Saturated fat is a type of fatty acid found in high-fat dairy foods, meats and some plant-based oils, such as palm, palm kernel and coconut oils. While some types of saturated fatty acids may be healthier for you than others, eating too much saturated fat puts you at risk for developing chronic health conditions. By limiting your saturated fat intake to recommended amounts, you'll significantly reduce your chronic disease risks.
Increased Heart Disease Risks
Because eating too much saturated fat can elevate your bad (low-density lipoprotein) blood cholesterol levels, diets high in saturated fat increase your risk for developing heart disease, which is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. Therefore, the American Heart Association suggests limiting saturated fat in your diet to no more than 7 percent of your total calorie intake, which equates to about 16 grams of saturated fat daily if you're following a 2,000-calorie diet. If you have high cholesterol, the American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fat to 5 to 6 percent of your total calories, or 11 to 13 grams when eating 2,000 calories daily.
High in Calories
While carbohydrates and protein each provide just 4 calories in each gram, fat (including saturated fat) contains 9 calories per gram. Therefore, eating foods high in saturated fat can add extra calories to your meal plan and lead to unwanted weight gain. Eating just 250 extra calories daily can lead to a slow gradual weight gain of about one-half pound per week.
Healthier Saturated Fats
While the American Heart Association places plant-based saturated fats in the same category as animal sources of saturated fat, tropical oils -- coconut, palm and palm kernel oils -- may be slightly healthier for you. High-fat meats and full-fat dairy products contain dietary cholesterol, but plant-based tropical oils are cholesterol free. Furthermore, a study published in 2011 in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that coconut oil consumption is associated with increased high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, which is your good cholesterol, and didn't negatively impact low-density lipoprotein cholesterol or triglyceride levels in women.
Ways to Reduce Saturated Fat
Making small changes to your diet can significantly reduce your dietary saturated fat intake and heart disease risks. For example, choose low-fat milk, low-fat yogurt, reduced-fat cheese or low-fat cottage cheese in place of whole milk, cream, ice cream, regular cheese and full-fat cottage cheese. Pick skinless poultry, seafood, very lean ground beef, tofu, seitan or egg whites in place of high-fat cuts of beef, whole eggs, bacon and sausage. Use olive, canola, flaxseed, walnut or soybean oils in place of coconut, palm and palm kernel oils.
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.