Discovering palm oil’s health benefits
Posted on July 14, 2012, Saturday
FROM the fruits of the oil palm tree, palm fruit oil has been used in food preparation for over 5,000 years. Today, it is consumed worldwide as cooking oil, margarine and shortening. It is also used in fat blends and a vast array of food products.
It was not so in the America of the 80s. Mistaken interpretations of its composition along with its link to coconut oil made it the target of an intense negative advertising campaign along with widely published allegations that it was a health hazard.
Today, palm oil is widely recognised and acknowledged as a versatile and nutritious vegetable oil, cholesterol free, trans fat free with a rich content of vitamins and antioxidants.
BENEFITS OF COOKING WITH PALM OIL
• GOOD CHOLESTEROL
Studies show that red palm oil can reverse hardening of the arteries by removing plaque. It can also lower cholesterol and strengthen the heart.
Once vilified for containing a high dose of saturated fats, palm oil’s saturated fatty acids are palmitic (44 per cent ) and stearic (5 per cent) acids which do not appear to elevate blood cholesterol in people with normal cholesterol levels.
In fact, it has been reported that palm oil consumption reduces blood cholesterol compared to other traditional sources of saturated fats such as coconut oil, dairy and animal fats.
Another benefit to using palm fruit oil is its longer shelf life due to:
i) The presence of natural antioxidants.
ii) Balanced ratio of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids.
iii) Low content of unstable fatty acid (linoleic acid).
In comparison, polyunsaturated oils must be hydrogenated and fortified with synthetic antioxidants to improve their stability and thus extend its shelf life.
• ANTIOXIDANT PROPERTIES
Besides being good for cholesterol, palm oil is a nutritious oil because it is rich with powerful antioxidants. Essential for the body’s daily functions, these antioxidants
protect the body from free radicals which can cause cancer and chronic illness.
Natural palm oil owes its bright orange hue to its high levels of beta-carotene, a natural precursor of biologically active vitamin A, the same component that gives carrots its bright orange colour.
Beyond beta-carotene, palm oil also contains vitamin E consisting tocopherols and tocotrienols. Tocotrienols are the lesser
known form of vitamin E and are known for its powerful antioxidant and anticancer properties. Palm fruit oil contains 46 per cent gamma tocotrienol.
According to recent studies by Professor KK Carroll of the Centre for Human Nutrition at the University of Western Ontario and David Kritchevsky of the Wistar Institute, the tocotrienols in palm oil are effective anti-cancer agents and provide adequate justification for clinical trials in human cancer patients.
• THE TROUBLE WITH FATS
The truth is, fats are essential to our daily diet. Fat is a source of energy which allows the proper function of cells and the nervous system. It is also required for the proper absorption of vitamins A, D, E and K.
Trans fats are hydrogenated fats created during a hydrogenation process that converts liquid vegetable oils into solid fats.
Unlike other dietary fats, trans fats are not essential and do not promote good health. The consumption of trans fats increases the risk of coronary heart disease by raising levels of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol and lowering levels of ‘good’ HDL cholesterol.
Trans fats from partially hydrogenated oils are more harmful than naturally occurring oils.
Q: Unsaturated Fats
Unsaturated fats are divided into monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. Unlike trans fats, both types of fats are thought to have beneficial effects on cholesterol levels.
Monounsaturated fats help lower LDL cholesterol while also boosting HDL cholesterol.
Although monounsaturated fats are preferred over polyunsaturated fats, the latter is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids found mostly in cold-water fish, nuts, oils and seeds and also in dark leafy greens, flaxseed oils and some vegetable oils. Omega-3 fatty acids are thought to lower blood pressure, combat LDL cholesterol, fight inflammation and protect the brain and nervous system.