The global palm oil market is estimated to reach $92.84 billion in 2021. This product is marketed as healthy, has a low price tag and can be used in a multitude of recipes, which is appealing to customers worldwide. Food manufacturers emphasize palm oil benefits, such as reduced cholesterol levels and improved cardiovascular health, but what about its potential health risks? Is this so-called superfood really that good?
What Is Palm Oil?
This vegetable oil comes from the Elaeis guineensis tree and can be found in more than half of all products on the market. It's commonly added to bread, cookies, chocolate, margarine, pizza dough, instant noodles and even cosmetic and household products. Customers can also purchase bottled palm oil and use it in homemade dishes.
What makes palm oil so popular is its high melting point and increased resistance to oxidation. Since it's odorless and colorless, it doesn't affect food smell or appearance. One cup provides a wealth of nutrients:
- 216 grams of total fat
- 106 grams of saturated fat
- 20.1 grams of polyunsaturated fat
- 79.9 grams of monounsaturated fat
- 172 percent of the RDA of vitamin E
- 22 percent of the RDA of vitamin K
- 432 milligrams of omega-3s
- 19,656 milligrams of omega-6s
- 1,910 calories
If you look over these facts, it's easy to understand why palm oil has raised so much controversy. With 106 grams of saturated fat per cup, this food may negatively impact cardiovascular health. According to a 2015 review published in the World Journal of Cardiology, its effects on blood lipids and heart disease are subject to debate. However, researchers say that palm oil health risks shouldn't be a reason for concern as long as this food is consumed as part of a balanced diet.
Palm Oil Health Dangers
Despite its high content of vitamin E, vitamin K and monounsaturated fats, palm oil may not be as healthy as most people think. Its saturated fat content might pose some risks to cardiovascular function.
A 2017 article published by the American Heart Association has reviewed several studies and clinical trials assessing the impact of saturated fat. Researchers have found that replacing this fat with vegetable oils rich in polyunsaturated fats may lower the risk of coronary heart disease by up to 30 percent and reduce cholesterol levels.
Other studies, however, have found no correlation between saturated fat and heart disease. A 2015 review published in the Cochrane Library found only a small but important reduction in cardiovascular events after cutting back on saturated fats. Another study, which appeared in the Annals of Internal Medicine Journal in 2014, confirms these findings.
Read more: Does Palm Oil Lower HDL or Raise LDL?
Potential Health Benefits
Considering this information, it's safe to say to palm oil health risks are negligible. Remember, moderation is the key. If you consume this oil as part of a balanced diet and don't go overboard, you're unlikely to experience side effects. Keep in mind that the American Heart Association recommends that you limit your daily saturated fat intake to no more than 6 percent of your daily calorie needs, which on a 2000-calorie diet translates to no more than 13 grams.
In fact, palm oil could improve your health and well-being. Rich in vitamin A, it may protect against cancer, age-related macular degeneration and measles, a disorder that affects children who are deficient in this nutrient. A 2015 study published in the journal Mediators of Inflammation indicates that red palm oil may increase vitamin A and beta carotene levels in people with cystic fibrosis; this disease affects the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, leading to deficiencies.
Palm oil benefits your heart too. According to The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, replacing trans fats with palm oil may reduce heart disease risk markers and improve blood lipids. In a 2015 clinical trial published in the journal Food and Function, both palm oil and olive oil reduced cholesterol levels by 15 percent.
Is Palm Oil Safe?
These findings show that palm oil isn't better or worse than olive oil. Despite its high content of saturated fat, it's safe as long as you consume it in moderation. Plus, it's much healthier than refined solid-fat vegetable oils, which are jam-packed with trans fats.
Since this oil is solid at room temperature, make sure you melt it before adding it to cooked meals and baked desserts. A single tablespoon of palm oil is enough for most dishes, so there's no need to use large amounts. Ideally, choose a brand that's minimally processed and contains no additives.
Read more: Coconut Oil vs. Palm Oil
- Zion Market Research: Palm Oil Market Estimated to Touch the Value of Around USD 92.84 Billion in 2021
- WWF: 8 Things to Know About Palm Oil
- SELFNutritionData: Palm Oil
- World Journal of Cardiology: Palm Oil and the Heart
- American Heart Association: Circulation: Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease
- Cochrane Library: Reduction in Saturated Fat Intake for Cardiovascular Disease
- Annals of Internal Medicine Journal: Association of Dietary, Circulating, and Supplement Fatty Acids With Coronary Risk
- National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements: Vitamin A
- Mediators of Inflammation: Supplementation With Red Palm Oil Increases β-Carotene and Vitamin A Blood Levels in Patients With Cystic Fibrosis
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Palm Oil and Blood Lipid–Related Markers of Cardiovascular Disease
- Food and Function: Palm Oil and Cardiovascular Disease
- American Palm Oil Council
- "The Economist": The Campaign Against Palm Oil: The Other Oil Spill
- Health Effects of Palm Oil