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All about dietary fat: What you should know for kidney-friendly eating

Dietary fat plays an important role in your body's function and is also an essential part of a kidney-friendly eating plan.
Black woman reading a nutrition label while standing in a grocery store

Dietary fat (fat that comes from food or drinks) plays an important role in your body's function, including helping to control your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It is also an essential part of a kidney-friendly eating plan. But if you have kidney disease, you may be at greater risk for heart disease and may need to limit the amount of fat you consume. 

What are dietary fats?

Fat is one of three types of nutrients that give your body calories (or energy). There are different types of fats. The most common are saturated, unsaturated and trans-fat.

  • Saturated fats are usually solid at room temperature and are commonly found in animal products like meat and dairy. It is important to eat these types of fats in small amounts. They can cause your LDL (often referred to as the "bad" cholesterol) to increase, which can cause heart disease. Examples of foods that contain saturated fats include whole and reduced-fat butter, milk and cheese, meats (beef, sausage, bacon), lard, coconut oil and processed foods like chips, crackers and cookies.
  • Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature. They are considered heart-healthy because they can help lower LDL levels and increase your HDL ("good" cholesterol), which can reduce the risk of heart disease. There are two types of these healthy fats: monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats are common in foods from plants like olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds, as well as some fish.
  • Trans fats are considered the unhealthiest type of fat. They are found naturally in some foods like beef and dairy, but in small amounts. They are also formed through a process called hydrogenation, where hydrogen (a chemical element) is added to a liquid fat, such as vegetable oil. This process turns the liquid fat into a solid fat at room temperature and is used to increase the shelf life of foods. Trans fats can raise LDL and lower HDL. This can increase your risk of heart disease. Thankfully, many countries (including the United States) have banned the use of trans fats in processed foods.

Finding the right balance

When it comes to fats, it is all about balance. To protect your kidney and heart health, aim to replace saturated and trans fats with healthy, unsaturated fats. But be aware that some unsaturated fats like avocados and nuts are high in potassium, and some people with kidney disease may need to limit how much potassium they eat. It is important to work with a dietitian to find options that work best for your kidney-friendly eating plan.

A dietitian will also help you choose a type of fat to include in meals or to use for cooking. They will consider your specific taste, budget, food and fluid needs as well as the recipe needs. Some cooking oils have a flavor that might not work well with a recipe. For example, if you are making fruit cobbler, olive oil may not mix well with the other ingredients.

Check out AKF's Kidney Kitchen® heart-healthy recipe collection for delicious kidney-friendly and heart-healthy meals that keep fat in balance.



Paulina Yu

Paulina Yu is a Public Education Intern at American Kidney Fund. She is currently a student in the Master of Public Health program at Walden University. She is passionate about health equity and regulatory science.