With all the hype surrounding statin medications this past week (see http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/05/opinion/the-diabetes-dilemma-for-statin-users.html), it's a perfect opportunity to take a step back and discuss some basic diet fundamentals. For the past 40 or more years, the "benefits" of low-fat diets have been ingrained in our consciousness, and advocated by a majority of the medical community. The thinking behind this was simple: high fat in the diet must lead to a buildup of fat and plaque in the arteries, so the less fat you eat, the better. In recent years, research evidence has overwhelmingly refuted this concept, yet it continues to be the mainstream recommendation for preventing heart disease. Even the "Dairy" section in the USDA's "My Plate" emphasizes low or non-fat sources of dairy.
A scientific analysis of 21 earlier studies showed "no significant evidence" that saturated fat in the diet is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease. In fact, the dietary evidence collected from these thousands of participants found no difference in the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, or coronary vascular disease between those individuals with the lowest and highest intakes of saturated fat. The bigger issue appears to be the added amounts of sweeteners and carbohydrates that people are eating instead of fats. More and more evidence is suggesting that it's this continuous increase in carbohydrate consumption that is truly responsible for an increased risk in diabetes and coronary artery disease.
I think the main take-away message from this information is that you don't have to be afraid of good quality sources of saturated fat. We've been so trained to be suspicious of it for so long that it becomes difficult to change our perception of how healthy it can be. Now, does this mean you should be eating nothing but cheese, bacon, and beef for the rest of your life? Of course not! If you're already consuming low-fat sources of dairy (skim milk, low-fat yogurt, etc.), switch to organic whole milk sources, and use butter instead of margarine or other processed forms of fat. In general, try to limit your saturated fat intake to 10% of your total diet, while discontinuing the consumption of hydrogenated oils, artificial sweeteners, and high-glycemic carbohydrates. By doing this, and continuing to emphasize fruits and vegetables as a mainstay, you'll be much better off in the long run!