When people hear about palm oil the first thing that usually comes to their mind is heart disease. The logic is pretty simple: fifty per cent of the oil consists of saturated fat that supposed to be bad for the heart, therefore, palm oil causes heart disease. However, numerous studies continue to confirm that palm oil does not promote heart problems and, if anything, it protects against them. But why is it the case? It contradicts to the simple logic we are used to follow for many years, that all saturated fats are bad for us. Let’s try to puzzle out the ambiguity.
The first general concern in respect to palm oil is as follows: if it contains saturated fat, it must contain cholesterol. However, only animal fats contain cholesterol and palm oil, as a vegetable oil, includes absolutely no cholesterol. Like all the other unrefined vegetable oils, red palm oil contains modest amount of plant sterols that are similar in structure to cholesterol. Plant sterols do not cause heart disease, but they can lower blood cholesterol. When consumed together competition between the two reduces the amount of cholesterol that is absorbed in the blood stream. Therefore, the plant sterols or phytosterols in red palm oil can help to improve blood cholesterol levels.
Another common belief is that palm oil is an “artery-clogging saturated fat.” The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) was using this statement to instil fear into people’s minds against tropical oils. However, it is not only untrue, it also does not make sense. Saturated fat does not clog arteries. Studies of the fatty acids in arterial plaque reveal that most of the fat that clogs up arteries is unsaturated. Only oxidized fat become sticky and cling to artery walls. Saturated fats are highly resistant to oxidation and are not easily oxidised.
Finally, the most widespread concern over palm oil is that it raises blood cholesterol. It is actually true that saturated fats tend to raise level of blood cholesterol. However, this issue is complicated. There are nine different saturated fatty acids and only three of them raise blood cholesterol. Moreover, no oil is one hundred per cent saturated or polyunsaturated or monounsaturated. All natural fats contain a combination of all three of fatty acids and, therefore, each dietary fat will have a different effect on blood cholesterol, depending on its fatty acids profile. Red palm oil is exceptionally rich on phytosterols, tocopherols, and tocotrienols, all of which have cholesterol lowering effect. Palm oil used in a normal diet does not have a harmful effect on cholesterol.
Palm oil has had a long history of food use, dating back to over 5000 years. It has been used for generations by the people of tropical Africa as an essential ingredient in ethnic dishes. It is actually the nutrition-packed beneficial fat source that can supply number of health benefits to the body. It is a natural source of vitamin E & carotenoids in addition to fatty acids and other essential fat-soluble micronutrients.
Fife B. (2007) The palm Oil Miracle. Colorado Springs, USA : Piccadilly Books