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Healthy or Not? The Truth About Red Palm Oil

Updated on March 19, 2014
Palm fruit produces palm oil and palm kernel oil.
Palm fruit produces palm oil and palm kernel oil. | Source

Growing up in an American/West African household brought a lot of different cultural exposures. We ate all types of food, but our main/staple food was West African dishes such as ground nut stew, potato leaves, and so forth. Palm oil is usually a main ingredient in these foods and was (and still is ) widely used among the African community. Deriving from the palm fruit, it has many uses on a global basis, from soap, to perfumes, to drinks, to cooking oil. It definitely serves as an industry staple across the planet. So why does it get such a bad rap when it comes to food consumption? Let's take a look at the different aspects of Palm oil and see if it really is the enemy, or if people just need to do a bit more research on this important ingredient.

A woman processing palm oil in West Africa
A woman processing palm oil in West Africa | Source
African palm tree plantation.
African palm tree plantation. | Source

Truth or myth - Palm oil clogs your arteries.

Years ago, a "study" came out that showed high cholesterol levels among those that consumed palm oil. I'm not sure where this study came from, but I remember some of my family members being extra cautious of putting palm oil in their food. Some of them just went on strike and quit palm oil altogether. Being the stubborn Africans they are, my parents continued to use the oil as normal. They refused to listen to what some scientist has to say. Were they right, considering they were raising American children? Looking back, they may have had a point. There is no one, and I mean no one in my family with cholesterol problems. Not my grandparents, a Aunts, uncles, cousins, no one. Palm oil has been in our culture for generations. And it is very rare to hear of someone who passed away from any cholesterol related problems. I remember when I was still in the military, we used to get our annual physicals. The physician used to tell me that people would kill to have my cholesterol numbers. Even to this day I'm considered "medically boring" because doctors never find anything wrong with me. But enough about the historical family information, let's take a look at the scientific side of this issue.

According to research, palm oil contains valuable phytonutrients that are beneficial for overall good health. A natural source of carotene, palm oil which contains vitamin A; the level of carotene in palm oil is approximately 17 times as much contained in carrots. Keep in mind the importance of vitamin A. Deficiency of this vitamin can lead to a week immune function, blindness, and skin disease. Additionally, palm oil has the highest level of alpha-carotene among plant sources. Palm oil also contains vitamin E, is rich in antioxidants, tocopherols, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acid, and phytonutrients.

One recent study that took place consisted of testing the effects of palm oil on the arteries. In the study, 50 people who were diagnosed with atherosclerosis were divided into two groups. The level of clogging in their arteries was recorded at the beginning of the study. While both groups kept their same eating habits, one received a palm oil supplement while the other took a placebo pill (the control group). At the end of the study it was concluded that the group taking the palm oil supplement showed regression of their atherosclerosis. Those in the placebo group showed no improvement of their atherosclerosis.

One of the reasons why palm oil had such a bad reputation years ago because it is found to be high in saturated fat, which can lead to heart disease. While palm oil does contain saturated fat, it is nowhere near the amount of fat found in butter and other types of oils. Over the years, Trans fat has been found to be the stronger link to heart disease. Trans fat is not found in palm oil. This has drawn the interest of people who are seeking to take better control of their nutritional intake.


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Scientific findings of palm oil benefits

  • can boost immune system
  • can help improve blood circulation
  • may protect against cancer
  • protection against liver disease
  • vitamins A and E in palm oil can help protect skin from UV rays
  • may help protect against osteoporosis and arthritis
  • may help improve body's absorption of nutrients
  • contains the four types of tocotrienols which contains up to 60 times the amount found in regular vitamin E

Source

Beware

Because its popularity has grown over the years, a lot of the information available on palm oil should be taken into your own discretion for a couple of reasons:

  • Palm oil has its benefits, but it should not be considered a miracle health food. As with everything else, it should be used in moderation.
  • The nutritional information of palm oil can vary because of the many ways it’s processed and the many sources that produce it. Look for the highest qualities of oil to obtain the best benefits of this oil.

Bottled red palm oil is used to make many West African dishes
Bottled red palm oil is used to make many West African dishes | Source

Health benefits of palm oil

Contains
Health benefit
Omega-3 & Omega-6
lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels
Antioxidants
Protect against cell damage
Carotenes
Healthy skin, mucus, and membranes
Phytonutrients
Helps immune system
Flavonoids
reduced risk of cancer, heart disease and stroke
Some noted health benefits of palm oil consumption.

