In my two previous CarbSmart columns, I explained what the difference is between the relatively new concept of nutritional ketosis and the traditional Atkins diet and the 5 low-carb mistakes I feel I was making that nutritional ketosis has helped fix. As many of you know, I’ve been doing my own experiment of this concept for over five months and counting (read my updates for Day 1-30, Day 31-60, Day 61-90, Day 91-120 and Day 121-150) and it’s produced some pretty remarkable weight loss and health improvement results so far as I’ve lost over 50 pounds while enjoying robust energy, mental clarity, stable d blood sugars, complete satiety, zero cravings and counterintuitive results in the gym.
It’s been an amazing ride so far and I look forward to continuing this journey in the months to come. But the most popular question I’ve received from people about this by far has been “What the heck are you eating?” It’s a fantastic question as I have consistently been over 2.0 millimolar blood ketone levels for most of this experiment. I have been reluctant to share my exact menus – they are what’s working for me. Some people may not need to eat exactly like me to experience the results that I have; others of you may need to be even more strict. The best thing for you to do is test to see how you respond to various foods and adjust accordingly. We are all different and require varying levels of fat, protein and carbohydrate for our specific metabolic needs. If you are like me and are metabolic deranged, it may be necessary to cut your carbohydrate intake down to the bare minimum, and reduce protein as well.
One of the major keys to my success with nutritional ketosis has been a very deliberate increase in fat consumption. I haven’t been afraid to eat fat on my low carb diet; in the absence of carbs it is the body’s fuel source. But pushing fat levels even higher while restricting carbohydrate and protein has made all the difference in the world. I remember when I first began this experiment, I got a lot of e-mails from readers who asked how I got my fat consumption up to 85% of my calories. Some joked, “What are you doing, drinking butter?” I can’t help but laugh at this notion, but it does allow me to make this a teachable moment for people who may be unfamiliar with the differences in the macronutrients.
When discussing what a very high fat diet consists of, it’s important to remind people that one gram of dietary fat has 9 calories, while carbohydrate and protein each have only four calories per gram. This means you need less than half of the volume of fat in order to get the same calories you would receive from carbohydrate and protein. So it’s really not as much fat as you would think. To help you figure out what to add into your diet to dramatically increase the amount of fat you are consuming, I’ve compiled a list of 12 healthy high-fat foods that are perfect for your nutritional ketosis plan. If you eat these deliciously healthy fatty (but not fattening) foods while reducing your carbohydrate and protein, there’s no reason why you can’t experience all the tremendous positive benefits that come from being in nutritional ketosis.
Here are those 12 high-fat foods you should be eating along with the percentage of calories that come from dietary fat (statistics courtesy of CalorieKing.com):
1. Avocados – 82.5% fat
I remember the first time I tried an avocado – people had told me about how incredible they were. It was so hard I could barely get it open without slicing my thumb off. I didn’t know you have to let this fruit ripen until the “alligator” skin gives way to light pressure. Once I had my first taste of a fully-ripened Haas avocado, it was love at first bite! An avocado is cooling when you’re eating spicy foods, and offers a smooth texture change. I eat a whole avocado almost everyday with my eggs and wouldn’t imagine doing nutritional ketosis without it!
2. Butter – 100% fat
This one should be a “well duh,” as butter is a staple of any good low carb lifestyle change. But when you are attempting to achieve nutritional ketosis, it’s even more important that you deliberately add butter to foods, for both the flavor and the fat content. My favorite brand of butter is Kerrygold grass-fed unsalted (in the silver packaging). Once you get a taste of this bright gold goodness you’ll never go back to anything else! I usually fry up 2-3 eggs in 2-3 tablespoons of butter – it’s an incredibly tasty way to start the day. Why anyone would continue to eat a man-made product like margarine thinking it’s a ”healthy” food, when they could be eating butter, is beyond my comprehension.
