Palm Oil Nutrition: Benefits & Risks

In Part 1 I talked a lot about the plantations and the Palm Oil industry’s devastating impacts on environment, animals and people. So now let’s look at the nutritional information and what we can gain from eating palm oil.

It is very difficult to decide who is right about the health benefits/risks of the palm oil because there are many forums, websites, studies circulating on the internet and there are pros and cons. I have read some of them and now I am giving you information from my studies but I recommend you do your own research as well.

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Palm oil

At room temperature palm oil is like butter or shortening and is often used in baked goods and processed foods. The large amount of saturated fat (6.7g / tablespoon) and high number of calories it contains (130kCal / tablespoon) make palm oil a risky choice for your health. However we must separate palm oil from palm oil – Cold pressed palm oil vs. Palm kernel oil (processed).

The following quote is about the processed palm oil: “Many support the view that palm oil is not nutritionally ideal. Palmoilaction.org.au cites both the Australian government and the Australian National Heart Foundation in its recommendation against palm oil consumption. The idea is quite simple; we don’t want to be replacing high trans fats foods with high saturated ones either.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest claims that since the edible oil is high in saturated fat and low in polyunsaturated fat it,  it could promote heart disease. The Center classes palm oil as better than partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, but more harmful than liquid oils such as olive and canola.

The Human Food Project claims that palm oil causes low-grade inflammation, that is linked to insulin resistance and obesity. Admittedly, in its most natural form, palm oil has nutritional value, such as antioxidants, but once it is processed down into those highly processed, packaged foods, the healthier option is to cook with whole foods, rather than choosing pre-made meals and snacks.” (source)

Yes, it is true but let’s look at olive oil for example. If you can choose go for the virgin vs the refined because it contains more nutrition and has more health benefits. It is the same with the palm oil too. The refined palm kernel oil is used in mass production where companies have to “make” or produce pre-made meals or processed food or other household products, and it is always cheaper and faster to use heat, chemicals and unhealthy methods to get the most out of the palm fruit.

Only from 2014/2015 you can see “palm oil” on the food labels because before that every plant based oil was marked as “vegetable oil”. (Read more)]

Cold pressed palm oil is a very time consuming method if you want the most out of it.

Here is a VIDEO about the cold pressed palm oil. I warn everybody before watching the video: this small factory does not necessarily passes the European or US health and safety standards, however it doesn’t mean the oil from there causes any health problems.

Palm oil

Nutrition and health benefits

Palm oil is highly digestible and it is a mix of unsaturated (40% mono- and ~10% polyunsaturated) and saturated (40-50%) fatty acids. When unrefined it contains a high amount of vitamin A (13-30 x more beta-carotene than in carrots) and vitamin E (a perfect balance of tocopherols and tocotrienols).

Saturated fat raises total blood cholesterol levels and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels, which can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. Saturated fat may also increase your risk of type 2 diabetes.

We can say the healthier dietary fats are the unsaturated fatty acids such as mono and polyunsaturated fats.

Monounsaturated fatty acid (MUFA) is found in a variety of foods and oils. Polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) is found mostly in plant-based foods and oils.

Evidence shows that eating foods rich in MUFAs and PUFAs improves blood cholesterol levels, which can decrease your risk of heart disease and they may also help decrease the risk of Type 2 diabetes.

Trans fatty acid naturally occurs in some foods in a very small amount. Most trans fats are made from oils through partial hydrogenation which makes them easier to cook with. These trans fats can increase unhealthy LDL cholesterol and lower healthy high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. This also can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Palm oil naturally does not contain trans fatty acids and it is rich in…

– antioxidants
– co-enzyme Q10
– phytonutrients
– omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids

It has its own health benefits just like any other cold pressed plant oil has

– (may) protect against heart attack, strokes, cancer, mental deterioration, liver disease
– (may) help maintain proper blood pressure
– (may) lower cholesterol levels
– (may) help improve blood circulation
– (may) help improve nutrient absorption
– (may) help slow down the aging processes
– (may) help protect the skin against UV rays
– (may) offer immune boosting benefits

“Red palm oil’s impressive nutrition profile (for an oil), does not go unquestioned, as there are various health experts, organizations and studies that oppose the health claims associated with red palm oil. It is therefore very important to always know what bias or personal stake your source of information may have, before taking their information or using it as your personal truth.” (source)

Summary

After this amount of information it is still hard to answer the question with a strong “yes” or “no” in regards to palm oil nutrition benefits. My answer is “yes to the cold pressed palm oil” and “no to the hydrogenated/refined palm oil and the non-sustainable palm oil”. I would answer the same way about all of the plant based oils because every refined oil contains high levels of trans fats and they are unhealthy.

It is a long article, I know, and there is a lot to discuss about palm oil and the industry. In most of the countries people are trying to cause less damage to the environment, animals and on each other but there is still a lot more work to do. However a lot of farmers joined the RSPO as a consequence of the new EU law on labelling.

Thank you for reading the whole article and I hope you find it interesting. Please feel free to do your own research to help you to make your decision about palm oil.

To read more from  Richard Csosza visit his Expert Profile 

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