Packed with rich phytonutrients and antioxidants, palm oil is possibly the healthiest cooking oil you can consume. The product has been linked with health benefits that include reduced blood pressure, improved circulation and normalized cholesterol levels. It can also provide increased protection for your skin from sun damage and other environmental pollutants when consumed in sufficient quantities.
Rich in nutrients and associated with several health benefits, palm oil is one of the healthier choices for cooking oil. However, liquid vegetable oils, such as olive oil, make the best choice.
Stable at Room Temperature
Unless the temperature in your home exceeds 95 degrees F, a jar of red palm oil will exist in a soft-solid state, making it easy to move by the tablespoon into your cooking vessel. It's very shelf-stable and needs no hydrogenation to preserve it due to its many components that have superior oxidative stability. This means you can enjoy commercial foods cooked with palm oil like fried treats as you seek a healthier lifestyle that cuts out hydrogenated fats.
Read more: Which Cooking Oil is Best?
At home, there's no need to put palm oil in the refrigerator. In fact, that will turn it so hard that you'll have a difficult time dipping any out with a spoon. Instead, keep it in your cupboard at room temperature.
Although it doesn't degrade significantly during short exposure to sunlight, red palm oil's antioxidant and other health benefits significantly decreased when stored in direct light for 30, 60 and 90 days according to a 2019 study published in Food Research. Like most oils, it's best stored out of direct sunlight in a dark container.
Stable at High Temperature
Its 50 percent saturated fat composition also accounts for its stability in high-heat cooking, even at prolonged high temperature. The other half of its composition is 40 percent monounsaturated — the same kind found in heart-healthy olive oil — and 10 percent polyunsaturated fat.
It's important to note that palm oil is high in saturated fat, which is something that you should take into consideration if you have a history of high cholesterol or heart disease. As with all fats, use palm oil in moderation.
Rich in Vitamin E
You've probably heard about vitamin E's antioxidant effects in its most common form, d-alpha tocopherol, the natural form of the vitamin you're most likely to find in a vitamin bottle or natural foods. Palm oil contains large quantities of the tocopherol form of the vitamin, about 19 percent, according to Oxford Academic Nutrition Reviews, but it also contains rarer forms of vitamin E that show even more potential health benefits according to a 2016 study published in Pharmacology & Therapeutics.
Known as tocotrienol, palm oil is the richest food with this rare and beneficial type of vitamin E and has 80 percent of vitamin E content. The 2016 study showed that this form of the vitamin had superior anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties than the tocopherol form. Red palm oil delivers a double punch with high levels of both tocopherols and tocotrienols, making it the healthiest cooking oil when it comes to vitamin E.
Antioxidants in both forms of the vitamin have been shown to be helpful for bone, eye, cardiovascular, neurological and diseases, as well as helping to minimize the side effects of cancer. However, tocotrienols are also key in reducing inflammation, lowering cholesterol and protecting against radiation damage in the body according to the study.
Get More Vitamins
Red palm oil is rich in even more vitamins, including vitamins A, D and K. Carotenoids such as beta carotene give the oil its rich red color, delivering 4,000 IU per tablespoon of oil according to the USDA Food Composition Database. The vitamin helps combat night blindness and offers anti-cancer phytonutrients and heart protection.
Beta- and alpha-carotene are the most plentiful carotenoids in the oil, making up more than 80 percent of this type of vitamin content. Other carotenes include lycopene -α-carotene, phytoene, phytofluene, ζ-carotene, γ-carotene, δ-carotene, beta- and α-carotene.
Palm Oil and More Nutrients
Phytonutrients comprise another significant portion of red palm oil. These substances that originate from plants may help lower your own cholesterol according to Oxford Academic Nutrition Reviews. But that's not all the health benefits available from them. They also increase immune function and even show anti-cancer activity.
Squalene and ubiquinone are two more substances in red palm oil called out by Oxford Academic Nutrition Reviews. They help with the production of cellular energy and have antioxidant properties as well. They help with cholesterol synthesis in the body and offer a measure of protection from radiation.
Palm Oil's Nutrients Are Bioavailable
All the good nutrition in the world is useless if your body can't absorb it. Fortunately, the antioxidants and nutrients in red palm oil are readily available, even for those who have malabsorption challenges, such as those with pancreatic insufficiency due to cystic fibrosis.
In a 2015 study published in Mediators of Inflammation, participants suffering from the disorder showed increased blood plasma levels of retinol, beta carotene and alpha retinol after using 2 to 3 tablespoons of red palm oil in their diet daily for 8 weeks.
Useful in Medicine
Because palm oil is so readily available for use by the body, it's been increasingly studied and used as a carrier oil in lipid-based medicines and other preparations. According to a 2019 study published in Biomolecules, the oil can increase the ability of the body to absorb drug formulations.
Besides helping the medicine perform better, red palm oil also increased the shelf life and stability of the medicines studied, and it helped patients stabilize their blood levels of cholesterol. This is another plus for using the substance in drug formulations.
Read more: 9 Delicious Recipes Made With Healthy Fats
Medium Chain Triglycerides
Red palm oil is also an ideal oil for making MCT (medium chain triglycerides) oil, one of the most bioavailable sources of energy. Similar to coconut oil nutrition, it can be nearly immediately converted to energy due to the removal of long-chain fatty acids that take longer to digest.
The oil is liquid at room temperature and small carbon molecules in the oil make it easy to dissolve in smoothies and other liquids. It also helps your body absorb it into the bloodstream as well, according to AFPA Health Nutrition and Fitness, making it a contender for healthiest cooking oil.
- Mercola: "Palm Oil: A Fat-tastic Tropical Superfood"
- Oxford Academic Nutrition Reviews: "Health-Promoting Effects of Red Palm Oil"
- Malaysian Palm Oil Council: "Palm Oil"
- Vegan Baking: "Fat and Oil Melt Points"
- ScienceDirect: "Vitamin E Therapy Beyond Cancer: Tocopherol Versus Tocotrienol"
- USDA Food Composition Database: "Red Palm Oil"
- Hindawi: Mediators of Inflammation: "Linked References Citations to this Article How to Cite this Article Supplementary Materials Order Reprints Views 2,163 Citations 6 ePub 19 PDF 641 Mediators of Inflammation Volume 2015, Article ID 817127, 7 pages http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2015/817127 Research Article Supplementation with Red Palm Oil Increases β-Carotene and Vitamin A Blood Levels in Patients with Cystic Fibrosis"
- Biomolecules: "Palm Oil in Lipid-Based Formulations and Drug Delivery Systems"
- AFPA Health Nutrition and Fitness: "Things You Need to Know About MCT Oil"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "By the Way Doctor: Is Palm Oil Good for You?"