What is Saturated Fat?

Believe it or not, fat has an important role to play in any healthy diet, providing a source of energy as well as essential fatty acids. However, there are different types of fat present in our food – often thought of as “good” fats and “bad” fats – and “bad” saturated fat has been linked to increased LDL-cholesterol, one of the risk factors in the development of coronary heart disease*. So what are saturated fats, and how do they affect your body?

What are saturated fats?

Saturated fat is a “bad” fat found in relatively high amounts in many meat and dairy products, including full fat milk, cheese, butter, and cream. A lot of prepared foods have a high quantity of saturated fat – ranging from baked desserts like cakes and biscuits, to pizza and pork pies. Perhaps surprisingly, it can also be found in some vegetable products: coconut oil and palm oil are also high in saturated fat.

What does saturated fat do?

Having too much cholesterol in the blood is one of the risk factors in the development of coronary heart disease* – and saturated fat and cholesterol have been linked by a number of studies. There is convincing evidence that replacing saturated fat with “good” unsaturated fats in the diet, can help lower “bad” LDL-cholesterol, which – if elevated – is one of the risk factors in the development of coronary heart disease*.

Unfortunately, according to the most recent National Diet and Nutrition Survey by Public Health England, most people in the UK are exceeding the recommended intake of saturated fat, while just falling within the recommended intake of fat overall.

How to reduce or replace the saturated fat in your diet

  • Know your recommended daily allowance . This varies according to gender – take a look at the FDII guidelines here .
  • Read food labels . When buying prepared food, it’s a good idea to check the nutritional information on the packet. Many packets will have information on Reference Intake (formerly Guideline Daily Allowance) on the front, using the traffic light system to indicate the amount of energy, total fat, saturated fat, sugars, and salt per serving (and an indication of serving size) – find out more about this here.

    If nutritional information is only given per 100g, bear in mind that we rarely eat exactly 100 grams of any food. How much saturated fat is going to be in the amount you will actually be eating?
  • Replace foods high in “bad” fats with those containing more of the “good” unsaturated fat where possible . It helps to know what the main sources of saturated fat are and what foods make suitable replacements. Check out our Simple Swaps page here for ideas – it’s a good way to find tasty alternatives to foods high in saturated fat.
  • Swap full fat dairy options for reduced fat or unsaturated fat options . For example, consider opting for skimmed rather than full fat milk, or melting a vegetable oil based soft spread over your baked potatoes or vegetables rather than butter.
  • Cook cleverly . Poaching, boiling, baking, steaming, and grilling meat, fish, or eggs use less fat than frying. When frying is necessary, use vegetable oils or products made from them, as they are a good source of unsaturated fat. Also try trimming the fat off meat and taking the skin off chicken breasts.

Find out more about saturated fats

If you’d like to find out a little more about saturated fat and cholesterol, our articles on saturated fat vs. unsaturated fat, the definition of unsaturated fat, and how to make a cholesterol lowering diet plan are here to help.

*High cholesterol is one of the risk factors in the development of coronary heart disease. There are many risk factors for coronary heart disease, and it is important to take care of all of them to reduce the overall risk of it.