3. Whole eggs – 61% fat
Speaking of eggs, they are one of the world’s most perfect foods. Everyone who cares about managing their weight and improving their health should be eating them. I buy eggs from a local farmer who allows his chickens to forage in an open pasture getting plenty of sunshine. The payoff is the rich, dark orange color of the egg yolks – store-bought eggs pale in comparison. If you can find a good source of fresh eggs from a local farmer, do it. Even with the premium price, they are still one of the most economical foods low carb foods. Even when money is tight, you can feed your family well. I eat eggs virtually every day because they provide me with the perfect ratio of protein to fat to keep me on the straight and narrow with my pursuit of nutritional ketosis. Please don’t fall for the idea that the yolk is somehow bad for you. Eat just the egg whites is like only driving a Mustang on the side streets without ever getting on the interstate. You’ll never experience the full benefits of eating eggs until you eat the whole egg!
4. Coconut oil – 100% fat
Other than grass-fed butter, my absolute favorite source of healthy dietary saturated fat is coconut oil. Contrary to popular belief, adding this quality fat to your diet does not make everything you consume taste like coconuts. My favorite brand is Nutiva Organic Virgin Coconut Oil; it imparts a pleasantly sweet smell with a very mild flavor of coconuts. I especially enjoy cooking my eggs in coconut oil along with sea salt and parsley; it gives them a nice “buttery” flavor. Because it is highly saturated, coconut oil has long been vilified as a nutritional demon. That misguided opinion is finally beginning to turn around. If you are trying to increase your level of blood ketones, then there’s probably no better way than to start adding coconut oil to your daily menus.
5. Bacon – 69.5% fat
I don’t have to convince anyone reading this to start eating more bacon, do I? Back in August, at the 2012 Ancestral Health Symposium, Harvard organic chemist Mat Lalonde extolled the virtues of consuming bacon. He noted that the fatty acid profile of this much-vilified food is actually pretty darn close to ideal. Of course, if you can get bacon from pastured pigs, that’s even better! My wife Christine loves bacon and eats it almost every day. Healthy fats, perfect amount of protein and minimal carbohydrates – what more could someone eating a low-carb diet ask for? If you’re concerned about nitrites and nitrates in bacon, then you definitely need to read this recent column by Chris Kresser to put your mind at ease. Bacon goes great with…well, everything. So eat up!
6. Sour cream – 88.5% fat
If you are able to tolerate dairy, I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t want to add sour cream to just about everything you eat. It’s such a rich source of fat while providing amazing flavor and luxurious texture to anything you eat. I’ve put sour cream on top of steak, eggs, even vegetables. Just a couple of tablespoons of sour cream will give your fat intake the boost it needs to help you get into that glorious state of nutritional ketosis. I use the full-fat versions of either Breakstone’s or Daisy, depending on which is on sale. They go on something I eat just about every day. Enjoy!
7. 70% Ground beef – 59.5% fat
What low carb dieter doesn’t like a nice hamburger? The key is to find the fattiest ground beef you can. This can be a challenge in this fat-phobic society. Most of the meats you’ll find in your local grocery store are 85-90% lean, meaning they’ve cut most of the best part of beef out of it! Look for 70% ground beef, and choose locally farmed grass-fed beef whenever possible. EatWild.com can help you find a local source of grass-fed beef. The great thing about a burger is you can cook it in butter, add some cheese (see below), and spread some sour cream on it for a mouthwatering low-carb, high-fat meal that will put you well on your way to reaching nutritional ketosis. WOO HOO! (Editor’s Note: What, no avocado on your burger?!)
