Saturated Fats

Updated:Feb 12,2016

Eating foods that contain saturated fats raises the level of cholesterol in your blood. High levels of LDL cholesterol in your blood increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.

What are saturated fats?

From a chemical standpoint, saturated fats are simply fat molecules that have no double bonds between carbon molecules because they are saturated with hydrogen molecules. Saturated fats are typically solid at room temperature.

How do saturated fats affect my health?

Replacing foods that are high in saturated fat with healthier options can lower blood cholesterol levels and improve lipid profiles

What foods contain saturated fats?

Saturated fats occur naturally in many foods. The majority come mainly from animal sources, including meat and dairy products.

Examples are:

  • fatty beef,
  • lamb,
  • pork,
  • poultry with skin,
  • beef fat (tallow),
  • lard and cream,
  • butter,
  • cheese and
  • other dairy products made from whole or reduced-fat (2 percent) milk. 

In addition, many baked goods and fried foods can contain high levels of saturated fats. Some plant-based oils, such as palm oil, palm kernel oil and coconut oil, also contain primarily saturated fats, but do not contain cholesterol.

What's my daily limit for foods with saturated fats?

The American Heart Association recommends aiming for a dietary pattern that achieves 5% to 6% of calories from saturated fat. That means, for example, if you need about 2,000 calories a day, no more than 120 of them should come from saturated fats. That’s about 13 grams of saturated fats a day.

What are alternatives to replace saturated fats in the foods I eat?

To get the nutrients you need, eat a dietary pattern that emphasizes:

Choose lean meats and poultry without skin and prepare them without added saturated and trans fat.

You should replace foods high in saturated fats with foods high in monounsaturated and/or polyunsaturated fats. This means eating foods made with liquid vegetable oil but not tropical oils. It also means eating fish and nuts. You also might try to replace some of the meat you eat with beans or legumes.

Frequently Asked Questions About Saturated Fats

There’s a lot of conflicting information about saturated fats. Should I eat them or not? The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fats – which are found in butter, cheese, red meat and other animal-based foods. Decades of sound science has proven it can raise your “bad” cholesterol and put you at higher risk for heart disease.

The more important thing to remember is the overall dietary picture. Saturated fats are just one piece of the puzzle. In general, you can’t go wrong eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fewer calories. 

When you hear about the latest “diet of the day” or a new or odd-sounding theory about food, consider the source. The American Heart Association makes dietary recommendations only after carefully considering the latest scientific evidence. 

Read more Frequently Asked Questions About Saturated Fats

What You Need to Know About Saturated Fats

Dr. Penny Kris-Etherton, a nutrition expert and volunteer with the American Heart Association, helps you cut through the clutter about saturated fats and understand the importance of limiting them as part of an overall healthy approach to eating.


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Visit the AHA Nutrition Center

You’ll find a wide variety of reference materials and resources to help you eat healthy – and understand why it’s important.

AHA’s healthy eating recommendations
Find out what the American Heart Association recommends for healthy eating, and what you can do to develop an eating plan to stay fit and prevent illness.

The basics on saturated fats
What’s saturated fat? Where’s it come from? How much of it should I eat?

The skinny on fats
Not all fat is bad for you. Find out more about the different kinds of fats and how much you should have as part of a healthy diet.

Good vs. bad cholesterol
Saturated fats are linked to “bad cholesterol.” Find out the differences between the different kinds of cholesterol and what you should know about them.