Adverse Effects of Palm Oil

Palm tree leaning over water
Palm fruits can produce palm oil as well as palm kernel oil. (Image: Digital Vision./DigitalVision/Getty Images)

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.

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