Eat less saturated fat

Practical tips to help you cut down on the amount of fat in your diet, including saturated fat.

Eating a diet that is high in saturated fat can raise the level of cholesterol in the blood. Having high cholesterol increases the risk of heart disease

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.

We’re advised to eat less fat, especially saturated fat. UK health guidelines recommend that:

  • 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're shopping. When you look at nutrition labels, you can see how easy it is to eat too much fat.

You can learn more about fat, including the different kinds of fat and their impact on our health, in Fat: the facts.

Tips on eating less fat

These tips can help you cut the total amount of fat in your diet:

  • Compare nutrition labels when shopping, so you can pick foods lower in fat.
  • Ask your butcher for lean cuts of meat, or compare nutrition labels on meat packaging. Look for meat that has visibly less fat.
  • Choose lower-fat dairy products, such as 1% fat milk, low-fat plain yoghurt or reduced-fat cheese.
  • Grill, bake, poach or steam food rather than deep frying or roasting.
  • Measure oil with a tablespoon or use an oil spray, rather than pouring it straight from a container.
  • Trim visible fat and take skin off meat before cooking.
  • Use the grill instead of the frying pan, whatever meat you’re cooking.
  • Put more vegetables or beans in casseroles and stews and curries, and a bit less meat.
  • Spoon off fats and oils from roasts, casseroles, stews and curries.
  • When making sandwiches, try leaving out the butter or spread: you might not need it if you're using a moist filling.
  • Try reduced-fat spreads, such as olive oil or sunflower spreads (a new manufacturing process solved past concerns about their trans fat content). 

Cutting down on saturated fat

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

Read the label

Nutrition labels can help you cut down on saturated fat. Look out for "saturates" or "sat fat" on the label.

High: More than 5g saturates per 100g. May be colour-coded red.

Low: 1.5g saturates or less per 100g. May be colour-coded green.

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

The label below is an example provided by a leading supermarket, which shows clearly that the food is high in saturated fat, because the saturates section is colour-coded red.

At home

  • Spaghetti bolognese: use a lower-fat mince, as it’s lower in saturated fat. If you aren't using lower-fat 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. Try this healthy fish pie recipe.
  • Chilli: use lower-fat mince to reduce the saturated fat content. Or try it vegetarian-style by adding beans, pulses and vegetables, instead of mince. Try this healthy chilli con carne recipe.
  • 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 little 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. Try this healthy lemon chicken recipe.
  • 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 instead of slicing it.
  • Yoghurt: choose a lower-fat and lower-sugar 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. 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 and lower-sugar yoghurt or a small 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. Try these healthier food swaps

Page last reviewed: 01/06/2015

Next review due: 01/06/2017


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The 24 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Sam Pepys said on 12 November 2015

As you are probably aware, this statement is plainly untrue:

"Having high cholesterol increases the risk of heart disease."

Isn't it time to review your research base on this subject?

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faye1980 said on 04 June 2015

So, in a nutshell, "eat more factory-produced chemicals masquerading as food, and less real foods such as butter, which humans have eaten for millennia". Great advice, NHS. This why there is a mass obesity/diabetes problem. Having failed to lose weight all my life with NHS-advised calorie-controlled, low-fat diets (they left me feeling drained, ill, and starving), I'm now following a high (saturated) fat, low-carb diet. Plenty of butter, double cream, cheese, meat with fat/skin on, etc, in addition to piles of vegetables and I feel fit, well, my ectopic heartbeats have stopped, and I'm losing about 4lb of fat a week!

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faye1980 said on 03 June 2015

I am gobsmacked with just how terrible this advice is. Following the so-called 'expert' advice will lead to a nation of obesity and diabetes! Swapping butter, a natural food, for man-made spreads contains nasties such as trans fats, is amongst the worst advice I've ever seen. The best option would be to swap the potatoes for buttered (proper butter) vegetables, such as stir-fried greens. You actually advocate removing the skin from chicken, when this is the healthiest part, and where the energy source comes from! I can't believe you want us to do this, and combine a flavourless chicken portion with some sort of high-carb, sugar-filled rubbish such as rice or pasta.