Palm Oil Health and Nutrition Information

Palm oil and modern medicine

Palm oil has been cited as one of the natural foods to use in upcoming clinical trials. Because it has high levels of vitamins A and E, scientists are interested in the possibility of cancer prevention.So far, preliminary testing has shown tocotrienols as highly effective in killing cancer cells. This is information based on test-tube studies conducted in Canada and the U.S. Studies over the years have generally drawn the same conclusion: palm oil helps lower cholesterol, especially in comparison to soybean oil and peanut oil. There have been recent developments of formulating a "palm oil pill" which will contain sufficient amounts of vitamin A to help prevent deficiencies. This notion is geared towards pregnant woman and young children. Because palm oil has the necessary fat and vitamin A components, researchers are interested in developing a supplement which will aid in supplying pregnant and nursing women with healthy levels of vitamin A. The fat in the palm oil would enrich a nursing mother's milk for her child.

Be sure to look for high quality processed palm oil for your cooking.
Be sure to look for high quality processed palm oil for your cooking. | Source

A few things to remember...

  • Red palm oil derives from the palm fruit. It is different from palm kernel oil which is used to produce products for skin and hair.
  • Red palm oil has important health benefits, such as vitamins A and E, and antioxidants.
  • Be sure to use virgin palm oil - oil that has been minimally processed without too much exposure to heat and chemicals. You are bound to get the best quality benefits from virgin palm oil.
  • Palm oil is mainly produced in Asian and African countries. You should be able to find it in international food stores if your regular grocer doesn't carry it. Also, check out the link above to buy palm oil online.
  • This oil has a very high heat resistance level. When cooked at high temperatures, the saturated fat in the oil protects the antioxidants and maintains the nutritional value.
  • Beware of extravagant health claims of palm oil. While it has benefits, it should not be considered a miracle food.

References

(2014). Palm Oil and Coronary Heart Disease (the long explanation). Retrieved from http://www.epic4health.com/paloilandcor.html

Chowdhury, N. (2012). Researchers Probe the Potential Health Benefits of Palm Oil. Time. Retrieved from http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2115331,00.html

Fife, B (2014). Red Palm Oil A Daily Dose of Vitamins from A Cooking Oil. Coconut Research Center. Retrieved from http://www.coconutresearchcenter.org/article%20red%20palm%20oil.htm

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    • Besarien profile image

      Besarien 4 weeks ago

      I think you make some excellent points about palm oil. I suspect not enough research has been conducted on nutrition in general nor on any of the foods we eat specifically to form valid opinions about what should be cut out of a diet. Moderation, quality of product (especially how they process the oils and other foods,) eating a healthy variety, and leading a happy, active life seems to me to be the best recipe for good health. Really enjoyed this well-written and informative hub.

    • profile image

      Shanet 8 months ago

      Thank you for this article. I want to start implementing palm oil into my diet. I heard it was tasty in certain African dishes.

    • Zainab Tarawali profile image
      Author

      Musu Bangura 2 years ago from Nation's Capital

      platinum owl4 - thanks for the follow and your comments are appreciated. I hope it was useful to you!

    • platinumOwl4 profile image

      platinumOwl4 2 years ago

      This is a spectacular article. As of to day I am following you. The article is clear, concise, and is presented in such a manner one wants to continue reading after the article ends.

    • msginger profile image

      Mirmana 3 years ago from AMSTERDAM

      Interesting hub! I would love to have a look in your kitchen as I'm sure there will be a lot of tasteful and healthy ingredients there.

    • Zainab Tarawali profile image
      Author

      Musu Bangura 3 years ago from Nation's Capital

      Thanks for stopping by, cmoney! It is important to use foods in moderation. That's why I made sure to mention that in the article. My parents ate it just about everyday, but never had any problems with it. Thanks again for stopping by my google page. I'll be posting more info on there soon!

    • cmoneyspinner1tf profile image

      Treathyl FOX 3 years ago from Austin, Texas

      I've never used palm oil but I'm sure it's good. I think most oils are good, just like most food is good. Moderation is the key. But I have an opinion. It's just an opinion. I think if it's not animal fat, go ahead and use it! But that's just me.

      You shared your profile in the Google+ community for HUBPages Authors, so I popped over to take a look at some of your HUBs.

      https://plus.google.com/communities/11014705633129...

    • Zainab Tarawali profile image
      Author

      Musu Bangura 3 years ago from Nation's Capital

      Thank you very much for reading and commenting! I will try to write up some palm oil recipes in future hubs.

      Trader Joes may have it. If you do find it, I hope you enjoy!

    • THarman7 profile image

      Terry Harman 3 years ago from Lacey Washington

      Thank you for sharing this incredible hub! I never knew anything about palm oil, as I have always used olive oil or canola oil. After reading your hub I would like to try palm oil, and that's exactly what I will do next time I go to Trader Joes!