Palm olein has comparable effects on human lipid profile to those of other unsaturated vegetable oils

Palm olein is a notable source of cooking oil in various parts of the world, especially Africa and Asia. This liquid fraction of palm oil is higher in monounsaturated oleic acid compared to palm oil. In fact, palm olein can be fractionated further to produce palm super olein with an even higher oleic acid content which can withstand colder temperatures before turning cloudy or solidify. Fatty acid composition of palm oil, palm olein and palm super olein are as follows:

Fatty acid composition of palm oil, palm olein and palm super olein (% by weight)

Fatty acid Palm Oil Palm Olein Palm Super Olein
 Lauric C12:0 0.2 0.2 0.3
 Myristic C14:0 1.1 1.1 1
 Palmitic C16:0 44.1 40.9 35.4
 Palmitoleic C16:1 0.2 0 0
 Stearic C18:0 4.4 4.2 3.8
 Oleic C18:1 39 41.5 45.1
 Linoleic C18:2 10 11.6 13.4
 Linolenic C18:3 0.3 0.4 0.3
 Arachidic C20:0 0.3 0.4 0.3
Iodine Value 52.1 56.8 61.9
Slip Melting Point (oC) 36.7 21.5 15.1

Source: Lin (2011)[1].

Palm olein is an excellent frying oil due to the limited amount of polyunsaturated linolenic acid present. Some consumers perceive that saturated fatty acids in palm olein may elevate blood cholesterol level which could lead to cardiovascular disease. However, studies conducted around the world have established that palm olein tends to be neutral on blood cholesterol in healthy adults whose fat intakes are within the recommended fat calorie intake (30-35%). The Malaysian Adolescent Health and Nutrition Survey 2017 (NHMS 2017) estimated the current median total fat intake to be 33% of total daily energy intake [2].

Palm olein is an excellent frying oil due to the limited amount of polyunsaturated linolenic acid present.

A recent meta-analysis found that diets enriched with palm olein have comparable effects to diets with MUFA- and PUFA-rich oils on human blood lipid biomarkers of cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk but differed from that of SFA-rich fats [3]. Voon et. al. analyzed 9 studies in which a total of 533 subjects consumed palm olein and 542 subjects consumed other types of fats including SFA-rich fats (lard and coconut oil), MUFA-rich oils (canola, high-oleic sunflower, peanut and olive oil) and PUFA-rich oils (sunflower and soybean oil). Among the lipid biomarkers evaluated were total cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol, HDL-cholesterol, triglyceride and total cholesterol/HDL-cholesterol ratio.

The authors found that diet enriched with palm olein showed lower total cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol level than SFA-rich fats. Diets with palm olein showed similar effects on the level of total cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol when compared with MUFA- and PUFA-rich oils. Furthermore, the authors also noted that an increase in HDL-cholesterol (good cholesterol) was more apparent following the consumption of palm olein than the MUFA-rich oils.

The notion that palm olein consumption would raise blood cholesterol level and thereby increase the risk of heart disease is unfortunately not based on current evidence. The physicochemical composition of palm olein suggests that the oil has little cholesterol-raising potential. The rationale for these are:

  • It is cholesterol-free [4].
  • Possesses a unique triglyceride molecule configuration [3].
  • Contains negligible amounts of hypercholesterolemic saturated fatty acids, namely lauric (12:0) and myristic (14:0) [5].
  • It has rich content of hypocholesterolemic monounsaturated oleic acid (18:1) and an adequate amount of polyunsaturated linoleic acid (18:2) [6].

Reference:

  1. Lin, S.W., 2011. Palm Oil. In F. D. Gunstone (Ed.), Vegetable oils in food technology: Composition, properties and uses (2nd ed.). West Sussex, England: Blackwell Publishing Ltd. pp.25.
  2. National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS2017): Adolescent Nutrition Survey 2017. Institute for Public Health, National Institutes of Health, Ministry of Health Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur.
  3. Voon, P.T., Lee, S.T., Ng, T.K.W., Ng, Y.T., Yong, X.S., Lee, V.K.M. and Ong, A.S.H., 2019. Intake of Palm Olein and Lipid Status in Healthy Adults: A Meta-Analysis. Advances in Nutrition.
  4. Codex standard for named vegetable oils, Codex-Stan 210–1999. Revisions 2001, 2003, 2009, Amendment 2005, 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2019.
  5. Sundram, K., Ismail, A., Hayes, K.C., Jeyamalar, R. and Pathmanathan, R., 1997. Trans (elaidic) fatty acids adversely affect the lipoprotein profile relative to specific saturated fatty acids in humans. The Journal of nutrition, 127(3), pp.514S-520S.
  6. French, M.A., Sundram, K. and Clandinin, M.T., 2002. Cholesterolaemic effect of palmitic acid in relation to other dietary fatty acids. Asia Pacific journal of clinical nutrition, 11, pp.S401-S407.
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