3 Types of Foods High in Saturated Fat

Avoid saturated fat to reduce your risk of heart disease and high cholesterol

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While it's important to include fats in your diet, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends limiting saturated fats to less than 10% of calories. Saturated fats become solid at room temperature, like lard, butter, and coconut oil. Over time, too much of these fats increase the risk of heart disease and high cholesterol.

Some foods high in saturated fat may already be on your radar, like beef or cheese. But others may surprise you, like ice cream and coffee creamer. When possible, it's good to seek out unsaturated fats, like nuts, plant-based oils, and avocados.

This article reviews three types of foods high in saturated fat. It also covers healthier alternatives to choose from instead.

Low-carb diets include a lot of protein.
Andrew Unangst / Getty Images

Proteins High in Saturated Fats

Many animal products contain high amounts of saturated fats. This includes:

  • Bacon
  • Beef
  • Beef fat
  • Breakfast sausages
  • Hot dogs
  • Lamb
  • Pork
  • Processed meats
  • Some cold cuts

Although following a cholesterol-lowering diet does not ban you from eating animal meat entirely, consuming these foods high in saturated fat at every meal can add up.

With that, limiting your intake of meat is one easy way to lower your intake of saturated fats. You can also choose "lean" or "extra-lean" meats.

Lean meats contain less than 4.5 grams of saturated and trans fats per 100 grams, while extra-lean meats contain less than 2 grams of saturated fats and trans fats per 100 grams.

Paying attention to trans fats (also called "partially hydrogenated oils") is also important, since they decrease HDL ("good cholesterol") and, like saturated fats, also raise LDL, increasing your risk for heart disease. Trans fats are actually an unsaturated fat, and are categorized as monounsaturated or polyunsaturated.

Healthy Alternatives

These protein alternatives are better choices if you are looking to reduce your intake of foods high in saturated fat:

  • Beans
  • Fish
  • Nuts
  • Poultry, including chicken and turkey (with the skin off)
  • Soy products, like tofu or tempeh

Dairy Products High in Saturated Fats

Dairy products can also introduce additional saturated fat into your diet. Dairy products high in saturated fat include:

  • Cheeses
  • Creams 
  • Ice cream
  • Whole and 2% milk, and other dairy products

Because consuming some dairy products can increase your saturated fat intake, it is a good idea to be mindful of the amounts of dairy being added to your favorite foods or beverages (for example, coffee creamer or butter on your toast). High fat dairy sources can add up fairly quickly.

Healthy Alternatives

To minimize the amount of saturated fat you eat, select low-fat varieties of your favorite dairy foods, which are usually labeled “low fat”, “skim,” or “part-skim.”

Fats and Oils High in Saturated Fats

Although various spreads and oils are not something you would consume alone, they are often added to a variety of foods during preparation. Some of these high-fat options, such as cream-based salad dressings and cooking oils, can take otherwise healthy, low-fat dishes and make them anything but.

Fats and oils high in saturated fats include:

  • Butter 
  • Certain plant-based oils (for example, palm oil, palm kernel oil, coconut oil)
  • Cream-based dressings or dips
  • Lard
  • Mayonnaise

Fried foods and baked goods also have high levels of saturated fats and trans fats.

Tricky Labeling

While "sugar-free" foods may sound healthy, fats are often used as a substitute for high amounts of sugar.

In the end, the only way to know how much saturated fat you are consuming is to read the nutrition facts and ingredients on all food labels. Calorie counter websites and smart device nutrition tracker apps can also be helpful in this regard.

Healthy Alternatives

The alternatives you can use will depend on how you plan to use them. For example, some oils are better for cooking than others. That said, healthier options you can consider include:

  • Avocado oil
  • Olive oil
  • Flaxseed oil
  • Canola oil

Changing the way you prepare meals can also help reduce saturated fat intake. For example, bake your chicken rather than fry it, or steam fish instead of sautéing. Consider air frying the foods that you normally fry.

Lastly, using reduced-fat varieties of dressings or dips can also prevent introducing excess saturated fat into your diet. However, be mindful of potential high sugar content in 'low-fat products.'

Summary

Excess intake of saturated fats can increase the risk of high cholesterol and heart disease. The USDA recommends limiting foods high in saturated fats and eating more unsaturated fats. Foods high in saturated fats include beef, bacon, processed meats, dairy, butter, lard, and mayonnaise. The good news is healthy substitutions abound and are relatively easy to incorporate into your diet.

A Word From Verywell

The American Heart Association recommends that adults who would benefit from lowering LDL cholesterol limit foods high in saturated fat to 5 to 6 percent of total calories, which is equivalent to about 11 to 13 grams of saturated fat daily.

When making any dietary change, think of all the delicious meals you can prepare—not necessarily what you have to avoid. In the end, lowering your saturated fat intake may take a little work and restraint, but the boon to your overall health will be worth it.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why is saturated fat bad for you?

    Eating a diet high in saturated fat has been shown to raise LDL cholesterol levels. This increases your risk for heart disease and stroke.

  • What foods have the most saturated fat?

    Foods highest in saturated fats include those from animal sources like meat and dairy. In addition, tropical oils like coconut, palm, and palm kernel oils are high in saturated fat.

  • Which food is lowest in saturated fat?

    Foods lowest in saturated fats include low-fat and fat-free dairy products, lean red meat, and poultry breast without the skin, fish, fruits, and vegetables.

  • What is a healthy amount of saturated fat?

    Saturated fat should be limited to no more than 10% of your daily calories. One gram of saturated fat is 9 calories. If you eat an average of 2,000 calories/day, you should limit your saturated fat intake to 22 grams/day (about 200 calories). That is roughly the equivalent of 3 tablespoons of butter or two 8-ounce hamburgers. Of course, less is best.

10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Department of Food and Agriculture. Dietary guidelines for Americans: 2020-2025.

  2. Siri-Tarino PW, Sun Q, Hu FB, Krauss RM. Saturated fat, carbohydrate, and cardiovascular diseaseAm J Clin Nutr. 2010;91(3):502-509. doi:10.3945/ajcn.2008.26285

  3. Cleveland Clinic. Heart healthy eating to help lower cholesterol levels.

  4. Marchand V. Trans fats: What physicians should knowPaediatrics & Child Health. 2010;15(6):373-375. doi:10.1093%2Fpch%2F15.6.373

  5. American Heart Association. Trans fats.

  6. Harvard Health Publishing. The truth about fats: The good, the bad, and the in-between.

  7. Cleveland Clinic. Fats: Know your fats.

  8. Nguyen PK, Lin S, Heidenreich P. A systematic comparison of sugar content in low-fat vs regular versions of foodNutr & Diabetes. 2016;6(1):e193-e193. doi:10.1038%2Fnutd.2015.43

  9. American Heart Association. The skinny on fats.

  10. American Heart Association. Saturated fats.

Additional Reading
  • Whitney EN, Rolfes SR. Understanding Nutrition. 13th ed. Cengage Learning; 2013.