Are Saturated Fats Good for You?

While there are “good fats” that promote good health, there are also 2 types of fat that are potentially harmful: trans fat and saturated fat.

The American Heart Association suggests that you eliminate trans fats from your diet and make sure calories from saturated fats are no more than 5% to 6% of your total calorie intake. That means if you eat 2,000 calories a day, your maximum amount of calories from saturated fat should be 120 calories (a little less than half an ounce, or 13 grams).

What are the risks of saturated fat? 

If your diet is too high in saturated fat, it can increase both your high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. 

LDL cholesterol is commonly referred to as “bad” cholesterol, while HDL cholesterol is commonly referred to as “good” cholesterol.

As your LDL increases, fatty deposits can develop in your blood vessels. As these deposits grow, it becomes more difficult for blood to flow through your arteries. If one of those deposits suddenly breaks, it can form a clot that could cause a stroke or heart attack.

Foods with saturated fat 

At room temperature, saturated fats are solid. Common sources include:

  • Fatty meats (beef, pork, lamb)
  • Poultry with skin
  • Processed meats (pepperoni, bacon, salami)
  • Whole milk and whole milk dairy products (butter, cheese, cream)
  • Tropical oils (palm oil, coconut oil)

Trans fat 

According to Harvard Medical School, trans fat is the type of fat that causes the most negative health effects. Artificial trans fats were banned in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration in 2015.

As well as increasing LDL cholesterol and reducing HDL cholesterol, trans fats create inflammation associated with chronic conditions. These include:

  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Stroke

Trans fats are made by turning healthy oils into solids through a process known as hydrogenation. Hydrogenation keeps fats from turning rancid. Before they were banned, trans fats were used heavily in the production of margarine, shortening, and processed foods. 

Unsaturated fat 

The 2 unsaturated fats — monounsaturated and polyunsaturated — can be good for your heart in moderation. Replacing foods high in saturated fats with foods high in monounsaturated and/or polyunsaturated fats lowers LDL and total cholesterol levels. This may lower your risk for stroke and heart disease. “Good” fats often have nutritional value as well. 

Good sources of monounsaturated fats include:

  • Nuts (pecans, hazelnuts, almonds)
  • Oils (canola, olive, peanut)
  • Avocados
  • Seeds (sesame, pumpkin)

Good sources of polyunsaturated fats include:

  • Walnuts
  • Oils (soybean, sunflower, flaxseed)
  • Fish (tuna, salmon, trout)

A popular polyunsaturated fat is omega-3, which is found in

  • Fish (tuna, sardines, salmon, trout)
  • Nuts (walnuts, butternuts)
  • Seeds (flax seed, chia)

How can I reduce saturated fats in my diet? 

If you want to reduce the amount of saturated fat you consume, there are a few things you can do to get started: 

  • Look at food labels while shopping.
  • Choose lean meat and skinless poultry.
  • Buy less meat and more fish.
  • Choose nuts, seeds, and fruit for snacking.
  • Limit processed foods.  
  • Cook with olive oil instead of solid fats such as butter.
  • Bake foods instead of frying them.

Takeaway 

Some dietary fats have health benefits, and some can contribute to negative health effects. Trans fats and saturated fats cause the most harm, as they can increase your risk of heart disease.

Replacing saturated fats with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can lower your LDL cholesterol, reducing your risk of stroke and heart disease.

If you’re concerned about fat intake, choose foods that contain unsaturated fats rather than saturated fats. Limit calories from saturated fats to no more than 5% to 6%of your total daily calories.