Nutrition Basics – Fats & Carbs Combined

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Can I Combine Fats and Carbs in the Same Meal?

If you’re looking for a good recipe for fat storage, high insulin and high fat in the blood is the way to go… however, many interpret this as, don’t eat carbs and fat together.  This is only a half truth though!

Putting food in your mouth is very different to what happens when it actually starts hitting the bloodstream.  The key to ideally managing carbs and fat in your diet, is to not have either hitting your bloodstream in high amounts at the same time.  There are foods that we can call ‘fast fats’ and ‘fast (high glycemic) carbs’, then there are slower fats and carbs, and everything in between.  

What you eat with your fat and carbs is also important because it can affect the rate of digestion, stomach emptying, and absorption.  There are many neuroendocrine hormones and gastric reflexes that affect stomach emptying, in turn determining the point at which a fat can be absorbed in the intestine.  The rate of absorption will vary based on fat type, and fat size.

Types of Fats and Digestion

Fats like coconut oil and butter, plus other saturated fats, absorb very quickly.  Other long chain fats can absorb very slowly, and some small fats are even digested by the bacteria in the gut before they are even absorbed.  But this can only happen after the stomach empties, which can vary as well.

Most meals will completely leave the stomach within about 2-3 hours.  High fiber foods, and meats take longer to digest. The more processed or cooked a food is, the faster it will be released and absorbed.  Fiber itself does NOT slow digestion. For instance, adding fiber to a meal will not make it digest slower or slow the glucose load of a starch or sugar.  It’s that whole foods that are naturally higher in fiber take longer to break down, much like a protein.

If you think about it, your stomach has to take a steak, or an apple, or whatever it is you ate and turn it into a liquid before it can be dumped.  The harder it is for something to break down, the longer it will take. With that said, concentrated processed nutrients like protein powder, carb powder, any form of liquid calorie can leave the stomach almost immediately.  Pure oils and fats can also leave relatively fast, but because they are thicker and sometimes semi-solid, the acidity and your body heat must first warm them up.


The short story is that there is no solid system for making meals that release fat, just perfect.  It’s simply too complex. Carbs however are much easier to predict, but still not perfect. The solution is to follow a few simple rules that will cover you the majority of the time.  

  • If you are going to eat a ‘fast carb’, or ‘fast fat’, make sure it’s been a minimum of 3 hours since you ingested a slower version of the alternate.  So if you had a high fat, whole food breakfast, it needs to be at least 3 hours before you consume any high glycemic carbs. However, if you just had some plain coconut oil and whey protein for breakfast, you can probably have carbs much sooner.  This is why I like coconut oil and aminos or whey protein as a breakfast for those who train early in the morning.
  • When combining fat and carbs, make the carbs as low glycemic as possible.  The end goal is that insulin spikes are kept to a minimum while you have fatty acids entering the bloodstream.  Your body will be in one of two modes as fat enters your system. It will either be in a low insulin, fat burning mode and use the fat for fuel, or it will be in a higher insulin, fat storing mode, in which case your body will burn the carbohydrates you’re eating and store the fat.
  • You are safe to eat whole food fats 1 hour after a processed carb meal, but try to limit free oils and fats.
  • You can slow digestion of fats and carbs by slowing gastric emptying by eating whole food plants and proteins.
  • You can speed up digestion by having less complex more processed meals.  For instance, cooked broccoli will leave the stomach faster than non-cooked broccoli.  Using supplemental protein or carb powders, and pressed oils and butters will also leave the stomach faster than fast form whole nuts, seeds, and meats.  

In conclusion, can you have a little butter on a sweet potato with your steak?  Sure! Should you put butter on white rice? No. But white rice as a carb-loading meal is fine with some salt, seasoning and lean meat.  Also, keep in mind your previous meal and how long ago you consumed it any time you are going to use a high glycemic carb, or ‘fast’ fat. Small portions of either will not make a big impact.


Basic guidelines


Eat Slow Carb + Slow Fat = OK

Eat Slow Carb + Fast Fat = OK


Eat Fast Carb + Fast Fat = Fat Gain

Eat Fast Carb + Slow Fat  = Fat Gain

Don’t eat fast digesting foods too soon after a slow digesting meal.

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