I will not be surprised if you frowned at this title especially if you believe otherwise. This is especially because palm oil has become the untouchable oil and it is now listed as unhealthy in different media. Many years ago, in this country it was not so. I remember that a visit to my grandparents in the village was incomplete without a meal of roasted yam and palm oil with a little salt to taste. I tell you it was delicious. Back then palm oil was a staple in many homes in this country.
Do you know that palm oil is a common ingredient of products such as biscuits, bread, many breakfast cereals, margarines, instant noodles, shampoos, candles, lipsticks, detergents, ice-creams, chocolates and many others? Before you say you do not eat or use any of these products, please bear in mind that only a few manufacturers – mostly in the organic sector – label their products as containing palm oil and palm fat. Most companies prefer to disguise it as “vegetable oils and fats”. In reality the number of products that use palm oil for its unique properties are very many. The estimate is that about half of all packaged items found in supermarkets contain palm oil. More than 90 per cent of the palm oil produced is used to manufacture food stuffs, cosmetics, detergents and candles. America once referred to it as ‘magic oil’ because of the unique flavour it gave to food.
So what changed? For a start, the claim by heart associations in the western world that palm oil is harmful to the heart gained prominence and many people fell for it.
According to them, palm oil is the offender because it is believed to contain an artery clogging saturated fat that causes heart disease. It is believed that palm oil causes atherosclerosis which is a disease in which plaque builds up inside the arteries. Arteries are blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood to our heart and other parts of our body. Plaque is made up of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances found in the blood.
Many counties started dissociating themselves from palm oil. Food manufacturers started using alternative oils.
The Australian Heart Foundation for example (AHF), the Centre for Science in Public Interest (CSPI) and American Soy beans Association (ASA) argued in their campaign against palm oil that since palm oil contains saturated fatty acids, it must contain cholesterol and since it may raise blood cholesterol it can promote heart disease. The fear is that those who consume palm oil will die soon. If we go up to three generations back then we shall realise that
There has also been very bad press for palm oil because Indonesia and Malaysia have suffered widespread deforestation because of clearing land for oil palm plantations. This has led to a drastic reduction in elephants, rhinos, tigers and orangutans. The forest clearance has also impacted on the lives of people as some are forced to move from their land. The ecosystem services such as soil and water have also been affected.
In recent years, almost a fifth of oil palm expansion in Indonesia and Malaysia has taken place on peat swamps. When these peat swamps are cleared and drained they release enormous amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Up to 66 per cent of all climate change emissions from oil palm plantations come from the 17 per cent of plantations on carbon-rich peat soils.
Palm oil ranks among the U.S. Department of Labor’s top four worst industries for forced and child labor. Benjamin Skinner, in his article ‘The hidden human toll of the palm oil boom’ illustrates the deep seeds of human rights abuses prevalent in the palm industry.
Let us reason together even if we are on different sides of the divide but is this blame on palm oil or on the management of resources? Let me digress, in our own country crude oil holds a similar position. Do we blame crude oil as a product or is it the management of crude oil by our nation? As an organic farmer, I was surprised to learn that, Oil palms can produce four tonnes of oil per hectare per year. Rapeseed requires six hectares to produce the same volume. Sunflower needs eight hectares; soybean, nine.
So is palm oil bad? Is there a scientific proof that palm oil is dangerous to health? OngAS and Goh SH of Institute of Advanced Studies, University of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in their findings concluded that palm oil is a healthful and cost-effective dietary component.
Their findings further state that palm oil is an excellent choice for food manufacturers because of its nutritional benefits and versatility. The oil is highly structured to contain predominantly oleic acid at the sn2-position in the major triacylglycerols to account for the beneficial effects described in numerous nutritional studies. Oil quality and nutritional benefits have been assured for the variety of foods that can be manufactured from the oil directly or from blends with other oils while remaining trans-free.
Numerous studies have confirmed the nutritional value of palm oil as a result of the high monounsaturation at the crucial 2-position of the oil’s triacylglycerols, making the oil as healthful as olive oil.
It is now recognized that the contribution of dietary fats to blood lipids and cholesterol modulation is a consequence of the digestion, absorption, and metabolism of the fats. Lipolytic hydrolysis of palm oil glycerides containing predominantly oleic acid at the 2 position and palmitic and stearic acids at the 1 and 3 positions allows for the ready absorption of the 2-monoacrylglycerols while the saturated free fatty acids remain poorly absorbed.
Dietary palm oil in balanced diets generally reduced blood cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, and triglycerides while raising the high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. Improved lipoprotein(a) and apo-A1 levels were also demonstrated from palm oil diets; an important benefits also comes from the lowering of blood triglycerides (or reduced fat storage) as compared with those from polyunsaturated fat diets.
Virgin palm oil also provides carotenes apart from tocotrienols and tocopherols that have been shown to be powerful antioxidants and potential mediators of cellular functions. These compounds can be antithrombotic, cause an increase of the prostacyclin/thromboxane ratio, reduce restenosis, and inhibit HMG-CoA-reductase (thus reducing) cholesterol biosynthesis). Red palm oil is a rich source of beta-carotene as well as of alpha-tocopherol and tocotrienols.
