Going ketogenic has made me scrutinize my fat sources even more than before. This is an essential practice for anyone seriously pursuing a ketogenic diet. As fat will comprise the majority of your calories, you need to maximize the nutrition you’ll obtain from the fats you choose. You could technically go keto using canola oil, refined coconut oil, and MCT oil powder—many of the ketogenic formulas used in epilepsy clinics are highly processed and refined—but I wouldn’t recommend it. Micronutrients still matter. They arguably matter even more when your food sources are restricted.
I try to get whole food fats. If the fat is isolated and extracted, I try to make sure it’s rich in micronutrients. If it’s low in micronutrients, I make sure I have a good reason to consume it.
There are many reasons. Some rooted more in nutrition, some more in pleasure, some convenience.
So what are my favorite fat sources? How do I use them? What do I find so appealing?
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
From the historical precedent (1000s of years of heavy use in the Mediterranean and Levant), the clinical support (hundreds of trials showing beneficial effects), and the light peppery finish, it’s difficult for anyone to deny the beauty and enduring utility of a good bottle of extra virgin olive oil. I’ll. Even though EVOO is quite robust in the face of high heat, I still prefer using it in certain dressings and for lightly grilling fish, just to preserve the delicate flavor.
Go to a farmer’s market and buy the local olive oil that tastes best to you. Absent that, the EVOOs from California are usually quite good (and real).
Extra Virgin Avocado Oil
I rifled through dozens of avocado producers to find the perfect source of avocado oil so that I could sell the best product, sure, but also because I wanted the best for myself. That’s ultimately how I come up with any of my projects and businesses—to scratch my own itches. It seems to be working, because I haven’t had a tastier oil that asserts itself without losing its capacity to work with other foods. EVOO doesn’t work with everything. EVAO, in my experience, does.
In powder form, coconut milk creates the creamiest, smoothest protein (whether whey or collagen) powder I’ve ever tasted, which is why I added it to Primal Fuel and Collagen Fuel. Plus, it’s a great source of medium chain triglycerides, special fatty acids that convert directly into ketones.
The fact that it’s a traditional fat used by many successful Pacific Islander cultures, sometimes in copious amounts, without any indication of poor health consequences is another mark in its favor.
Gram for gram, egg yolks are the most nutrient-dense fat around. And they’re not just something you scramble. They’re legitimate culinary fats. No, you won’t sauté your veggies in egg yolk. That wouldn’t work. Egg yolks can provide the backbone of a salad dressing, like classic Caesar or one of my personal favorites (yolks, sesame oil, minced garlic, lemon juice, kosher salt, pepper, and a little avocado oil to round it out). You can drop them whole into sauces right after you turn off the heat to thicken. They blend well into smoothies and hot coffee.
Go for local pastured eggs if you can get them. If not, many grocery stores are starting to offer very good pastured eggs, and not just the health food stores. Vital Farms pastured eggs are very good and available pretty much everywhere, like Target and major grocery stores.
Maybe next year it’s aged gouda. And the year after that, pecorino romano. but right now, I’m really digging Emmental cheese. If you haven’t had it, Emmental is a medium-hard Swiss-style cheese. It’s not intense like an aged gouda. It’s nutty and mild, so you have to really listen to the flavors to extract the most pleasure.
True Emmental comes from raw, grass-fed cow milk. Look for that kind.
It’s also my current favorite on my latest version of my Big-Ass (Keto) Salad. Emmental, along with avocado and avocado oil-based Caesar dressing, is in part what makes me call it my “fat bomb” salad. As most of you know, my Big Ass Salad has always been the centerpiece to my day, but it’s even more important now. It’s become a crucial vehicle for the delivery of my daily fat intake during my keto stretches. If you haven’t already, go check out my new and improved Big-Ass Keto Salad. Try it, and let me know what you think.
These days, I mostly use grass-fed butter on any steamed veggie that enters my mouth. Broccoli, spinach, kale, cauliflower, and dozens more. I’ll also dip shrimp in melted butter.
Kerrygold is a stalwart and available almost everywhere.