The whole time the NHS publishes rubbish like this, our country's health crisis will continue. Eat high (saturated) fat, low-carb if you want to stay slim and have optimum heart and body health!

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SirGalahad said on 07 January 2015

There's so much terrible advice here that I'll just comment on one:

" 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 little sunflower oil, rather than deep-frying."

Seriously - vegetable oils are not a healthy option. They oxidise and go rancid far more quickly than natural fats like lard or tallow, or coconut oil. Vegetable oils also contain too much omega 6 which causes inflammation - leading to CHD.

Saturated fat and cholesterol are vital nutrients. The brain accounts for around 20% of the body's cholesterol - do you think having less is a good thing?

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TAS83 said on 06 January 2015

Amazed that we're still dishing out advice such as this, based on at best inaccurate, and at worst downright wrong 'facts' on saturated fat.

The link between saturated fat and heart disease / obesity has never been proven and is primarily based on a couple of (skewed) studies performed in the 1950's by a small number of scientists.

We have more 'low fat' products available on the supermarket shelves today than ever before yet we as a nation are getting fatter and sicker, what does that tell you?

Until we dispel this notion that fat is bad, we will never start to fix the problem, a problem that is caused for the most part by the huge quantities of carbohydrate we consume.

A typical Western diet is very carbohydrate heavy which without getting into too much detail, triggers several hormonal responses in our body which ultimately lead to us storing excess energy as fat on our bodies. We need to flip the notion of the food pyramid on it's head eating more fats (including saturated) and protein and minimal carbohydrate.

I would suggest for anyone who wishes to understand the science behind these principals to first watch a documentary called Cereal Killers

and then read some of Gary Taubes books, "Why We Get Fat" is an excellent one.

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munim786 said on 29 December 2014

'Yeah thats right'. Restrict the butter but you can have all the bagels, cakes, milkshakes, pizza, sugar you want!

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bonsaibones said on 27 November 2014

I have an idea for those commenters who claim that saturated fats are good for you and that sugars are the REAL enemy to prove your point.

Study someone really obese you know, but do it subtly and keep an eye on what they eat for a day or so. They will definitely be eating boiled rice, or bananas or apples or oranges. If you are lucky they might also be eating boiled potatoes, but obviously without butter or mayonnaise or something high in fat.
You will see that through eating these high carb foods that they are getting really, really fat and it will prove to you that you were right that carbs/ sugars are bad and fat is good. They might even have some pasta too, and the sauce will definitely not contain meat (cos that would be good for them) or a creamy dairy sauce because that would be good for them too.
Your day of watching your obese friend eat mostly fruit and vegetables, and starches such as boiled rice, potatoes and pasta all with no added oil will really show you how a high carb, low fat diet makes you really fat.
Your obese friend will definitely not eat oily food such as kebabs, pizza, cakes, chocolate, ice-cream, oily curries, creamy pasta sauces, oily salad dressings, because all that oil would be good for him and would make him nice and slim....

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bonsaibones said on 27 November 2014

Some people are angrily writing that this site should show current research.
They are referring to various bogus claims that there is "No studies found linking saturated fats to heart disease or coronary disease". You see a lot of these claims on YouTube too.

Unfortunately there is a wealth of evidence proving the link. Eating a lot of saturated fat increases levels of cholesterol and increased levels of cholesterol leads to heart disease. People who eat low levels of saturated fats have lower levels of cholesterol and have lower levels of heart disease, people who eat higher levels of saturated fat (and trans-fat as they behave like saturated fat in the body) have higher levels of heart disease . It is really as simple as that.

In spite of people buying less butter to use at home, or using skimmed milk etc, the overall amount of saturated fat being consumed on average has jumped since the 70s. People eat out more and buy processed pizzas, kebabs, hamburgers which are full of fat. Cakes, biscuits, cookies, chocolate bars, ice-cream which everyone eats are absolutely chocked full of dairy products which are extremely high in saturated fats. They are also high in trans fats.

