Healthy Eating: Cutting Unhealthy Fats From Your Diet

Introduction

Foods like cheese, butter, sausage, and desserts may taste good to you, but they can have a lot of saturated fat and cholesterol. Eating too much of these unhealthy fats could lead to high cholesterol and heart disease.

Start with small changes first. Use heart-healthy olive or canola oil instead of butter for cooking. Drink skim or low-fat milk instead of 2% milk or whole milk. Pick leaner cuts of meat.

Use this topic as a guide for making healthy choices.

How can you make healthier choices?

Use the following chart as a guide.

Options for replacing unhealthy fats

Foods

Limit foods that are high in unhealthy fats

Make healthier choices

Vegetables and fruits


Fried vegetables; coconut; vegetables cooked with butter, cheese, or cream sauce


All vegetables and fruits that do not have added fat

Whole grain foods


Breads in which eggs, fat, or butter is a major ingredient; most granolas (unless fat-free or low-fat); high-fat crackers; store-bought pastries and muffins


Whole grain breads, whole grain cereals, brown or wild rice, corn tortillas, whole grain pasta, and whole grain crackers

Protein foods

Regular ground beef, fatty or highly marbled cuts; spare ribs; organ meat; poultry with skin; fried meat or seafood; processed meats like sausage and deli meats; whole milk and 2% milk; most cheeses; sour cream; ice cream; cream; half-and-half; whipping cream or topping; non-dairy creamer

Eggs; lean ground beef (97% lean), pork, or wild game; ground turkey breast; skinless chicken; fish and shellfish; nuts and seeds; lower-fat (1%) or skim milk; low-fat yogurt; low-sodium cheeses; beans, peas, and lentils; fortified soy beverages, tofu, soybeans, and other soy products

Oils and fats


Coconut oil, palm oil, butter, lard, shortening, bacon and bacon fat, hard margarine


Canola oil, olive oil, peanut oil, soft margarines with no trans fats and no more than one-third of the total fat from saturated fat

Sweets and desserts


Ice cream; store-bought pies, cakes, doughnuts, and cookies made with coconut oil, palm oil, or hydrogenated oil; chocolate candy


Fruit; frozen yogurt; low-fat or fat-free versions of treats such as ice cream; cakes and cookies made with unsaturated fats and/or those made with cocoa powder

Tips for healthier meals

Try some of these ideas:

  • Fill up on fruits, vegetables, and whole grain foods.
  • Think of meat as a side dish instead of as the main part of your meal. Choose plant-based protein foods more often.
  • Try main dishes that use whole grain pasta, brown rice, dried beans, or vegetables.
  • Use cooking methods with little or no fat, such as broiling, steaming, or grilling. Use cooking spray instead of oil. If you use oil, use a monounsaturated oil, such as canola or olive oil.
  • Trim fat from meats before you cook them. Drain off fat after you brown the meat or while you are roasting it.
  • Chill soups and stews after you cook them so that you can skim off the fat after it gets hard.
  • To get more omega-3 fatty acids, try different types of fatty fish such as salmon, trout, or mackerel. Add ground flaxseed to cereal, soups, and smoothies. Sprinkle walnuts on salads.
  • When you bake muffins or breads, replace part of the fat ingredient (oil, butter, margarine) with applesauce, or use canola oil instead of butter or shortening.
  • Read food labels on canned, bottled, or packaged foods. Choose those with little saturated fat and no trans fat.

Restaurant meals

If you eat out often, it may be hard to avoid unhealthy fats. Try these tips:

  • Order foods that are broiled or poached rather than fried or breaded.
  • Cut back on the amount of butter or margarine that you use on bread. Use small amounts of olive oil instead.
  • Order sauces, gravies, and salad dressings on the side, and use only a little.
  • When you order pasta, choose tomato sauce rather than cream sauce.
  • Ask for salsa with a baked potato instead of sour cream, butter, cheese, or bacon.
  • Don't upgrade your meal to a larger size.

Fat-free foods

Sometimes a fat-free food isn't the best choice. Fat-free cookies, candies, chips, and frozen treats can still be high in sugar and calories. Some fat-free foods have more calories than regular ones. Eat fat-free foods in moderation, as you would other foods.

Credits

Current as of: August 22, 2019

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Anne C. Poinier MD - Internal Medicine
Rhonda O'Brien MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator
Colleen O'Connor PhD, RD - Registered Dietitian

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