THE PALM OIL SOLUTION: A HEALTHY ALTERNATIVE TO TRANS FATS
Trans fats are out and now a controversy rages. With a new US federal law that requires all food labels to disclose the amount of trans fatty acids, everyone is becoming concerned about the amount of hydrogenated fat in their foods.
This past December, New York City’s Board of Health approved an amendment to the Health Code to phase out artificial trans fat in all of the city’s restaurants and food service establishments. This is the first such ban on trans fats in the United States. Cities in at least 18 other states are considering similar bans. Denmark has banned trans fats from the entire country and other European countries are considering similar measures.
Since the landmark announcement in 2002 by the United States Institute of Medicine which stated that “no level of trans fats are safe,” food manufacturers have been scrambling to find alternatives to hydrogenated vegetable oil—the source of trans fats in our food. Hydrogenated vegetable oils, including margarine and shortening, are found in most every packaged food item on the grocery shelves and used extensively in the food service industry. Making a change is an enormous undertaking that affects you, me, and everyone, everywhere.
Finding a suitable replacement hasn’t been easy. Before we had hydrogenated oils, food processors and restaurants used animal fats and tropical oils. Most food processors hesitate to return to animal fats, fearing negative customer reaction to the addition of saturated fat and cholesterol. Liquid vegetable oils are not suitable for most applications in the food processing industry because they oxidize easily and go rancid quickly. So they are not even an option. The only reasonable alternative is tropical oils. Palm oil has become the most frequently used alternative to hydrogenated fats.
Palm oil possesses excellent cooking and baking properties, making it ideal for the food processing industry. Bakeries are now turning to palm oil. Newman’s Own brand was one of the first commercial bakers to incorporate palm oil into their baked goods. Many schools are currently phasing out hydrogenated oil and incorporating palm oil into their lunch programs. Your children may be eating palm oil at their schools now.
Some people have questioned the use of palm oil because it is highly saturated. Anti-saturated fat consumer education groups have come out vocally, even taken out full page ads in the New York Times to combat the use of palm oil. Consequently, a controversy is currently raging. Some say palm oil, being high in saturated fat, is not much better than the hydrogenated oils it is replacing. Others say that palm oil is a healthy, cholesterol-free oil and despite its high saturated fat content does not promote heart disease. With both sides expressing opposing views, the public is confused. When they see food prepared with palm oil they don’t know what effect, if any, it has on their health.
So what are the facts? Palm oil, as it turns out, is a very healthy fat and an excellent replacement for hydrogenated oils. Over the past two decades there have been literally hundreds of studies on the health aspects of palm oil. The consensus among researchers is that palm oil does not promote heart disease. In fact, studies show it lowers cholesterol. Palm oil provides the highest natural dietary source of health-promoting antioxidants such as vitamin E and beta-carotene. In addition, it contains CoQ10, tocotrienols, alpha-carotene, lycopene, and other important nutrients. These nutrients are known to protect against cancer, heart disease, and other health problems. Researchers have stated that palm oil contains the most potent natural anticancer substances known.
Palm oil contains an equal mixture of saturated and unsaturated fat. Forty percent of the total fat content is monounsaturated—the same type found in olive oil. Ten percent is composed of essential polyunsaturated fatty acids. This mixture of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fat makes palm oil an excellent cooking oil. It is very heat stable and highly resistant to oxidation. It has a smoke point of 437 degrees F, making it ideal for all types of cooking and baking, including deep frying.
Crude or virgin palm oil has been used as a food for generations. It is packed with antioxidants and contains the highest concentration of beta-carotene than any other food source. Beta-carotene gives foods such as squash, carrots, and tomatoes their rich red and yellow colors. Virgin palm oil is commonly referred to as “red” palm oil because the high concentration of beta-carotene gives it its characteristic orange-red color.
Red palm oil is also one of the richest dietary sources of vitamin E. In addition to the vitamin E found in most other foods, palm oil contains a special type of vitamin E known as tocotrienol. Tocotrienol is a super potent antioxidant with up to 60 times the antioxidant power of ordinary vitamin E.
Red palm oil contains a rich source of health promoting nutrients, far more than any other dietary oil. In fact, it contains so many nutrients that it is encapsulated and sold as a dietary supplement as well as a cooking oil. Studies show that palm oil can help reduce risk of blood clots and atherosclerosis, improve the ratio of good cholesterol to bad, normalize blood pressure, protect against several forms of cancer, protect against the damaging effects of radiation, and improve vitamin and mineral status. Because of its excellent cooking properties and its high concentration of health promoting nutrients, palm oil is an ideal replacement for hydrogenated vegetable oils.
As hydrogenated vegetable oils are being removed from foods, palm oil is taking its place. You and your family may already be consuming it in your foods now. Look at ingredient labels. If palm oil is listed you can rest assured that you are getting a healthy fat which is completely free of harmful trans fatty acids. Because of palm oil’s many healthy benefits and excellent cooking properties, you are also likely to find it sold in the cooking oils section of your local health food store.