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saturated fat

Australians consume too much fat in their diet. On average, Australians get 35-37 percent of their kilojoules from fat. High-fat diets, especially saturated fats, are linked to high blood cholesterol levels and heart disease. High-fat diets can also increase risk for obesity and cancer. The Dietary Guidelines for Australians recommend "eating a diet low in fat, and in particular, low in saturated fat".

Saturated fat is found primarily in animal foods. Small amounts of saturated fat are not harmful, but too much can increase the risk of heart disease. Saturated fat also raises blood cholesterol levels which also increases risk for heart disease.

What food source is the nutrient found in? 
Most saturated fat comes from animal foods, such as dairy products, meat, lard, and poultry. Some vegetable foods, including coconut, palm, and cocoa butter, are also high in saturated fat. Saturated fats are usually solid at room temperature. Vegetable oils contain various amounts of saturated fats. Oils that are lower in saturated fat include: safflower, sunflower, corn and olive oils, nut oils and canola.

How does the nutrient affect the body? 
Saturated fat raises both total and low-density lipoprotein, known as LDL, cholesterol. LDL is also called "bad" cholesterol. High total and LDL cholesterol levels are major risk factors for heart disease. Heart disease accounts for 41% of all deaths every year - more than any other disease. In 1995, 16% of the population had cardiovascular disease.

Health authorities recommend that saturated fat intake not exceed 10% of total kilojoules per day. For example if one eats a 8000 kilojoule diet, it would be recommended not to exceed 800 kilojoules of that from saturated fat. Fat is 37 kilojoules per gram so 800 kilojoules would be about 22 grams of saturated fat for the day.

Here are some practical tips on how to lower saturated and total fat in the diet. Many of them are based on recommendations from the National Heart Foundation.

  • Reduce the total amount of fat consumed daily. This will likely reduce the amount of saturated fat daily.
  • Increase servings of fruits and vegetables, legumes (beans and peas), soy foods, and whole grains. Increasing these foods will decrease intake of saturated fats. Plant foods contain unsaturated fats, which are better for health. Use the Australian Guide To Healthy Eating to help determine the right number of servings and serving sizes.
  • Prepare mixed dishes that use meat as a minor ingredient like a garnish. These can include stir-fries, spaghetti, soups, and casseroles.
  • Prepare low-fat meatless meals at least once a week. Try using legumes, dried beans or soy as the savoury part of the meal instead of meats.
  • Eat smaller portions of lean cuts of meat. These portions should be 120 grams per person at most. Lean cuts include fillet, round, sirloin, and tenderloin. Trim off any visible fat before cooking. Remove excess fat (or use skinless) from poultry before cooking.
  • Use low-fat cooking methods, such as baking, boiling, microwaving, poaching, roasting, or steaming, instead of frying. Use spray on oils to replace and reduce margarine or oil.
  • Add citrus juices, wine, herbs, and spices to add flavour to food without the fat. Decrease the amount of cream, butter and coconut milk sauces.
  • Eat more fish. Two fish meals per week, equal to about 225 grams, have been shown to reduce risk of heart disease.
  • Substitute fat-free or low-fat milk, cheeses, and yoghurt for their full-fat versions.
  • Serve low-fat desserts like fresh fruit, sorbet or jelly.
  • Read the nutrition facts panel on snacks and convenience foods. Use the 3-gram rule. If a product has 3 grams of fat or less per 100-gram serving, it counts as a low-fat choice. For liquids, the rule changes to no more than 1.5 grams of fat per 100 grams.
Decreasing the amount of fat and especially saturated fat in the diet sometimes just means small changes. Just eating a smaller portion of a high-fat dessert, switching to leaner meats, not eating fried foods and using skim milk and low-fat dairy products can make a significant daily difference.

Author: Sandy Keefe, RN, MSN
Reviewer: eknowhow Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr John Hearne
Last Updated: 23/11/2004
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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