Vegan fat sources – flax, spinach, broccoli, nuts, olive, oil and avocado.
Home Metabolic Dietary Therapy: Fasting, Keto and Functional Foods The real science behind healthy, plant-based fats for the keto diet

The real science behind healthy, plant-based fats for the keto diet

by Maggie Jones

My ketogenic diet has massively changed my relationship with fat. Fat is fuel to me, now. It’s fuel that I eat and fuel that I store on my body for later. It burns clean such that my mind stays clear and efficiently in a way my muscles love. My healthy cells are somehow protected and cancer cells damaged by the ketones my liver makes from it. For a formerly chubby gal who had the traditional fear of the stuff, things have really changed. Get away from me with your poison banana and pour some flaxseed oil down my throat.

Super important to me, however, is eating the right kind of fats – those that are anti-inflammatory, nutritious, and healing – and the information to support good decision-making can be confusing to sort through or just plain hard to find.

We know omega-3s are good for us but is it better to eat from a “rich source” of omega-3s or something with a high ratio of omega-3 to omega-6s. And are omega-6s bad? I thought they were “essential,” yo. So below is what I’ve learned including a table of the *actual* polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acid contents of the vegan fats that I consider worth eating.

Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids

These are your omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Both are essential meaning the body can’t make them from other parts and needs to get them from diet. The reason that omega-6s tend to get a bad rap is that they’re the primary fatty acid in the commercial seed oils that are so heavily featured in the Standard American Diet: corn oil, soybean oil, safflower, etc. Research shows that a diet disproportionately high in omega-6s relative to 3s causes inflammation and is associated with higher rates of many diseases, including cancer which we already know loves an inflamed body.

Omega-3 FAs (that’s what we’re calling fatty acids now) are most easily found in animal products – especially oily fish. In fact, there are different kinds of omega-3s and two, DHA and EPA, are very difficult to find outside of fish and eggs. Certain seaweed and algae are your only choices, my truly vegan friends. Fortunately, the body may actually synthesize DHA and EPA from ALA, the veggie omega-3. Even more fortunately, I’m only mostly vegan and make my exception a daily fish oil supplement and 1-2 times per week wild-caught oily fish or organic, pasture-raised egg, both good sources of DHA/ EPA. For ALA, a serving of chia seed pudding and Bob’s your uncle. I have no idea how to use that expression but chia seeds are pretty much made of omega-3 and chia seed pudding is delicious and full of protein so why wouldn’t Bob pretend to be your uncle to get some?

Monounsaturated Fatty Acids

Omega-7s and omega-9s are the red-headed step children of the unsaturated fatty acid family. As a redhead with a step mother, I’m here to tell you that they’re pretty great, too. Granted, your body is able to synthesize them but does it synthesize enough? Who knows? There’s some evidence that they help fight cancer so the more the merrier, I say.

The healthiest nuts for ket are low in carbs with the right balance of fats.
No pistachios in my house, though. I have zero self-control around them.

What Else is There?

Saturated fats and trans fats, essentially. And some man-made abomination called interesterified fat. Trans fats and the abomination will flat out kill you and take your girl. Saturated fats aren’t generally so great. The exceptions are medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) which are found in coconut and palm oils. These bad boys may actually reduce levels of cholesterol, among other things. I’ll also note here that, although coconut and palm oils are rich in saturated fat, they’re plants and so contain zero cholesterol.

And so, without further ado, behold the table of polyunsaturated fatty acid profiles for vegan fat sources:

Table of Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid Profiles for Vegan Fat Sources

acid (g)
acid (g)
acid (g)
acid (g)
omega 3:6
Oils (per 100g)
Sea Buckthorn Berry2337280.60
Nuts (per 100g)
Brazil Nuts (2/day is ok)0270240.00
Pine nuts (in moderation)0450180.00

Questions you may have

Where did this information come from?
The internet. But curated from multiple scientific sources. Of course, every crop of seeds is going to have different nutritional values so I made sure to find at least two sources and then averaged them together.

Why didn’t you include canola oil?
Canola oil has a really nice fatty acid profile with about 12% omega-3s and 65% omega-9s. However, virtually all canola oil available in developed countries is GMO and I’m all hippie organic now.

Why is coconut oil all 0s?
Coconut oil is mostly saturated fat. I’ve only listed the polyunsaturated fats here.

