How much fat should you eat? It’s not a very exciting answer, but the real answer is, “It depends.”
Although we have essential fatty acids that we need to eat, we do not have a pre-defined amount of fat we should eat like we do with protein. That is why our three rules of low-carb eating are:
- Restrict carbohydrates to the desired level
- Eat enough protein
- Adjust fat intake as needed for satiety and taste
Fat supplies those extra calories and extra energy that we used to get from carbs. You should eat enough fat to stave off hunger between your meals. Shoot for feeling pleasantly satisfied, but not overfed after each meal. After dinner, you should make it easily through the night – 12 hours without hunger (if not more). Work towards finding this balance.
Below are a few refinements to this advice, if you really want to maximize the effectiveness of your low-carb diet.
- Don’t fear fat
- Ease into fat adaption
- Dial back for weight loss
- Add fat as needed for maintenance
- Eat an adequate amount of protein
- Optional extra details
1. Don’t fear fat
For decades we have heard the message that we should reduce the amount of fat. We now have plenty of evidence showing this is incorrect and misguided advice, especially when it comes to low-carb diets. However, the lingering fear of fat may remain for many people. Step one to getting the right amount of fat for you is to move past any fear that eating fat makes us fat, or that eating fat is automatically bad for our health.
2. Ease into fat adaption
When you begin your low-carb journey, you may find some high-fat foods taste ‘too rich.’ Be patient. As you transition to your new way of eating, both your body and your taste buds will adjust. Work up to eating enough fat to avoid hunger and allow your body time (at least a month) to settle into its new pattern of burning fat instead of carbohydrates.
3. Dial back for weight loss
Hoping to lose weight? If the answer is yes, once you are at ease with your low-carb diet, experiment with reducing the extra fat you add to meals.
Eat just enough to avoid hunger – let your body burn its internal fat stores rather than that extra pat of butter. This will likely accelerate weight loss.
4. Add fat as needed for maintenance
Once you reach your goal weight, you may no longer have the internal fat stores necessary to fuel an energy shortfall day after day. Tune into your body’s hunger signals. Now is the time to gradually add more fat to your diet until you find the satisfying balance of hunger-free weight maintenance.
5. Eat an adequate amount of protein
Part of the trick of minimizing hunger is making sure you eat the right amount of protein. For most people, this happens naturally. But, if you can’t beat your hunger by adding fat, or if you are eating very low-carb but stalled in weight loss, take a look at how much protein you are eating.
How much is enough? Individual needs vary, but about 1.2-1.7 gram of protein per kilogram of reference bodyweight (each day) may be optimal for weight loss. You may need more if you are active though, especially if lifting weights and building muscle.
6. Optional extra details
If you’re interested in even more details and discussion about adapting the amount of fat and protein to your exact needs, and your situation, watch the interview below with Dr. Ted Naiman. Most people don’t need that much fine-tuning, but it’s a helpful video if you are looking for extra-credit.
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