Saturated Fats

What are saturated fats?

Saturated fats (or saturated fatty acids) are usually solid or waxy at room temperature. For example, 85% of the fats in coconut oil are saturated, which is why it has a thick, creamy appearance. In contrast, olive oil is composed mostly of unsaturated fats and is liquid at room temperature.

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Are saturated fats healthy?

Health practitioners have counseled us for decades to avoid saturated fats to improve our heart health. They explained that high amounts of saturated fat in the diet could increase LDL ("bad") cholesterol in the bloodstream, which can lead to cardiovascular disease. This long-held view has been strongly challenged in recent years, as research has failed to establish a causal link between saturated fats and cardiovascular disease.1

Despite the recent outcry, most health organizations still recommend limiting saturated fat intake.2, 3 They often cite evidence that replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats decreases the risks for cardiovascular disease.4 This is an important distinction. Simply decreasing saturated fat intake by itself may have no health benefits, but replacing it with unsaturated fats could have a positive effect.

How much saturated fat should I eat?

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and The U.S. Department of Agriculture release new dietary guidelines every five years. In the latest version, they recommend limiting saturated fats to no more than 10% of your daily caloric intake (see equation below).3 For people consuming 2,000 calories per day, this equates to a limit of 22 grams of saturated fat per day.

2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans Equation
[Maximum grams of saturated fat per day] = [Daily calorie consumption] / 90

The American Heart Association (AHA) takes a stronger stance against saturated fats. They argue "decades of sound science have proven [saturated fats] can raise your 'bad' cholesterol and put you at higher risk for heart disease."2 The AHA recommends a diet where saturated fats account for only 5-6% of your calories (see equation below).2 For people consuming 2,000 calories per day, this equates to a range of 11-13 grams of saturated fat per day.

American Heart Association Equation
[Maximum grams of saturated fat per day] = ([Daily calorie consumption] * 0.06) / 9

Are you eating too much saturated fat? Keep a food diary and find out. Track saturated fat!

Which foods are high in saturated fat?

Foods high in saturated fat are usually animal-based, although some plant-based foods also fall into this category. To lower your intake of saturated fat, choose fat-free dairy products, select meats low in saturated fat (such as poultry or fish), and reduce your consumption of processed foods.

Food Serving Size Sat. Fat (g)
Coconut Oil 1 tbsp 11.8
Ground Beef 4 oz 8.6
Pork Sausage 2 patties 8.0
Butter 1 tbsp 7.3
Vanilla Ice Cream 2/3 cup 6.5
Shredded Cheddar Cheese 1/4 cup 5.0
Whole Milk 1 cup 4.6
Heavy Cream 1 tbsp 3.5

Additional Resources

  1. Siri-Tarino, P. W., Sun, Q., Hu, F. B., & Krauss, R. M. (2010). Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 91(3), 535-546.
  2. Saturated Fats (Jun 2015). American Heart Association.
  3. 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture.
  4. The truth about fats: the good, the bad, and the in-between. Harvard Medical School.

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