Well then why didn’t you include palm oil?
I probably should have. It’s not part of my diet just because I can’t find it sustainably-sourced (see hippie comment, above) and am not a bazillionaire (though my macadamia nut consumption would lead you to assume I am).

What’s up with sesame seeds?
I couldn’t find multiple reliable sources. Let me know if you do and I’ll update.

How to use this info

Science doesn’t yet know the ideal proportion of fatty acids but the general consensus is that we should aim to eat no more than four times as much omega-6 as we eat omega-3. Even better if you can eat closer to the same amount of each. This ends up being super easy if you:

  1. Avoid processed food which is almost always made with omega-6 heavy, GMO, pesticide-saturated oils.
  2. Eat plenty of vegetables – which have a very high omega-3:6 ratio, surprise.
  3. Supplement with flaxseed, perilla, chia, hemp or fish oil. And by supplement, I mean use it in your salad dressing, make chia seed pudding, or eat some wild-caught salmon twice a week if you eat that kind of thing.
  4. Don’t go too crazy on the omega-6 rich nuts. This advice is what started my problem with macadamia nuts. (“Oh they’re so low carb and low in omega-6s.” Now I owe iherb my first born child. )

Aside from maintaining a good omega-3 to 6 ratio, my only other advice is to be sure to incorporate plenty of the 7s and 9s. A little something from across the board and Bob’s your uncle.

The MOST IMPORTANT thing about fats

Is that they CANNOT be rancid. Rancid fats will murder you, take your girl, then murder your girl and both your families while wearing your skin. Rancid fats are fats that have been oxidized, usually through exposure to heat or light, usually by being left on the shelf too long. If you take nothing else away from this article, remember this. Do not eat rancid nuts, seeds or oil.

Here’s a good quote from the first rando source I googled:

Other health effects of rancid fat observed during animal studies include malnutrition, anemia, diarrhea, hair loss, dermatitis, swelling of the lips and eyes, kidney and liver bleeding, gastric papilloma (growths in the stomach), reproductive failure and loss of offspring, cancer, and death. (Sources: Greenberg SM, Frazer AC. J Nutr 50(4):421-40, 1953 and Totani N, Burenjargal M, Yawata M, Ojiri Y. J Oleo Sci 57(3):153-60, 2008.)

Nutrition Nuts and Bolts

Rancid oils also taste gross. All this misery because your grocery store doesn’t turn over enough tahini .

How to avoid rancid fats

  • Buy fresh. This means buying from a merchant that has fresh stock and stores that stock appropriately (especially important for flaxseed oil which should always be refrigerated in transit, store and home). It’s up to you to cultivate smart shopping. Tahini may sell faster and be restocked quicker at the Middle Eastern market than the Thai market. Vice versa for palm oil, moneybags. Look for dark colored jars that block light.
  • Store appropriately. That means in the fridge or the freezer. If you’re going to keep a bottle of cooking oil on the counter or in the cupboard it better be in a dark bottle and you better plan to use it quickly.
  • Use it quickly. Shit. That reminds me I have a bottle of sea buckthorn berry oil in the fridge. I know what I’m having for dinner tonight.
  • If you don’t use it in time, throw it away. No matter how much it cost. That money’s already lost. It’s poison now. For reals. Toxic Oil Syndrome killed over 600 people in Spain in the 1980s. Go buy some more sea buckthorn berry oil, weirdo.
  • This applies to your supplements. Keep those fish oil capsules in the fridge. Keep anything oil-based like vitamin D or vitamin E in the fridge. I can’t imagine how many people in this world are taking literal poison pills because they let their supplements go rancid and have no idea.

There you have it. Go forth and get fat! The more good fat you put in you now, the more to sustain you on your next fast.

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Raquel September 3, 2019 - 12:56 pm

Love the table! Great sleuthing. To understand a bit better how to apply it to my life, can you share what proportion percentage-wise of fat you are ingesting in comparison with proteins & carbs? Is it like an 80:10:10 ratio respectively, or more like a 50:40:10 ratio? I’m following a keto diet prescribed by my dietician and I’m curious to understand your proportions. Hugs!

Maggie Jones September 4, 2019 - 1:52 am

Ohmygod, lol. I actually asked the question in the post but never answered it. I added an update to note that you ideally want to keep your omega 3:6 ratio at 1:4 or even as high as 1:1. Otherwise, I’d just be sure to incorporate some 7s and 9s. They’re non-essential so your body can make them from other sources but I read so much anecdotal experience of their healing properties I make sure to get a hit daily.

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