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Breaking free from bad fats

Too much saturated fat can lead to high cholesterol and heart disease. Learn how to protect your heart and your health by choosing healthy fats.

Fats aren't all bad—you need fat, in fact, for energy and to keep your body healthy. But it's important that you choose your fats wisely.

Some fats, especially trans fats (like those in fried foods and baked goods) and saturated fats (meat, poultry, dairy), can raise blood cholesterol and increase the risk for heart disease, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).

And while about a third of your daily calories should come from fats, less than 10% should come from saturated fats—and as few as possible from trans fats, says the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Instead, most of the fats you eat should be monounsaturated or polyunsaturated.

These tips from the AHA, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans can help you make healthier fat choices:

Nom on nuts and seeds. Walnuts and sunflower seeds are loaded with heart-healthy fats. Avocados too. And peanut butter counts. Just watch your portions—the calorie count can be high.

Choose low-fat versions of old dairy favorites. Use milk products that are 0% or 1% fat. Eat only fat-free or low-fat yogurt and cottage cheese. Pick cheeses that have no more than 3 grams of fat per ounce and no more than 2 grams of saturated fat per ounce.

Break some eggs. Unlike many animal-based foods, eggs are not high in saturated fat. Choose eggs that are fortified with omega-3 fatty acids, which may help lower cholesterol levels and support heart health.

Make it lean. Choose leaner meats and skinless poultry. Trim all visible fat from meat before cooking.

Feed on fish. Fatty fish like salmon and tuna contain heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. You should eat these fish at least twice a week.

Choose healthy oils. Use oils like olive, canola, peanut, safflower and sesame. Limit butter as well as tropical oils like coconut and palm.

Reviewed 11/2/2022

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