Many people that I work with struggle to eat a lot of fat when they first start a ketogenic way of eating. They wonder if they can eat less fat and still be on a Keto diet.
Yes, you can eat less fat on a Keto diet. For people who are trying to lose weight, this will actually help achieve your goals, but you need to wait until you are fat adapted before you lower your fat intake.
If you are using Keto for therapeutic purposes or have hormonal issues that need to be addressed, you may need to keep your fat intake high in order to facilitate healing.
High Fat Is Helpful When First Starting Keto
A ketogenic diet is a very low carb, high-fat way of eating. This balance of low carb to high fat helps your body enter the state of ketosis, where your body burns fat for fuel and produces ketones.
Many people struggle to eat enough fat when they first begin a keto diet. It’s understandable, We’ve been told for decades to avoid fat like the plague. These conventional low-fat recommendations are based on sketchy science, and I believe they are the worst thing to happen to our collective health.
Years of avoiding fat, eating low-fat products, replacing fat with carbs, and associating fullness with volume from carbs takes its toll, both on our bodies and our minds. The idea of adding fat to your meals can make you feel guilty or just seem foreign.
I get it. This way of eating is very different from what most of us are used to. But I honestly believe it is more in line with our biology than the Standard American Diet. A well-formulated Keto Diet can not only help you reach your health and weight goals, but it can also keep you healthy for life!
Why is dietary fat so important in the first few weeks of keto?
In your first few weeks eating this way, your only goal should be to get into ketosis and get used to this way of eating. My recommendations for beginners are to keep your carbs below 25 net grams per day, fat should make up 70-80% of your calories, and protein should be about 15-25% of your calories.
If you want to get more in-depth into these Keto macros, check out my article What Are Macros?
Keeping your carbs very low is the most important thing you need to do to get into ketosis. If you are overwhelmed and can only focus on one thing, keeping your carbs low should be it.
Eating more fat will help you, though.
When you first start on Keto, eating high fat has a number of uses and benefits.
1 – Fat helps your body transition into ketosis. The switch from being a sugar burner to a fat burner can be a tough one for some people’s bodies. We are born with the ability to use either glucose (from carbs and sugar) or fat for fuel. But if you’ve been eating a high carb diet for most of your life, your body is out of practice using fat as a main fuel source.
By limiting your carb intake, you are forcing your body to look for another fuel. By eating a large amount of fat, you are showing your body not only what you want it to use for fuel but also that this new fuel is plentiful.
Ketones are also a by-product of fat metabolism. Eating more fat gives your body plenty of fabric to use to make ketones. Ketones are also a fuel source for your brain, and they are used throughout your body for numerous purposes when you are in ketosis (We’re learning more of these all the time!)
As your body gets used to using fat and ketones for fuel, it gets more efficient. We call this being fat-adapted, and it is a key factor in using Keto for weight loss. Being fat adapted is characterized by a decrease in appetite, an increase in energy, steady energy throughout the day, and mental clarity. When you reach this point, if weight loss is your goal, then you can lower your fat intake. More on that below!
2. Fat provides satiety. When you cut carbs out of your diet, you need to replace them with something! This is for fuel as discussed above, but also for satisfaction with your meals, both mental and physical.
The feeling of fullness is different on Keto. It no longer comes from volume, where your stomach just feels full. It comes from nutrients! When your body gets the nutrients it needs, hormones send signals that you’ve had enough to eat. Adding fat to your meals supplies many of these nutrients and will help your body know when you’ve had enough.
Fat also tastes good! There are lots of yummy ways to add fat to your Keto diet, and doing so will help you enjoy your meals. Check out this article on 56 Ways to Add Fat to Your Keto Diet for ideas.
Lower Fat Intake for Weight Loss
It takes the average person about six weeks to become fully fat adapted.
During that time, there are a lot of metabolic changes that need to take place, mitochondria that need to be built, and cellular mechanisms for producing and using ketones that need to be practiced before your body can be a true fat-burning machine. I suggest you keep your fat in the 70-80% range for at least three weeks and preferably six.
