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.
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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.
- "Journal of the American Dietetic Association"; The Evidence for Dietary Prevention and Treatment of Cardiovascular Disease; Linda van Horn, et al.; 2008
- "Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry"; Different Palm Oil Preparations Reduce Plasma Cholesterol Concentrations and Aortic Cholesterol Accumulation Compared to Coconut Oil in Hypercholesterolemic Hamsters; T.A. Wilson, et al.; October 2005
- U.S. Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Oil, Industrial, Palm and Palm Kernel, Filling Fat (Non-Hydrogenated)
- American Palm Oil Council: Nature's Gift to the World