The Main Sources of Saturated Fat and How to Reduce Our Intake

Foods That Contain the "Bad Fat" and Ways to Cut Back

Eat fish at least twice a week to reduce saturated fat
Eat fish at least twice a week to reduce saturated fat. Iain Bagwell/Taxi/Getty Images

By now, most of us know that saturated fat is considered the "bad fat," and we should limit the amount we consume. A diet high in saturated fat can lead to weight gain, raised LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and an increased risk of heart disease. So it is important to know which foods are high in saturated fat so we can make educated decisions when it comes to eating a healthy diet.

In general, the main sources of saturated fat are from animal products, but also exist in certain plant-based foods.

Red meat--from both cow and pig--is high in saturated fat. Whole-milk dairy products, including cheese, sour cream, ice cream and butter, are "bad fat" culprits as well.

But there are also plant-based sources of saturated fat, principally coconut oil and coconut milk, palm kernel oil, cocoa butter and palm oil. And while you probably don’t go to the store and buy these items individually—with the exception of coconut milk—these plant-based saturated fats crop up in a number of commercially prepared products. For example, cocoa butter is in chocolate. And coconut oil and palm oils are an ingredient in several food items, from non-dairy whipped toppings and coffee creamers to cookies and cakes.

Because this fat exists in so many common foods that we eat, Americans consume an average of 25.5 grams of saturated fat a day, which is 5 to 10 grams more than we should be eating. Saturated-fat intake is linked to high cholesterol and until recently, an increased risk of coronary heart disease and stroke.

While saturated fats are gradually being brought back to the table, the latest dietary guidelines still recommend limiting them to no more than 10 percent of daily calories, and the American Heart Association still advocates limiting them to under seven percent. Although there are recent studies questioning the harmfulness of saturated fats, there are still "bad fat believers"--nutrition expert and professor at Penn State University Penny Kris-Etherton, Ph.D, R.D, rejects the notion that saturated fats are harmless.

Quick Ways to Reduce Saturated Fat in Our Diet

  • Substitute low-fat or fat-free versions of milk and dairy products for their full-fat counterparts
  • Eat red meat occasionally; choose lean cuts and eat smaller portions 
  • Always remove the skin from poultry after cooking
  • Eat fish at least twice a week
  • Go meatless at least once a week
  • Use liquid vegetable oils, such as canola or olive oil, over solid fats such as butter
  • Flavor foods with herbs and spices instead of fat-laden toppings and sauces
  • Increase intake of whole grains, fruits and vegetables

To learn more about saturated fat and eating a low-fat diet, check out these resources.