Saturated fat

Saturated fat is most often found in animal products, such as cheese, red meat, poultry, butter and whole-milk products. Other foods high in saturated fat include those made with coconut, palm and other tropical oils. Saturated fat may increase your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Recommendation: Replace saturated fats with healthier monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats, found in olive oil, canola oil, vegetable oils, lean poultry, and unsalted nuts and seeds. Remember saturated fat counts toward your total daily allowance of fat. Limit saturated fat to no more than 10 percent of your total calories. Lowering calories from saturated fat to 7 percent can further reduce your risk of heart disease. Saturated fat has 9 calories a gram. Based on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, 7 to 10 percent amounts to about 140 to 200 calories a day, or about 16 to 22 grams of saturated fat.

Trans fat

Trans fat occurs naturally in some foods, especially foods from animals. But most trans fat is created during food processing through partial hydrogenation of unsaturated fats. Trans fat is found in some types of margarine, shortening, snack foods and commercial baked goods. Trans fat can increase your risk of heart disease.

Recommendation: Avoid trans fat as much as possible by limiting foods that contain synthetic sources of trans fat, such as partially hydrogenated oils, and by limiting other solid fats. Cut back on commercially prepared desserts and snacks, such as crackers, cookies, cakes and doughnuts. Remember trans fat counts toward your total daily allowance of fat.

Cholesterol

Cholesterol is vital because it helps build your body's cells and produces certain hormones. But your body makes enough cholesterol to meet its needs — you don't need any dietary cholesterol. Excessive cholesterol in your diet can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. Dietary cholesterol comes from animal products, such as meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, butter and other dairy products.

Recommendation: Keep dietary cholesterol to less than 300 milligrams a day. Cutting cholesterol to less than 200 milligrams a day can benefit anyone at high risk of heart disease. Reduce dietary cholesterol by cutting back on animal sources of food, such as beef, poultry and egg yolks. If an item is high in saturated fat, it's probably also high in cholesterol.

Sodium

Some sodium is vital because it helps maintain the right balance of fluids in your body, helps transmit nerve impulses, and influences the contraction and relaxation of muscles. Too much sodium, though, can be harmful, increasing your blood pressure and the risk of heart disease and stroke. Most Americans get far too much sodium in their daily diets and need to cut back.

Recommendation: Reduce sodium in your diet by limiting processed and prepared foods, which are often high in sodium. Also avoid salty condiments. Don't add salt at the table, and eliminate it from recipes when possible. Limit sodium to less than 2,300 milligrams a day — or 1,500 milligrams if you're age 51 or older, if you are black, or if you have high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease.

Eating for good health

Choosing the right foods helps promote health and reduces your risk of chronic diseases. It boils down to making meals that emphasize fresh, unprocessed plant-based foods, perhaps with a few lean animal products. This way of eating can also help you maintain calorie balance over time to achieve and sustain a healthy weight.

Feb. 22, 2013 See more In-depth