Dietary Palm Oil in Human Health

Dietary Palm Oil in Human Health

Dietary Palm Oil in Human Health  


 Journal of the American College of Nutrition (JACN) Supplement

What Consumers and Health Professionals would learn about Malaysian Palm Oil from this publication may cause them to change their minds about their dietary fat recommendations

Highlights of nine reviews, published in the
Journal of the American College of Nutrition (JACN) Volume 29, 3S (2010)

As global attention focuses on minimizing trans fatty acids in the food supply, researchers around the world are considering the health benefits of various options including animal fats and genetically modified oils. One oil gaining tremendous momentum is Malaysian Palm Oil, which is promising because it is rich in key nutrients, displays a balance between its saturated and unsaturated fatty acids, it is uniquely versatile so that it may be used in many types of food applications, and it has been shown to have some properties (antioxidant tocotrienols and carotenes) that may be protective against cardiovascular disease and stroke.

A special supplement to The Journal of the American College of Nutrition features groundbreaking reviews on the role of Dietary Palm Oil in Human Nutrition.

Palm oil is an abundant, efficient and sustainable crop which shows great promise as a replacement for hydrogenated vegetable oils in food manufacturing. The reviews highlighted in the Journal supplement focus on the science behind palm oil’s worldwide nutritional impact. These data are the results from nearly 160 studies in humans, animals and cell culture systems spanning nearly 4 decades. Among the findings:

  • Palm oil is taking center stage among the world’s global oils and fats supply. Economist James Fry notes that the global output of vegetable oils has expanded quickly in recent years, driven by demand from the food sector and, increasing, by fuel and nonfood manufacturing uses. “Health concerns and labeling requirements regarding trans-fatty acid content of foods will have an increasingly significant impact on consumer decisions,” he writes, adding that sustainability is of increasingly important concern in agriculture. “Palm oil has consistently achieved the fastest production growth among the major vegetable oils, and further rapid expansion is expected in years to come.”
  • Palm oil is one of only two viable sources for solid fats to replace dietary trans fat. Palm oil has been the subject of nutritional scrutiny for the last 40 years. Palm oil contains the highest number of polyunsaturated fatty acids of all the saturated fats, e.g. about five times more than coconut oil or butter fat. With the right balance, saturated fatty acids help maintain your HDL (good cholesterol) while polyunsaturated fatty acids decrease your LDL (bad cholesterol). Balanced dietary fatty acid composition has long been advocated by the American Heart Association and such balanced compositions are readily apparent when palm oil is included as a major component of these recommended AHA dietary fat blends

Studies reveal that high levels of saturated stearic acid including those from fully hydrogenated and interesterifified fats have negative effects on lipoproteins, blood glucose, insulin, immune function and liver enzymes. This in fact contrasts current advocation through the USDA Nutrition Committee seeking separate declarations that among the saturated fatty acids, stearic acid is cholesterol neutral

  • A fatty acid expert roundtable, comprised of leading researchers from major US universities, concluded that palm oil has the properties necessary to replace trans-fat in food manufacturing and is a healthier alternative. Whereas trans-fatty acids increase LDL and decrease HDL, Palm oil is the only alternative that may actually moderately increase healthy HDL levels. It also may be less likely to increase glucose after a meal than stearic acids or trans-fats.
  • The use of palm oil as part of a healthy diet may assist in reducing the epidemic rise of obesity, metabolic syndrome and type 2-diabetes in developing countries. Experts at the Department of Diabetes and Metabolic Diseases, Fortis Hospital, New Delhi, India are recommending more aggressive public health awareness programs, coupled with governmental action and clear guidelines, promoting widespread use of healthy oils including palm oil.
  • Red Palm Oil, which is rich in pro-Vitamin A carotenes including beta-carotene, helps prevent Vitamin A deficiency. The World Health Organization estimates that approximately 190 million preschool-age children (33%) and 19 million pregnant women (15%) in developing countries are at risk for blindness, anemia and even death due to Vitamin A deficiency. There is evidence that red palm oil-based interventions are effective in preventing vitamin A deficiency in at-risk populations. This food based approach is also proving more attractive since there is a historical track record of palm oil consumption dating back nearly 5000 years.
  • Vitamin E in Palm Oil (palm tocotrienols) may help protect the brain against neurological damage. Palm oil is the richest natural source of a form of vitamin E called alpha tocotrienol, which may help protect your brain’s sensitive nerve cells, possibly limiting the damage if you have a stroke, and helping to accelerate recovery of functional loss. The current work at the Ohio State University Medical Centre, Columbus, Ohio bears testimony to these observations and follow-up human clinical trials may be the next step forward.
  • Dietary palm oil intake may have anti-cancer effects. The natural abundance of vitamin E tocotrienols in palm oil display potent anti-cancer activity in several model systems. In contrast, Vitamin E tocopherols such as those found in most vitamin E dietary supplements, have shown no ability to fight cancer cells.
  • The tocotrienols in palm oil may help the body better regulate its inflammatory and immune responses. Researchers Mary Kaileh, PhD and Ranjan Sen, PhD have researched and reviewed the NF-KB family of transcription factors, which regulate the genes responsible for inflammation and immunity. They suggest that tocotrienols from palm have the potential to block the activation of NF-KB, which may help to minimize inflammation and its adverse effects on our health.
  • In reviewing the scientific evidence, Prof Donald McNamara was forced to draw the conclusion that the scientific community itself has been less than fair in its treatment of the data that speaks about the health and nutritional values of palm oil. He thus labeled this as a case of misguided perception and misuse of science that facilitated the truth about palm oil nutrition to be suppressed.

As more and more health professionals, dietitians, nutritionists and consumers become aware of how certain types of dietary fats can actually help your body to naturally correct and maintain its blood cholesterol balance, help protect itself from inflammation and neurological damage and perhaps even cancer, watch for palm oil use to appear more regularly on the list of dietary recommendations.

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