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Saturated fat is fat that consists of triglycerides containing only saturated fatty acids. Saturated fatty acids have no double bonds between the carbon atoms of the fatty acid chain; hence, they are fully saturated with hydrogen atoms. There are several kinds of naturally occurring saturated fatty acids, their only difference being the number of carbon atoms - from 1 to 24. Some common examples of saturated fatty acids are butyric acid with 4 carbon atoms (contained in butter), lauric acid with 12 carbon atoms (contained in breast milk, coconut oil, palm oil), myristic acid with 14 carbon atoms (contained in cow milk and dairy products), palmitic acid with 16 carbon atoms (contained in palm oil, hence the name, and meat), and stearic acid with 18 carbon atoms (also contained in meat and cocoa butter).
Fat that occurs naturally in living matter such as animals and plants is used as food for human consumption and contains varying proportions of saturated and unsaturated fat. Foods that contain a high proportion of saturated fat are butter, ghee, suet, tallow, lard, coconut oil, cottonseed oil, and palm kernel oil, dairy products (especially cream and cheese), meat, chocolate, and some prepared foods.
While nutrition labels usually lump them together, the saturated fatty acids appear in different proportions among food groups. Lauric and myristic acids are most commonly found in "tropical" oils (e.g. palm kernel, coconut) and dairy products. The saturated fat in meat, eggs, chocolate and nuts is primarily palmitic and stearic acid.
saturated fat profile of common foods (percentage of total fat)
The relationship between dietary fats and CVD, especially coronary heart disease, has been extensively investigated, with strong and consistent associations emerging from a wide body of evidence accrued from animal experiments, as well as observational studies, clinical trials and metabolic studies conducted in diverse human populations...Saturated fatty acids raise total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol...The most effective replacement for saturated fatty acids in terms of coronary heart disease outcome are polyunsaturated fatty acids, especially linoleic acid. This finding is supported by the results of several large randomized clinical trials, in which replacement of saturated and trans fatty acids by polyunsaturated vegetable oils lowered coronary heart disease risk.
– World Health Organization, Population nutrient intake goals for preventing diet-related chronic diseases,5.4.4
Diets high in saturated fat are correlated with an increased incidence of atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease according to a number of studies, both African green monkeys and human. Numerous studies have suggested that diets high in saturated fat increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. Epidemiological studies have found that those whose diets are high in saturated fatty acids, including lauric, myristic, palmitic, and stearic acid, had a higher prevalence of coronary heart disease. Additionally, controlled experimental studies have found that people consuming high saturated fat diets experience negative cholesterol profile changes. A 2003 meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that diets high in saturated fat negatively affected cholesterol profiles — predictors of a heart attack and other cardiovascular diseases.
Experiments in which subjects were randomly assigned to either a control or Mediterranean diet (which replaces saturated fat with mono and polyunsaturated fat) showed a significantly decreased likelihood of suffering a second heart attack, cardiac death, heart failure or stroke.
Epidemiological studies of heart disease have implicated the four major saturated fatty acids to varying degrees. The World Health Organization has determined that there is "convincing" evidence that myristic and palmitic acid intake increases risk, "possible" risk from lauric acid, and no increased risk at all from stearic acid consumption.
A 2004 statement released by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) determined that "Americans need to continue working to reduce saturated fat intake..."  Additionally, reviews by the American Heart Association led the Association to recommend reducing saturated fat intake to less than 7% of total calories according to its 2006 recommendations. This concurs with similar conclusions made by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the US Department of Health and Human Services, both of which determined that reduction in saturated fat consumption would positively affect health and reduce the prevalence of heart disease.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has concluded that saturated fats negatively affect cholesterol profiles, predisposing individuals to heart disease, and recommends avoiding saturated fats in order to reduce the risk of a cardiovascular disease. 
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One study found that women who had regularly consumed the greatest amounts of saturated fats had the least amount of additional atherosclerotic plaque buildup in their arteries. Also, women who ate more saturated fat had a healthier balance of HDL and LDL cholesterol, and more desirable blood serum concentrations of triglycerides and free fatty acids. 
A 3-year study of 235 women, released in 2004, concluded that "in postmenopausal women with relatively low total fat intake, a greater saturated fat intake is associated with less progression of coronary atherosclerosis.". Coronary angiography was employed to examine 2,243 coronary artery segments; once at the start of the study and once more at its conclusion. The same study revealed similarly surprising results when it was disclosed that a greater consumption of polyunsaturated oils "was also associated with greater progression of atherosclerosis".
