The USDA recommends a 2,000 calorie diet; however most Americans consume many more than 2,000 calories per day. The diet of most Americans has more saturated fats, salts and sugars in them than is recommended. This problem leads to obesity which then leads to an increased risk for:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Certain cancers
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure
  • Gallbladder disease and gallstones
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Gout
  • Breathing problems
  • Sleep apnea
  • Bone problems

Types of fats

There are many types of fats. There are four main types of fats: saturated fatty acids, trans-fats, hydrogenated fats, and polyunsaturated-monounsaturated fats.

Saturated fatty acids

These fats have the maximum amount of hydrogen that carbon atoms can hold. This fat is most often solid at room temperature. In the typical American diet, saturated fats are most frequently from animal products and a few plant based oils or fats (mostly dessert or snack foods). Some examples are: full fat cheese and dairy products, cream, lard, bacon fat, butter, fatty cuts of meat, skin of poultry, tropical oils (coconut, palm).

Saturated fats should be avoided since they are linked to heart disease. Here are some helpful suggestions in trying to avoid saturated fatty acids.

  • Choose light margarine instead of butter
  • Choose low -fat of nonfat cheese instead of regular cheese
  • Choose nonfat or low -fat frozen yogurt or sorbet instead of regular ice cream
  • Choose ground sirloin instead of ground chuck
  • Choose chicken without the skin on instead of chicken with the skin on
  • Choose egg whites instead of the whole egg


Trans-fats are also known as partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. They lower “good” cholesterol (HDL) and raise “bad” cholesterol (LDL.).

This type of fat is not a saturated fat, and it is found in baked goods, food at most restaurants and in fast-food chain foods. Trans-fat is the result of a process called hydrogenation, or adding hydrogen to vegetable oil and making the fat more solid at room temperature. Some examples of foods high in trans fats are: cookies, crackers, cakes, French fries, fried onion rings, and donuts.

Try to stay away from these types of trans-fats. Here are some helpful ways to avoid trans-fats :

  • Choose trans-free tub margarine or liquid margarine instead of stick margarine
  • Choose baked, grilled or broiled foods instead of fried food
  • Choose plain, non-coated energy bars instead of energy bars dipped in frosting or chocolate.
  • Choose granola bars containing canola oil instead of granola bars containing partially hydrogenated oils
  • Choose baked potato chips instead of regular potato chips
  • Choose plain pretzels instead of chocolate or yogurt covered pretzels
  • Choose baked crackers or crackers containing non-hydrogenated oils instead of crackers containing hydrogenated oils

Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids

These are unsaturated fatty acids, which are “good” fats. Both are liquid (oil) at room temperature, but monounsaturated oils start to solidify at refrigerator temperatures. These fatty acids help keep the body free from newly formed cholesterol. Some examples of polyunsaturated fats are: safflower, sesame, soy, corn and sunflower-seed oils, nuts and seeds. Some examples of monounsaturated fats are: olive, canola, and peanut oils, and avocados. Even though these types of fats are “good” fats, too much of a good thing is sometimes a bad thing. If you eat too many “good” fats, it will lead to weight gain. Enjoy these fats with meals and snacks, but try not to go overboard as a little goes a long way.

Try to:

  • Choose olive oil and vinegar instead of creamy salad dressings
  • Choose nuts instead of potato chips

The “bad fats”, saturated and trans-fats should be very limited in your daily intake. Calories from saturated fat should not exceed 7% of your total daily calorie intake and calories from trans-fat should be less than 1%.

Need Diet and Lifestyle Guidance?

For more information on preventive cardiology, or to schedule an appointment with a preventive cardiology physician or nutritionist, call the main campus of Cleveland Clinic at 216.444.9353.

Reviewed: 12/2013

Reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional.

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