Palm oil can be of two varieties: palm oil, made from palm fruit, or palm kernel oil, made from the seed inside the fruit. Both types are rich-tasting and common in tropical climates, such as in India and Malaysia. A vegetable oil, both types of palm oil are high in calories -- they are pure fat -- and they also contain high amounts of saturated fat. However, palm kernel oil also contains some healthy saturated fats in the form of medium-chain triglycerides. Moderate consumption of palm oil can be safe, although regularly using it can significantly raise your saturated fat and cholesterol intake.
High in Calories and Fat
A 1-tablespoon serving of palm oil has 120 calories, while the same serving size of palm kernel oil has 117 calories. Both types of oil have 13.6 grams of fat per serving. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends no more than 5 to 7 teaspoons of oil per day, including oils that are naturally found in foods, such as in nuts and seeds. The American Heart Association recommends that no more than 25 to 35 percent of your daily calories comes from fats -- including all oils, fats found in food and solid fats such as butter. For someone on a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet, this is between 50 and 70 grams of fat per day.
Could Increase Cholesterol Levels
While neither palm nor palm kernel oil contain any dietary cholesterol, a diet high in saturated fat increases your risk of heart disease as it encourages the buildup of plaque in your arterial walls. Each tablespoon of palm oil contains 7 grams of saturated fat -- that's almost half the daily limit in a 2,000-calorie diet. If you're consuming palm oil in addition to other saturated fat sources -- like dairy, meat and processed foods -- you might exceed your limit.
Can Cause Weight Gain
Palm oil naturally contains palmitic acid, a fatty acid that may increase your chances of weight gain and obesity. A 2005 issue of the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" included a study on the overall effects of a diet high in palmitic acid in healthy young adults. The study found that an increase in palmitic acid intake led to lower fat oxidation rates and a decrease in metabolism. As a result, researchers concluded that a diet high in palmitic acid may increase the chances of obesity and insulin resistance.
Choose Healthier Fats
According to Dr. Walter Willett of the Harvard School of Public Health and Amy Myrdal Miller, a registered dietitian, both writing for Harvard Health Publications, palm oil is less unhealthy for you than hydrogenated fats, which are high in trans fats as a result of the production process. However, palm oil, because it is still high in saturated fat, is considered a less healthy choice than vegetable oils that are naturally liquid at room temperature, such as olive oil or nonhydrogenated sunflower oil.
Palm oil is a tropical oil that originates from the fruit of palm trees. This type of oil is rich in unhealthy saturated fats that can affect your cholesterol levels. Palm oil is a common ingredient in margarine and processed foods. If you currently have, or are at risk of having high cholesterol, talk with your registered dietitian about including palm oil in your diet. She may recommend avoiding it all together.
What Is Palm Oil?
Palm oil comes from the pulp, called "mesocarp," within the fruits of palm trees. It is different from palm kernel oil, which comes from the kernel at the core of the fruit. Thick walls around the kernel keep the two oils separate. All of the calories in palm oil come from fat. A 1-tsp. serving of palm oil provides 40 calories and about 4.5 g of fat, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. About 70 percent of the fat in palm oil is saturated, a type of "bad" fat that has negative effects on your cholesterol.
There are several numbers you need to pay attention to while reading your cholesterol report. Your total cholesterol should fall below 200 mg/dL, the Mayo Clinic reports. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL), known as "bad" cholesterol, increases your risk of heart disease by piling up in your arteries and creating stiff, hard arteries, a condition known as atherosclerosis. "Good" high-density lipoprotein (HDL) travels through your bloodstream, picks up excess LDL and transports it to the liver where it is broken down. Your LDL cholesterol should be below 100 mg/dL, while your HDL should be above 60 mg/dL. Often your triglycerides are a part of your cholesterol panel. Although triglycerides are not a type of cholesterol, they are a fat that can increase your risk of heart disease when you have too much in your blood. Ideally, your triglycerides should fall below 150 mg/dL.
Effects on HDL
Saturated fat is not typically known to boost your HDL cholesterol, but it does not lower it either. Research published in the "Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry" in 2005 evaluated the effects of palm oil versus coconut oil on cholesterol levels. Researchers concluded that palm oil may lower total cholesterol and boost HDL cholesterol, as compared with coconut oil, which may raise total cholesterol and not affect HDL cholesterol. It is important to note that this study is preliminary and was conducted on hamsters. Additionally, some of the benefits on cholesterol may come from the antioxidant properties of vitamin E found in palm oil.
Effects on LDL
A diet high in saturated fat, possibly from too much palm oil, increases LDL cholesterol, according to a research review published in the "Journal of the American Dietetic Association" in 2008. Ingesting too much of this harmful fat may increase your risk of heart disease because it can increase LDL cholesterol. Furthermore, reducing your total saturated fat intake to less than 7 percent of your total calories can lower your cholesterol by as much as 12 percent. If you normally follow a 2,000-calorie diet, 7 percent of your total calories is 140 calories, or about 15 g of saturated fat.
- Palm Oil World: About Palm Oil
- Green Palm: What Is Palm Oil?
- The AOCS Lipid Library: Triacylglycerols
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Oil, Palm
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Vegetable Oil, Palm Kernel
- ChooseMyPlate.gov: How Much Is My Allowance for Oils?
- American Heart Association: Knowing Your Fats
- NYU Langone Medical Center: Medium-Chain Triglycerides
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Increasing Dietary Palmitic Acid Decreases Fat Oxidation and Daily Energy Expenditure
- Harvard Health Publications: Ask The Expert -- Healthy Fats
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Comparison of Effects of Lauric Acid and Palmitic Acid on Plasma Lipids and Lipoproteins