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Facts about saturated fats

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, or 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 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 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 2010 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 2000 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 fat and cholesterol.

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 are 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
  • 12 oz (340 g) cream of mushroom soup -- 22 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 diary with low-fat or nonfat milk, yogurt, and cheese.
  • Eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other foods with low or no saturated fat.

Alternative Names

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

References

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 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/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 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24239922.

Hooper L, Summerbell CD, Thompson R, et al. Reduced or modified dietary fat for preventing cardiovascular disease. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012;5:CD002137. PMID: 22592684 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22592684.

US Department of Health and Human Services and US Department of Agriculture. 2015 - 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. Updated December 2015. health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines. Accessed May 5, 2016.

Review Date 4/24/2016

Updated by: Emily Wax, RD, The Brooklyn Hospital Center, Brooklyn, NY. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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