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Palm Oil is a Healthy, Balanced Fat

Although past studies have linked palm oil to increased heart disease risk, recent research has found no scientific evidence to support this. Researchers note that factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, alcohol use, lack of physical activity and smoking are responsible for 90 percent of heart disease risk.

Palm oil is a well-balanced fat, made up of 48 percent saturated fats and 52 percent unsaturated fats. Palmitic acid accounts for 85 percent of the saturated fat in palm oil. Oleic acid (the predominant fat in olive oil) makes up 88 percent of palm oil’s unsaturated fat.

When it comes to how the chemical structure of fats impacts health, it’s all about location. Fatty acids can bond to glycerol in different locations to form fat. In palm oil, oleic acid attaches at the SN-2 position, and other key saturated fatty acids attach at points SN-1 and SN-3. This means that the saturated fat in palm oil acts more like a polyunsaturated fat, reducing risk of heart disease.

Palm oil isn’t the only palm product used in foods. Palm olein (often used for frying) is more liquid than palm oil, at 44 percent saturated fat and 56 percent unsaturated fat. Palm stearin fraction (used as an emulsifier in baked goods and nut butters) is more solid at 68 percent saturated fat and 32 percent unsaturated fat.

Short chain fatty acids have a more durable chemical structure than long chain fatty acids, which makes palm oil one of the most stable oils available. This means that it can be stored for long periods without spoiling, and used in high-heat cooking without becoming toxic.

Palm Oil and Cancer

Palmitic acid has been under fire in recent years as a potential cancer-causing agent.

The truth is, palmitic acid is the most abundant fatty acid in the human body, accounting for up to 30 percent of all fatty acids. It keeps our cell membranes strong, helps produce energy and supports optimal nervous system function. We make it in our body, and it’s found in the highest amounts in fetal fat and breast milk. In fact, palmitic acid is found in higher amounts in human breast milk than in cow’s milk.

The supposed links between palm oil and cancer have no scientific basis. One study claimed that palmitic acid may increase cancer risk. However, the dose of palmitic acid used was extremely high, and the study was done in vitro (in a lab, not in the human body). Such studies do not provide accurate information to assess the impact of palmitic acid within the human body, as it relates to cancer risk.

Some studies have found 3-MCPDEs in palm oil products. These are harmful substances produced during the oil refining process and in high heat cooking, in the presence of chlorine. What many of these studies don’t tell you, is that these substances can also be found in products that contain other oils such as soy, corn, safflower and sunflower.

A 2016 symposium on palm oil and health concluded that there is no evidence to warrant associating palm oil with increased cancer or death risk in humans.

Red Palm Oil is Rich in ANTIOXIDANTS

Unrefined palm oil is a rich source of antioxidants. Although refining red palm oil to make it more suitable for commercial use removes some antioxidants, there are still trace amounts in the final product.

Beta-carotene and vitamin E are the antioxidant superstars in palm oil. The body converts alpha and beta-carotene into vitamin A, which has a host of health benefits such as supporting optimal eye health, immune system function and reproduction. A 2017 review concluded that red palm oil may be able to prevent and treat vitamin A deficiency, effectively increasing levels of retinol and beta-carotene.

Vitamin E is made up of many different nutrients. Tocopherols and tocotrienols are the two most powerful antioxidants in vitamin E. Together, they have been shown to balance blood sugar, and protect the body from cell and DNA damage.

Tocotrienols have 40-to-60 times more antioxidant power than tocopherols. Palm oil is the only vegetable oil on the world market that naturally contains tocotrienols, and it is the richest oil source of beta-carotene. Tocotrienols can effectively reduce blood pressure and protect the heart. They can also prevent blood clotting, thus reducing stroke risk. Research shows that they can slow breast cancer progression.

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