A study of 297 acute MI cases in Portuguese males, published in February of 2007, concluded that, "Total fat intake, lauric acid, palmitic acid, and oleic acid were inversely associated with acute MI" and that, "Low intake of total fat and lauric acid from dairy products was related to acute MI". Nutrition Action also stated, in revealing the results of this study, that "some prospective studies show that replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fat is more effective in lowering CHD risk than reducing total fat consumption".
Nutritionist Mary G. Enig, Ph.D., co-founder and Vice President of the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF) is a prolific author in support of the benefits of dietary consumption of saturated fats, most particularly in the form of coconut oil. She states that saturated fats are needed for the production of hormones, the stabilization of cellular membranes, the padding around organs, and for energy. Enig claims that extensive research conducted during the 1970s by Canadian scientists on rapeseed and canola oil ultimately determined that at least 25% of fat in the diet should be in the form of saturated fat.
^ U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. 2007. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 20. Nutrient Data Laboratory Home Page
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^ Frank B Hu, Meir J Stampfer, JoAnn E Manson, Alberto Ascherio, Graham A Colditz, Frank E Speizer, Charles H Hennekens, and Walter C Willett Dietary saturated fats and their food sources in relation to the risk of coronary heart disease in women Am J Clin Nutr 1999;70:1001–8
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^ Hanne Müller, Anja S. Lindman, Anne Lise Brantsæter, and Jan I. Pedersen The Serum LDL/HDL Cholesterol Ratio Is Influenced More Favorably by Exchanging Saturated with Unsaturated Fat Than by Reducing Saturated Fat in the Diet of Women The American Society for Nutritional Sciences J. Nutr 133:78–83, January 2003
^ Shanthi Mendis, U. Samarajeewa and R. O. Thattil Coconut fat and serum lipoproteins: effects of partial replacement with unsaturated fats British Journal of Nutrition Volume 85, Number 5, May 2001, pp. 583–589(7)
^ M Abbey, M Noakes, GB Belling and PJ Nestel Partial replacement of saturated fatty acids with almonds or walnuts lowers total plasma cholesterol and low-density-lipoprotein cholesterol American Journal of Clinical Nutrition Vol 59, 995–999
^ ab U.S. Department of Health and Human Services U.S. Department of Agriculture Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005
^ World Health Organization Disease-specific recommendations
^ Trends in Intake of Energy, Protein, Carbohydrate, Fat, and Saturated Fat — United States, 1971–2000
^ Alice H. Lichtenstein, Lawrence J. Appel, Michael Brands, Mercedes Carnethon, Stephen Daniels, Harold A. Franch, Barry Franklin, Penny Kris-Etherton, William S. Harris, Barbara Howard, Njeri Karanja, Michael Lefevre, Lawrence Rudel, Frank Sacks, Linda Van Horn, Mary Winston, Judith Wylie-Rosett Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations Revision 2006: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association Nutrition Committee Circulation 2006;114:82-96
^ Ole Faergeman, David A. Wood, Michael Alderman, John Horgan, Philip Home, Sidney C. Smith, Jr, Rod Jackson, Thomas A. Pearson, Valentin Fuster, Salim Yusuf, Marilyn Hunn and Scott M. Grundy Principles for National and Regional Guidelines on Cardiovascular Disease Prevention: A Scientific Statement From the World Heart and Stroke Forum Circulation 2004;109;3112-3121 DOI: 10.1161/01.CIR.0000133427.35111.67
^ World Health Organization Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases
^ U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005
^ World Health Organization Prevention: personal choices and actions
^ Saturated fat prevents coronary artery disease? An American paradox American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 80, No. 5, 1102-1103, November 2004
^ 'Surprising' data: saturated fat may slow atherosclerotic progression in postmenopausal women, OB/GYN News, July 2004
^ Dietary fats, carbohydrate, and progression of coronary atherosclerosis in postmenopausal women American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 80, No. 5, 1175-1184, November 2004
^ Risk of myocardial infarction and intake and adipose tissue composition of fatty acids, Nutrition Action, March 2007 - Carla Lopes, Antti Aro, Ana Azevedo, et al. Intake and Adipose Tissue Composition of Fatty Acids and Risk of Myocardial Infarction in a Male Portuguese Community Sample. JADA;107:276-286 (February 2007)
^ The Importance of Saturated Fats for Biological Functions Enig, 2004/07/08