Saturated Fat: Why It’s Bad for You and Which Foods to Avoid

  • Medical Reviewer: Dany Paul Baby, MD
Medically Reviewed on 8/23/2022

What is saturated fat?

Saturated fats are considered bad or unhealthy fats because they can affect your health when consumed in large quantities. Saturated fat is associated with health risks and red meat, full-fat dairy, coconut oil, and other foods contain it.
Saturated fats are considered bad or unhealthy fats because they can affect your health when consumed in large quantities. Saturated fat is associated with health risks and red meat, full-fat dairy, coconut oil, and other foods contain it.

You may have heard people claim that saturated fat is bad for your health. It is indeed considered bad or unhealthy fat because eating too much of it can lead to health problems. 

Here’s everything you need to know about why saturated fat is bad for you and which foods to avoid.

There are two types of fat — unsaturated fat and saturated fat.

Unsaturated fat

Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature. They are considered healthy or good fats because they improve good cholesterol levels in your blood, decrease inflammation, improve heart and brain health, and more. There are two types of unsaturated fats, called monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. They are found in plant-based foods like vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds and in animal products like fish oil.

Unsaturated fats also include trans fats. They are different from monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Trans fats are naturally present in beef and dairy, but they can be made artificially through a process called hydrogenation. This involves heating vegetable oils in the presence of hydrogen gas. Trans fats are considered to be unhealthy in many cases. They can increase your cholesterol, which can be bad for your heart health. 

Saturated fat

Saturated fats are solid at room temperature, which is why they are also called solid fats. They are considered bad or unhealthy fats because they can affect your health when consumed in large quantities. Animal foods like meat and dairy are rich in saturated fat. Some tropical oils like coconut oil and palm oil also contain saturated fat.

Why is saturated fat bad for you?

Research shows that saturated fat is associated with certain health risks. If your diet includes a high amount of saturated fat, you may be prone to the following health conditions:

Weight gain and obesity

Baked and fried foods are rich in saturated fat. Eating a lot of saturated fat can increase your calorie intake and make you gain weight. One gram of saturated fat has 9 calories, which is over twice the number of calories in similar quantities of carbohydrates and protein. 

In an animal study, mice were fed butter with high saturated fat content. These mice developed obesity and couldn’t lose weight easily. The study showed that high-fat diets can cause obesity and prevent fat loss.

You may want to reduce your intake of high-fat foods to prevent weight gain and obesity. Maintaining a healthy weight can then help you keep related health conditions at bay. 


Excess fat in the body can increase your risk of developing diabetes. Studies show that eating saturated fats from meat and animal fat can increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Also, a high intake of cheese and butter is associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes

On the other hand, dairy products like low-fat yogurt and foods containing unsaturated fatty acids can lower your risk of diabetes

High cholesterol levels and heart problems 

Studies show that having only saturated fats in your diet can increase your risk of heart problems like coronary heart disease. In some, it can even lead to death. A high intake of saturated fats can increase your blood cholesterol levels and affect your blood pressure.

Increased levels of low-density lipoprotein or bad cholesterol can lead to blockages in the arteries. This condition is known as atherosclerosis. It can lead to cardiovascular diseases and stroke.

A study in children and young adults showed that reducing saturated fat intake decreased their cholesterol levels and blood pressure. 

Other studies show that avoiding saturated fat and adding polyunsaturated fats to your diet can reduce your risk of developing heart disease


Research shows that a high intake of saturated fat and meat is associated with an increased colorectal and breast cancer risk. Another study shows that having high amounts of saturated fat from butter, pork, or red meat can increase the risk of pancreatic cancer. A study in mice revealed that a high-fat diet contributes to cancerous growth in colon cells. 

However, scientists are still trying to understand exactly how saturated fats make cells cancerous. A theory suggests that diets rich in saturated fat include red meat and baked and fried food, and these foods don’t contain dietary fiber, plant proteins, or antioxidants, which are found in fruits and vegetables. Focusing on foods with saturated fat can thus deprive your body of protective plant-based nutrients. This can damage your cells and lead to cancer.

What is the recommended intake of saturated fat?