Since the 70's the consumption of saturated fat and trans fats have skyrocketed, as has the Meat and Dairy industries profits.
Don't let them profit off your health.

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munim786 said on 26 July 2014

An absolutely disgraceful article based on either bad science or lies. Saturated fat is our friend and carbs especially refined sort are the cause for obesity. To even think of suggesting 'spaghetti, chips, potato' is an insult to injury. This is not 1950's 'ancel keys moment', people have access to the internet and can find science based evidence finding no link between Sat Fat and heart disease or cholesterol and heart disease.

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peopledeservethetruth said on 11 July 2014

...and yes, it's TRANS-FATS (in hydrogenated vegetable olis and margarine) which are truly linked to heart disease, not sat fats. So avoid bisuits, cakes, ice cream, margarine to minimise heart disease risk. Minimising high GL (glycaemic load) foods is recommended to minimise bodyfat. GL is a measure of GI in conjunction with carbs/100g of food. This is more effective than low-GI diets (sorry, diets is a swear word) because the amount of cars is taken into account. High GL food includes bread, pasta, chocolate and bananas. But generally avoiding processed carbs is good advice. And yes, this includes pretty much all breakfast cereals on the shelves made from wheat. They are garbage.

A study by Felton in 1994 published in the Lancet looked a breakdown of types of fat in artery clogs. He found that on average, only 26% was saturated fat, with 41% being polyunsaturated fats that you find in margarine and cooking oil... So nothing very new.

The food industry is business is politics. Food made from processed carbs is far more profitable than healthy whole foods rich in nutrients and protein. So unfortunately I feel we will be bombarded with unhealthy advice for a long time yet.

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Louzu said on 21 March 2014

Good, baseline advice given in this article. Readers will have their own medical histories and metabolism to consider and it would be unwise to make generalisations from various studies. Research is still ongoing. I cannot say this article is nonsence because it is not. What works for some may not for others. ( Those cultures that consume alot of meat/salt also seem to counteract the risks with fruit/veg/wine and an active lifestyle. There is research into some African tribes who had fat deposits in their arteries but these were wider due to tribesmen walking long distances daily).

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jacquibo said on 26 November 2013

Is this information going to be updated now that research shows no link between saturated fat and heart disease?

Research now shows we should be trying to cut out trans-fatty-acids and also starchy and sugary (high GI) foods such as potatoes, rice, bread, pasta and sugar. This is what we need advice on. We need to look at the amount of carbohydrates, and specifically sugars, in foods.

Example study:

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tonyhakim said on 30 August 2013

I think we need to look at more recent research when we talk about saturated fat - which has long been seen as a bad thing. All of this started when one study funded by the US grain lobby went to prove that this was the cause of obesity.

Since then the old food pyramid introduced and our waistlines have exploded!

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Camels Toe said on 21 May 2013

Come on NHS this is outdated advice cannot believe you are still pushing this. Low fat dairy? Linked with infertility. Reduced fat spread wth!? Why would you recommend people eat something made in a factory over pure natural butter?? do people still eat that nasty stuff? Two examples of fake food being promoted by an alleged health service. Lets all eat a carb heavy diet...fantastic..just make sure you eat low fat spread with your excessive carbs..the more chemicals the better people lets keep Unilever in business. EAT AS NATURE INTENDED - avoid fake food.

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Josie Turin said on 10 January 2013

I am so glad to see from all these comments that people are developing such an interest in nutrition and recognize that this war on saturated fat is pure nonsense, backed up by loads of researches and extensive scientific proof that there is no link between saturated fat and heart disease! even worse, on the UK diabetes website they say how people should eat pasta, rice, bread, chapati at every meal! are they insane or what? they might as well tell us to inject glucose into our veins! hopefully one day this type of information will be accessible to everyone

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ruski1 said on 02 December 2012