Once you are firmly in ketosis and fat and ketone adapted, if weight loss is your goal, you can lower your fat intake. Keto is low carb, high fat. Like Ted Naiman, M.D. says:
“If your body is high fat, all you really need is low carb.”
Your body will always use dietary fat before it burns your body fat. Your fat stores are just that – fat that your body is storing for the future, in case there is a time when there’s not enough food coming in to meet your needs.
Now that you’re fat-adapted, your body can easily access your stored fat for energy, provided that you keep your carbs low. Be diligent about keeping your carbs low. A regular supply of glucose in your diet will change your hormonal responses and up-regulate those sugar burning mechanisms.
Keep your carbs low and your body will know that it needs to stay in fat-burning mode. Lower your fat intake and it will burn stored fat for fuel.
Once you’re comfortably in ketosis, the need to strictly follow macronutrient ratios is lessened. Tracking your food intake can still be helpful, to keep you paying attention to what and how much you are eating. Just don’t worry about the percentages.
- Be diligent about carbs. Keep your daily intake below 25 net grams. Occasional “carb adventures” won’t completely undo you, and they can be beneficial for some. Just don’t do it often. See my article Cheating on Keto.
- Get enough protein. Look at the number of grams of protein you ate during the first few weeks. How many grams was your 15-25% ratio giving you? Keep your protein intake at that level in grams.
- Still include a minimum of 50 grams of fat. This is a minimum needed for nutrient absorption and satiety. Follow your hunger. That means to set up your meal with protein and veggies, and add only enough fat to feel full and satisfied. This does not mean stuffed! If you eat enough fat to be full by volume, you will definitely be eating too much fat and your body will never access your fat stores.
Fat is needed for nutrient absorption of numerous vitamins and minerals, hormone production, and satiety and enjoyability. It also supplies the building blocks for cells, skin, and hormones.
Keep High Fat for Healing
If you have any condition that requires healing, especially anything hormone-related, continue eating at high-fat levels. This gives your body plenty of time, fuel, and building blocks for repair. (You should, of course, be working with your medical professional, and make sure they know how you are eating.)
This applies even if you have weight to lose. Be patient. Weight loss is a side effect of health.
You can still follow your hunger. You don’t need to force yourself to eat huge amounts of fat if you’re not hungry but pay close attention to your body’s signals, not what an app or someone’s meal plan is telling you. While you are healing, your body may have days where you need more food and days where you need less.
Learn to listen to your body. If you are fat-adapted and eating real whole foods, your body will get better and better and signaling what it needs.
If you are using keto for therapeutic purposes, you will also need to keep your fat high. Therapeutic keto requires high levels of ketones, and you will most likely need to have a high fat intake to support that ketone production.
Fat Intake for Maintenance
Keto is not just for weight loss, it is a lifestyle. I have maintained my ideal weight on a ketogenic diet for years, and I continue to do so because I value better mental health, increase and steady energy, and the anti-inflammatory benefits.
As you follow your hunger, you will find your personal best levels. For me, as an active mom and businesswoman who exercises regularly, I find that keeping my fat intake around 70% of my daily calories works well for me. Your needs may vary, but as you settle in, you will find the levels that feel right for you and where you maintain your weight and health.
Keep in mind that these will change over time. Life circumstances, sleep, stress, and activity all affect your needs. The only constant is change, so keep paying attention to your body and adjust when life throws you curves. Since Keto helps with stress management, you’ll be able to roll with the punches with no trouble. 😊
Founder Advantage Meals
Angela earned her Master's Degree in Holistic Nutrition 14 years ago and began her lifelong journey of nutrition and wellness learning. She began keto meal planning and cooking over a decade ago when she began working with local clients who were under the direct supervision of a medical doctor. Angela is the author of No Cook Keto, the easiest keto meal plan available.