Should I Reduce My Saturated Fat Intake?

Reducing saturated fat may be good for your health.
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The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the United States Department of Agriculture both suggest you keep your saturated fat intake to no more than 10 percent of daily calories (your total fat intake should supply around 20 to 35 percent of your calories).

A person who needs 2,000 calories per day should consume no more than 22 grams of saturated fat. That's the amount of saturated fat found in four ounces of cheddar cheese, two cups of ice cream, or two large cheeseburgers.

Some diets, such as the DASH diet, reduce that recommended amount even further -- to about seven percent of your caloric intake. But there doesn't appear to be much evidence reducing your saturated fat intake that low -- or eliminating it all together -- would be any more or less beneficial.

If you regularly eat more than the recommended 10 percent of your calories from saturated fat, it's probably worth the effort to reduce your saturated fat intake to that level, especially if you have problems with cholesterol or high blood pressure. But that's only part of your dietary plan for reducing your cardiovascular risk -- you need to replace those saturated fats with healthy fats and reduce your total calorie intake if you are overweight or obese.

Eating too much saturated fat appears to elevate your levels of LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) and may lead to a pro-inflammatory state, both of which increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Reducing the excess saturated fats should reduce those risks, but that may not happen if you replace the saturated fats with refined carbohydrates (white bread, pasta, sugar, high fructose corn syrup, etc.).

If you replace the excess saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats or monounsaturated fatty acids (the good fats found in fish, nuts, seeds, legumes, canola and olive oils), you probably will reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease because the healthy fats reduce elevated LDL cholesterol levels and reduce inflammation.

Increasing your intake of polyunsaturated fats may also contribute to reducing high blood pressure; however, those healthy fats don't appear to have much of an effect on insulin sensitivity, which is a risk factor for both cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Don't replace the excess saturated fats with artificial trans fats. They're often found in stick margarine, shortening, and foods made with partially hydrogenated oils. Trans fats appear to increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, probably even more than saturated fats. 

Your saturated (and total) fat intake isn't the only part of your diet that affects your heart health. Overweight and obesity are also risk factors for cardiovascular disease -- losing weight may also help to reduce high blood pressure and improve your cholesterol. It's important to eat a balanced diet that includes lean proteins, healthy fats, plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low or non-fat dairy products.

Sources:

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Dietary Fatt Acids for Healthy Adults." Accessed April 2, 2016. https://www.andeal.org/vault/2440/web/DietaryFatty_JADA.pdf.

Jebb SA, Lovegrove JA, Griffin BA, Frost GS, Moore CS, Chatfield MD, Bluck LJ, Williams CM, Sanders TA; RISCK Study Group. "Effect of changing the amount and type of fat and carbohydrate on insulin sensitivity and cardiovascular risk: the RISCK (Reading, Imperial, Surrey, Cambridge, and Kings) trial." Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Oct;92(4):748-58. Accessed April 4, 2016. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/92/4/748.long.

Mozaffarian D, Micha R, Wallace S. "Effects on coronary heart disease of increasing polyunsaturated fat in place of saturated fat: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials." PLoS Med. 2010 Mar 23;7(3):e1000252. Accessed April 4, 2016. http://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1000252.

Siri-Tarino PW, Sun Q, Hu FB, Krauss RM. "Saturated fat, carbohydrate, and cardiovascular disease." Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Mar;91(3):502-9. Accessed April 4, 2016. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/91/3/502.

Walker C, Reamy BV. "Diets for cardiovascular disease prevention: what is the evidence?" Am Fam Physician. 2009 Apr 1;79(7):571-8. Accessed April 4, 2016. http://www.aafp.org/afp/2009/0401/p571.html.

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