PALM OIL: A Better
Choice for Home and Commercial Use
Bruce Fife, N.D.
level of trans fats is safe,” so says the United States Institute of
Medicine. The recent requirement for all food labels to list trans
fat content has manufacturers scrambling to find replacements for
hydrogenated vegetable oils—the sole source of artificial trans fats
in our diet. Hydrogenated vegetable oils, including margarine and
shortening, are found in most every packaged food item on the
grocery shelves and used extensively in the food service industry.
Hydrogenated vegetable oils are popular in food processing because
they are firm, resist oxidization, retard spoilage—all necessary for
packaged, prepared foods. Liquid vegetable oils are unsuitable
because they oxidize easily, readily develop off flavors, and lack
the firmness needed for baking.
effort to find a replacement for hydrogenated oils, food chemists
have been busy fractionating fats and oils, creating new fats, and
recombining them in various ways to create relatively hard fats that
are trans fat-free and contain as little saturated fat as possible.
Agricultural scientists are also experimenting with genetically
modified plants to find a solution. Some of these manufactured oils
are now being incorporated into our foods.
simpler and healthier solution is to go back to the fats we used
before we had hydrogenated oils—traditional fats that have been used
successfully for generations. Some food manufacturers are doing
that. One such fat that is gaining wider use is palm oil. Compared
to other fats, palm oil is far superior in nutrient content and
cooking properties. Palm oil is highly resistant to oxidation and
rancidity and can withstand the high temperatures used in cooking,
baking, and deep frying.
oil comes from the fruit of the oil palm (Elaeis guineensis).
The oil palm originated in tropical Africa but is now also
cultivated in Southeast Asia and South America. Palm oil has been a
part of the human diet for at least 5000 years. In the wild, animals
regularly feast upon the fruit for its nutrient rich oil.
fruit is about the size of a small plum and grows in large bunches.
Each bunch may contain a 1000 individual fruits. The oil palm
produces fruit continuously year round with a new bunch ripening
about every month. So the fruit is always in season.
fruit is rich in vitamins, antioxidants, and other phytonutrients.
Crude or virgin palm oil is called “red” palm oil because of its
characteristic dark red color. The color is from the high content of
beta-carotene and lycopene, the same nutrients that give tomatoes
and carrots their red and orange colors. Red palm oil contains the
highest natural source of provitamin A carotenes (beta-carotene and
alpha-carotene). It contains 15 times more provitamin A carotenes
than carrots and 300 times more than tomatoes. Our bodies can
convert provitamin A carotenes into vitamin A. Because red palm oil
is a rich source of carotenes, as well as many other nutrients, it
is being used by governments throughout the world to fight
malnutrition and vitamin A deficiency.
oil is also one of the richest natural sources of vitamin E and the
best source of a super powerful form of vitamin E known as
tocotrienol. There are two major forms of vitamin E—tocopherol and
tocotrienol. Each type has four subtypes, which are distinguished
from one another by the prefix alpha, beta, gamma, or delta.
Tocopherols are the most common form of vitamin E. Alpha-tocopherol
is the form of vitamin E which we hear about most and the one used
in dietary supplements and fortified foods. When people talk about
vitamin E they are usually referring to alpha-tocopherol. For many
years it was believed that alpha-tocopherol was the most
biologically active form of vitamin E and, therefore, the most
important. Most fruits and vegetables contain some mixture of all
more potent tocotrienols are not nearly as abundant. Some grains
like wheat and rice contain small amounts. By far the richest source
of tocotrienols is from palm oil. Palm tocotrienols display up to 60
times more antioxidant activity than regular vitamin E, making them
super antioxidants, capable of affecting health far beyond the
ability of ordinary vitamin E or even most other antioxidants.
Recent medical studies have demonstrated the power of tocotrienols
in blocking the formation of arterial plaque, regulating blood
pressure, lowering cholesterol, fighting cancer, preventing
neurological disorders, accelerating healing, and preventing
free-radical damage that promotes premature aging. For these
reasons, palm tocotrienols are now considered the premiere form of
vitamin E. They are even appearing in vitamin supplements.
can, of course, get this vitamin directly from red palm oil. Red
palm oil is not only loaded with tocopherols and tocotrienols, but
it comes with a variety of nutrients such as vitamin K, CoQ10,
squalene, flavonoids, phytosterols, beta-carotene, alpha-carotene,
lycopene, and some 20 other carotenes. One tablespoon of red palm
oil supplies the adult daily requirement for vitamins A and E in a
synergistic mixture with other nutrients. The antioxidant content is
extremely high so that the oil provides protection from destructive
free-radical activity that occurs in our bodies every day. When you
eat palm oil it is like taking a natural vitamin supplement. In
terms of nutrient content, no other dietary oil comes close.
