Palm Oil: The Good, The Bad and The ‘Oily’

Palm oil is a staple cooking oil used for the preparation of several meals including soups and stews. It is an important staple food item used for cooking especially in some regions in West Africa such as Nigeria and Cameroon. It forms a part of many of the cultural meals in these countries and has been used for cooking by many people for several years. Some people prefer to use palm oil over groundnut oil because of the taste while some avoid using it also due to that.

Has this oil been an intricate component of your meals or are you just considering including it in your diet? It is important for you to be familiar with the potential health benefits and challenges of cooking with palm oil.

The use of Palm oil in cooking has always been controversial especially on issues surrounding weight gain and heart health. Today, we discuss all that you need to know about palm oil; the good, the bad and the ’oily’!

The Good

Brain health improvement

Palm oil is a very rich source of antioxidants which greatly protects the brain and helps to improve the overall brain health. Studies have shown that it helps slow down the progression of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Antioxidants are known for their free-radical scavenging ability. Some of these free radicals are implicated in causing brain lesions. The antioxidants found in this oil can help to stop the progression of lesions in the brain.

Heart Health Improvement

Studies have also shown that the vitamin E present in this oil makes it a good source of antioxidants that have protective effects on the heart. Like in certain brain related diseases, it slows down or halts the progression of heart diseases in some patients. 

Vitamin A and Vitamin K benefits

Palm oil contains a high amount of vitamin A that has been shown to be helpful in children and pregnant women that have Vitamin A deficiency. For people living with vitamin A related eye defects, cooking with this oil can help mitigate this and better improve eye function. Fat soluble vitamins such as vitamin A and K also are better absorbed in the presence of fat. This oil increases the absorption of Vitamin K which is an important vitamin for efficient blood clotting.

Improved Reproductive Health

Vitamin A is very essential for normal reproduction to occur in both men and women. The high amount of vitamin A in palm oil and its ability to increase vitamin A absorption makes it very useful in enhancing normal reproduction in both men’s and women.

Prevention of Infection

Palm oil helps to greatly reduce one’s risk of infection. The high amount of antioxidants in palm oil gives it its strong anti inflammatory properties. A study in a southwestern part of  Nigeria showed its effects in improving immune function and decreasing the risk of acute infection in children.

The Bad

Effect of palm oil on body cholesterol

Palm oil is high in saturated fats and when compared to other oils such as olive oil, it contains a higher amount of what is known as “bad” cholesterol. For people with hypercholerostinemia, this oil might not be such a healthy cooking option and might worsen their health condition.

Risk of Heart Attack and Stroke

The high amount of “bad” cholesterol makes palm oil very likely to put people at risk of atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a condition whereby the blood vessels in the heart begin to thicken and become narrower due to deposition of substances on the inner walls of the blood vessels. Bad cholesterol is one of the examples of substances that deposit on these walls. By narrowing the walls of the blood vessels, a person’s heart gets a reduced amount of blood which can lead to a heart attack. Vital organs such as the brain can also be getting a reduced amount of blood which can result in a stroke. 

The ‘Oily’

Nutritional content of palm oil

One tablespoonful of palm oil contains:
Calories: 120g

Total Fat: 14g

Saturated Fat: 7g

Unsaturated Fat: 5g

Polyunsaturated Fat: 1.5g

What then should we do about Palm Oil?

Palm oil is a very dense oil and it contains a high amount of saturated fat. However, it confers a lot of health benefits that range from improved brain health to increased vitamin A and vitamin K levels. It is also a good source of antioxidants that protect from infections and has even been proven to mitigate the complications of diabetes. 

The major group of people that should avoid its use are people with hypercholesterolemia, that is, people who have been medically proven to have a high amount of “bad” cholesterol. It should be noted that being overweight does not equate to having hypercholesterolemia. It can only be diagnosed through medical tests. 

Palm oil is best used when fresh as the health benefits associated with it are only available when still fresh. Reheated palm oil may even be more harmful for the heart rather than protect it. It should also be used in moderate amounts when cooking due to its calorie density and its ability to impact weight gain. 

Palm oil is a better choice than butter and margarine for cooking and it also has a lot more health benefits than many other cooking oils.