Another research concluded that tocotrienol enriched palm oil prevents atherosclerosis through modulating the activities of peroxisome proliferators-activated receptors. If you are not ‘scientifically minded’ like me, yes all of these terms are beyond me too but breaking it down means palm oil is enriched in vitamin E in the form of alpha-, gamma and delta-tocotrienols. Dietary tocotrienol supplements have been shown to prevent atherosclerosis development in patients and preclinical animal models. As professionals they say however, the mechanistic basis for this health beneficial effect is not well established.
Another study in Burkina Faso highlights the positive impact of red palm oil in school meals. The background to this study is that due to Vitamin A (VA) deficiency is widespread in sub-Saharan Africa and school-age children are a vulnerable group. In Burkina Faso, the production and consumption of red palm oil (RPO) is being promoted as a food supplement for vitamin A. The objective of the study was to assess the impact on serum retinol of adding red palm oil to school lunch in two test zones of Burkina Faso.
The method that was used was that over one school year, 15 ml red palm oil was added to individual meals 3 times a week in selected primary schools in two sites. A random sample of 128 pupils in each school group took part in the evaluation.
Red palm oil given regularly in small amounts appears highly effective in the reduction of vitamin A deficiency. The conclusion is that red palm oil deserves more attention as a food supplement for vitamin A and as a potential source of rural income in Sahelian countries.
Another study in India in which red palm oil (5 ml and 10 ml), ground nut oil fortified with 400 and 800 retinol equivalent retinol palmitate, and ground nut oil (5 and 10 ml), were administered to six groups of preschool children (four experimental and two control groups) in randomly assigned balwadis of Ramanathapuram District of Tamil Nadu for a period of 7 months, to monitor the difference in the efficacy of the mode of supplementation and the optimum dose for improving vitamin A status. Results show that red palm oil groups recorded more gain in retinol and beta-carotene levels compared to other dosage groups, and that administration of 10 ml did not offer any substantial improvement over the 5-ml daily dose.
Different oils also have different properties. “Palm kernel oil is a lauric oil,” says Melissa Yeoh, Sustainable Palm Oil Manager at WWF Malaysia. “The only other lauric oil is coconut oil.
In support of the benefits of palm oil some experts across the globe, professional health bodies and heart foundations including Nigerian Heart Foundation (NHF) says palm oil has the ability to prevent the same heart diseases, cancers, night blindness as well as provide Vitamin A and E to the body.
These professionals also believe the campaign against palm oil is to make it unpopular so that they can promote their own oils. The Executive Director of the Nigerian Heart Foundation, Dr Kingsley Akinroye says palm oil is our nation’s most popular oil, it has served the country since birth, heart friendly and the Oleic and Linoleic acids in the oil has capacity to reduce the level of cholesterol. He says 90 per cent of rural dwellers use palm oil and 70 per cent of urban dwellers use it. He says the prevalence of ischemic heart disease in our country is less than 10 per cent compared to many others. He pushes for the use of palm oil given the benefit.
Dr Bruce Fife the author of Palm Oli Miracle believes that the campaign against palm oil is a cleverly designed publicity campaign sponsored by the vegetable oil industry in the United States as a means of increasing profits for their own type of oil. He wrote “The domestic vegetable oil in the US has been trying to capture the imported oil market for decades because their indigenous oil is not the most patronised across the world”
He wrote that in the 1930s, Congress imposed sales tax on palm oil forcing the price to go up against other oils thereby driving the price of the oil up. In 1988, he said Congress held a hearing where experts from the two sides made presentations, gave reasons for and against palm oil. Of interest is the presentation of Dr George Blackburn who testified that palm oil does not have harmful effect on the blood cholesterol even in situations where they serve as the sole source of fat. He said palm oil and coconut oil have been consumed as a substantial part of many diets by many groups of people for years with absolutely no evidence of any harmful effect. At the end of the hearing, the evidence against palm oil does not have enough information on the benefits of the magic oil.
One thing I know for sure, egusi soup without palm oil could never be the same for me. So, which side of the divide are you? Share your thoughts; I like to read from you.
ATocotrienol enriched palm oil prevents atherosclerosis through modulating the activities of peroxisome proliferators-activated receptors.
Li F1, Tan W, Kang ZWong CWAuthor information1University of Science and Technology of China, Hefei 230026, China.
The positive impact of red palm oil in school meals on vitamin A status: study in Burkina Faso.
Zeba AN1, Martin Prével Y, Somé IT, Delisle HF.
1Department of Nutrition, Faculty of Medicine, Université de Montréal, C,P, 6128 succ, Centre-ville, Montréal Qc, H3C 3J7, Canada. email@example.com
Impact of vitamin A supplementation through different dosages of red palm oil and retinol palmitate on preschool children.
Sivan YS1, Alwin Jayakumar Y, Arumughan C, Sundaresan A, Jayalekshmy A, Suja KP, Soban Kumar DR, Deepa SS, Damodaran M, Soman CR, Raman Kutty V, Sankara Sarma P. Regional Research Laboratory, Council of Scientific & Industrial Research, Trivandrum, India.
The Lie Told Against Palm Oil by The West. Martins Ifijeh’s interview of Dr. Akinroye in This Day Newspaper April 7 2016