Palm Oil

Basically a vegetable oil variety, palm oil is made from the oil palm tree kernels. Currently, Malaysia and Indonesia are the largest producers of palm oil in the world. In fact, the demand for this variety of vegetable oil is growing rapidly each year. To some extent, the growing demand for palm oil is attributed to the expanding market for biofuels.

Palm oil, which is obtained from the kernels of oil palm fruits, is a very useful vegetable oil. Palm oil is mainly produced from two varieties of oil palm kernels - American oil palm (scientific name Elaeis oleifera) and African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis). This vegetable oil has a natural reddish-orange hue as it contains very elevated levels of carotene. In fact, palm oil is among the very few naturally occurring saturated vegetable fats that are responsible for enhancing the levels of low density lipoprotein cholesterol in one's body.

A large number of people in various countries in Africa as well as in Southeast Asia generally use palm oil for cooking purpose. Some people in South America also use the palm oil for the same use. In recent times, the popularity of this vegetable oil has increased in many parts of the globe because of the various health benefits offered by it. Health conscious people are using this oil more and more for cooking, as they are concerned of excessive trans fat intake through their diet.

Some of the uses of palm oil are discussed briefly below:

Cooking oil: Palm oil is quite similar to coconut oil. Like coconut oil and unlike many other vegetable oils, it can resist heat. The stability of this oil also makes storing this vegetable oil at room temperature easy. In fact, this oil can be stored at room temperature for several months.

Flavoursome ingredient: This vegetable oil is often used in the form of an ingredient while preparing sauces and soups. Additionally, palm oil is also used for enhancing the flavour of specific dishes.

Dietary supplement: Compared to many other vegetable oils, the nutrient profile of palm oil is much superior, making it a very useful substance for use as a dietary supplement.

Use in household and personal care products: This vegetable oil is also added to cosmetics, soaps, detergents and several other products used in households.

Skin moisturizer: Since the nutrient profile of palm oil is very dense, it offers specific benefits for the health of the skin. As a result, palm oil forms an active ingredient in several products meant for skin care.

Sunblock: Red palm oil also contains elevated amounts of carotene and, hence, it is effective in protecting us from the ultra-violet (UV) rays of the sun and is used in commercial sun block with SPF15. What is important is that this oil does not have any adverse effects whatsoever.

Biofuel: In recent times, the demand for palm oil as a biofuel is growing worldwide. It is among the most popular sources of biofuel and is marketed in the form of a fuel in many electrical stations.

Chemical analysis of palm oil has revealed that this variety of vegetable oil encloses roughly 50 per cent of saturated fat; most of this fat is in the form of oleic acid. In addition, 40 per cent of palm oil comprises monounsaturated fatty acids or MUFAs, while the remaining 10 per cent is polyunsaturated fatty acids or PUFAs.

The reddish hue of palm oil is attributed to the presence of two carotenes - lycopene and beta-carotene. These nutrients also impart their color to tomatoes and carrots. The carotene levels of palm oil is roughly 15 times more compared to carrots and about 300 times more compared to tomatoes. Hence, it is not surprising that palm oil is considered to be the best alpha-carotene and beta-carotene source. Both these nutrients are precursors to another vital nutrient - vitamin A.

In addition to the above mentioned nutrients, this vegetable oil also contains 20 other types of carotenes and some other nutrients including vitamin K; vitamin E, especially tocotrienol; CoQ10; flavonoids; phytosterols; phenolic acids; squalene and glycolipids.

Health benefits

Like many other vegetable oils, palm oil offers several health benefits. This is primarily because of the nutrients contained in this vegetable oil.

Beta-carotene is among the main constituents of palm oil. This nutrient is extremely beneficial for enhancing the levels of energy in a person as well as maintaining an optimal balance of the different hormones.

Aside from offering other health benefits, beta-carotene plays a vital role in improving our eyesight. Hence, they are an absolute necessity for our body. Palm oil contains several antioxidants, which contribute to the body's powerful defensive mechanism. All these are useful by-products of the cellular metabolism inside our body and are capable of protecting our body from the damages caused by free radicals. As we all are aware, free radicals cause much cellular breakdown as well as mutation inside the body. This also includes certain damages that may negatively affect our vision or harm the functioning of our eyes. Hence, using palm oil regularly instead of other oils can be helpful in preventing cataracts and macular degeneration.

The high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is quite high in palm oil. While HDL cholesterol is beneficial for our health, LDL cholesterol is harmful and, hence, known as bad cholesterol. Despite the presence of two different kinds of cholesterols, palm oil still possesses the aptitude to maintain a healthy balance of both cholesterols in the body. In fact, presence of elevated levels of LDL cholesterol can result in heart attacks and strokes. However, since palm oil maintains a healthy balance of both good and bad cholesterols, it ensures that the health of our cardiovascular system remains optimal.

Tocopherols present in palm oil is basically a variety of vitamin E, which are naturally occurring antioxidants that are useful in putting off development of various forms of cancer by combating the harmful free radicals. Free radicals are responsible for damaging healthy cells and mutating them into cancerous cells. Since palm oil contains elevated levels of tocopherols, consumption of this vegetable oil is necessary to prevent and combat cancers.

Scientific studies undertaken to explore the health benefits of palm oil found that unprocessed palm oil played a vital role in promoting the health of the cardiovascular system. Findings of one such study, published in the renowned journal - British Journal of Biomedical Science, reported that though palm oil contained elevated levels of saturated fat, it did not have any role in development of arterial thrombosis and/ or atherosclerosis. The researchers also hinted that the nutrient profile of palm oil was very rich owing to the ideal ratio of saturated fats and unsaturated fats.

In addition to tocopherols, palm oil also contains tocotrienols that helps to support the heart in case of stress. This gives an indication of this vegetable oil's usefulness in preventing heart diseases. Regular consumption of palm oil also offers other cardiovascular benefits, such as regulating the levels of blood cholesterol, improving blood circulation, reducing high blood pressure (hypertension) and even reducing inflammation and other damages caused by free radicals.

Findings of several studies have hinted that palm oil possesses antioxidant properties, which are useful in preventing the development a variety of cancers. The findings also suggested that tocotrienols present in palm oil showed very powerful antioxidant properties and were also helpful in slowing down the development of various kinds of cancers, including those of the liver, breast, lung, stomach, prostate, skin, colon and others. It was found that consumption of palm oil was more effective in these conditions compared to regular intake of vitamin E. In other words, tocotrienols were more potent in inhibiting cancers than vitamin E.

Palm oil supplies our body with antioxidants, which are also helpful in preventing neurological degeneration. These antioxidants work by preventing damages caused to healthy brain and nerve cells and tissues by the detrimental free radicals. In addition, antioxidants in palm oil also helped to promote circulation, thereby enhance protection against various diseases like Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, dementia as well as other various conditions related to the mental health.

In fact, there is further evidence that shows that using palm oil on a regular basis can help to make the functioning of the immune system better and, at the same time, promote the health of the eyes, lung, bones, liver and the skin. Palm oil is rich in fat content and, hence, helps to supply energy as well as facilitate the body to absorb all nutrients that are soluble in fat. Such nutrients include vitamin A, vitamin D and vitamin E.

It has been established by many studies that vitamin deficiencies often lead to some of the most serious health conditions, especially endured by women during pregnancy and their stillborn children. Palm oil contains sufficient amounts of vitamin A, vitamin D and vitamin E, in addition to other vital nutrients. As our body is unable to retain these vitamins naturally, it is important that we consume them regularly and sufficiently in our diets. Hence, including palm oil in one's diet will ensure that he or she does not suffer from any type of vitamin deficiency.