You’ve probably heard that palm oil is bad for you. And if you haven’t, then you’ve definitely heard that saturated fat is bad for you.
But there’s more to the story. Red palm oil was so prized for its healing qualities by pharaohs of ancient Egypt that they were entombed with it in order to have access to it in the afterlife.
The Palm Oil Miracle, Bruce Fife
Red palm oil is a flavorful, stable oil to cook with, and loaded with Vitamins A and E
Why we need fats
Contrary to the messages propagated during the low-fat era of the 1980’s to the early 2000’s, fats are actually essential to our body. They’re a concentrated source of energy, they provide building blocks for cell membranes and hormones, and they’re the conduit through which fat-soluble vitamins—like A, D, E and K—are absorbed by the body. Fat can even makes you feel full longer and makes your favorite food more enjoyable.
Red palm oil is a highly concentrated source of Vitamin A, with 15 times more carotenoids than carrots (you can tell by the beautiful, rich red color). Vitamin A is an essential nutrient for eyesight, bones and teeth formation, and for tissue growth and repair.
Things get interesting when you look at vitamin E in palm oil. Vitamin E is really a complex of 8 subgroups of related compounds, such as tocopherols and tocotrienols. Like vitamin A, vitamin E is fat soluble—which means that these nutrients need fats to be absorbed by the body. Vitamin E battles free radicals within the fatty tissues and cell membranes, and has been shown to potentially relieve symptoms of menopause, prevent scars on wounds and boost the immune system.
Both tocopherols and tocotrienols are found in palm oil. Tocopherols are present in most plant-based oils. Tocotrienols, on the other hand, are rare in food, yet are abundant in palm oil—70 percent of the Vitamin E in palm oil comes from tocotrienols.
Recent studies suggest that tocotrienols may have powerful protective properties against some diseases such as heart disease, cancer and even dementia and Alzheimer’s.
What about the dangers of saturated fats?
After their decade-long demonization, emerging scientific studies tell a different story: Saturated fatty acids consumed in balance with essential fats may be unlikely to contribute to cardio-vascular disease. Their consumption is shown in studies to be less harmful than that of refined carbohydrates, such as sugar and flour. And some saturated fatty acids, such as the lauric variety that is plentiful in palm oil, may well offer health benefits.
Thankfully, palm oil—both red palm oil and refined palm oil—is a fantastic oil to cook with!
Spicy Squash Stew made with red palm oil.
Does palm oil contain glycidyl fatty acid esters (3-MCPD)?
Public interest in glycidyl fatty acid esters (3-MCPD) grew in early 2017 when Nutella launched an advertising campaign to assure consumers that their product is safe after claims that a key ingredient — palm oil — might cause cancer. The concern is over contaminants, glycidyl fatty acid esters, which may form when palm oil is refined at temperatures above 393° F. The campaign was a response to a statement from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) that “glycerol-based process contaminants found in vegetable oils, margarines and some processed foods raise potential health concerns for average consumers of these foods in all young age groups, and for high consumers in all age groups.”
Part of Palm Done Right is ensuring manufacturing practices that limit the formation of glycidyl fatty acid esters, carefully monitoring levels and maintaining standards that far exceed industry norms. In fact, Palm Done Right red palm oil does not go through high heat processing at all, so no glycidyl fatty acid esters are formed. When you cook at home, it is always a good idea to avoid heating any vegetable oil past the smoke point — that way you’ll avoid creating glycidyl fatty acid esters.
“Palm oil that is harvested at the right moment, pressed quickly and processed at appropriate temperatures contains insignificant levels of contaminants — if any,” according to the Italian Union for Sustainable Palm Oil. We agree that the way palm is harvested and processed makes a big difference, which is why we are leading the industry in terms of transparency, sustainability, organics, fair trade, farmer empowerment, and community building — as well as manufacturing and processing.