During the low-fat craze of the 1990s, many Americans avoided all dietary fat like the plague. The macronutrient was blamed for weight gain and other serious health problems, like heart disease. Since then, researchers have discovered that the amount of fat in your diet isn't as much to blame as the type of fat you eat. Good fats, like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, are beneficial to your health, while bad fats, like saturated fat, can do more harm than good.
In a saturated fat, all of the carbon atoms are bonded to -- or saturated with -- hydrogen atoms. These bonds make saturated fat very dense, which causes them to be solid at room temperature. The main sources of saturated fats in the diet are animal products, like meat and dairy. Beef, lamb, pork, poultry with the skin, butter, cheese and full-fat dairy products are particularly high in saturated fat. Baked goods and fried foods are also high in saturated fat. Some plant foods, like coconut oil and palm oil, also contribute saturated fat to your diet.
Eating excess amounts of saturated fat can increase the amount of cholesterol in your blood. This cholesterol can accumulate on the walls of your arteries, forming plaques – or hard deposits. Eventually, these hard deposits can lead to a condition called atherosclerosis, which is characterized by hardened, thickened arteries. When your arteries become thick and hard, blood cannot flow through them as easily and the heart has to work harder. This puts extra stress on the heart that, over time, can lead to heart disease and heart failure.
Because eating a lot of saturated fat can increase your risk of heart disease, the American Heart Association recommends that you limit your intake to less than 7 percent of your daily calories. If you’re on a standard 2,000-calorie diet, saturated fat should contribute no more than 140 calories. This is 16 grams of saturated fat per day.
Tips to Cut Back
Cutting back on saturated fat intake doesn’t mean that you have to avoid meat and other foods you love. It’s just about making better choices. Look for lean cuts of meat, like sirloin and round cuts. Avoid meats with a marbled appearance – the white part is mostly saturated fat. Choose skinless chicken and turkey or remove skin before cooking. Opt for low-fat milk, yogurt, cheese and ice cream over full-fat versions. Use olive oil instead of butter whenever possible.
Lindsay Boyers has a Bachelor of Science in nutrition from Framingham State College and a certificate in holistic nutrition from the American College of Healthcare Sciences. She is also a licensed aesthetician with advanced training in skincare and makeup. She plans to continue on with her education, complete a master's degree program in nutrition and, ultimately, become a registered dietitian.