Choose a Diet Low in Fat, Saturated Fat, and Cholesterol

Most health authorities recommend an American diet with less fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol. Populations like ours with diets high in fat have more obesity and certain types of cancer. The higher levels of saturated fat and cholesterol in our diets are linked to our increased risk for heart disease.

A diet low in fat makes it easier for you to include the variety of foods you need for nutrients without exceeding your calorie needs because fat contains over twice the calories of an equal amount of carbohydrates or protein.

A diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol can help maintain a desirable level of blood cholesterol. For adults this level is below 200 mg/dl. As blood cholesterol increases above this level, greater risk for heart disease occurs, Risk can also be increased by high blood pressure, cigarette smoking, diabetes, a family history of premature heart disease, obesity, and being a male.

The way diet affects blood cholesterol varies among individuals. However, blood cholesterol does increase in most people when they eat a diet high in saturated fat and cholesterol and excessive in calories. Of these, dietary saturated fat has the greatest effect; dietary cholesterol has less.

Suggested goals for fats in American diets are as follows:

Total fat. An amount that provides 30 percent or less of calories is suggested. Thus, the upper limit on the grams of fat in your diet depends on the calories you need. For example, at 2,000 calories per day, your suggested upper limit is 600 calories from fat (2,000 x .30). This is equal to 67 grams of fat (600/9, the number of calories each gram of fat provides). The grams of fat in some foods are shown in the table below.

Saturated fat. An amount that provides less than 10 percent of calories (less than 22 grams at 2,000 calories per day) is suggested. All fats contain both saturated and unsaturated fat (fatty acids). The fats in animal products are the main sources of saturated fat in most diets, with tropical oils (coconut, palm kernel, and palm oils) and hydrogenated fats providing smaller amounts.

Cholesterol. Animal products are the source of all dietary cholesterol. Eating less fat from animal sources will help lower cholesterol as well as total fat and saturated fat in your diet.

These goals for fats are not for children under 2 years, who have special dietary needs. As children begin to eat with the family, usually at about 2 years of age or older, they should be encouraged to choose diets that are lower in fat and saturated fat and that provide the calories and nutrients they need for normal growth. Older children and adults with established food habits may need to change their diets gradually toward the goals.

These goals for fats apply to the diet over several days, not to a single meal or food. Some foods that contain fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol, such as meats, milk, cheese, and eggs, also contain high-quality protein and are our best sources of certain vitamins and minerals. Lowfat choices of these foods are lean meat and lowfat milk and cheeses.

Advice for today: Have your blood cholesterol level checked, preferably by a doctor. If it is high, follow the doctor's advice about diet and, if necessary, medication. If it is at the desirable level, help keep it that way with a diet low in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol: Eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, and grain products; choose lean meats, fish, poultry without skin, and lowfat dairy products most of the time; and use fats and oils sparingly.


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