Concentrated mostly in animal products, these solid fats raise harmful LDL cholesterol and increase cardiovascular disease risk.
Credit: Randy Mayor; Leigh Ann Ross

Sources: Beef, lamb, pork, bacon, cheese, full-fat yogurt, butter, and whole milk. Snack chips and bakery items made with tropical oils like coconut, palm, and palm kernel also contain these fats, which are solid at room temperature.

What you need to know: One meal rich in saturated fat—a double cheeseburger, large fries, and a large milk shake—has enough (about 31 grams) to raise cholesterol levels and damage arteries, according to a 2006 report in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. (Researchers are still investigating how long-lasting the damage is.) The American Heart Association advises limiting saturated fat to less than seven percent of total calories, about 15 grams for the average person on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet. (Currently, our magazine’s nutrition guide allows for 20 to 27 grams of saturated fat daily). If you’re counting, a teaspoon of butter contains nearly three grams of saturated fat, and one three-ounce filet mignon has about 10 grams. However, saturated fats do fit into a heart-healthy eating plan if you manage the portions of meats, choose lower-fat dairy products, and use flavorful cheeses, butter, and cream in moderation.

Cooking strategies: The key with saturated fats, says Jennifer Nelson, RD, director of nutrition therapy at the Mayo Clinic, is to choose wisely and then use them judiciously. "A high-quality, imported fresh Parmesan cheese, in small amounts, can add a lot of flavor." In comparison, a similar amount of a processed cheese carries the same amount of fat but less vibrancy. Another tactic: Use meats as an accent in a dish rather than the main attraction. For example, thinly sliced flank steak delivers meaty flavor without racking up saturated fat when stir-fried with carrots, green onions, water chestnuts, and bell peppers. If you eat red meat as a main course, Nelson notes that a recommended serving amounts to three ounces cooked—about the size of a deck of cards. For dairy products, choosing one percent or fat-free options helps limit the amount of saturated fat in your diet.