-fats; or both. Polyunsaturated fats are mainly found in vegetable oils, such as sunflower, safflower, sesame, soybean, and corn oils. This is also the main fat found in seafood.

The two types of polyunsaturated fats are omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids.

Omega-6s are essential fatty acids that can improve blood clotting, control inflammation, and stimulate mental processes. Omega-3s are also essential fatty acids that can fight depression, make brain cells grow faster, and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Some polyunsaturated fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids, can improve heart health and brain function by reducing inflammation and lowering the risk of depression. Omega-6 is inflammatory when consumed in excess but can be healthy when eaten in moderation.

Saturated Fat

Sources of saturated fat displayed on a table.This type of fat contains cholesterol. It provides energy when needed and helps the body absorb vitamins A, D, E, & K. Saturated fats are found in foods like butter or fatty cuts of meat—basically any animal product that’s not labeled as low-fat. Coconut oil is another saturated fat that can be used for cooking because it has minimal flavor—it tastes slightly sweet with a hint of coconuttiness. Other examples include cheese, cream, sour cream, beef/chicken/turkey, lard, or pork fat.

What Is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a fat-like substance found in the body, which your liver naturally produces. It’s also found in certain foods like egg yolks or shellfish that you eat. Cholesterol isn’t all bad—your cells need it to build new proteins and make other important chemicals needed for life! In fact, there are two types of cholesterol: HDL (good) & LDL (bad).

Graphic showing the types of cholesterol with images of a normal artery and a narrowed artery.Cholesterol helps maintain normal fluidity in membranes while pushing other molecules around it; this allows nutrients to move into cells for energy or pass through cell walls when needed. However, too much cholesterol can lead to plaque buildup, which causes heart disease. When eaten as part of food, such as eggs or red meat, dietary cholesterol doesn’t usually cause problems because our bodies remove excess amounts.

It is estimated that approximately 30% of your body’s cholesterol comes from the food you eat; the rest is made within your body. Research has found that cholesterol from the food you eat doesn’t raise overall cholesterol much and does little to contribute to heart disease. Usually, when you consume more cholesterol in your diet, your body produces less cholesterol to compensate.

What Types of Fat Should I Eat? Healthy Fats on a Low-Carb Diet

You should eat fat that has been minimally processed and occurs naturally in food.

For many years, the standard advice was to reduce fat intake in order to reduce the risk of heart disease. However, research is mixed, and many studies show that reducing fat does not impact cardiovascular health. Further, the research studies that have found a link between lower fat and reduced heart disease don’t account for the type of fat eaten or the rest of the individual’s diet.

For example, eating a carb-heavy diet full of processed foods and baked goods is significantly different from eating a low-carb diet full of whole natural foods.

If you’re concerned about cholesterol levels, you may want to have your doctor run blood work before starting a low-carb diet and then again every few months after that to evaluate your levels.

Here are some healthy sources of each type of fat:

Monounsaturated Fat

  • Olives and Olive oil
  • Avocados
  • Nuts (almonds, cashews, pecans, peanuts)
  • Sesame oil

Polyunsaturated Fat

  • Fatty fish (salmon or tuna)
  • Walnuts
  • Avocado oil
  • Flaxseeds

Saturated Fat

  • Red meat
  • Dairy (heavy cream, cheese, butter)
  • Coconut, coconut oil, coconut cream

Keep in mind that most foods don’t contain only one type of fat. Take eggs, for example – A serving of two large eggs contains 11 grams of fat, consisting of 3.5 grams of saturated fat, 2 grams of polyunsaturated fat, and 5 grams of monounsaturated fat.

What Types of Fat Should I Avoid? Unhealthy Fats on a Low-Carb Diet

Trans Fat

Close up view of a nutrition label with Trans Fat highlighted in yellowTrans fats are one of the worst unhealthy fats and should be avoided at all costs. Trans fats produce a lot of oxidant molecules called free radicals, which can increase your risk for diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. Trans fat also increases the bad LDL cholesterol and lowers the good HDL cholesterol in your blood, so these fats should be avoided to maintain a healthy heart.

Trans fats are found in processed foods like vegetable shortening, margarine, commercial baked goods, and fried snacks. They’re also found in fast food items like french fries or apple pie.

Palmitic acid, stearic acid, and myristic acid are three names for trans fats.

Vegetable Oil

We recommend avoiding vegetable oils such as safflower, sunflower, corn, soy, and peanut. These oils are highly processed, and more research is needed on the impact of highly processed oils on health.

Better options for cooking and baking are olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, or butter.

How Much Fat Should I Eat?

On a low-carb diet, fat is your primary energy source. Because of this, it’s important that you’re eating healthy fats. Research trials comparing a low-carb, high-fat diet to a moderate-carb, low-fat diet for people with type 2 diabetes over 12 months found the low-carb, high-fat diet had the greatest success. “In a 12-month trial, adults with elevated HbA1c and body weight assigned to a low-carb diet had greater reductions in HbA1c, lost more weight, and reduced more medications than those instructed to follow a low-fat diet.”

Top view of healthy foods rich in natural fat, good for a low-carb diet for diabetes.If you’re using the low-carb recipes on our website, you don’t need to worry about calculating how much fat you should be eating. We’ve formulated all of our recipes to be naturally low-carb and high-fat. When following this diet, the general rule of thumb is to eat until you’re full. You don’t need to worry about adding in extra fat or trying to reach a certain goal.

While healthy fats are an important part of a low-carb, high-fat diet, it’s also important that you don’t go overboard trying to add in lots of extra fat beyond what our recipes include. On a low-carb diet, your body is using fat for fuel. This includes the fat you eat and also excess body fat. If losing weight is one of your goals, you want to make sure that you’re not eating so much fat in your diet that your body isn’t able to burn body fat.

Check out all of our delicious low-carb, high-fat recipes!