red palm oil is recognized as an excellent source of antioxidants
and other nutrients, some people have questioned its use because of
its high saturated fat content. Most of the criticism comes from
those who believe the saturated fat in the palm oil will adversely
affect cholesterol levels. However, research shows that, if
anything, palm oil has a beneficial effect on blood cholesterol.
show that when red palm oil replaces other vegetable oils in the
diet there is little change in total cholesterol. However, the
cholesterol ratio often improves significantly. The cholesterol
ratio is a far better indicator of heart disease risk than total
cholesterol. Even if total cholesterol increases, if the cholesterol
ratio decreases, then the risk of heart disease decreases.
addition to lowering the cholesterol ratio, red palm oil also
reduces a particularly insidious form of LDL cholesterol known as
lipoprotein(a) or Lp(a). Lp(a) is similar in structure to LDL but
contains a adhesive protein that enhances its ability to stick to
artery walls. Lp(a) has been identified as a separate and distinct
risk factor for heart disease. In fact, it is associated with ten
times the risk as ordinary LDL cholesterol. Judging from cholesterol
values, red palm oil appears to protect against heart disease.
oil supplements rich in tocotrienols and other antioxidants have
been shown to reverse blockages in the arteries of heart disease
patients and reduce platelet aggregation (excessive blood clotting),
thereby reducing the risk of a stroke or heart attack.
high antioxidant content of red palm oil makes it a powerful natural
weapon against cancer. Research at the University of Louisiana and
University of Wisconsin, University of Reading in the UK, and
University of Western Ontario in Canada, show that red palm oil is
effective in preventing cancer and reducing tumor growth. The
antioxidants in the oil not only block free radicals that promote
cancer, but stimulate apoptosis or cell death in diseased cells.
Much of red palm oil’s anticancer effects have been attributed to
the tocotrienols. Researchers consider tocotrienols to be among the
most potent natural anticancer agents known.
radicals have been identified as the primary cause or a contributing
factor in at least 60 common health problems ranging from heart
disease and cancer to arthritis and osteoporosis. Antioxidants
quench the destructive action of free radicals. Because of its high
antioxidant content, red palm oil has the potential to help prevent
and even reverse many of these conditions. Therefore, palm oil may
be of great benefit in helping to curb the onset and progression of
many common health problems.
oil not only protects your health but makes an excellent cooking
oil. Its high saturated fat and antioxidant content makes it
extremely stable and highly resistant to heat. It has a high smoke
point of 437 degrees F making it suitable for all types of cooking.
it’s packed with health giving nutrients it enhances the nutrient
content of foods. One of the great things about cooking with red
palm oil is that when heated, it does not lose these valuable
nutrients. Even fried foods, which many consider unhealthy, are made
palm oil is available at most good health food stores and from
online dealers. Red palm oil has a high melting point so when you
see it in the store it will be mostly solid. Its appearance may look
orange-red. When melted it turns a darker red.
use red palm oil in all of your cooking at home. In recipes that
call for vegetable oil, margarine, shortening, or some other fat you
can substitute in red palm oil. The main difference you will notice
is that the dark red color of the oil may give your foods a
yellowish or orange color, depending on how much oil you use. This
can actually enhance the appearance of your foods.
red palm oil is rich in carotenes, the oil has a distinct flavor. A
good quality red palm oil will have a mild, savory taste that will
enhance the flavor of your foods, just as butter enhances the flavor
of foods. In Brazil, Africa, and other places that regularly use red
palm oil in cooking, the flavor of the oil is essential for many of
their traditional dishes.
red palm oil is refined and processed many of the carotenes are lost
but most of the tocotrienols and other nutrients remain, so even
refined palm oil contains more nutrients than any other vegetable
oil. Refined palm oil is sometimes referred to as “white” palm oil
because it is white when solid. When liquid, it takes on a light
yellow color. Unlike red palm oil, white palm oil does not impart
any additional flavor or color into foods. For this reason, it is
more popular with restaurants and food producers.
hydrogenated vegetable oils are being removed, palm oil is becoming
more popular in the food processing industry. When you look at
ingredient labels and see “palm oil” listed, you know you are
getting a healthy trans fat-free oil packed with nutrients.
Bruce Fife, ND is the author of 20 books including The Palm Oil
Miracle and The Coconut Oil Miracle. He is the director
of the Coconut Research Center