Trans fats are created when liquid oils are hydrogenated in order to make them solid or semi-solid. With the news that trans fats are dangerous to your health, manufacturers are looking for other types of fats to replace them with. Because palm oil has a mix of saturated and unsaturated fats that are almost equal, it is semi-solid without needing hydrogenation, and thus contains no trans fats. It also has potential health benefits, making it a good alternative to trans fats.
Types of Palm Oil
Palm oil is produced in tropical areas of Africa, Asia and Latin America. It can be fresh red palm oil, which is mainly used locally where it is produced, or it can be refined. Since many people are used to using clear or light-colored oils, the refining process usually removes the red color and the accompanying antioxidants that make the oil red. The refined palm oil is oxidized to various levels, depending on how much care was taken in the refining process to avoid this. Much of the processed oil that is used in manufacturing food products is highly oxidized, meaning oxygen has gotten into it and degraded the quality of the oil.
One tablespoon of processed palm oil contains 120 calories and 13.6 grams of fat, of which approximately 50 percent are saturated, 40 percent are monounsaturated and 10 percent are polyunsaturated. This amount of palm oil also contains 2.17 mg of vitamin E and 1.1 mcg vitamin K. Fresh red palm oil also contains beta carotene in relatively high amounts.
Possible Health Benefits
Red palm oil might reduce blood pressure, plaque buildup in the arteries, blood clots and the damage done by free radicals. It also inhibits the formation of cholesterol, according to a 2009 article by O.O. Oguntibeju in the "British Journal of Biomedical Science." Another review by D.O. Edem, published in 2002 in "Plant Foods for Human Nutrition," notes that non-oxidized palm oil can help the body to properly form enough red blood cells and efficiently use nutrients, as well as improving immune function, when used in moderation.
When palm oil is oxidized it changes the effect of this oil on the body from a healthier form of fat to an unhealthy form of fat. Oxidized palm oil can cause damage the heart, kidney, liver and lung as well as the reproductive organs, according to Edem. High levels of palm oil consumption can also bring on liver damage, so Edem states that consumption should remain at moderate levels and be of non-oxidized palm oil.
N. Wattanapenpaiboon notes in a 2003 article in the "Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition" that the use of red palm oil can help to alleviate some deficiencies in the diet since it contains carotenoids, vitamin E, phospholipids, sterols, squalene and glycolipids, all of which are beneficial compounds that are thought to help protect people from various health conditions. Palm oil can also function as a type of fat that is acceptable both to the health conscious and to food manufacturers. The high levels of beta carotene in red palm oil can help to prevent vitamin A deficiency as well.