Palm Oil Benefits and Side Effects
What Is Palm Oil?
Palm oil is an edible vegetable made from the palm fruit, not to be confused with palm kernel oil which is an oil extracted by the palm seed.
The palm fruits come from the palm tree family (Arecaceae), which is used to produce both palm kernel oil and palm oil.
Palm oil is the extract from the fruit’s pulp, while palm kernel oil is extracted from its seed. Palm kernel oil is generally used in cosmetic and beauty products, palm oil is used in cooking and manufactured food products.
These oil palm trees have two different species:
- Elaeis guineensis: Elaeis guineensis is native of West Africa and is the primary source of palm oil. The countries that naturally grow plants from the guineensis family are New Guinea, Colombia, South America, Ghana, Africa, and Malaysia and Indonesia, Southeast Asia.
The fruits of the Elaeis guineensis trees were used in trading during 3000 B.C, mostly sold to the Egyptians.
West Africa has used palm oil for cooking traditional foods for thousands of years, a staple in West African cuisine.
- Elaeis oleifera: Elaeis oleifera is native to South America and Central America. Both of these species are generally found in tropical areas.
European merchants often bought palm fruits and oil as it was cheap and light to carry. The slave-trading era made red palm oil a rare food outside of West Africa, like black peppercorns.
Red palm oil uses the mesocarp (reddish pulp) of the fruits grown on palm trees, it has a strong red color due to it being rich in antioxidants, especially carotenoids including β-carotene.
Palm Oil’s Use In Cosmetics
Palm oil has uses in products other than foods as well, especially in oleochemistry, cosmetics products, pharmaceutical products, detergents, and soaps.
Among all of these uses, palm oil is necessary for soap production, used as a lathering agent. Palm oil can be made into:
- Methyl esters
- Fatty acids
Since both palm oil and palm kernel oil have similar fatty acids to coconut oil and beef tallow, they can both be used as alternatives.
Palm Oil Benefits
- Improves Heart Health
Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are the leading causes of deaths, estimated to be around 31% worldwide. CVDs include:
- Heart and blood vessel disorders
- Coronary heart disease
- Cerebrovascular disease
- Rheumatic heart disease
Palm oil has many healthy plant-based compounds that protections again various forms of heart disease. Making it difficult for cholesterol and plaques to form in your arteries.
Palm oil’s effects on heart health have been thoroughly studied, with many scientific papers showing mixed results. In most cases, red palm oil had the best results in terms of reducing heart disease risk factors.
A diet high in palm oil can have antihypercholesterolemic effects (reducing levels of cholesterol) in people who have a history of high blood pressure and cholesterol.
According to a medical article by the World Journal of Cardiology (WJC) showed that palm oil was able to decrease the amount of bad (LDL) cholesterol by 13% after 16 weeks, which resulted in an increased level of good (HDL) cholesterol.
Additionally, the antioxidants found in palm oil has the following heart-related health benefits:
- Prevents myocardial damage
- Has multiple cardioprotective effects
- Lowers LDL cholesterol
- Radioprotective, helps prevent cell damage caused by radiation
- Antiangiogenic (angiogenesis inhibits the growth of new red blood cells)
- Antiatheroesclerotic (plaquing)
According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) nutrient database, palm oil has 9 grams of polyunsaturated fat and 37 grams of monounsaturated fat.
- Boosts Brain Health and Function
Regular palm oil and red palm oil are both great for improving brain health and brain function. 15 to 20% of the brain is composed of polyunsaturated fats (PUFAS), and 32 to 41% of neurons and nerve terminals.
The healthy fats and antioxidants protect cerebral fatty acids, this slows the progression of dementia and prevents the growth of brain lesions which are usually caused by injuries.
Both versions of palm oil are full of tocotrienols, which are a type of vitamin E. Tocotrienols are just a few of the antioxidants that are found in palm oil, some of which include:
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
- Vitamin A
- Beta-carotene (if using red palm oil)
Many research studies performed on both humans and animals found that α-tocotrienol as well as arachidonic acids also helped protect the sensitive polyunsaturated fats and cerebral fatty acids found in your brain.
- Can Improve Vision and Eye Health
Around 13.4% of the global population suffers from some type of vision impairment or blindness, most of which is caused by presbyopia which affects over 830 million people worldwide.
Presbyopia is a form of farsightedness, where people can see well from far while close objects are blurry. This is caused by a loss of elasticity of the lens of the eyes, usually age-related around the age of 40.
Palm oil is full of vitamin A, vitamin E, and beta-carotene are essential for maintaining good vision and a healthy cornea. Carotenoids improve the production of rhodopsin, a light-sensitive pigment in your eye that lets you see in low-light conditions.
Consuming foods high in beta-carotene is very important for improving vision. The antioxidants in palm oil also improve immune system strength, further protecting the eyes from oxidative damage and free radicals.
Free radicals cause mutations, age-related macular degeneration, and promotes cellular breakdown, and which is primarily what damages your vision.
Palm Oil Side Effects and Detriments
- Causes Weight Gain
Partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, such as palm oil and palm kernel oil, have been shown to increase visceral body fat.
Partially hydrogenated oils are full of trans fats which have many side effects such as:
- Weight gain
- Increased risk for type 1 and type 2 diabetes
- Heart disease
- Increases insulin resistance
A scientific study conducted was on African monkeys that took place for 6 years, which had the monkeys on a strict diet full of protein, fruits, fibrous carbohydrates, and trans fatty acids.
After the 6 years the monkeys had gained a significant amount of abdominal fat, developed hyperinsulinemia, and aggressive insulin resistance.
Secondary side effects include accelerated cognitive degeneration, decreased mental health, and an increased risk of colon cancer.
The palmitic acid in palm oil is an additional compound that promotes obesity by decreasing your daily energy expenditure and the ability to burn fat.
A study and trial were conducted with 43 healthy adults that have been given diets that are either high in palmitic acid (PA) or oleic acid (OA).
The group that was fed a diet high in palmitic acid found a reduced ability to burn fat, increased insulin resistance and a lower daily energy expenditure rate (metabolism).
- Causes Cancer and Increases Mortality Rate
Due to palm oil’s fatty acid profile being harmful, as it has 45.5x more omega-6 fats as to omega-3s (45.5 : 1 ratio, respectively).
Too many omega-6 fats cause inflammation which leads to further cardiovascular issues and heart-related diseases.
4 scientific studies and trials study conducted with 2,738 stroke victims and 1,777 suffering from coronary heart disease (CHD) found that palmitic acid, abundant in palm oil, was the leading cause for myocardial infarctions (heart attacks).
Frying food in palm oil was another major contributor to a heightened risk of heart attacks, as compared to soybean oil. Palm oil is made of 22% trans fats while soybean oil has around 5%.
Another study conducted over 17 years, found that for every 1 kg of palm oil consumed annually, increased the risk of mortality by coronary heart disease rose by 0.07%.
About the author:
Christopher Karam is a certified nutritionist, dietitian, and personal trainer at MyDietGoal.com. Our team of M.D.s and researchers deliver thoroughly researched articles on common health, dieting, and wellness-related topics.