WHAT IS 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 colour.
The main source of palm oil is the Elaeis guineensis tree, which is native to the coastal countries of West Africa, including Nigeria, Angola, Gabon, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ghana and others. It has a long history of use in these regions.
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. Palm oil is now one of the least expensive and most popular oils worldwide, accounting for one-third of global plant oil production.
However, it’s 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.
UNREFINED VS. REFINED PALM OIL
Unrefined palm oil is raw oil that is pressed directly from the palm plant. It’s reddish in colour, with a distinct odour and flavour. This type is more often used in traditional cooking in West African countries such as Nigeria.
On the other hand, refined palm oil goes through a number of processing steps to give it a neutral colour and flavour. It is used more widely in food manufacturing or for frying mass-produced foods.
HOW IS IT USED?
Palm oil is used for cooking and is also added to many ready-to-eat foods in your grocery store. Its taste is considered savoury and earthy. Unrefined palm oil is a traditional staple in Nigerian and Congolese cuisines, and it’s especially well-suited for curries and other spicy dishes. Some people describe its flavour as being similar to carrot or pumpkin.
Refined palm oil 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.
Additionally, palm oil is sometimes added to peanut butter and other nut butter as a stabilizer to prevent the oil from separating and settling at the top of the jar.
In addition to nut butter, refined palm oil can be found in several other foods, including:
- baked goods like bread, cookies, and muffins
- protein bars and diet bars
- coffee creamers
This oil is also found in many non-food products, such as toothpaste, soap, and cosmetics.
In addition, it can be used to produce biodiesel fuel, which serves as an alternative energy source.
PALM OIL NUTRITION
Here is the nutritional content of one tablespoon (14 grams) of palm oil:
- calories: 120
- fat: 14 grams
- saturated fat: 7 grams
- monounsaturated fat: 5 grams
- polyunsaturated fat: 1 gram
- vitamin E: 14% of the Daily Value (DV)
All palm oil calories come from fat. Its fatty acid breakdown is roughly 50% saturated fatty acids, 40% monounsaturated fatty acids, and 10% polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Red palm oil’s reddish-orange pigment stems from antioxidants known as carotenoids, including beta carotene, which your body can convert into vitamin A.
Palm oil has been linked to several health benefits, including:
- protecting brain function
- reducing heart disease risk factors
- improving vitamin A status
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 2-year study involving 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.
Additionally, a 2020 review of 18 animal and test-tube studies noted that palm oil and palm oil tocotrienols appear to provide neuroprotective effects against cognitive decline. However, more human studies are needed.
Palm oil has been credited with providing protection against heart disease. Although some study results have been mixed, this oil generally appears to have beneficial effects on heart disease risk factors, including lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol and increasing HDL (good) cholesterol.
A large analysis of 51 studies found that total and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels were lower in people who followed palm oil-rich diets than those who consumed diets high in trans fats or myristic and lauric acids.
A 3-month study published in 2016 looked at the cholesterol-lowering effects of palm oil made from a hybrid of Elaeis guineensis and Elaeis oleifera trees.
In this study, people consumed either 25 mL (2 tablespoons) of olive oil or a hybrid palm oil daily. Based on a 15% drop in LDL (bad) cholesterol in both groups, researchers suggested this palm oil could be called “the tropical equivalent of olive oil”.
Nevertheless, it’s important to note that an increase or decrease in LDL (bad) cholesterol levels alone cannot predict heart disease risk. There are many other factors involved.
Improved Vitamin A Status
Red palm oil may also help improve vitamin A status in people who are deficient or at risk of deficiency because it’s rich in carotenoids that the body can convert into vitamin A.
One small study found that people with cystic fibrosis, a condition that makes it difficult to absorb fat-soluble vitamins, experienced an increase in vitamin A blood levels after taking two to three tablespoons of red palm oil daily for 8 weeks.
Another review of nine high-quality studies noted that red palm oil supplementation could increase vitamin A levels in both children and adults.
PALM OIL CONTROVERSIES
There are several ethical issues regarding the effects of palm oil production on the environment, wildlife, and communities. In the past decades, increasing demand has led to an unprecedented expansion of palm oil production in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand. These countries have humid, tropical climates that are ideally suited for growing oil palm trees.
However, to accommodate oil palm plantations, tropical forests and peatland are being destroyed. A 2016 analysis found that 45% of land in Southeast Asia currently used for palm oil production had been forests back in 1990, including more than half of all palm oil plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia. Deforestation is anticipated to negatively affect net carbon emissions, as the forests play a crucial role in reducing greenhouse gasses by absorbing carbon from the atmosphere.
In addition, the destruction of native landscapes causes changes in the ecosystem that threaten the health and diversity of wildlife. Especially concerning is the impact on endangered species such as Bornean orangutans, which are facing extinction due to habitat loss.
There have also been reports of human rights violations by palm oil corporations, such as clearing farmlands and forests without permission, paying low wages, providing unsafe working conditions, and significantly reducing the quality of life.
Even sustainably sourced palm oil may cause some environmental concerns — especially as large-scale palm farms continue to grow and take over lands previously used for other purposes.
According to experts, the most truly sustainable way to purchase red palm oil is to buy it directly from small, local farms. This is why GuDee sources its Red Palm Oil directly from small local farms in West Africa, the ancestry of Palm Oil. Therefore no deforestation has occurred as Palm Trees have always been there and by purchasing from local farmers we’re also helping the community.