Is Palm Oil Bad for You? 6 Misconceptions Addressed
Palm oil is the most widely-consumed vegetable oil globally. It is found in up to 50% of packaged products on supermarket shelves. Palm oil and its derivatives are highly versatile for food uses, providing a multitude of properties when needed, ranging from shelf-stability to aeration. Its applications are as wide-ranging as biscuits to plant-based whipped creams and cooking oil.
However, many consumers have the impression that palm oil is bad for health. Many of the claims are misconstrued, and some are simply untrue. Here are six of the most common misconceptions about palm oil and health.
Misconception 1: Palm oil is high in trans fat
Palm oil is actually trans fat-free. In contrast, products made using other vegetable oils like soybean and sunflower oil may contain trans fat if they are partially hydrogenated. This occurs when they are processed from a liquid to a semi-solid state for food applications. In contrast, palm oil is semi-solid at room temperature and does not need to be partially hydrogenated. This property is part of why palm oil is so prevalent in packaged supermarket food such as biscuits and chocolates.
Misconception 2: Palm oil contains cholesterol
Like other vegetable oils, there is no cholesterol in palm oil. However, palm oil is roughly 50% saturated fats. Saturated fats can be converted to cholesterol by the body. Some studies have found that palm oil consumption produced LDL or “bad” cholesterol in slightly higher amounts than other vegetable oil. However, palm oil also increased HDL or “good” cholesterol levels.
Misconception 3: Palm oil is bad for the heart
While roughly half of palm oil’s fat content is saturated, it is less than butter at 63% and coconut oil at over 80%. As with all sources of fat, palm oil should be consumed in moderation as part of a balanced diet. When consumed in moderation, studies have found that palm oil “does not have incremental risk for cardiovascular disease”.
Misconception 4: Palm has no vitamins
Palm oil is high in Vitamin E at over 15 milligrams per 100 grams. Additionally, 70% of the Vitamin E found in palm oil is tocotrienols, a less-common form of vitamin E that acts as an antioxidant and exhibits anti-inflammatory properties. Research shows that tocotrienols may slow the progression of dementia and lower the risk of stroke, in addition to other benefits including reducing “bad” LDL cholesterol and anti-cancer properties.
Misconception 5: Palm Oil is damaging to the brain
Being high in Tocotrienol Vitamin E, palm oil has been found to protect brain tissue from free radicals and slow the progression of brain lesions. Another derivative of the palm fruit, palm kernel oil, which comes from the kernel or seed of the fruit, contains medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). MCTs are also found in coconut oil. MCT oil is a superfood with numerous health benefits, including aiding the body to produce ketones, an energy source for the brain.
Misconception 6: Palm oil causes cancer
No human study has ever found a link between palm oil consumption and cancer. However, a study showed an association between palmitic acid and the spread of cancer cells in mice. Many of these reports, however, omit that palmitic acid is found in higher concentrations in dairy and meat products at around 50 to 60% of total fats. In comparison, palmitic acid makes up approximately 44% of the total fats in palm oil.
Cooking with oils beyond their smoke point is another risk for potential carcinogens. Palm oil is an excellent choice for cooking, especially deep-frying, as it has a high smoke point. Palm oil is also a rich source of carotenoids, a compound with anti-carcinogenic qualities.