Not all saturated fats are bad for your health. According to the American Heart Association and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, saturated fat intake should be limited to 5% to 10% of the total calories you consume per day. If you have a 2000-calorie diet, about 100 to 200 calories may come from saturated fat. 

One gram of saturated fat is 9 calories. So, your daily intake of saturated fat might be up to 22 grams.

Which foods contain saturated fat?

Some foods that naturally contain saturated fat include:

  • High-fat meats like beef, pork, and lamb
  • Cured and processed meats like sausages and bacon
  • Full-fat dairy
  • Butter and lard
  • Cheese and cream cheese
  • Coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil
  • Baked food 
  • Ice creams and milkshakes
  • Chocolate spread

Which foods to avoid?

Foods that have high saturated fat content may be tempting and tasty, but having huge portions of them can be bad for your health. 

Here are some specific high-saturated-fat foods you should limit:

Red meat and processed meats

Red meat like beef, lamb, pork, and processed meats like bacon and sausages are rich in saturated fat. A 100-gram serving of cooked ground beef contains 260 calories and 6.5 grams of saturated fat. One cup or 80 grams of bacon has 374 calories and 9.6 grams of saturated fat.

Full-fat dairy

Whole milk has 146 calories and 4.5 grams of saturated fat per cup. Heavy whipping cream contains 408 calories and 28 grams of saturated fat in one cup. This exceeds the daily recommended intake of saturated fat. 


Butter has a very high saturated fat content. One tablespoon (14 grams) of butter has 100 calories and 7 grams of saturated fat. That’s why baked goods like cakes, cookies, pies, and other snacks can be bad for you.

Coconut oil

About 90% of coconut oil is saturated fat. One tablespoon of coconut oil has 117 calories and 14 grams of fat. Although coconut oil has health benefits, research suggests that it can affect cholesterol levels.

Other foods

Snacks and foods like sandwiches, pizzas, burgers, casseroles, or tacos contain multiple sources of saturated fat. These include cheese, butter, and different types of meat.

Meanwhile, desserts and baked food contain cream and butter in large amounts, so make sure you watch what you eat.


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What foods to eat  

Instead of eating foods with a high-saturated-fat content, opt for foods that are low in saturated fat and high in unsaturated fats. Here are some healthier alternatives:

  • Lean meat and poultry 
  • Seafood like salmon or tuna
  • Whole grains
  • Low-fat or fat-free dairy like yogurt 
  • Nuts like walnuts and almonds 
  • Seeds like sesame and flax seeds
  • Oils like olive, canola, and peanut oils
  • Fruits and vegetables

Tips for cutting down on saturated fats

Here are some ways to avoid and reduce saturated fats:

1. Track your calories

Keep a watch on your calorie intake, especially while eating foods rich in saturated fats. You can do this through calorie-tracking applications that may be available on your phone. If you’re consuming saturated fats in excess of 10% of your daily calorie intake, you’ll need to make some changes in your diet. These can help you maintain your weight and live a healthier lifestyle.

2. Read the nutrition label

Check the nutrition labels when you buy food products. They usually mention the total fat, saturated fat, and trans fat content. Some products also enlist the unsaturated fat content. Make sure you compare the labels and select options with low or no saturated fats and those that have primarily unsaturated fats.

3. Choose healthier replacements

Replace saturated fats in your diet with healthy, low-fat alternatives. Use olive oil or other vegetable oils in place of butter or lard. Instead of fried chicken, try grilled, baked, or poached chicken. Go for leaner meat cuts. Make meat stews or curries with vegetables to balance your diet. Have fruits or low-fat yogurt instead of baked desserts or ice creams. 

4. Reduce your portion size

You don’t need to completely stop eating foods with saturated fat. Just reduce the number of foods containing saturated fat in your diet, have smaller portions, or eat them less often. While using high-in-saturated-fat oil or butter, measure it with a spoon or use an oil spray. 

Also, get rid of the skin or visible fat from meat before cooking. That will help you control your saturated fat intake. 

Other considerations

Be mindful of your eating patterns for a healthy and balanced diet. You can include saturated fats in your diet in limited quantities, but make sure you balance your calorie intake to maintain a healthy weight. Also, eat plant-based foods like fruits and vegetables to get fiber and other nutrients.

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Medically Reviewed on 8/23/2022

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