Common Foods High in Saturated Fat

steak on a cutting board

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Whether you are trying to lose weight, lower your LDL ("bad") cholesterol, or simply want to be more heart healthy, minimizing foods high in saturated fats is a good idea. While some high-saturated fat foods may already be on your radar (beef, cheese), others, like ice cream and coffee creamer, may surprise you.

Proteins High in Saturated Fats

Many animal products contain high amounts of saturated fats. Among them:

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

Although following a cholesterol-lowering diet does not ban you from eating animal meat entirely, consuming these products 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 is also important, since they decrease HDL ("good cholesterol") and, like saturated fats, also raise LDL, increasing your risk for heart disease.

Healthy Alternatives

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

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

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
  • Whole and 2 percent milk
  • Creams 
  • Ice cream

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:

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

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

Tricky Labeling

While "sugar-free" foods may sound healthy, fats are often used as a substitute for high amounts of sugar. Likewise, and counterintuitively, "low-cholesterol" foods are often high in saturated fats.

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 applications 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:

  • Canola oil
  • Olive oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Margarine

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

Lastly, using reduced-fat varieties of dressings or dips can also prevent introducing excess saturated fat into your diet.

A Word From Verywell

The National Cholesterol Education Program recommends that your saturated fat intake be less than 7 percent of your total food intake daily. That is, if you are following a 2,000-calorie diet, you should not consume more than 14 grams of saturated fat each day.

The American Heart Association recommends nearly the same thing, suggesting that adults who would benefit from lowering LDL cholesterol limit their consumption of saturated fat to 5 percent 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.

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Article Sources

  • American Heart Association. The Skinny on Fats. Updated April 30, 2017.

  • Siri-Tarino PW, Sun Q, Hu FB, Krauss RM. Saturated fat, carbohydrate, and cardiovascular disease. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Mar;91(3):502-09. DOI: 10.3945/ajcn.2008.26285.

  • Rolfes SR, Whitney E. Understanding Nutrition, 13th ed 2013