Palm oil is one of the most popular and least expensive oils in the world. Although it is plant-based, there have been some controversies regarding the benefits of palm oil, as well as the ethics involved in its cultivation. Which begs the question: Is Palm Oil Bad For You?
What is Palm Oil?
Palm oil, which is not the same as palm kernel oil, is an oil extracted from the fruit of the palm tree, which is scientifically known as Elaeis Guineensis. It is one of the most widely produced edible fats on the planet and originally comes from native palm trees in West and Southwestern Africa.
However, the production of palm oil has expanded to Southeast Asia, where both Malaysia and Indonesia have become the biggest producers in the world. In fact, 80% of the world’s production come from these two countries.
This fat is solid at room temperature, just like butter, cheese, and red meat. The oil is extremely versatile as it can be used in many different applications. In food, it is mostly used for frying since it can withstand high temperatures. But, it is also used a lot by food manufacturers as a replacement for unhealthy trans fats that have now been banned in foods in the United States.
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In fact it may be found in about 50% of the packaged products in supermarkets, as well as pizzas, doughnuts and chocolate.
In terms of industrial use, it is used in manufacturing bath and body products, such as cosmetics, soaps, toothpaste, waxes, and lubricants. The oil is also highly resistant to oxidation, making products last longer.
Because of its versatility palm oil is in great demand with the result that massive swathes of forests have been destroyed to make way for palm plantations. The deforestation contributes to global warming and Green Peace has been making the palm oil industry clean up its act for the past 10 years. They urge manufacturers to buy from responsible growers that aren’t destroying forests or exploiting local people.
In terms of the benefits of palm oil, some of its purported advantages include improving brain health, reducing risks for heart disease, improving Vitamin A absorption, as well as reducing the risk for Type 2 diabetes.
Benefits of Consuming Palm Oil
Palm oil is said to bring about a host of health benefits when consumed. Let’s discuss each one:
Improved Brain Health
Palm oil is a rich source of antioxidants, such as Vitamin E. For one tablespoon of palm oil, you can have 11% of your required daily intake of the vitamin. The type of Vitamin E palm oil contains is called tocotrienol, which is a potent antioxidant that has been shown to protect brain tissue from free radicals. It may even help to stop the progression of brain lesions.
In a study of animals and humans, data suggest that the tocotrienol content in palm oil may help slow down dementia, prevent the growth of brain lesions, and reduce the risk of stroke.
One of these studies involved 121 individuals who suffered from brain lesions. Over the course of 2 years, the group was divided into two: one group took palm-oil derived tocotrienols twice a day, and another group took a placebo. After the study, those who took palm oil remained stable while those that took the placebo experienced lesion growth.
Improved Heart Health
While palm oil is said to improve heart health, there are a few controversies about its potential capacity to reduce the risk of heart disease. One of the controversies that have plagued the use of palm oil is that it contains a certain amount of saturated fat although less than coconut oil. In fact it contains the same amount of saturated fat as butter.
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We have repeatedly been wrongly told that saturated fat is bad for our hearts even though it had not been proven and was based on a theory. We do in fact need saturated fat for a number of functions in the body.
A number of studies have not found find any association between saturated fat intake and cardiovascular disease. In fact studies on the ketogenic diet and the carnivore diet which include red meat have found that the increased intake of saturated fat did not increase LDL cholesterol nor cause heart disease.
Studies have also shown that the saturated fat content in palm oil is actually quite low. One tablespoon of palm oil contains 120 calories, and 50% of this is saturated fat, while 40% is made of monounsaturated fat, while 10% is made of polyunsaturated fat.
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat are considered to be healthy fats as they are known to improve blood cholesterol levels. These two kinds of fats reduce the risk of heart disease, as well as reduces Type 2 diabetes risks.
One study that involved the analysis of 51 studies found that LDL cholesterol levels in individuals who followed palm-oil rich diets were lower than those whose diets were high in trans fat.
However it has also been shown that reusing palm oil can decrease its nutrient content as well as cause an increase in blood cholesterol levels. So, when using palm oil, make sure you don’t reuse and reheat the oil.
- Improved Vitamin A Absorption
Vitamin A is an important nutrient for the immune system function, for the health of the skin and eye health. It is vital for the health of the retina and overall eye health. Deficiencies in Vitamin A can cause health issues with your vision.
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin and needs fat so the body can properly absorb it. Since palm oil is made of mostly fat, it is known to improve Vitamin A absorption and reduce the risk of Vitamin A deficiency.
Is Palm Oil Bad For You?
No, palm oil is not bad for you! The main saturated fat in palm oil, palmitic acid, has been compared to oleic acid, the major component of olive oil that is recognized as “heart-healthy. Researchers have demonstrated that palmitic acid was comparable to oleic acid in terms of its effect on cholesterol and lipoprotein levels in blood serum.
The best type of palm oil to use is the unrefined kind which is pink in color and is known as red palm oil. Its red color comes from the alpha-carotene, beta-carotene and lycopene it contains which have powerful antioxidant activity.
The Bottom Line
Palm Oil is rich in antioxidants and is known to improve the immune system, as well as lower the risk of heart disease and Type 2 Diabetes. It is known to improve brain health and improve Vitamin A absorption and even looks promising at improving heart health. However, with a caloric content made of 50% saturated fat and 50% monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat, there may be some disagreements in terms of its heart disease risk and benefits capacity.
So is palm oil bad for you? The answer is generally no. As long as you don’t consume too much of it, and as long as you don’t reuse the oil, using the oil moderately may even be beneficial.