Saturated Fats

Updated:Oct 12,2016

Eating foods that contain saturated fats raises the level of cholesterol in your blood. High levels of LDL cholesterol in your blood increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.

What are saturated fats?

From a chemical standpoint, saturated fats are simply fat molecules that have no double bonds between carbon molecules because they are saturated with hydrogen molecules. Saturated fats are typically solid at room temperature.

How do saturated fats affect my health?

Replacing foods that are high in saturated fat with healthier options can lower blood cholesterol levels and improve lipid profiles

What foods contain saturated fats?

Saturated fats occur naturally in many foods. The majority come mainly from animal sources, including meat and dairy products.

Examples are:

  • fatty beef,
  • lamb,
  • pork,
  • poultry with skin,
  • beef fat (tallow),
  • lard and cream,
  • butter,
  • cheese and
  • other dairy products made from whole or reduced-fat (2 percent) milk. 

In addition, many baked goods and fried foods can contain high levels of saturated fats. Some plant-based oils, such as palm oil, palm kernel oil and coconut oil, also contain primarily saturated fats, but do not contain cholesterol.

What's my daily limit for foods with saturated fats?

AHA Recommendation

The American Heart Association recommends aiming for a dietary pattern that achieves 5% to 6% of calories from saturated fat.

For example, if you need about 2,000 calories a day, no more than 120 of them should come from saturated fats.

That’s about 13 grams of saturated fats a day.

What are alternatives to replace saturated fats in the foods I eat?

Reduce sodium, saturated fat and sugar with AHA recipesTo get the nutrients you need, eat a dietary pattern that emphasizes:

Choose lean meats and poultry without skin and prepare them without added saturated and trans fat.

You should replace foods high in saturated fats with foods high in monounsaturated and/or polyunsaturated fats. This means eating foods made with liquid vegetable oil but not tropical oils. It also means eating fish and nuts. You also might try to replace some of the meat you eat with beans or legumes.

There’s a lot of conflicting information about saturated fats. Should I eat them or not?

The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fats – which are found in butter, cheese, red meat and other animal-based foods. Decades of sound science has proven it can raise your “bad” cholesterol and put you at higher risk for heart disease.

The more important thing to remember is the overall dietary picture. Saturated fats are just one piece of the puzzle. In general, you can’t go wrong eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fewer calories.

When you hear about the latest “diet of the day” or a new or odd-sounding theory about food, consider the source. The American Heart Association makes dietary recommendations only after carefully considering the latest scientific evidence.

Dr. Penny Kris-Etherton, a nutrition expert and volunteer with the American Heart Association, helps you cut through the clutter about saturated fats and understand the importance of limiting them as part of an overall healthy approach to eating.

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