Palm oil that comes from the extracts of palm trees is increasingly consumed nowadays as a primary source of cooking, as seasonings for salad oils, or as an ingredient in many processed foods. This essential oil comes with a good number of health benefits- from reducing high blood pressure, treating several vitamin deficiencies, or even fighting harmful diseases like cancer. Though high consumption of palm oil is a bit controversial due to the varied downsides of the oil, it still provides a lot of nutrients to your body.
What is Palm Oil?
Palm oil is the oil extract derived from the fruits of palm trees, scientifically known as Elaeis guineensis, and found mainly in the Western parts of Africa and also in the other tropical areas like South East Asia, including some parts of Malaysia and Indonesia and has been used since the ancient times. Apart from being used in foods, dressing, and baking, palm oil is also widely used in manufacturing various cosmetics, detergents, and biofuel products.
In-room temperature palm oil has a semi-solid texture, just like that of coconut oil. Palm oil is rich in certain types of saturated fatty acids for which it has a melting point of around 95°F (35°C), which is much higher than that of coconut oil 76°F (24°C).
Foods and Products From Palm Oil:
There are a good number of food products that are rich in palm oil and contain high quantities of GEs and fatty acids like saturated fats and trans fats, as found in palm oil, palm fat, and other oils.
The following food items contain a high amount of palm oil:
- cooking oil
- ice creams and chocolates
- coffee creamers
- cookies and cakes like muffins
- cake mixes
- instant noodles
- packaged bread
- pizza dough
- protein bars and diet bars
Non-edible products that are manufactured using palm oil include:
Nutrient Contents in Palm Oil:
One tablespoon or approximately 14 grams of palm oil includes the following nutrients in the mentioned proportions (1 Trusted Source):
- Calories: 114
- Vitamin E: 11% of the RDI
- Saturated fat: 7 grams
- Fat: 14 grams
- Monounsaturated fat: 5 grams
- Polyunsaturated fat: 1.5 grams
Palm oil is rich in calories and contains high amounts of saturated fat. When digested, the high amounts of fat in palm oil break down into 50% saturated fatty acids, 40% monounsaturated fatty acids, and 10% polyunsaturated fatty acids within your body. Almost 44% of the calories in palm oil are derived from palmitic acid- the main type of saturated fat along with high amounts of oleic acid and some amounts of linoleic acid and stearic acid.
Red palm oil, a type of widely used palm oil contains a reddish-orange pigment. This oil contains high levels of essential antioxidants known as carotenoids, including beta-carotene, which is later converted into vitamin A within your body after the palm oil gets digested. Palm oil sometimes undergoes a process called fractionation, where the liquid contents are removed by processes like crystallization and filter while the rest of the solid parts are left behind that are high in saturated fats and also have high melting points (2 Trusted Source).
Health Benefits of Palm Oil:
Palm oil is believed to have a number of good health benefits. Some are listed below:
1. Keeps your brain healthy
Palm oil contains high amounts of essential components like tocotrienols. It is a form of vitamin E that comes with strong properties of essential dietary antioxidants. These components are vital for proper brain functioning and for promoting the healthy growth of brain cells. Recent studies reveal that the high amounts of tocotrienols in palm oil may help protect brain health by making dementia progression more sluggish, lowering the chances of occurrences of brain stroke, and preventing the growth of brain lesions (3 Trusted Source).
2. Protects your heart
When it comes to protecting your heart health, palm oil is a good option to include in your daily diet. Palm oil is found to contain extracts that are reportedly known to lower the chances of developing heart attacks, cardiac arrests, high blood pressure, high cholesterols, and chances of strokes or any other cardiovascular diseases. Palm oil components are even healthy enough to lower the levels of “bad” or LDL cholesterol and increase the amounts of “good” or HDL cholesterol in your heart. A recent US-based analysis shows that those who consumed palm oil extracts or foods containing palm oil have significantly reduced their LDL cholesterol levels than those who consumed foods that contained high amounts of trans fats or myristic and lauric acid. Apart from controlling the cholesterol levels, the components present in palm oil are also known to maintain your blood pressure at an optimum level. A 1995 study stated that palm oil can lead to slow progression of diseases in people who are already suffering from various heart diseases (4 Trusted Source).
3. Improves the vitamin a content in your body
Vitamin A is a vital component that must be present in your body in sufficient amounts. The deficiency of vitamin A in your body can lead to serious health problems like vision problems and macular degeneration. Studies show that palm oil contains health extracts that help to replenish the deficiencies of vitamin A in your body. Another recent study shows that those who suffer from cystic fibrosis cannot absorb fat-soluble vitamins and so gradually develop a deficit of vitamin A. Statistics show that consumption of two to three tablespoons of red palm oil daily for eight weeks can load back the correct amounts of vitamin A in your body as the health components in the oil help to boost vitamin A levels in adults and young children. (5 Trusted Source)
Potential risks of having palm oil:
Palm oil is known to have a number of essential health benefits, but certain groups of people should avoid the regular consumption of palm oil as the oil and foods made from it contain some downsides according to experts and so its daily intake is a bit controversial.
A recent study shows that people with levels of small, dense LDL (sdLDL) cholesterol that is often found to cause heart diseases got increased when palm oil was consumed regularly but got lowered with other oils. Large LDL particles are at lower chances of causing heart diseases like cardiac arrests compared to small, dense LDL particles. Other studies have reported elevations in LDL cholesterol levels in response to consuming palm oil. However, in these studies, LDL particle sizes weren’t measured. Moreover, experts say that high consumption of palm oil can cause the development of large plaques in the walls of arteries and arterioles and can also lead to some other heart diseases (6 Trusted Source).
Palm oil and related controversies:
There are several controversies and ethical issues regarding the process of production of palm oil that are sometimes found to affect the surrounding environment, wildlife and communities. In some cases, tropical forests and peatlands got destroyed to provide space for palm oil plantation because deforestation or clearing of large acres of forests is causing oxygen and carbon dioxide imbalances in the atmosphere causing global warming, that is not only disturbing the ecological balance but in many ways affects the overall health of human beings too (7 Trusted Source).
So, an organization called The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has been set up to remain committed to looking into the matter that the process of palm tree plantation and the production of palm oil remains eco-friendly, culturally sensitive, and as sustainable as possible.
They only award RSPO certification to producers who abide by the standard guidelines that are formerly stated. Such guidelines are as follows:
- Forest areas consisting of endangered species, fragile ecosystems or areas that are vulnerable to meet up the basic or traditional community needs cannot be cleared off.
- The use of chemical pesticides, fertilizers, and fires is notably reduced.
- To follow local and international labor rights standards and to treat the laborers in a justified manner.
- Local communities are to be informed and communicated first before any development of new oil palm plantations on their land.
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