All around the world, palm oil consumption is increasing. However, it is a highly controversial food.
On one hand, it’s reported to provide several health benefits.
On the other, it may pose risks to heart health. There are also environmental concerns related to the steady increase in its production.
This article takes a detailed look at palm oil and its effects on health, the environment and sustainability.
Brief About Palm Oil
Palm oil comes from the fleshy fruit of oil palms. Unrefined palm oil is sometimes referred to as red palm oil because of its reddish-orange color.
The main source of palm oil is the Elaeis guineensis tree, which is native to West and Southwest Africa. Its use in this region dates back more than 5,000 years.
A similar oil palm known as Elaeis oleifera is found in South America, but it’s rarely grown commercially. However, a hybrid of the two plants is sometimes used in palm oil production.
In recent years, oil palm growth has expanded to Southeast Asia, including Malaysia and Indonesia. These two countries currently produce more than 80% of the world’s palm oil supply (1Trusted Source).
Like coconut oil, palm oil is semi-solid at room temperature. However, its melting point is 95°F (35°C), which is considerably higher than 76°F (24°C) for coconut oil. This is due to the different fatty acid compositions of the two oils.
Palm oil is one of the least expensive and most popular oils worldwide, accounting for one-third of global plant oil production (1Trusted Source).
It is important to note that palm oil should not be confused with palm kernel oil.
While both originate from the same plant, palm kernel oil is extracted from the seed of the fruit. It provides different health benefits.
Palm Oil Usages
Palm oil is used for cooking and is also added to many ready-to-eat foods in your grocery store.
Its taste is considered savory and earthy.
Some people describe its flavor as being similar to carrot or pumpkin.
This oil is a staple in West African and tropical cuisines, and it’s especially well suited for curries and other spicy dishes.
It is often used for sautéing or frying because it has a high smoke point of 450°F (232°C) and remains stable under high heat (2Trusted Source).
Palm oil is sometimes added to peanut butter and other nut butters as a stabilizer to prevent the oil from separating and settling at the top of the jar.
In addition to nut butters, palm oil can be found in several other foods, including:
- Baked goods like bread, cookies and muffins
- Protein bars and diet bars
- Coffee creamers
Palm oil has been linked to several health benefits, including protecting brain function, reducing heart disease risk factors and improving vitamin A status.
Brain Health o
Palm oil is an excellent source of tocotrienols, a form of vitamin E with strong antioxidant properties that may support brain health.
Animal and human studies suggest that the tocotrienols in palm oil may help protect the delicate polyunsaturated fats in the brain, slow dementia progression, reduce the risk of stroke and prevent the growth of brain lesions .
In a two-year study of 121 people with brain lesions, the group who took palm oil-derived tocotrienols twice a day remained stable, whereas the group who received a placebo experienced lesion growth.
Sources: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/palm-oil, https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-1139/palm-oil
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