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Let’s take a look at how much fat you need on Keto, based on your goals. We’ll also examine how different levels of fat intake can affect your energy levels, weight loss, and overall adaptation to ketosis.
Macronutrient breakdown on Keto
Fatty cuts of meat, butter, and coconut oil are great ways to increase your fat intake and keep those ketone fires burning bright.
But what if you’re trying to lose weight? If you’re eating fewer calories in a day than you need to maintain your weight, should you still force yourself to eat extra fat?
For those using Keto as a therapeutic measure, how much fat is truly necessary?
Using carbs for fuel provides quick energy and is easy to digest and replenish for the primed human body.
Your body loves sugar so much that when you have enough glucose in your blood, it will convert the excess into a stored form called glycogen, which it safely tucks away in your liver and muscles.
This glycogen is for when blood sugar is low. Your body can convert glycogen into glucose, and you can maintain your energy levels.
By keeping your carb intake low, you force your body to use all of your available blood sugar and then convert glycogen into glucose.
When that’s gone, your body has to break down fat for fuel, which it does by converting triglycerides into ketones.
Protein is necessary to maintain your muscle, and that doesn’t mean just your biceps and quads.
Every muscle in your body needs adequate protein to function correctly, including skeletal, cardiac, and intestinal musculature.
Protein also digests slowly and helps you feel full for longer, reducing your overall desire to overeat.
Fat provides energy for you while you’re in ketosis, improves satiation, and increases cognitive function. Without dietary fat intake, your body would still enter ketosis but wouldn’t function efficiently.
How much fat is the right amount?
Even though fat helps generate ketones and keeps you full, any calories you ingest will take away from the fat you burn. If you’re using ketosis as a weight-loss tool, the more fat you eat, the longer you’re going to take to reach your goals.
Some keto blogs or books might tell you to eat liberally of all fats, ignoring caloric intake and only eating until you’re full.
The Atkins diet worked like this; by telling people to eat as much fat and protein as they wanted to, they would naturally restrict carbs and, over time, the hunger-suppressing nature of ketones would make them restrict calories, too.
While this works, a well-formulated ketogenic diet wants to track macros to optimize fat burning.
The first thing to do is establish how many calories you need per day to maintain your current weight.
While there are many fat calculators online, a quick and straightforward method to determine your basal metabolic rate – the number of calories you need per day to exist – is to multiply your current weight by 10.
If you eat under this number of calories per day, you should experience weight loss, but there are confounding factors:
Older individuals have slower metabolisms, even if it’s just slightly, and this can impact your body’s ability to burn fat and utilize energy.
People with fatty liver disease or diabetes will also have impaired metabolic functioning, at least at first. As you maintain ketosis, your liver and pancreas will heal, and your cells will become more insulin sensitive.
As this occurs, your ability to burn fat will increase, but the healing needs to take place first, and that can take months, so be patient.
Hormonal imbalance can cause weight gain and stubborn refusal to lose said weight. PCOS, low testosterone, diabetes, and low thyroid are just some of the hormonal imbalances that need to be corrected before optimal weight loss can occur.
It’s worth noting; however, that weight loss itself can improve all of those conditions, so work with your doctor to lose weight and take whatever medication is necessary to improve those conditions.
Some autoimmune disorders can also slow down weight loss.
So if your goal is to lose weight and your BMR is 2000 calories, you don’t want to force yourself to eat fat until you reach 2000 calories per day.
If your goal is fat loss and excess body fat to burn, you don’t need to eat extra calories – your body will convert your mass into ketones and keep your energy levels up.
If you have fat, you don’t need to eat fat (at least in large amounts).
Times when you want to increase your fat intake
There will be times, however, where you’ll want extra fat in your diet, even if you’re trying to lose weight:
When converting from glycolysis to ketosis, you’ll want not to cut your calories at all. Eat freely of fat but keep your macros in line, carbs under 20g, and protein moderate.
The conversion into ketosis – especially your first time – is rough, and if you’re hungry on top of everything else, you’re more likely not to be compliant with the diet.
If you exercise vigorously, you’ll want to eat more calories. Exercise has very little to do with fat loss, but resting muscle mass does increase your caloric requirements, so the more muscle you have, the faster you’ll burn fat.
For someone who lifts weights or does Crossfit, however, you need to take in energy to maintain your ability to exercise well.
It’s not a bad idea to do a refeed every once in a while, where you eat more food than usual but stay within Keto’s confines. Having an indulgent meal of high-fat foods on occasion can help boost your fat loss, though the mechanism isn’t well understood.
It’s likely because persistently eating under your caloric needs makes your body adapt and lower your metabolism. Refeeding helps your body realize it doesn’t need to restrict energy burn anymore and can allow fat loss to continue as normal.
Healthy sources of fat on Keto
Not all fats equal, and some are downright dangerous and unhealthy.
The two main types of fat are saturated and unsaturated, and this refers to how the fat itself behaves at room temperature.
While unsaturated fats are the types of lipids that many nutritionists recommend – especially canola oil – these are often the worse for your body.
They are bad is because they have too much omega-6 fatty acid and not enough omega-3, and when those ratios are skewed like that, it causes systemic inflammation, including the lining of your veins and arteries.
Persistent cardiovascular inflammation increases calcium deposits and likely contributes a great deal to heart disease.
Some unsaturated fats like avocado, walnut, and olive oil are very healthy and great to use when cooking.
There are several reasons for this:
- The higher the temperature you cook oils at, the more they degrade, and degraded oil is significantly more inflammatory. Avocado, walnut, and olive oils maintain stability at cooking temperatures, where other healthy oils might not.
- These three oils have a much better omega-6:omega-3 profile, making them healthier from the outset.
Saturated fats increase testosterone, human growth hormone, and improve immune function. Additionally, they protect the liver from damage and help mobilize fat for ketosis.
Saturated fat also improves your cholesterol profile, making HDL go up, and LDL go down.
All of this is in contrast to “traditional” nutritional guidelines, which tell us we need to have less saturated fat and more unsaturated fat. Still, that recommendation is based on 60-year-old bad science that will not go away.
Natural fats are the way to go, so enjoy butter, coconut oil, lard, and the unsaturated fats we discussed above.
Avoid trans fats, including Crisco and other “plant butter,” as they’re hydrogenated unsaturated fats, which makes them stable and solid, but wreak havoc on our intestines and blood vessels.
Also, avoid canola, vegetable, and peanut oils if you can help it – any unsaturated fat with a high omega-6 profile does more harm than good, especially if you fry with it.
There’s no magic number
The macro split of 70/25/5 fat, protein, and carbs is the target for a ketogenic diet. With that said, however, if you’re trying to lose weight, you don’t need to eat fat even if you’re not hungry.
If your goal is muscle gain and athletic performance, you can add fat in, eating it in excess to promote muscle growth.
Since saturated fat increases growth hormone and testosterone, eating that in conjunction with more protein during weightlifting will be your best bet to increase lean muscle mass.
For those focusing on Keto’s therapeutic aspects for diseases like Parkinson’s or epilepsy, you might need to eat more fat. Childhood epilepsy, for instance, requires roughly 90% of calories from fat to be therapeutic, but it works better than most seizure medication.
It’s up to you to evaluate why you’re eating for ketosis and adjust your fat intake accordingly.
Regardless of why you’re doing ketosis, it’s still an optimal way to eat to decrease inflammation and increase fat loss, improve cognitive function, stabilize mood, and give you more energy.
Track your macros, keep your electrolyte intake up, and enjoy some the freedom that embracing fat gives you.