The major sources of saturated fats in the US diet are fatty meats, whole milk, tropical oils, and products made from any of these foods.

To limit saturated fat intake, consumers must choose carefully among these high-fat foods. More than a third of the fat in most meats is saturated.

Similarly, more than half of the fat is saturated in whole milk and other high-fat milk products, such as cheese, butter, cream, half and- half, cream cheese, sour cream, and ice cream. The tropical oils of palm, palm kernel, and coconut, which consumers rarely use in the kitchen, are used heavily by food manufacturers and are commonly found in many commercially prepared foods.

When choosing meats, milk products, and commercially prepared foods, look for those lowest in saturated fat. Labels help consumers to compare products.

Even with careful selections, a nutritionally adequate diet will provide some saturated fat. Zero saturated fat is not possible even when experts design menus with the mission to keep saturated fat as low as possible. Because most saturated fats come from animal foods, vegetarian diets can, and usually do, deliver fewer saturated fats than mixed diets.


Many convenience foods contain trans fats, including:

  • Fried foods such as French fries, chicken, and other commercially fried foods
  • Commercial baked goods such as cakes, pie crusts, frozen
  • pizzas, biscuits, muffins, cookies, doughnuts, pastries, breads, and crackers
  • Snack foods such as chips
  • Imitation cheeses

To keep trans-fat intake low, use these foods sparingly. Substituting unsaturated fats for saturated fats at each meal and snack can help protect against heart disease.

Decades of research have confirmed that omega-3 fatty acids help protect against heart disease by reducing blood triglycerides, blood pressure, resting heart rate, and inflammation; stabilizing plaque; and serving as precursors to eicosanoids. For people with hypertension or atherosclerosis, these actions can be lifesaving.

Because increasing omega-3 fatty acids in the diet support heart health and lower the rate of deaths from heart disease, the American Heart Association recommends including fish in a heart-healthy diet. People who eat some fish each week can lower their risks of heart attack and stroke.


The number-one dietary determinant of LDL cholesterol is saturated fat. Each 1 percent increase in energy from saturated fatty acids in the diet produces a 2 percent jump in heart disease risk by elevating LDL cholesterol. Conversely, reducing saturated fat intake by 1 percent can be expected to produce a 2 percent drop in heart disease risk by the same mechanism. Even a 2 percent drop in LDL represents a significant improvement for heart health. Like saturated fats, trans fats also raise heart disease risk by elevating LDL cholesterol. A heart-healthy diet limits foods rich in these two types of fat.


Lipid Risk Factors

• Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol >130 mg/dL

• High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol <40 mg/dL

• Total cholesterol >200 mg/dL

• Triglycerides >150 mg/dL

Nonlipid Risk Factors


• Tobacco smoke and exposure to tobacco smoke

• Hypertension (>140/90 mm Hg)

• Physical inactivity

• Obesity (body mass index [BMI] >30 kg/m2) and overweight (BMI 25.0 to 29.9 kg/m2)

• Diabetes mellitus

• Atherogenic diet (high intakes of saturated fats and cholesterol)

• Thrombogenic state

• Excessive alcohol consumption (>1 drink per day for women and >2 drinks per day for men)

• Individual response to stress and coping

• Some illegal drugs (cocaine and intravenous drug abuse)


• Male gender

• Age (men >45 years, women >55 years)

• Heredity (including race)

• Family history of premature coronary heart disease (CHD) (myocardial infarction [MI] or sudden death <55 years of age in father or other males first-degree relative, or <65 years of age in mother or other female first-degree relatives)


Are some fats “good” and others “bad” from the body’s point of view?

Saturated and trans fats do indeed seem mostly bad for the health of the heart. Aside from providing energy, which unsaturated fats can do equally well, saturated and trans fats bring no benefits to the body. Furthermore, no harm can come from consuming diets low in them. Still, some foods rich in these fats are often delicious, giving them an occasional place in the diet. In contrast, unsaturated fats are mostly good for heart health when consumed in moderation.



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