Common Foods High In Saturated Fat You Should Limit

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

Whether you are trying to lose weight, lower your LDL cholesterol levels, or simply want to be more "heart healthy," minimizing your saturated fat intake is a good idea. Professional health societies are the on the same page too.

For example, the  National Cholesterol Education Program recommends 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.

Nearly identical in terms of cholesterol guidance, the American Heart Association recommends that adults who would benefit from lowering LDL cholesterol limit their consumption of saturated fat to 5 to 6 percent of total calories, which is equivalent to about 11 to 13 grams of saturated fat daily.

In the end, lowering your saturated fat intake may take a little work and restraint, but with your healthier choices, you will likely feel better and more energized.

With that, here is the skinny on common foods that are high in saturated fats, as well as alternative (and yummy) options you can choose instead. 

Proteins High in Saturated Fats

Many animal products contain high amounts of saturated fat. Specifically, meat from cows and pigs is high in saturated fat (for example, ground beef, pork, and bacon). Beef fat and lamb are also high in saturated fat, as are processed meats, hot dogs, some cold cuts, and breakfast sausages.

Although following a cholesterol-lowering diet does not ban you from eating animal meat entirely, it can add up if you consume these products at every meal. 

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

Lean meats contain less than 4.5 grams of saturated and trans fats while extra lean meats contain less than two grams of saturated fats and trans fats. 

As an aside,  trans fats are found naturally in animal-based fats (like red meat) but the majority is produced industrially from liquid vegetable oils and found in fried and baked goods like doughnuts, cookies, crackers, pastries, pizza dough, pie crust, and cakes. 

Trans fats raise a person's LDL ("bad cholesterol") and decrease a person's HDL ("good cholesterol"). These two factors increase a person's chance of developing heart disease.

Healthy Alternatives

As a protein alternative to red meat and pork, you may consider eating poultry, such as chicken or turkey, without the skin.

If you want to cut saturated fat from your diet in a more substantial way, you can get protein from fish, nuts, beans, or soy products. 

Dairy Products High in Saturated Fats

Dairy products also introduce additional saturated fat into your diet, including:

  • Cheeses
  • White or 2 percent milk
  • Creams 
  • Ice cream

Not only can consuming dairy products increase your saturated fat intake, you should also be cognizant of the amounts of dairy being added to your favorite foods or beverages (for example, coffee creamer or butter on your toast)—all of these sources add up fairly quickly.

Healthy Alternatives

To minimize the amount of saturated fat you eat, select low-fat varieties of your favorite dairy foods, usually labeled as being “low fat”, “skim” or “part -skim” on their packaging.

Fats and Oils High in Saturated Fats

Although various spreads and oils are not something you would consume alone, they are often included in a variety of foods during preparation. Some of these fats, such as cream-based salad dressings and cooking oils, can take otherwise healthy, low-fat dishes containing low-fat veggies or fish and turn them into a high-fat nightmare.

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

Of course, fried foods and baked goods often have high levels of saturated fats or trans fats.

Be wary of labels too like "sugar-free." While this may sound healthy, often times the sugar is substituted for fats. Likewise, "low cholesterol" foods are often high in saturated fats, a deceptive tactic.  In the end, the only way to know how much-saturated fat you are consuming is to read the nutrition label. 

Healthy Alternatives

Choose vegetable oils like canola oil, olive oil, sunflower oil, or safflower oil and soft margarine as a substitute for butter or stick margarine. Examples of soft margarine include those that are liquid or found in a tub but check the nutrition facts label to be certain.

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

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

A Word From Verywell

It's important to not get discouraged if you are altering the way you eat. Think of all the delicious meals you can prepare, not necessarily what you have to avoid—a glass half full approach.

In fact, there are so many food options available that will satisfy your taste buds while being easy to prepare. Just think, you can whip up a delicious salad filled with nuts, fruit, and grilled chicken in the time it takes to order in or cook a pizza.

For a snack, instead of going to the vending machine at work, pack containers of colorful fruits and vegetables with hummus as a dip. Or munch on a rice cake spread with low-fat cream cheese or even more filling almond or peanut butter.

In the end, it's about moderation and making good choices. If you are ever in doubt about whether or not your favorite foods contain saturated fat, you should check the nutrition label, usually located on the back of the package.

Sources:

American Heart Association. (2017). Saturated fat. 

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

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.

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