So much of the debate over palm oil centres around whether it’s good for the environment that it’s easy to overlook another important question: is palm oil good for you?
The nutritional profile of palm oil is quite similar to other cooking oils. One tablespoon contains about 120 calories and 14 grams of total fat, including 7 grams of saturated fat, 5 grams of monounsaturated fat, and 1.5 grams of polyunsaturated fat.
That’s similar to other edible oils, though they differ in the type of fats they contain. Palm oil contains more saturated fat than olive oil (and about the same amount as butter), but less than other tropical oils such as coconut oil.
Palm oil can lower cholesterol
Palm oil contains monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which are known to be beneficial to health. It also contains saturated fat, which has been linked to cardiovascular problems, but research has shown that “palm oil does not have incremental risk for cardiovascular disease” when consumed as part of a balanced diet.
Palm oil is also free of cholesterol, a waxy substance that can increase your risk of heart disease. There is even evidence that a diet containing palm oil can actually reduce cholesterol levels: in a 2015 clinical trial published in the journal Food and Function, both palm oil and olive oil reduced cholesterol by 15 per cent.
Palm oil is free from trans fats
Palm oil is also free of trans fats, which are known to be unhealthy. Vegetable oil such as soybean, rapeseed and sunflower is liquid at room temperature, so in order to be useful in many food products it has to go through an industrial process to turn it into a semi-solid. That process, known as hydrogenation, creates trans fats which are known to be linked to cardiovascular disease.
Palm oil is naturally semi-solid at room temperature, meaning there is no need for it to be hydrogenated and therefore it contains no trans fats. According to The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, replacing trans fats with palm oil may reduce heart disease risk markers and improve blood lipids.
Palm oil has played an important role in improving diets as countries around the world have moved to ban or restrict trans-fats in foods. Many manufacturers have turned to palm oil as a natural alternative in foods that require solid or semi-solid fats.
There’s also evidence that palm oil may have additional health benefits. It’s high in tocotrienols, a type of vitamin E with antioxidant properties. Some research suggests that tocotrienols can slow the progression of dementia and lower stroke risk.
Studies have also shown that palm oil can be useful for treating people who are deficient in vitamin A, especially those who suffer from cystic fibrosis, which can affect the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.
Palm oil is in so many products it’s almost impossible to avoid. The good news is that, as part of a balanced diet, there is no reason to.