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Saturated Fat and Your Diet

Saturated fat is the leading cause of high cholesterol, a leading factor in heart disease. Saturated fats occur naturally in many animal and some plant foods; hydrogenated fats and trans fatty acids are often found in processed foods. Cutting down your dietary fat content is important to weight loss, but even if you're not trying to lose weight, keeping saturated fats out of your diet can be vital to your heart health.

Fats and Your Health

You may have heard a lot of talk about "good fats" and "bad fats." The fact of the matter is, we all need some fats in our diet. Fats are essential to health; among other things, they help with nutrient absorption, maintaining the integrity of cell walls and transmitting nerve signals. But too much fat, or the wrong kind of fat, can contribute to weight gain, heart disease and cancer.

Fats aren't all the same. Some fats can have a positive impact on health; others can make us sick. Too much of any kind of fat can have a detrimental effect, and knowing which kinds of fats to include in your diet, how many of them to eat and where you can find them can be confusing.

Good Fats and Bad Fats: Knowing the Difference

The so-called "good" fats lower total cholesterol, including LDL cholesterol, the cholesterol that contributes to heart disease and cancer. At the same time, good fats increase levels of HDL cholesterol in your blood. Experts believe that HDL cholesterol actually helps prevent arterial plaque  build-up by carrying LDL cholesterol back to your liver, where it's eliminated from your body. Good fats can even contribute to weight loss.

Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are the good fats. These fats are found in nuts, such as peanuts and walnuts. They're also present in avacados, as well as canola and olive oils. Polyunsaturated fats include omega-3 fatty acids; they're found in seafood and fish oil, as well as soy, corn, safflower and sunflower oils.

Saturated fats and trans fats are the bad fats. Saturated fat is found in animal products and oils, including:

  • meat
  • whole dairy products
  • eggs
  • cheese
  • coconut oil
  • palm and palm kernel oils

Trans fats don't occur in nature. They were invented by scientists who hydrogenated fats to give them a higher shelf life in processed foods. They're found in fast foods, packaged foods and in solidified oils, such as vegetable shortening and stick margarine.

Fats and Your Diet: Striking a Balance

Fats of any type should form no more than 25 to 35 percent of your daily calories. Saturated fats should form no more than 7 percent of your daily calories, and trans fats no more than 1 percent of your daily calories. If you're healthy, limit your total cholesterol intake to no more than 300 mg per day. If you have heart disease or high cholesterol, limit your total cholesterol intake to no more than 200 mg per day.

Limit meat and dairy products in your diet; most of your dietary fat should come from nuts, seeds, seafood and healthy oils.

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