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It is important to include some fat in your diet, but the key is to choose the right kind.
There are many different types of dietary fats, and some are very healthy while others are very harmful. Harvard Medical School considers trans fats to be "bad", mono and polyunsaturated fats to be "good," and saturated fats to be "in between."
Let's take a closer look at the "in between" saturated fats. In this article, we will explore what saturated fat is, why it should be limited, and how to make healthy food swaps.
What Is Saturated Fat?
Saturated fats are just one particular type of fat. They are fat molecules that have no double bonds in their chemical structure, which makes them solid at room temperature. Unsaturated fats, in comparison, contain double bonds and form a liquid at room temperature.
Saturated fats are mostly found in animal foods like meat and dairy products, but they are also often found in processed foods like store-bought baked goods and fried foods.
Some examples of foods high in saturated fats include:
- Red meat
- Palm oil
- Coconut oil
- Store-bought baked goods like cake, doughnuts, and pastries
- Fried foods like French fries or fried chicken
- Processed meats like bacon or sausage [2,3,4]
Why Saturated Fats Should Be Limited
Lark recommends limiting the amount of saturated fats you consume in your diet. Some are okay, but you should avoid eating too many foods high in this particular type of fat.
Saturated fats are thought to be linked to things like heart disease, diabetes, and other health conditions.
For example, saturated fats can increase cholesterol, and they tip the balance in favor of the "bad" kind of cholesterol called LDL cholesterol. This may increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.[1,2] As heart disease is a major risk if you have prediabetes, you'll want to do what you can to protect your heart. Limiting foods high in saturated foods in one proactive measure you can take to do that.
Eating too many foods high in saturated fat can also add extra calories and contribute to weight gain. Maintaining a healthy weight is another important way to decrease your diabetes and heart disease risk if you currently have prediabetes.
There's also some evidence that saturated fat can increase insulin. This could possibly contribute to more blood sugar issues.
That being said, it should be noted that not all research points to saturated fat being as dangerous as it was once thought to be. For example, major reviews looking at large sets of data have found no association between saturated fat intake and diabetes risk.[6,7,8]
It could be that the risks of a diet high in saturated fats don't come from the saturated fat itself, but from other unhealthy components of foods that contain them. Foods high in saturated fats are also often high in calories, sugar, refined carbohydrates, and sodium, for example, and those may actually be the bigger issue.
How Much Saturated Fat Should I Eat?
Sources like the American Diabetes Association, American Heart Association, and Dietary Guidelines for Americans all advise that you limit saturated fat intake, and they provide similar recommendations when it comes to saturated fat: keep saturated fats to less than 10% of your daily caloric intake, or even less than 7% if you can.[2,3,4,9]
That means less than 200 calories from saturated fats in a 2,000 calorie diet, which equates to about 20 grams or less.
You can find out how much saturated fats various foods contain by taking a look at your food labels. Saturated fat content can be found on the Nutrition Facts label listed under the "total fat" section.
Start reading labels to know how much you are consuming each day, and then begin making healthy swaps if you need to reduce your intake.
Tips For Limiting Saturated Fat With Healthy Food Swaps
When limiting saturated fat, it is just as important to pay attention to what you are adding as what you are taking out. For example, replacing saturated fats with more of the healthy, unsaturated fats is known to be beneficial for blood sugar regulation, but swapping out saturated fats for carbohydrates is not.
It really matters what kinds of substitutions we make if our end goal is to get healthy, maintain a healthy weight, and keep our blood sugars under control.
Instead of unhealthy foods high in saturated fat like store-bought pastries, fried foods, and processed red meats, go for foods higher in healthy types of fat like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Think olive oil, sunflower oil, seafood, nuts, seeds, and avocados.[1,3,9]
And be sure to avoid replacing saturated fats with unhealthy options like refined carbohydrates, sugary foods, processed foods, or high-sodium foods. Opt for healthy alternatives like vegetables, whole grains, poultry, fish, and nuts instead.
Fresh, whole-foods are always preferred; as the American Diabetes Association reminds us, "homemade and fresh is best. Preparing foods at home gives you more control over what you are eating."
Here are some examples of healthy food swaps to cut back on saturated fat:
- Use olive oil in your cooking instead of butter
- Opt for grilled chicken instead of fried chicken
- Try fresh berries instead of ice cream for dessert
- Replace red meat with fish, beans, or vegetables in your recipes
- Cut back on red meat in dishes like stir fries, and up the veggie content to make up for it.[3,9]
The Bottom line
Saturated fats are one of the types of fat that should be limited in your diet if you have prediabetes, as they may have harmful effects on diabetes and heart disease risk.
You don't have to get rid of saturated fat foods completely, and you don't have to avoid fat in general. But you will want to be more careful about the overall balance of the different types of fats you choose to consume. A good rule of thumb is to eat more "good" unsaturated fats, less "in between" saturated fats, and no "bad" trans fats.
To support your health, try to replace some of your saturated fats with healthy unsaturated fats like olive oil, nuts, seeds, seafood, and avocado.
And when in doubt, replace saturated fats with go-to healthy dietary staples. As the American Heart Association recommends, "you can't go wrong eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains."
- The truth about fats: the good, the bad, and the in-between. Harvard Medical School. Updated December 11 2019. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-truth-about-fats-bad-and-good.
- Saturated Fat. American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/saturated-fats.
- MedlinePlus. Facts about saturated fats. National Institutes of Health. Reviewed May 26 2020. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000838.htm.
- Fats. American Diabetes Association. https://www.diabetes.org/healthy-living/recipes-nutrition/eating-well/fats.
- Hernández E√Å, Kahl S, Seelig A, et al. Acute dietary fat intake initiates alterations in energy metabolism and insulin resistance. J Clin Invest. 2017 Feb 1;127(2):695-708.
- Rice Bradley BH. Dietary Fat and Risk for Type 2 Diabetes: a Review of Recent Research. Curr Nutr Rep. 2018 Dec;7(4):214-226.
- de Souza RJ, Mente A, Maroleanu A, et al. Intake of saturated and trans unsaturated fatty acids and risk of all cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes: systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. BMJ. 2015 Aug 11;351:h3978.
- Astrup A, Magkos F, Bier DM, et al. Saturated Fats and Health: A Reassessment and Proposal for Food-Based Recommendations: JACC State-of-the-Art Review. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2020 Aug 18;76(7):844-857.
- 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Cut Down on Saturated Fats. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. December 2016.
- Imamura F, Micha R, Wu JH, de Oliveira Otto MC, et al. Effects of Saturated Fat, Polyunsaturated Fat, Monounsaturated Fat, and Carbohydrate on Glucose-Insulin Homeostasis: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Randomised Controlled Feeding Trials. PLoS Med. 2016 Jul 19;13(7):e1002087.
- Go Heart-Healthy. American Diabetes Association. https://www.diabetes.org/healthy-living/recipes-nutrition/meal-planning/go-heart-healthy.