I am a 68 year old male, I have for the last 6 months been following the so called 'Paleo' diet that is- zero sugar including sweet fruit (maybe a handful of berries occasionally) zero grains and legumes, very low dairy(a few lattes a week and a small amount of butter) I avoid all veg oils except high quality virgin olive oil for drizzling on salads and along with walnut , hazelnut or hemp oil for making mayo.For sauteing and frying I use home made clarified butter(ghee) which is pure saturated fat, lard, dripping and duck or goose fat. I eat duck and chicken eggs, oily, white and shell fish, mushrooms, some nuts all meats and poultry and plenty of offal. I mostly avoid high carbohydrate vegetables but eat plenty of salad and greens. I also make my own stocks from chicken carcases, pigs trotters, bones and root vegetables. On this diet I promise, you won't overeat. I usually don't eat after 8 in the evening or before noon the next day. I'm 6 feet tall my weight is stabilized at 153 pounds, my blood pressure averages out at around 120 over 73 depending on the time of day, my resting heart rate is around 64 bpm. I walk a couple of miles a day sometimes more sometimes less. The muscle cramping in my calves and stomach have gone. I have suffered from back pain and stiffness all my adult life sometimes to a crippling degree, that to has all but vanished. I truly feel reborn and I really don't care what the so called health professionals think. Time to wake up guys. Modern eating habits are the root cause of most illness.

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BeeKoTee said on 17 October 2012

Very bad article based on bad science and straight lies. When will these lessons be Learnt?????

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Ottorino said on 05 October 2012

I'm afraid that the comments are far more accurate than the article, which is muddled and self-contradictory. If you start off with the thought that pre-WWI coronary heart disease was unknown, as were most of the processed fats and other carbohydrates advocated here, you can see immediately that there are a load of searching questions that are going unanswered by the 'experts'.

As cholesterol is not a problem per se, the need to reduce it disappears. Further, this obsession with prescribing a very dangerous drug - statins - continues unabated. If you look at the Numbers-Needed-to-Treat in, you will see that these purveyors of independent medical statistics, find that 1 person in 83 with known heart disease on statins benefit (although 1 in 10 are harmed by it), statins for those without heart disease are deprecated, while 1 in 30 on the Mediterranean diet benefit from death prevention; 1 in 18 from a repeat MI - all with no harm whatsoever.

The advice given here is using the logic of the mad-house.

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Sonic boom said on 16 August 2012

So well done to you all ! I have been looking to eat more healthily so thought I would research a healthier diet. I get to this page for some advice and read the article. Seemed fair enough.
Then I read all your comments about how eating fat is fine, we shouldn't eat grains etc etc and now I have no clue what to believe. No wonder people don't eat correctly (whatever that is) when all the advice contradicts so much.
So I will be off now absolutely none the wiser and slightly more confused.......

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Shawshank said on 02 May 2012

This page is a disgrace. This website has tons of comments disputing the "facts" because it doesn't take much research/common sense to work out that "advice" like this is based on bad science.

Unfortunately, the majority of people don't care enough to think for themselves and instead trust the "authority" on diet and nutrition; in this country, the wonderful NHS.

Someone in a position of power needs to stand up to make a difference. All this nonsense about "we need to tackle obesity" is completely irrelevant when information like this is still the basis for being "healthy". It's a massive contradiction and is a dangerous game. No progress will be made as long as backwards thinking still takes precedent over real science.

"Eat less saturated fat" in itself is terrible advice. The NHS doesn't seem to understand the importance of context, hence why the "eatwell plate" is such a load of bologna. Do they think we're stupid? Probably, but I'm adamant it won't be like this forever. Maybe I should write a blog.

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Rik22 said on 17 March 2012

I still can't believe that some many official institutions are giving such misleading advice.

There is NO evidence that easting Saturated Fat or Cholesteral is bad for you, at all! Yet it must be the most repeated untrue statement in the media.

The French eat the most red meat in Europe, yet live the longest. The Japanese eat the most salt and live very long lives.

All the latest research has shown no link between Salt and ill health or Fat and ill health.

Look at the Masai tribe in Africa, they only eat red meat and drink milk, yet have very low cholesteral in their blood.

When will the NHS and other institutions please refer to the facts and not heresay.

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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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