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Be Heart Smart! Eat Foods Lower in Saturated Fats and Cholesterol



Authors as Published

Adapted by Ruby H. Cox, PhD, RD, Associate Professor - Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise, Virginia Tech, from a publication by National Institutes of Health

Food plays a big part in the lives of most Southerners. Good food and celebrations go hand in hand. Yet, popular ways of frying foods and using fats for seasoning can increase your risk for clogged arteries and heart disease. Choose foods lower in saturated fat and cholesterol to reduce your risk. Hold on to tradition, but make a few changes to eat in a heart-healthy way.

Fat in your food

The two main types of fat found in food are saturated and unsaturated. Most foods have a mix of both. Together, the two are called total fat.

Why should you be concerned about saturated fat?

Saturated fat raises blood cholesterol the most. Over time, this extra cholesterol can clog your arteries. You are then at risk for having a heart attack or stroke.

Why should you be concerned about cholesterol?

Your body makes all the cholesterol you need. Eating foods high in saturated fat can raise your blood cholesterol levels. The higher your blood cholesterol, the greater your risk for heart disease. Too much cholesterol can lead to clogged arteries. You are then at risk for having a heart attack, a stroke, or poor circulation.

Where is saturated fat found?

Saturated fat is found mostly in foods that come from animals. These include:
  • fatty meats
    • beef
    • lamb
    • pork
  • poultry with skin
  • processed meats - bologna, hotdogs, other lunch meat, bacon, sausages
  • whole and 2% milk
  • butter
  • cheese
  • lard

A high content of saturated fat can be found in some foods that come from plants such as:

  • palm kernel oil
  • palm oil
  • coconut oil
  • cocoa butter

Limit Trans Fatty Acids

Trans fatty acids are produced when vegetable oils are processed to make “hydrogenated oil.” Many foods contain partially hydrogenated oils. Recent health- related studies have shown that trans fatty acids act like saturated fat by increasing the production of cholesterol in the body. In turn, this may increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. Thus, you should limit your intake of trans fatty acids. In the near future, trans fatty acid content will be listed on food labels. Meanwhile, you can tell if a food contains trans fatty acids by checking the label to see if there is any type of partially hydrogenated oil in the ingredient list.

Limit your cholesterol

If you are healthy, you should average no more than 300 milligrams of cholesterol per day. People who have high blood cholesterol or a heart problem may have to eat less. The yolk of one large egg provides about 214 milligrams of cholesterol. Aim for no more than four egg yolks each week. This includes egg yolks in baked goods and processed foods. Egg whites contain no cholesterol.

Where is cholesterol found?

Cholesterol is found only in foods that come from animals. Foods very high in cholesterol include:
  • Egg yolks
  • Organ meats (Liver, kidney, and brains are especially high in cholesterol.)
  • Shell fish (shrimp, oysters, crab)

There is no cholesterol in plant foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, and grains.

Cut back on saturated fat and cholesterol

Try some of these new ways of cooking and shopping.

New ways for favorite recipes:

  • For biscuits--Use vegetable oil instead of lard or butter and skim milk or 1% buttermilk instead of regular milk.
  • For macaroni and cheese--Use low-fat cheese and 1% or skim milk.
  • For greens--Use skin-free smoked turkey, liquid smoke, fat-free bacon bits, or low-fat bacon instead of fatty meats.
  • For gravies or sauces--Skim the fat off pan drippings. For cream or white sauces, use skim milk and soft tub or liquid margarine.
  • For dressings or stuffing--Add broth or skimmed pan drippings instead of lard or butter. Use herbs and spices for added flavor.
  • For sweet potato pie--Mash sweet potato with orange juice concentrate, nutmeg, vanilla, cinnamon, and only one egg. Leave out the butter.
  • For cakes, cookies, quick breads, and pancakes--Use egg whites or egg substitute instead of whole eggs. Two egg whites can be substituted in many recipes for one whole egg. Use applesauce instead of some of the fat.

Healthy ways of cooking:

  • Bake, steam, roast, broil, stew, or boil instead of frying. This helps remove fat. Try these quick tips:
    • For crispy fish: roll in cornmeal and bake.
    • For crispy chicken: remove the skin; dip in skim milk mixed with herbs and spices; roll in bread crumbs, cornflakes, or potato flakes; and bake.
  • Take off poultry skin before eating.
  • Use a nonstick pan with vegetable cooking oil spray or a small amount of liquid vegetable oil instead of lard, butter, shortening, or other fats that are solid at room temperature.
  • Trim visible fat before you cook meats.
  • Chill meat and poultry broth until fat becomes solid. Skim off fat before using the broth. Use skimmed broth to cook greens instead of fatback, hog jowls, or salt pork.

Healthy shopping tips:

  • Choose chicken breast or drumstick instead of the wing and thigh.
  • Select skim milk or 1% milk instead of 2% milk or whole milk.
  • Buy lean cuts of meat such as round, sirloin, and loin.
  • Buy more vegetables, fruits, and grains.
  • Read nutrition labels on food packages to choose foods that are lower in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol.

Let the food label help you choose foods lower in saturated fat and cholesterol:

When you select a food, reading the food label can help you view its saturated fat and cholesterol levels. At first, reading labels may be confusing, but the more you do it, the easier it will become. Soon you will be able to easily make food choices for a healthy heart.


food label

Size up your food.

Compare the amounts you eat to the serving size given. If you eat 2 cups and the serving size is 1 cup, you have to double the amounts listed.

Check it out!

  1. Here are the amounts of fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol.
  2. Use the Percent Daily Value to compare the amounts of total fat,
    saturated fat, and cholesterol among brands. Choose those that have lower
    values. One serving of this food contains about 20 percent of the Daily
    Value for total fat, which is about one-fifth of the amount of total fat you
    should have for the entire day.

Check how you will try to eat less saturated fat and cholesterol.

  • Use skim milk or l% milk in your cereal or coffee.
  • Prepare macaroni and cheese with skim milk and low-fat cheese.
  • Remove skin from poultry and lean meats.
  • Bake, roast, or broil chicken, fish, and lean meats instead of frying.
  • Cook greens with oil or a skin-free turkey leg instead of fatty meats like bacon and fatback.
  • Read food labels when you shop to check for total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol.


Reviewed by Debra Jones, Extension Specialist, Virginia State University


Virginia Cooperative Extension materials are available for public use, reprint, or citation without further permission, provided the use includes credit to the author and to Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, and Virginia State University.


Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Edwin J. Jones, Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg; M. Ray McKinnie, Interim Administrator, 1890 Extension Program, Virginia State University, Petersburg.


May 1, 2009

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