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Saturated Fat

Saturated Fat

Alternate Names

  • saturated fatty acid


Diets high in saturated fat are linked to high blood cholesterol levels and heart disease. They can also increase the risk for obesity and cancer.

In what food source is the nutrient found?

Most saturated fat is in foods from animal sources. These include whole-milk dairy products, meat, lard, and poultry. Some vegetable foods are also high in saturated fat. These include coconut, cocoa butter, palm oil, and tropical oil. Saturated fats are usually solid at room temperature. Vegetable oils contain various amounts of saturated fat. Oils that are lower in saturated fat include olive, canola, safflower, sunflower, soybean, and peanut oils.

How does the nutrient affect the body?

An excessive amount of saturated fat in the diet can raise both total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, known as LDL. Since cholesterol is not soluble in blood, it is carried around in a protein-coated package called a lipoprotein. LDL is known as the bad package for cholesterol. High total and LDL cholesterol levels are major risk factors for heart disease.


The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends that saturated fat intake not exceed 7% of total calories per day. For example, if one eats a 2,000-calorie diet, no more than 140 calories should come from saturated fat. Fat contains 9 calories per gram, so 140 calories would be about 16 grams of saturated fat.
Here are some practical tips on how to lower saturated and total fat in the diet. Many of them are based on recommendations from the American Heart Association.
  • After cooking soups and stews, chill them and then skim the fat off the top.
  • Read ingredient lists on food labels. Some foods are low in saturated fat but become more saturated during processing. Key words to look for on a label are hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated. The hydrogenation process turns liquid oil into a solid form, making it more saturated.
  • Choose margarines with liquid vegetable oil listed as the first ingredient. Check the Nutrition Facts to make sure a 1-tablespoon serving has no more than 2 grams of saturated fat.
  • Eat more fish. Each week, include two servings of fish in meals. Good choices include albacore tuna, salmon, lake trout, mackerel, herring, and sardines.
  • Eat smaller portions of lean cuts of meat. These portions should add up to no more than 6 ounces a day. Lean cuts of meat are those with the words loin or round in the name. Examples include sirloin, tenderloin, top round, and ground round. Also, trim any visible fat from meats before cooking. All fat should be drained off after browning meat.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables, legumes, soy foods, and whole grains. Legumes include beans and peas. Use the food guide pyramid to help determine the right number of servings and serving sizes.
  • Limit liver, brains, chitterlings, kidney, heart, sweetbreads, and other organ meats.
  • Prepare low-fat meatless meals at least once a week. Try using legumes or soy products as the main ingredient in the meal.
  • Prepare mixed dishes that use pasta, rice, beans, or vegetables mixed with small amounts of lean meat. These can include stir-fries, chili, spaghetti sauce, soups, and casseroles.
  • Read the Nutrition Facts section of food labels for fat content. The amount of saturated fat must be listed on the Nutrition Facts panel. Use the 3-gram rule for fat in general. If a product has 3 grams of fat or less per 100-calorie serving, it is considered a low-fat choice.
  • Reduce the total amount of fat eaten daily. This will likely reduce the amount of saturated fat daily. To start, try limiting added fats to no more than 5 to 8 teaspoons daily. This would include fats and oils added during cooking and baking. It also includes those that go on top of foods such as salad dressings and spreads.
  • Serve low-fat desserts such as fresh fruit, sherbet, or frozen low-fat yogurt.
  • Substitute fat-free or low-fat milk, cheeses, and yogurt for full-fat versions. Try to choose products that contain 1% or less fat.
  • Use citrus juices, wine, herbs, and spices to add flavor to food without the fat. Decrease the amount of cream and butter sauces used.
  • Use low-fat cooking methods instead of frying. These include baking, boiling, broiling, microwaving, poaching, roasting, or steaming. Use vegetable cooking spray to replace margarine or oil.
Incorporating these small changes makes a big difference.


The American Dietetic Association's Complete Food and Nutrition Guide. Roberta Larson Duyff. Chronimed Publishing, Minneapolis, MN, 1996

The American Dietetic Association. Skim the Fat: A Practical and Up to Date Food Guide. Chronimed Publishing, Minneapolis, MN, 1995.

The American Heart Association. Website. The Details: Fat and Fatty Acids.

Duyff, R., MS, RD, CFCS. (1996). The American Dietetic Association's Complete Food&Nutrition Guide. Minnesota: Chronimed Publishing.

Mahan, K, MS, RD, CDE&Escott-Stump, S., MA, RD, LDN. (2000). Krause's Food, Nutrition,&Diet Therapy (10th ed.). Pennsylvania: W.B. Saunders Company.

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