About the health effects of saturated fat: I have not done a thorough review of the literature; there are tons of studies, some poorly done, and it would take way too much time and be too boring for me to review it all. However, I am concerned about my health so I did a little digging in the literature on saturated fat.
My point of view going in is that as a food lover, I love my dietary sources of sat fat, so I hope they’re good for me. I’d like to believe books like Nourishing Traditions but the standards for evidence of causation there is very poor.
Well, my quick view of some literature leads me to believe that a diet high in saturated fat increases the risk of heart disease, and increases LDL which in turn increases the risk of heart disease. There might have been a few other negative effects I read about, I don’t remember. My take-home for me is to limit the saturated fat in my own diet.
Heart disease is rampant in my family; my father died of sudden heart failure at age 67 after a lifetime diet high in sat fat, including a nightly monster dish of ice cream.
Berardi, who, with a PhD in the area and what seems to be a comprehensive knowledge of the fat literature, recommends 1/3 of fat calories from saturated fat, which seems reasonable and doable and not at all paranoid or extreme (as opposed to Ornish, for example). This is what I aim for and hope for the best while I pour cream into my coffee each morning.
I hope that if there are benefits of saturated fat, this amount would provide them. But based on the heart disease research, I no longer feel I can slather butter all over everything. (Sadly.)
Someone in this thread claimed that all the studies vilifying saturated fat were poorly controlled, but this is not true. There are plenty of multifactorial studies which look at the effects of saturated fat independently from other known risk factors for heart disease, for example. Scientists are not all biased idiots; they do know how to isolate effects of different factors with multifactorial regression.
The superiority of pasture-fed animals (assuming this is well supported) doesn’t argue for the safety of saturated fat either. Animals that eat grass have lower levels of saturated fat in their meat.
Nor am I convinced that the bulk of fat research must be wrong because of Masai herdsmen or hunter-gatherer ancestors or whatever. First of all, how carefully has the diet of those groups been quantified? How do you KNOW how much saturated fat they were eating? Dead animals are not all automatically full of saturated fat. I have been eating venison and believe me the stuff has almost no fat.
Even with farm-raised animals, the saturated fat content in the meat can be low depending on what they eat. Second, even if, say the Masai ate lots of saturated fat and had low rates of heart disease, that doesn’t mean saturated fat is GOOD. The sat fat may exert negative effects on their cardiovascular systems, but other factors in their diet and lifestyle may exert good effects that offset the negative. This is a more likely explanation, given other observations about saturated fat.
There may indeed be other factors that mitigate negative effects of high amounts of saturated fat. For example, a current research hypothesis with some support that’s based on the “French paradox” (lower heart disease rates in France despite higher levels of sat fat) is that the resveratrol in red wine reduces blood levels of artery-clogging fats in the hours after the high-fat meal. But until this kind of research is mature, I won’t personally be chugging down artery-clogging meals high in saturated fat on a regular basis.
Because of the literature that does exist, though, and because I don’t have the genes or complete dietary and lifestyle habits of Masai herdsmen or hunter-gatherers, or even the French, I cut back on saturated fat in my own diet, but did not eliminate it altogether. This seemed like the safest and most reasonable approach based on the available evidence.