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Facts on Saturated Fat



What do red meat, ice cream and butter have in common? They all have saturated fat.  You may have heard about saturated fat and its link to blood cholesterol and heart disease. Read on to get all the facts about saturated fat so you can make heart healthy food choices.

What is saturated fat?

Saturated fat is a type of fat naturally found in foods.  It is usually hard at room temperature and opaque.  Opaque means you cannot see through it.

What foods have saturated fat?

Saturated fat is found in animal-based foods like:

  • Fatty cuts of beef
  • Poultry with the skin on
  • Lard, shortening and butter
  • Higher fat milk, cheeses and yogurts 

It is also found in some vegetable oils like coconut and palm kernel oil.  These oils are sometimes used in fast foods and processed foods. 

How can saturated fat affect my health?

Some saturated fats have been linked to a higher risk of heart disease. This is because too much saturated fat raises LDL cholesterol, which is the “bad cholesterol.” Higher LDL cholesterol levels can lead to plaque build up in your arteries.

For more information get the facts on cholesterol.

Are all saturated fats the same?

No. There are different kinds of saturated fats.  Some saturated fats impact our bodies more negatively than others.  Because foods naturally contain a mixture of different saturated fats, it is hard to choose foods based on one particular type of saturated fat. Therefore, it is best to limit all saturated fat.

How can I limit saturated fat in my diet?

Saturated fat should be limited to no more than 10 percent of your daily calorie intake. To lower your saturated fat intake, follow Canada’s Food Guide.  Choose lower fat meats and dairy products like:

  • Lean and extra lean cuts of meat
  • Skinless chicken
  • Skim milk or 1% milk
  • Low fat milk: 0% or 1% M.F (Milk Fat)  
  • Lower fat yogurt: 0% or 1% M.F (Milk Fat)  
  • Lower fat cheese: Under 20% M.F. (Milk Fat)  

Choose foods with healthy fats like:

  • Fish (e.g. salmon, rainbow trout, herring and tuna)
  • Nuts (e.g. unsalted walnuts, almonds and pecan)
  • Seeds (e.g. flax, pumpkin, sesame and sunflower seeds)
  • Plant oils (e.g. vegetable, olive, soy, canola and flaxseed oil)
  • Non-hydrogenated margarine

In addition, enjoy a variety of vegetables, legumes, fruits and whole grains products.

Tips on lowering saturated fat intake 

In the grocery store:

  • Compare nutrition labels to find out which products are lower in saturated and total fats.  Look at the % Daily Value for saturated fat and choose the foods with the lower numbers. 
  • Look for products that say ‘low fat’ on the package as a guide.

In the kitchen:

  • Instead of butter, flavour foods with garlic, lemon, vinegars, wines, herbs and spices. These are all fat free!
  • Choose healthier fats you can ‘see through’ like olive oil, canola oil and sunflower oil.
  • Use smaller amounts of stronger cheeses like old cheddar or asiago for quesadillas or casseroles to get lots of flavour with less fat.
  • When making soups, use 1 or 2% milk instead of heavy creams to thicken to the desired consistency.
  • Making a stir fry? Instead of butter, use a small amount of a healthy vegetable oil like canola, olive or sunflower to sauté meat and vegetables.  To make your stir fry even healthier, substitute a medium firm tofu instead of meat like this sweet chili tofu stir fry.
  • Go vegetarian! Replace some of the meat in your meals with legumes. Learn more about Cooking with legumes.

At a restaurant:

  • Ask your server how meals are prepared. Ask for foods to be prepared with as little fat as possible.
  • Choose foods that are grilled, roasted and poached instead of deep fried or sautéed.
  • When it’s time for dessert, share with a friend to cut the fat in half.
  • Read our top 10 tips for eating out.

Bottom line

For optimal health, it is important to lower your intake of saturated fat. This is the best way to keep your heart healthy! If you have questions about fat and your health, call an EatRight Ontario Registered Dietitian at 1-877-510-510-2 or send an email.

You may also be interested in:

Facts on Fat

Facts on cholesterol

Facts on Triglycerides

Last Update – March 9, 2017

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If you have questions about what you've read here, or other questions about food, nutrition or healthy eating, click to email our Registered Dietitians or call 1-877-510-5102.