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Eat less saturated fat

Eating a diet that is high in saturated fat can raise the level of cholesterol in the blood. High cholesterol increases the risk of heart disease. These practical tips can help you cut down on saturated fat.

Saturated fat is the kind of fat found in butter and lard, pies cakes and biscuits, fatty cuts of meat, sausages and bacon, and cheese and cream.

Most of us eat too much saturated fat – about 20% more than the recommended maximum amount.

  • The average man should eat no more than 30g of saturated fat a day.
  • The average woman should eat no more than 20g of saturated fat a day.

You can use these figures to guide your choices when you are shopping. When you check nutrition labels on food packaging and see how much saturated fat is contained in many common foods, you’ll see how easy it can be to exceed the recommended maximum amount.

You can learn more about fat, including how nutrition labels can help you cut down, in Fat: the facts.

Cut down on saturated fat

Read the label

Nutrition labels can help you to cut down on saturated fat. Look out for the figure for ‘saturates’ or ‘sat fat’ on the label:


• High: more than 5g saturates per 100g. May display a red traffic light.

• Low: 1.5g saturates or less per 100g. May display a green traffic light.

• If the amount of fat or saturated fat per 100g is in between these figures, that is a medium level, and may be colour coded amber.

Use these practical tips about common foods to help you cut down on saturated fat:

First are tips for eating at home. Next, tips for eating out-and-about.

At home

  • Spaghetti bolognese: use a leaner mince. It’s lower in saturated fat. If you aren't using leaner mince, brown the mince first, then drain off the fat before adding other ingredients.
  • Pizza: choose a lower-fat topping, such as vegetables, ham, fish or prawns, instead of pepperoni, salami or extra cheese.
  • Fish pie: use reduced-fat spread and 1% fat milk.
  • Chilli: use leaner mince to reduce the saturated fat content. Or try it vegetarian-style for a change by adding beans, pulses and vegetables instead of mince.
  • Ready meals: compare the nutrition labels on different ready meals. There can be a big difference in saturated fat content. Pick the one lower in saturated fat using per 100g or per serving information. Remember, serving size may vary, so read the label carefully.
  • Potatoes: make your roast potatoes healthier by cutting them into larger pieces than usual and using just a little sunflower or olive oil.
  • Chips: choose thick, straight-cut chips instead of french fries or crinkle-cut. If you’re making your own, cook them in the oven with a drizzle of sunflower oil, rather than deep-frying.
  • Mashed potato: use reduced-fat spread instead of butter, and 1% fat milk or skimmed milk instead of whole or semi-skimmed milk.
  • Chicken: before you eat it, take the skin off to reduce the saturated fat content.
  • Meat: trim the visible fat off meat such as steak.
  • Sausages: compare nutrition labels on the packs and choose the ones lower in saturated fat using per serving or per 100g information. Remember, servings may vary so read the label carefully. Make sure you grill them instead of frying.
  • Bacon: choose back bacon instead of streaky bacon. If you’re cooking your own, grill the bacon instead of frying.
  • Eggs: prepare eggs without oil or butter. Poach, boil or dry-fry your eggs.
  • Pasta: try a tomato sauce on your pasta. It’s lower in saturated fat than a creamy or cheesy sauce.
  • Milk: use 1% fat milk on your cereal. It has about half the saturated fat of semi-skimmed.
  • Cheese: when using cheese to flavour a dish or sauce, try a strong-tasting cheese, such as mature cheddar, because you’ll need less. Make cheese go further by grating cheese instead of slicing it.
  • Yoghurt: choose a lower-fat yoghurt. There can be a big difference between different products.

Out-and-about

The tips below can help you cut down on saturated fat when eating out.

  • Coffee on the go: swap any large whole-milk coffee for regular ‘skinny’ ones.
  • Curry: go for dry or tomato-based dishes, such as tandoori or madras, instead of creamy curries such as korma, pasanda or masala. And choose plain rice and chapatti instead of pilau rice and naan.
  • Kebabs: at the kebab shop go for a shish kebab with pitta bread and salad, rather than a doner kebab.
  • Chinese takeaway: choose a lower-fat dish, such as steamed fish, chicken chop suey or Szechuan prawns.
  • Thai: try a stir-fried or steamed dish containing chicken, fish or vegetables. Watch out for curries that contain coconut milk, which is high in saturated fat. If you choose one of these, try not to eat all the sauce.
  • Snack time: have some fruit, toast, a low-fat yoghurt or a handful of unsalted nuts, instead of chocolate, doughnuts, croissants or pastries. If you must have something sweet, swap cakes and biscuits for a currant bun, scone or some malt loaf, plain or with reduced-fat spread. 

Last reviewed: 01/02/2011

Next review due: 01/02/2013

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User363614 said on 04 November 2011

Questions to racheldawn below; if the 'fat is simply removed', how are the fat soluble vitamins able to remain?

If you knew the hypothesis that saturated fat is harmful to health was false, would it change your view on what you can eat a lot of?

We know that too much blood sugar is toxic; diabetes is an extreme example of this. All digestible carbs turn to glucose (as potentially can fat and protein); why would anyone eat large amounts of starchy carbs with this known risk, in place of foods our species evolved with?

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racheldawn said on 13 June 2011

I found this article very useful; the article fat: the facts is also very useful. Most people realise they shouldnt eat too much saturated fat but are unaware of the quantities to check for (the red light system is useful). I've saved the figures into my phone so while I'm shopping I can check and develop and understanding of what I can eat a lot of and what I need to see as an ocasional treat. I have already done this with the salt figures and am finding this very useful when shopping. I was recently recommended to a sauce, when I checked it, the salt contained was ludicrously high (15.23g per 100!) and so I made the good choice not to try it. These pages are very useful, I wanted to leave a positive comment and show appreciation!

Also, regarding the comment below; I was of the understanding that full fat dairy has the same amount of calcium and other nutrients as low fat options. The excess fat is simply removed.

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Camels Toe said on 05 May 2011

What the heck! You cannot be serious in this advice. Basically to eat virtually no fat. Its okay for people to eat a pizza but God forbid they eat fat. Fat does not make you fat. Sugar does. You'd be wiser to tell people to stop eating so many grains and so much sugar as these are what cause problems with appetite and insulin. We have not evolved to eat such a grain-heavy diet. We have evolved over a long period of time to eat animal fats - not some disgusting tasting sunflower oil which is highly refined and unsuitable for cooking with at high temperatures due to the risk of free radicals. if we were meant to eat polyunsaturated oils we would be able to make them in the kitchen - not in factories and not involving the use of chemicals and metals.

*Potatoes should be done in dripping or goose fat as polyunsaturated oils are unsuited to high temperatures and taste awful anyway.
*Full fat dairy is best as the benefits of calcium are lost when the product is stripped of fat as is the vitamin A content.
*eat the lovely fat on the meat. Fat is satisfying. The body knows when it has had enough fat. It is impossible to eat too much natural fat because you will feel sick if you do. the body has no such mechanism to cope with grains which is why we can eat and eat bread and be hungry two hours later, totally messing up blood sugar levels.

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Fat: the facts

In this video, learn about different types of fats, which ones are considered good or bad fats and how to identify them when shopping in the supermarket.

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