While you can't change the chemical composition of saturated fat in food, replacing foods and ingredients high in saturated fat with healthier alternatives helps drastically reduce your saturated fat intake. Because eating too much saturated fat can increase your blood cholesterol and risk for developing heart disease, it's good to reduce or replace saturated fat in foods with heart-healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats when possible.
Choose Oils over Butter
While butter may be better for some recipes, replacing butter with oil significantly lowers saturated fat in recipes. One tablespoon of butter contains about 7 grams of saturated fat, but 1 tablespoon of canola oil provides just 1 gram. Even if your recipe specifically calls for butter instead of oil, using tub butter mixed with olive or canola oil reduces the saturated fat content of your recipe by almost half. You can also replace some of the butter in your recipe with applesauce to cut saturated fat and extra calories. Avoid tropical oils like coconut, palm kernel and palm oils because though they are plant-based oils, they are rich in saturated fat.
Replace High-Fat Dairy Foods
If your recipe calls for whole milk, cream, cheese or buttermilk, choosing low-fat dairy foods instead significantly lowers the saturated fat content of your recipe. Whole milk contains about 5 grams of saturated fat per cup, but skim milk has almost no saturated fat in it. The American Heart Association suggests replacing 1 cup of whole milk with 1 cup of skim milk plus 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil, and using 1 cup of evaporated skim milk in place of 1 cup of heavy whipping cream. If your recipe calls for buttermilk, use low-fat milk plus vinegar or lemon juice instead to significantly reduce saturated fat in the recipe. Replace sour cream with plain nonfat Greek yogurt, cream cheese with fat-free cream cheese, and regular cheese with reduced-fat cheeses.
Substitute Lean Protein for High-Fat Meats
Replacing high-fat meats with lean protein foods drastically lowers your saturated fat intake. For example, choose turkey bacon or Canadian bacon instead of regular bacon. Pick very lean ground beef instead of regular ground beef. Choose lean cuts of red meat (such as loin, flank or round cuts) and trim off all visible fat before cooking the meat. Opt for unbreaded skinless poultry, seafood, soy protein, seitan or egg whites as your protein source instead of red meat to avoid saturated fat as much as possible.
Avoid Coconut Products
The type of saturated fat found in coconut oil may not negatively impact your blood cholesterol levels like saturated fat found in high-fat meats and dairy foods, according to a study published in 2011 in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Nonetheless, coconut, coconut oil and coconut milk are rich in saturated fat. When sautéing or baking with low heat, replace coconut oil with soybean, walnut, sesame, corn or pumpkinseed oils to reduce saturated fat. Instead of using coconut in recipes, choose nuts instead. Drink soy, almond or cashew milk instead of coconut milk to significantly lower the amount of saturated fat you're ingesting.
An experienced health, nutrition and fitness writer, Erin Coleman is a registered and licensed dietitian and holds a dietetics degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She also has worked as a clinical dietitian and health educator in outpatient settings. Erin's work is published on popular health websites, such as TheNest.com and JillianMichaels.com