Palm oil good, bad or ugly?
Food for purpose
By Shola Oladipo Registered Dietitian BSc.RD, MBDA
Welcome back to part 2 of the palm oil exposé. I would recommend that you read part 1 (August 2019, edition of Testify Newspaper) before embarking on this edition, just to add context and clarity to this concluding submission. In last month’s edition, I attempted to clarify the differences between Palm oil (red oil) and Palm kernel oil. Red palm oil is rich in nutrients and is thought to be one of the richest dietary sources of provitamin - A carotenes (beta-carotene and alpha-carotene). Studies has shown that it has 15 times more provitamin A carotenes than carrots and 300 times more than tomatoes (Egbuehi, 2006). Carontenes are cardio-protective and protect the cells against damage from ‘free radicals’ which can cause abnormal cells in the body. It’s important to say (as I always do) that all fats, whether high or low in other nutrients, are dense in caloric value (9 calories per gram) which can cause us to accumulate fat if we eat too much of it. Due to the saturated fat content of both palm kernel and red palm oil – they can have a negative effect on LDL cholesterol if eaten too frequently. If you already have a high LDL blood cholesterol, you should aim to limit saturated fats even further. Another important point to appreciate about red palm oil is its stability. Being a predominantly saturated fat, it is quite solid until about 75 degrees Fahrenheit after which it melts. The oil is known to retain most of its nutrient content after being heated to a medium temperature. However, all oils (including red palm) can be harmful to the body when heated to high temperatures close to their smoking point.
So, all you lovers of smoking or bleaching palm oil for dishes like ‘Ayamase’ or ‘designer stew’ and other culinary delights – please take note. The carotenes are often lost at such high temperatures and you may be doing more damage to your bodies on the whole. Palm Kernel oil Let’s go to the oil which comes from the kernel of the Palm fruit. Palm kernel oil is extracted from the palm fruit seed or nut. (See illustration) Palm kernel oil does not have the characteristic rich reddish orangey colour of red oil. It is also higher in saturated fat; it is estimated that palm kernel oil is 80% saturated fat. And as mentioned in part 1,red palm oil contains about 50% saturated fat and 37% unsaturated fat. Palm kernel oil lacks much of the nutritional beneﬁts of red palm oil; it also needs to undergo greater processing to extract the oil.
Palm kernel oil tends to require heavy duty chemical solvents to extract the oil and therefore is hardly produced naturally. It is used commercially because it is fairly cheap to produce and is also a ‘shelf stable’ fat used in many packaged foods. It is deemed a less healthy fat as it has the higher tendency to raise LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and lacks the other nutrients found in red palm oil. Fractionated palm oil In basic terms this is when the palm kernel oil is further separated and ﬁltered so that there is a distinct solid form and a liquid form. Food manufacturers favour fractionated palm oil due to its stability and high melting temperature – it’s cheaper too! Since it’s more solid and resistant to melting, fractionated palm oil coats many chocolate products and other food items that could be compromised due to heat. Many foods contain fractionated palm oil to maintain consistency. Fractionated palm oil contains a higher percentage of saturated fat than normal palm kernel oil. Due to processing methods, fractionated palm oil may contain varying levels of saturated fat, making it difﬁcult for consumers to know exactly what they’re eating.
Shola Oladipo loves living a full-time life. She is a Registered Dietician with over 20 years of experience in several clinical areas working in the NHS, and in the food industry. Shola runs ‘Food for Purpose’ which is an exciting initiative aimed at empowering people to eat, live and serve purposefully. She serves in a pastoral role alongside her husband Tim, they also minister internationally on relationships and marriage via their ministry called ‘Before and After I do’ (BAID). Shola is an avid writer, seasoned speaker and lover of words. She is mum to four incredibly wonderful children. And ﬁnally… The palm fruit tree has many other uses: • The leaves of palm fruits are used for making brooms and rooﬁng materials. The thicker leaf stalks are used for walls of village huts. The bark of the palm frond is peeled and woven into baskets while the trunk can be split and used as supporting frames in buildings. • Palm wine is made from the sap of the palm tree. Palm wine is a rich source of yeast. • Red palm oil has been used for many skin disorders and to promote a healthy glow. It has been used widely for the hair as well. Here concludes the palm oil sermon – now for the offering basket…only joking! But seriously I hope you have a clearer understanding and are able to decipher the good, bad and ugly aspects of palm oil! Judge ye for yourselves….Blessings!
Here is the deal in summary:
Left: Palm oil from palm fruits. Right: oil from palm kernel or palm nut.
• All palm oil is cholesterol free. • Red palm oil contains high levels of Vitamin A and Vitamin E derivatives which are beneﬁcial. • Enjoy small amounts of red palm oil occasionally. • Don’t overheat or smoke palm oil. • Palm kernel oil is used popularly in packaged food such as pies, cakes and biscuits. It is high in saturated fats and should be eaten in moderation. • Fractionated palm oil helps foods - like chocolate, maintain their shape (by not readily melting).
The September 2019 issue of Testify Newspaper.