Palm oil is widely used for cooking especially in tropic regions where oil palms grow. Palm oil is extracted from palm tree fruits after which it may be refined before packaging. Palm oil is widely used in the preparation of processed foods. It is rich in antioxidants and vitamins A and E. Palm oil does not contain trans-fat. But, in spite of its benefits, it also has negative effects on your health. So, what are the health risks?
50 percent of palm oil is saturated fat. This type of fat becomes trans-fat after refining and hydrogenation. It is worth noting that most palm oil used in food processing is either partially or fully hydrogenated. The process destroys the natural good properties of palm oil as it is transformed into trans-fats which have minimal nutritional value. Its benefits only include low price, neutral flavor and its ability to extend the shelf life of processed foods.
Many health authorities advise against use of refined or processed palm oil in food processing. They warn that the high quantities of saturated fat in palm oil and other oils like cocoa butter and coconut increases the risk of stroke and heart attack. Besides, studies also show that palmitic acid actually raises the risk of developing heart disease.
Palm oil increases your risk of getting hypertension in two ways: it increases your cholesterol levels, and once heated, free radicals are released which irritate blood vessels and lead to arterial thickening.
While experts acknowledge the health benefits of raw palm oil, most of the available palm oil is highly refined, a process which leads to depletion of nutrients and other beneficial properties. Using it in this form exposes you to the various health risks.
Some Nigerian researchers have pointed out that while fresh palm oil contains beneficial nutrients, oxidized palm oil pose a threat to biochemical and physiological functions in the body. They noted that oxidation happens during food processing and therefore processed foods contain oxidized palm oil. Oxidized palm oil may cause toxicity in the liver, heart, lungs, kidneys and the reproductive system. It can also increase phospholipids, free fatty acids and cerebrosides.
In addition to the above health risks, use of palm oil also has negative effects on the environment in the following ways:
Palm oil is big business in countries like Indonesia, and while this may not be the case in the West, avoiding palm oil and foods made using it can make a dent in palm oil trade.
To do this, beware of products with “vegetable oil” listed as an ingredient because the term usually refers to palm oil. Opt instead for products with specific oil stated such as 100% flaxseed oil. Also note that most prepackaged foods contain refined palm oil.
You also need to watch out for products with saturated fat content going beyond 40% as this is likely to be palm oil. And avoid products with “palm” listed as an ingredient. Other palm oil derivatives used in food processing include palmate, palmitate, and hydrated palm.
Additionally, watch out for palm oil in toothpaste, cosmetics and shampoo because you could be saving yourself from palm oil health risks.