Healthy Eating: Cutting Unhealthy Fats From Your Diet

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Foods like cheese, butter, sausage, and desserts may taste great, but they can have a lot of unhealthy saturated fat or trans fat. Eating too much unhealthy fat could lead to high cholesterol and heart disease. But you can choose foods that are lower in these fats.

Start with small changes. Use heart-healthy olive or canola oil instead of butter for cooking. Pick low-fat or nonfat yogurt or cottage cheese instead of whole-milk yogurt or cottage cheese. Over time, you can add more small changes.

How can you make healthier choices?

Replacing unhealthy fats

Some foods can have a lot of unhealthy saturated fat or trans fat. Here are some ways to replace unhealthy fats with healthier choices.

Options for replacing unhealthy fats

Food group

Instead of these foods that are high in unhealthy fats:

Choose these healthier foods:

Meat, poultry, and fish

  • Regular ground beef
  • Fatty or highly marbled cuts
  • Spare ribs
  • Organ meat
  • Poultry with skin, fried chicken
  • Fried fish, fried shellfish
  • Lunch meat, bologna, salami, hot dogs, sausage
  • Extra-lean ground beef (97% lean)
  • Ground turkey breast (without skin added)
  • Meats with fat trimmed off before cooking
  • Skinless chicken
  • Baked, broiled, or poached fish

Dairy products

  • Whole milk and 2% milk
  • Whole-milk yogurt and cottage cheese
  • Whole-milk cream cheese and sour cream
  • Most cheeses
  • Cream, half-and-half, nondairy creamer
  • Low-fat (1%) or fat-free milk
  • Low-fat or nonfat yogurt and cottage cheese
  • Low-fat or nonfat cream cheese, sour cream
  • Low-fat or nonfat cheeses

Fats and oils

  • Coconut oil, palm oil
  • Butter, stick margarine
  • Lard, shortening, bacon fat
  • Peanut butter that has been hydrogenated (the no-stir kind)
  • 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
  • Natural peanut butter that has not been hydrogenated

Breads and cereals

  • Breads in which fat or butter is a major ingredient
  • Most granolas (unless fat-free or low-fat)
  • High-fat crackers, store-bought pastries and muffins
  • Regular breads, cereals, rice, corn tortillas, pasta, and low-fat crackers. Choose whole grains as much as possible.

Fruits and vegetables

  • Fried vegetables
  • Vegetables cooked with butter, cheese, or cream sauce
  • Coconut
  • Any fruits and vegetables that do not have added fat

Sweets and desserts

  • Ice cream, whipping cream, whipped topping
  • Store-bought pies, cakes, doughnuts, and cookies made with coconut oil, palm oil, or hydrogenated oil
  • Chocolate candy
  • Frozen yogurt; low-fat or nonfat versions of treats such as ice cream
  • Cakes and cookies made with unsaturated fats and/or those made with cocoa powder
  • Fruit

Reducing saturated fat

Try these ideas for lowering the amount of unhealthy saturated fat in your diet.

  • Put the focus on vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
    • Try main dishes that use whole wheat pasta, brown rice, dried beans, or vegetables.
    • Think of meat as a side dish instead of as the main part of your meal.
  • Reduce saturated fats in the protein foods you eat.
    • Choose plant proteins more often. These include soy products, beans, and nuts.
    • If you eat meat, choose options lower in saturated fat, such as fish, poultry with the skin removed, and leaner cuts of red meat.
    • Trim fat from meats before you cook them. Drain off fat after you brown the meat or while you roast it.
  • Use healthier fats when cooking.
    • Choose unsaturated fats, such as canola or olive oil, instead of butter or shortening.
    • Try cooking methods that use less fat, such as broiling, steaming, or grilling.
  • Choose lower-fat dairy products.

    These include nonfat or low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheeses.

  • Read food labels on packaged foods.
    • Choose those with little saturated fat.
    • Be aware that "fat-free" isn't always the best choice. Some fat-free foods are high in sugar and calories.
  • Choose lower-fat options when you eat out.
    • Select foods that are broiled or poached instead of fried or breaded.
    • Order sauces, gravies, and salad dressings on the side, and use only a little.
    • Choose tomato sauce instead of cream sauce.
    • Have a salad for your side dish.

Related Information


Current as of: September 20, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.