8. Full-fat cheddar cheese – 74% fat
Cheese is one of my favorite foods. Sadly, most people think Velveeta and American cheese are cheese. Nope! Not even close. They are highly-processed, cheese-like products that you really don’t want to eat, no matter how low the carb counts might be. Hard cheeses like cheddar, Monterey Jack, and Swiss are better choices. Find the ones that you enjoy, and be sure to buy the full-fat versions. Selecting low-fat cheeses defeats the purpose, and won’t help you reach nutritional ketosis. Cheese is so versatile! Put on top of just about anything, or eat us all by itself. I’ve even found that spreading cream cheese (see below) between two slices of cheddar cheese is an excellent high-fat, moderate protein, low-carb snack. I’ve also found cheese adds the perfect extra ration of protein on days that I lift weights at the gym. Can you tell I love my cheese?
9. Coconut – 88% fat
Growing up, I couldn’t stand coconut. It wasn’t the delightful tropical flavor that coconut provides that bothered me, but the waxy, gritty texture. But the first time I ever ate the meat of a fresh coconut - on Grand Cayman Island during the annual Low-Carb Cruise - oh my gosh! I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. The best part about coconut is that its fatty goodness jacks up those blood ketone levels amazingly. Mix some coconut into a smoothie in the morning and it will keep your hunger satisfied for hours on end. It’s time to get cuckoo for coconuts!
10. Dark chocolate – 65% fat
You might be thinking to yourself, “Say what? Dark chocolate? Are you kidding me?” Nope, I’m not kidding. Lean in really close, because I’ve got a secret to share with you: I eat dark chocolate made with sugar EVERY SINGLE DAY on my nutritional ketosis plan. Yep, I sure do! Sometimes I’ll even have it with some of that Kerrygold grass-fed unsalted butter I mentioned – truly incredible. I’m not talking about cheap, fake dark chocolate or even the sugar-free ones you can buy in most stores. I have fallen head over heels for a brand of chocolate that is far superior to anything I’ve ever put in my mouth before – Taza 80% Stone Ground Dark Chocolate. This stuff contains little chunks of real cacao and even has real sugar in it (GASP!). But I eat a half and sometimes a whole bar of this daily with no negative impact on my blood sugar or blood ketone levels. It’s got to be the cocoa butter that make it such a perfect addition to my nutritional ketosis plan.
11. Cream cheese – 88.5% fat
I said earlier that sour cream was amazing with virtually any food you could consume? Well, the same could be said about cream cheese! This stuff has an amazing fat profile that will give your meals the kind of boost they need to help you reach nutritional ketosis. If you’ve never put cream cheese in your eggs before, lemme tell you that’s an experience you won’t soon forget. It totally changes the texture of eggs; you may never eat them any other way again. I know of no better brand than Philadelphia cream cheese. Again - it bears repeating – beware of the lower-fat version. Read your label to make sure fat is the predominant ingredient and you’ll be good to go.
12. Liquid fish oil – 100% fat
And finally, I couldn’t talk about healthy fats without telling you about fish oil. While you won’t be adding this to your food, it is an important supplement to your diet, and will increase your blood ketones dramatically. I take two tablespoons of Carlson’s lemon-flavored liquid cod liver oil daily to infuse my body with healthy omega-3 fats as part of my heart-healthy regimen. There are fish oil capsules and tablets available at drug stores, but many of these tend to be rancid, and therefore counterproductive. That’s why I prefer the liquid fish oil. In case you’re worried about the “fishy” taste of this stuff in your mouth, it’s actually a delightfully pleasant “lemony” taste. I couldn’t imagine going through my day without taking my liquid fish oil, and the resulting blood ketone levels make it worth it!
Be hyper-aware of the nutritional content of everything you put in your mouth. In our fat-phobic society, many of the foods listed above have lower-fat and “lean” versions. You don’t want to consume these. Your lower protein, low-carb nutritional ketosis plan requires high fat levels to be optimally healthy.
Did I leave off one of your favorite high-fat foods that you enjoy on your own personal plan? Feel free to share it with us in the comment section below along with the percentage of calories from fat it provides. Also, please provide any specific topics you would like for me to address in future CarbSmart columns about nutritional ketosis. THANK YOU for reading and I look forward to continuing to share this amazing journey with you.