They are delicious, there is no debating that. But you probably know that you should try to avoid eating lots of foods high in saturated fat.
Saturated fats, by definition, are fats that are solid at room temperature. Saturated fats are frequently found in foods of animal origin, as well as in tropical oils like coconut oil and palm oil. And according to the American Heart Association, you should approach foods high in saturated fat with caution. A diet high in saturated fat can raise your LDL cholesterol, or “bad” cholesterol, which increases your risk of heart disease and stroke.
“If your diet is higher in fat in general, it will be higher in calories because fat is a more calorie-dense nutrient,” adds Amy Reed, MS, RD, CSP, LDpediatric dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
“The gut also goes through a lot of disruption when it’s loaded with saturated fat and doesn’t have fiber to clean it out,” explains Kara Burnstine, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES, Registered Dietitian and Nutrition Educator at Pritikin Longevity Center and Spa.
Foods high in saturated fat
Check out this list of foods that tend to be high in saturated fat. If you regularly eat a lot of these foods, you may be eating more saturated fat than you think and you may want to consider reducing your intake.
Let’s recognize right away that butter, which is derived from animal fats, is high in saturated fat and calories. But don’t put the butter away and automatically opt for margarine instead, because margarine often contains trans fats, which aren’t good for you either. As a general rule, it’s best to opt for olive oil, which is low in saturated fat but high in monounsaturated fat, or perhaps a spread that’s low in saturated fat and has no trans fat.
Related: Lean Over Fat: What Are The Four Best Fats To Eat?
Oh, those processed, salty meats. They’re so delicious, but they also tend to be high in saturated fat, making them a “sometimes” or “occasional” food for most of us. In addition to deli meats, foods like hot dogs and bacon also fall into this category.
Red meat can also be high in saturated fat, so be sure to read labels and watch the fat content. Or look for leaner cuts. According to the USDA, a lean cut of beef is a 3.5-ounce serving that contains less than 10 grams of total fat and less than 4.5 grams of saturated fat. An extra lean serving would contain less than 5 grams of total fat and less than 2.5 grams of saturated fat. Plus, if you’re really craving a burger, you might want to opt for leaner versions like a bison burger, suggests Burnstine.
Coconut oil certainly had a moment in the not-too-distant past, in part because many people embraced diets like the ketogenic and paleo diets. But you should approach this product with caution. Health experts have long known that coconut oil is high in saturated fat. It’s 100% fat, 80-90% of which is saturated fat, according to Harvard University’s TH Chan School of Public Health. Many pre-packaged foods also contain coconut oil, so even if you don’t buy coconut oil yourself, it may be hiding in some of the foods you like.
Muffins, cakes, and other prepackaged baked goods that you can buy at the grocery store also tend to be high in fat. In order to be storage stable, they undergo a process called hydrogenation. Unfortunately, this creates trans fats, which research has shown is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, among other illnesses.
Related: Why Coconut Oil Isn’t Good for Your Heart
You probably wouldn’t stop eating foods like chicken, onions, mushrooms, or zucchini because they’re healthy. Right? Unfortunately, if you heavily bread them and then fry them, you gain a lot of extra fat and calories in the process. The frying process is the big deal, according to Burnstine. “It’s the oil,” she explains. “They use a vegetable oil, and they use a lot of it, and the oil is about 4,000 calories per pound.”
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It’s super convenient to grab a bag of crackers to snack on, but you might end up paying for it later if it becomes a habit. The saturated fat content may be higher than expected.
Health experts tend to recommend low-fat dairy products like milk and yogurt as part of a healthy diet. In fact, the American Heart Association recommends two to three servings of low-fat dairy products per day for most adults. But check the label on that carton of ice cream to gauge the fat content. It may not be – or probably will not, in fact – be called “low fat”. If you’re worried, you can eat a smaller portion or less often, or opt for a reduced-fat version.
Like crackers, potato chips tend to be higher in saturated fat. Luckily, if you’re a chip addict, you have plenty of healthier options, like baked chips that will still give you the satisfaction of flavor and crunch without posing as much risk to your cardiovascular system.
If you can resist the temptation to order fresh, salty fries to go with your burger, you have more willpower than many people. But your arteries will thank you because French fries can be high in saturated fat if fried in oil.
Pizza doesn’t have to be high in saturated fat, but it often is. Why? Because we load it with lots of cheese, which is high in saturated fat. And to make matters worse, we often add lots of deli meats, like pepperoni and sausage. Reduce the amount of cheese or replace some whole cheese with low-fat cheese to make it a healthier choice. Bonus: add veggies for extra nutrition.
Related: From Avocado and Olive Oil to Coconut and Sesame Oil, Here Are the Best and Worst Cooking Oils for Your Heart
A word of warning
You can always switch from a high fat product to a low fat or no fat version. Think: yogurt and cheese. But fat is what makes a lot of food taste good, Reed notes. “So if we eat something that doesn’t fill us up, it doesn’t satisfy us,” she says. “And fat is a big part of why we feel full after a meal and feel satisfied.”
And if you’re not satisfied, you might be tempted to keep eating, which might not be very healthy for you either.
You don’t necessarily have to give up saturated fat. However, you should keep your overall nutritional needs in mind. For example, a plate of roasted vegetables with a little melted butter on top will provide you with far more health benefits than several servings of crackers.
“We just, most of the time, need to choose foods that give us better nutrition,” says Reed.
Next : Trying to avoid trans fats? Here are the foods to watch out for and the best dietitian-approved swaps
- American Heart Association. Dairy products – Milk, yogurt and cheese
- American Heart Association. Saturated fat.
- Kara Burnstine, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES, Registered Dietitian and Nutrition Educator at Pritikin Longevity Center and Spa.
- Harvard Public Health. Is butter really back?
- Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. Coconut oil.
- Nutrition review. Consumption of trans fatty acids is linked to plasma biomarkers of inflammation and endothelial dysfunction.
- Mayo Clinic. Cuts of Beef: Guide to the Leanest Selections.
- Mayo Clinic. Which spread is better for my heart – butter or margarine?
- Amy Reed, MS, RD, CSP, LD, pediatric dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
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