It’s hard to say how much saturated fat you should consume. Your body needs some dietary fat, according to the AHA. Fat has a variety of important functions, including giving you energy, helping your cells function, protecting your organs, producing hormones, helping your body absorb nutrients, and helping keep you warm.
“It’s become recognized that fat is not the bad guy,” Taub-Dix says. “Science has shown us that fat can be healthy, but you need to be careful about how much you’re eating and the kinds that you’re eating.”
Mono- and polyunsaturated fats are often advocated by health experts because research has found that, when consumed in moderation, they can help lower bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of adverse cardiovascular events, according to the AHA. The opposite has long been believed to be true about saturated fats, that they increase your LDL cholesterol levels and may contribute to heart disease and stroke, according to the AHA.
The link isn’t entirely clear, however. Some foods that are high in saturated fat, including whole-fat dairy, unprocessed meat, and dark chocolate, are not linked with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease or diabetes, according to the JACC. Additionally, most studies on saturated fat were relatively small, conducted 40 to 50 years ago, and have flaws in their methodology. That same report notes that starchy carbohydrates and sugar, not saturated fat, are linked with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.
Therefore, recommendations on saturated fat vary. The JACC states that there’s no evidence that an arbitrary upper limit on saturated fat consumption will prevent cardiovascular disease. But the 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (PDF) recommend an intake of less than 10 percent of calories per day, and the AHA recommends 5 to 6 percent. If you eat 2,000 calories per day, 5 to 6 percent works out to 100 to 120 calories per day, or about 11 to 13 g.
“If you limit saturated fat, it should be replaced with healthier fats like nuts, certain oils, salmon, and avocado, not with sugar like we did in the ’80s and ’90s,” says Taub-Dix.