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Saturated Fat

photo of meat, cheese, icecream

You may have heard that saturated fats are the "solid" fats in your diet. For the most part, this is true. For example, if you open a container of meat stew, you will probably find some fat floating on top. This fat is saturated fat.

The Recommendation

Diets high in saturated fat have been linked to chronic disease, specifically, coronary heart disease. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 recommend consuming less than 10% of daily calories as saturated fat.

But other saturated fats can be more difficult to see in your diet. In general, saturated fat can be found in the following foods:

  • High-fat cheeses
  • High-fat cuts of meat
  • Whole-fat milk and cream
  • Butter
  • Ice cream and ice cream products
  • Palm and coconut oils

It's important to note that lower-fat versions of these foods usually will contain saturated fats, but typically in smaller quantities than the regular versions.

As you look at this list above, notice two things. First, animal fats are a primary source of saturated fat. Secondly, certain plant oils are another source of saturated fats: palm oils, coconut oils, and cocoa butter. You may think you don't use palm or coconut oils, but they are often added to commercially-prepared foods, such as cookies, cakes, doughnuts, and pies. Solid vegetable shortening often contains palm oils and some whipped dessert toppings contain coconut oil.

How do I control my saturated fat intake?

In general, saturated fat can be found in the following foods:

  • High-fat cheeses
  • High-fat cuts of meat
  • Whole-fat milk and cream
  • Butter
  • Ice cream and ice cream products
  • Palm and coconut oils

So how can you cut back on your intake of saturated fats? Try these tips:

  • Choose leaner cuts of meat that do not have a marbled appearance (where the fat appears embedded in the meat). Leaner cuts include round cuts and sirloin cuts. Trim all visible fat off meats before eating.
  • Remove the skin from chicken, turkey, and other poultry before cooking.
  • When re-heating soups or stews, skim the solid fats from the top before heating.
  • Drink low-fat (1%) or fat-free (skim) milk rather than whole or 2% milk.
  • Buy low-fat or non-fat versions of your favorite cheeses and other milk or dairy products.
  • When you want a sweet treat, reach for a low-fat or fat-free version of your favorite ice cream or frozen dessert. These versions usually contain less saturated fat.
  • Use low-fat spreads instead of butter. Most margarine spreads contain less saturated fat than butter. Look for a spread that is low in saturated fat and doesn't contain trans fats.
  • Choose baked goods, breads, and desserts that are low in saturated fat. You can find this information on the Nutrition Facts label.
  • Pay attention at snack time. Some convenience snacks such as sandwich crackers contain saturated fat. Choose instead to have non-fat or low-fat yogurt and a piece of fruit.

To learn more about the Nutrition Facts label, visit How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label (FDA).

Quick Q&A
What should I choose— butter or margarine? Should I choose a stick, tub, or liquid?
margarine or butter?With such a variety of products available, it can be a difficult decision. Here are some general rules of thumb to help you compare products:

Look at the Nutrition Facts label to compare both the trans fat and the saturated fat content. Choose the one that has the fewest grams of trans fat and the fewest grams of saturated fat and dietary cholesterol.
If possible, find one that says zero grams of trans fat.

When looking at the Daily Value for saturated fat and cholesterol remember that 5 percent is low and 20 percent is high.

If you are also trying to reduce calories, you may want to look for a version that says "light." These products contain fewer calories and can help you stay within your calorie goals.

If you find two products that seem comparable, try them both and choose the one that tastes better!

More Information on Fats

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