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The Risks of Diets High in Saturated Fats

By Chelsea Flahive, RDN, LD

When it comes to fat, it can be hard to navigate the different types, their health benefits and the risks they present. Fats are sources of energy and add flavor to food. But some types of fats -- such as saturated fats -- can be harmful to your health and are linked to chronic diseases, such as high cholesterol and coronary heart disease.

The Three Types

Fats are divided into three groups -- monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and saturated. Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are beneficial to your health and can help to lower LDL cholesterol. They are liquid at room temperature and include fats such as canola oil and olive oil. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and are found in animal products, including meats and dairy, and in some vegetable sources, such as coconut oil and palm oil. Hydrogenated fats, such as margarine, also contain saturated fats.

Where's the Saturated Fat?

Meats that are high in saturated fat include bacon, sausage, ground beef and pork ribs. Saturated fat can also be found in high-fat cheeses, whole-fat milk, ice cream and packaged snacks, such as potato chips.

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Fats and Your Heart

Diets high in saturated fat are linked to high cholesterol and coronary heart disease. Coronary heart disease is caused by plaque buildup in the walls of arteries. This makes it difficult for your blood to flow and increases the risk of a heart attack or stroke. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 recommend that 20 to 35 percent of calories come from fat, with less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fat.

Lower It

Lower your saturated fat intake by making a few simple changes. Trim off the fat and skin of meats, then bake, broil, roast or grill them rather than frying them. Shop for lean meats, fish and poultry, as these tend to have less saturated fat. Choose low-fat or skim milk and cheeses. Prepare meatless or low-meat meals several times a week to help decrease overall fat intake. Read food labels to avoid hidden sources of saturated fat in packaged foods; steer clear of food with hydrogenated oil and partially hydrogenated oil.

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