Saturated fats are often referred to as ‘bad fats’ – they are not considered essential for good health, and have been linked with an increased risk of heart disease and total cholesterol levels in the body.
Saturated fat is a type of fat that is solid at room temperature. It is mainly found in animal products but can be found in some plant sources.
Animal-based sources of saturated fat include:
- Dairy foods – such as butter, cream, ghee, regular-fat milk and cheese
- Meat – such as fatty cuts of beef, pork and lamb, processed meats like salami, sausages and the skin on chicken.
Plant-derived sources of saturated fat include:
- Palm oil
- Cooking margarine and copha
- Coconut oil, milk and cream.
Saturated fats are also commonly found in many manufactured and packaged foods such as:
- Fatty snack foods
- Deep fried take away foods
- Pastries and pies.
Saturated fats are one of the main causes of high blood cholesterol levels. The Heart Foundation has found that increasing amounts of saturated fats in your diet will cause a rise in the level of ‘bad cholesterol’ in your blood and decrease the level of ‘good cholesterol’.
This can cause sticky, fatty deposits to build up in your arteries, causing them to narrow – and this increases the risk of blockages. If this happens around the heart, it can cause a heart attack. If blockages occur in the brain it can cause a stroke.
It is important to select unprocessed meats and always trim the visible fat from meat and poultry. Choosing foods that are lowest in saturated fat will help to decrease the risk of high cholesterol levels and heart disease. Remember to compare the saturated fat content on labels and choose foods with the lowest amounts. Take note of the other nutrients on food labels too, foods high in saturated fats are known not to be the only dietary issue for cardiovascular disease.
Foods high in added sugars and refined carbohydrates such as cakes, biscuits, soft drinks and other sweetened beverages are not healthy choices and contribute a large amount of energy (kilojoules) to the diet. Refined carbohydrates, such as those found in these foods have unfavourable effects on satiety and weight gain and can lead to adverse cardiometabolic effects.
Therefore substituting wholegrain carbohydrate foods (like grainy bread, brown rice, barley, high fibre, wholegrain/oat breakfast cereal) in the place of refined, lower-quality carbohydrates is recommended as a prevention strategy for cardiovascular disease. Eating a diet rich in low glycaemic index (GI) foods such as wholegrain breads and cereals, yoghurt, nuts and legumes can also reduce heart disease risk.
Unfortunately, Australian’s are consuming between 36-41% of their energy from discretionary foods that are high in saturated fat, sugar, sodium and low in fibre, vitamins and minerals. So, when replacing foods high in saturated fats in your diet, be sure to choose nutrient dense, whole foods rich in healthy unsaturated fats such as fish, legumes, nuts, and plant-based oils.
An Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) can provide expert nutrition and dietary advice on the most appropriate type and amount of fat to eat each day.