Saturated fat is a type of dietary fat. It is one of the unhealthy fats, along with trans fat. These fats are most often solid at room temperature. Foods like butter, palm and coconut oils, cheese, and red meat have high amounts of saturated fat.
Too much saturated fat in your diet can lead to heart disease and other health problems.
How Saturated Fats Affect Your Health
Saturated fats are bad for your health in several ways:
Heart disease risk. Your body needs healthy fats for energy and other functions. But too much saturated fat can cause cholesterol to build up in your arteries (blood vessels). Saturated fats raise your LDL (bad) cholesterol. High LDL cholesterol increases your risk for heart disease and stroke.
Weight gain. Many high-fat foods such as pizza, baked goods, and fried foods have a lot of saturated fat. Eating too much fat can add extra calories to your diet and cause you to gain weight. All fats contain 9 calories per gram of fat. This is more than twice the amount found in carbohydrates and protein.
Cutting out high-fat foods can help keep your weight in check and keep your heart healthy. Staying at a healthy weight can reduce your risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems.
How Much you can Eat
Most foods have a combination of different fats. You are better off choosing foods higher in healthier fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These fats tend to be liquid at room temperature.
How much should you get every day? Here are recommendations from the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans:
- You should get no more than 25% to 30% of your daily calories from fats.
- You should limit saturated fat to less than 10% of your daily calories.
- To further reduce your heart disease risk, limit saturated fats to less than 7% of your total daily calories.
- For a 2,000 calorie diet, that is 140 to 200 calories or 16 to 22 grams (g) of saturated fats a day. As an example, just 1 slice of cooked bacon contains nearly 9 g of saturated fat.
- If you have heart disease or high cholesterol, your health care provider may ask you to limit saturated fat even more.
Reading Nutrition Labels
All packaged foods have a nutrition label that includes fat content. Reading food labels can help you keep track of how much saturated fat you eat.
Check the total fat in 1 serving. Also, check the amount of saturated fat in a serving. Then add up how many servings you eat.
As a guide, when comparing or reading labels:
- 5% of daily value from fats and cholesterol is low
- 20% of daily value from fats is high
Choose foods with low amounts of saturated fat and trans fat.
Many fast food restaurants also provide nutrition information on their menus. If you DO NOT see it posted, ask your server. You also may be able to find it on the restaurant's website.
Making Healthy Food Choices
Saturated fats are found in all animal foods, and some plant sources.
The following foods may be high in saturated fats. Many of them are also low in nutrients and have extra calories from sugar:
- Baked goods (cake, doughnuts, Danish)
- Fried foods (fried chicken, fried seafood, French fries)
- Fatty or processed meats (bacon, sausage, chicken with skin, cheeseburger, steak)
- Whole-fat dairy products (butter, ice cream, pudding, cheese, whole milk)
- Solid fats such as coconut oil, palm, and palm kernel oils (found in packaged foods)
Here are some examples of popular food items with the saturated fat content in a typical serving:
- 12 ounces (oz), or 340 g, steak -- 20 g
- Cheeseburger -- 10 g
- Vanilla shake -- 8 g
- 1 tbsp (15 mL) butter -- 7 g
It is fine to treat yourself to these types of foods once in a while. But, it is best to limit how often you eat them and limit portion sizes when you do.
You can cut how much saturated fat you eat by substituting healthier foods for less healthy options. Replace foods high in saturated fats with foods that have polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. Here is how to get started:
- Replace red meats with skinless chicken or fish a few days a week.
- Use canola or olive oil instead of butter and other solid fats.
- Replace whole-fat dairy with low-fat or nonfat milk, yogurt, and cheese.
- Eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other foods with low or no saturated fat.
Cholesterol - saturated fat; Atherosclerosis - saturated fat; Hardening of the arteries - saturated fat; Hyperlipidemia - saturated fat; Hypercholesterolemia - saturated fat; Coronary artery disease - saturated fat; Heart disease - saturated fat; Peripheral artery disease - saturated fat; PAD - saturated fat; Stroke - saturated fat; CAD - saturated fat; Heart healthy diet - saturated fat
Chowdhury R, Warnakula S, Kunutsor S, et al. Association of dietary, circulating, and supplement fatty acids with coronary risk: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Ann Intern Med. 2014;160(6):398-406. PMID: 24723079 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24723079/.
Eckel RH, Jakicic JM, Ard JD, et al. 2013 AHA/ACC guideline on lifestyle management to reduce cardiovascular risk: a report of the American College of Cardiology American/Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2014;63(25 Pt B):2960-2984. PMID: 24239922 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24239922/.
Hensrud DD, Heimburger DC. Nutrition's interface with health and disease. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 202.
Mozaffarian D. Nutrition and cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. In: Zipes DP, Libby P, Bonow RO, Mann DL, Tomaselli GF, Braunwald E, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 49.
US Department of Agriculture; Agricultural Research Service website. FoodData Central, 2019. fdc.nal.usda.gov. Accessed July 1, 2020.
US Department of Agriculture and US Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th ed. www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2020-12/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans_2020-2025.pdf. Updated December 2020. Accessed January 25, 2021.
Review Date 5/26/2020
Updated by: Meagan Bridges, RD, University of Virginia Health System, Charlottesville, VA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team. Editorial update 01/25/2021.