Government guidelines advise people in the United States to consume no more than 10% of their daily calories as saturated fats. However, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends reducing saturated fats even further, to just 5–6% of one’s daily calories.

Saturated fat is one type of fat. Other types include monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat. Fats are one of three essential macronutrient groups, along with carbohydrates and protein.

Eating fat is essential for both the brain and the body to function correctly. However, many people are unsure exactly how much fat they should eat — particularly when it comes to saturated fat. Having too much fat in the diet may lead to weight gain, obesity, and other health concerns.

This article looks at how much saturated fat people should eat per day and lists some food and beverage sources of it. It also explores what the evidence says about the health risks of consuming too much saturated fat and why this is controversial.

a takeout tray of English-style chips covered in ketchupShare on Pinterest
Sally Anscombe/Getty Images

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans advise that people keep their saturated fat intake to under 10% of calories per day to reduce the risk of chronic conditions.

According to the guidelines, however, about 70–75% of adults exceed the 10% limit on saturated fat as a result of selecting foods and beverages that are not nutrient dense.

Conversely, the AHA recommends that people aim for a dietary pattern that takes 5–6% of daily calories from saturated fat. For example, if someone is consuming 2,000 calories per day, no more than 120 calories should come from saturated fat.

The AHA explains that this equates to about 13 grams (g) of saturated fat per day. To put this into perspective, a bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit from a fast food restaurant would contribute 11.7 g of saturated fat toward this limit.

If someone adheres to the government advice of a maximum of 10% of calories from saturated fat, this would mean that while following a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet, they should eat no more than 22 g of saturated fat each day.

Although guidelines typically recommend reducing saturated fat intake, researchers still debate the evidence for its influence on the risk of chronic conditions.

For example, the authors of a 2015 systematic review and meta-analysis suggest that although their study methods had limitations, the evidence did not support a robust association of saturated fats with all-cause mortality, heart diseases, stroke, or diabetes.

In a 2018 study, researchers looked at the effects of overfeeding participants with excess weight either saturated fats, unsaturated fats, or simple sugars. Saturated fats increased more metabolic markers for diabetes and cardiovascular disease than the other two diets.

The effect of saturated fats on cholesterol levels, and how this may lead to heart disease, is currently controversial.

However, according to one 2017 review, there is strong evidence to suggest that replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats lowers low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and reduces the risk of heart disease.

Some research suggests that overall diet quality is as important as the amount of saturated fat that someone eats. Some foods that contain saturated fats also contain beneficial nutrients, so moderation and variation are key.

For example, a 2020 study showed no association between several foods rich in saturated fats — such as whole fat dairy, dark chocolate, and unprocessed meat — and a higher cardiovascular or diabetes risk.

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, sandwiches such as burritos, hot dogs, and burgers account for 19% of people’s saturated fat intake, while desserts and sweet snacks account for 11%.

Some other common sources of saturated fat in the typical American diet include dishes such as spaghetti and meatballs, casseroles, and quesadillas that contain dairy, meat, and grains in forms that are not nutrient dense.

The following is a list of food and beverage sources of saturated fat:

  • fatty beef, lamb, and pork
  • poultry with skin
  • beef fat and lard
  • processed and deli meats
  • whole milk
  • cream
  • butter
  • cheese and other dairy products made with whole milk or reduced fat (2%) milk
  • baked goods, such as cakes and pastries
  • ice-cream and sweet desserts
  • milkshakes and smoothies made with full fat dairy
  • fried foods and takeout foods

In addition, the AHA advises that some plant-based oils — such as palm oil, palm kernel oil, and coconut oil — also contain primarily saturated fats but do not contain cholesterol.

Some people wonder if they should eat eggs because of their association with cholesterol. Heart UK advises that an average egg contains about 4.6 g of total fat but says that only a quarter of this is saturated fat, which is the type that raises cholesterol levels in the body.

The AHA suggests consuming one egg or two egg whites per day for people who eat them as part of a healthy diet.

Current guidelines advise people to consume no more than 5–10% of their daily calories as saturated fats. Cutting down on sweet treats, full fat dairy products, and processed meats can help someone achieve this.

Eating a diet that focuses on whole foods and plant foods can help keep people full and regulate their energy. This approach can also help them avoid snacking on processed foods or making unhealthy dietary choices.

Some foods — such as dairy products, dark chocolate, and unprocessed meats — can provide essential nutrients, and people can eat these foods as part of an overall balanced diet.

Using polyunsaturated vegetable oils instead of saturated fats for cooking and spreading can be beneficial for cholesterol levels and reducing the risk of heart disease.