Bacon Fat for Sautéing Veggies and Frying Eggs
Man can’t live on bacon alone. It’s just not feasible or advisable to obtain the bulk of your calories from bacon strips. But if you keep some bacon fat around for sautéing veggies and frying eggs, you’ll always have that hint of bacon. Now, some caveats. I cook my bacon slow over low heat, which reduces oxidative damage to the fats. My bacon comes from pigs fed oats and barley, which creates a more oxidatively-stable fatty acid profile (higher in MUFAs, lower in PUFAs) and imbues the fat with more actual antioxidants. Don’t know what the pigs ate? The harder/firmer the raw bacon, the more saturated/monounsaturated/stable it’ll be.
Aim for pastured and/or firm bacon.
I err on the side of tradition, usually. And if I’m making an Indian curry or sautéing some okra with mustard seed, turmeric, and ginger, I stick with ghee. That’s what these recipes were “meant” to include, and it tastes great. Ghee’s also a good option for high heat searing, since the proteins and lactose (which burn) have been completely removed.
If I’m eating starch, I’ll often turn to red palm oil. A couple of red potatoes, baked, smashed (skin on), then doused with red palm oil, sprinkled with crunchy salt and a ton of cracked black pepper? Almost no one in the history of the world has eaten this, let alone eats this on a regular basis, but it’s really good. It’s also quite good on butternut squash (less starchy than potatoes) with turmeric, salt, and black pepper. (Both versions are strictly for my non-keto days.)
As for African dishes, I’m far from an expert. What seems to work is sautéing garlic, onions, tomatoes, and ginger in red palm oil, then adding some protein (chicken or fish, usually), and stirring in a nut butter and perhaps some hot pepper toward the end.
Best stuff I’ve had came from a random West African market, sold in mason jars marked only with the country of origin. The redder the better. Good to look for sustainable sourcing, too. If you don’t have any of those nearby, this one’s good too.
Mac Nut Butter
I’ll eat other nuts, like Brazils (selenium) and almonds (magnesium), but I don’t consider them to be fat sources. They’re certainly rich in fat. They just have other macronutrients, too. Mac nuts are basically pure fat. Mac nut butter, if it comes from really good mac nuts (and there can be some duds), is so sweet and buttery that I consider a spoonful of it a worthy dessert.
I usually grind my own in the food processor.
Talk about dessert. A big spoonful of coconut butter provides a whopping dose of medium chain triglycerides and other saturated fats, plus fiber and manganese. I vastly prefer using a blend of coconut butter and bone broth to plain coconut milk when making curries. And that spoonful will really take the edge off while allowing you to remain ketogenic.
Hummus shmummus. I like hummus. I really do, especially given my updated stance on legumes. But for the time being I’m strictly keto, and I can’t really eat more than a tablespoon of hummus and hope to maintain. Luckily, tahini—the sesame paste that’s integral to good hummus—is great on a spoon. If you get a good source, it’s actually quite sweet and, again, qualifies as a keto dessert. Tahini also works well in salad dressings.
Sometimes coconut fat isn’t enough. Sometimes I want a more concentrated source of medium chain triglycerides to boost ketone production, like before a workout. These days, myfavorite pre-workout meal is a Collagen Fuel smoothie with extra MCT oil. The collagen fills my glycine reserves in preparation for connective tissue loading and healing, and the MCTs provide a bit more oomph.
I keep both powdered MCT oil and liquid on hand.
Whipped Cream with Mascarpone Cheese (and Lime Zest) on Berries for Dessert
The beauty of being fat-adapted is that you realize “sweet” is relative. The minuscule amounts of lactose in whipped cream and mascarpone are plenty sweet enough, especially combined with a bowl of ripe blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries. If it’s not, you can add a pinch or two of sugar (or brown sugar, or honey, or even just stevia) to increase the sweetness without incurring too many carbs.
Throw the cream and mascarpone in a metal bowl using a 2:1 cream to mascarpone ratio and whip it up using an electric beater. And don’t forget the lime zest.
Steamed Heavy Cream in Coffee
What can I say? I’ve tried doing coffee black. If it’s a lighter roast, I can do it. But I still prefer steamed heavy cream in my coffee, and I’m done feeling bad about that. Sorry, barista in a bowtie. Now, you don’t need much. If you’re trying to increase fat intake, you can add more. If you just like the taste, I find a splash or two (as opposed to a glug or two) is plenty.
I grab something organic from Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s.
That’s it for today, folks. Those are my favorite fat sources, as of right now. The list might change. It’ll probably grow; I don’t think I’ll suddenly tire of heavy cream or become convinced that coconut fat is killing us all.
What about you? What are your favorite fats? How do you eat them?
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.