How can I cut the fat, saturated fat and cholesterol in my diet?

Here are some tips for cutting total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol:

  • Choose foods that are low in total fat.
  • Choose foods that are low in saturated fat.
  • Substitute unsaturated fats for saturated fats.
  • Limit foods that are rich in cholesterol.
  • Understand what the claims on food labels mean.
  • Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Limit the amount of animal protein you eat.
  • Use heart-healthy cooking methods.
  • Eat healthfully even when you eat out.

Keep reading to learn how to make these choices.


Choose Foods That Are Low in Total Fat

Many foods that are high in total fat - that is, the total of saturated fat, monounsaturated fat, and polyunsaturated fat - are also high in saturated fat. Saturated fat raises your blood cholesterol more than anything else you eat. It raises your cholesterol even more than foods that are high in cholesterol. Eating fewer high-fat foods will help you eat less saturated fat. Since many foods high in fat are also high in calories, a lower-fat diet can help you shed excess pounds as well. Check the Nutrition Facts label on food packages to find out the fat content of the food. 

One way to choose foods lower in fat is to switch from whole-milk dairy products to nonfat or low-fat versions. Products made from nonfat or low-fat milk have as much or more calcium than higher-fat, whole-milk products. Yet they have little or no saturated fat. To see how much fat is in milk, as well as in some other common foods, see How much fat Is in there?


Choose Foods That Are Low in Saturated Fat

All animal products contain some saturated fat. Some plant oils, such as palm and coconut oils, do, too. You can eat meat and still cut back on saturated fat by following these tips.

  • Eat lean cuts of meat. Lean cuts include those with no more than 15% calories from fat. Choosing cuts that say loin also leads to a lower fat selection. See How can I cook healthy meals? to learn more about which meats are healthy choices. For a list of foods to limit or avoid, see Foods High in Saturated Fat and Cholesterol.
  • Trim all the fat off before cooking.

Keep in mind, choosing the healthiest foods is only part of the solution. You also need to pay attention to the number of servings of meat you eat. Doing so will help you determine if you are getting too much saturated fat from meat. If you are, try reducing the amount of meat you eat during a meal. Supplement your smaller serving sizes of meat with whole grains, vegetables, and fruit. These are naturally low in fat and are full of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.


Think beyond meat. Other foods besides meat can be filled with saturated fat. So, choose snack foods wisely. If you eat processed foods - such as crackers, chips, candy, or whipped toppings - eat these only in small amounts and only occasionally. Saturated fats are often hidden in these foods. That means you might not see the words saturated fat in the ingredients list, but you might see coconut oil, palm oil, palm kernel oil, or cocoa butter. All of these are saturated fats.

Most packaged foods must carry a Nutrition Facts label that lists the amount of saturated fat in a serving, so check the label. 


Substitute Unsaturated Fats for Saturated Fats

Monounsaturated fats can help lower your blood cholesterol if you use them in place of saturated fats. They can also decrease triglyceride levels and increase HDL - the good cholesterol - levels in people who have the metabolic syndrome. Polyunsaturated fats can do this too. These fats are chemically different from saturated fat. Follow these tips to make the switch to healthier fat choices.

  • Cook with oils high in monounsaturated fat. These include olive and canola oils.
  • Or, cook with almost any other vegetable oils, which are rich in polyunsaturated fat.
  • Avoid or only rarely cook with lard, shortening, or butter.
  • Replace meat in meals with high-fat fish choices or even small amounts of nuts. Both of these have polyunsaturated fats in them. Try a tablespoon of walnuts instead of chicken in a salad, for example.
  • Try to avoid partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. These will be listed in the ingredients on food labels. They are often found in margarine and shortening as well as in packaged baked goods, such as doughnuts, cookies, and crackers. Hydrogenated oils contain an unsaturated fat called trans fatty acid. Trans fats raise blood cholesterol, too, so you should limit the amount you eat. If you use margarine, select one in a liquid or soft tub form, and try to limit the amount you use.