Saturday, July 3, 2010

Tropical Plant Fats: Palm Oil

A Fatal Case of Nutritionism

The concept of 'nutritionism' was developed by Dr. Gyorgy Scrinis and popularized by the food writer Michael Pollan. It states that the health value of a food can be guessed by the sum of the nutrients it contains. Pollan argues, I think rightfully, that nutritionism is a reductionist philosophy that assumes we know more about food composition and the human body than we actually do. You can find varying degrees of this philosophy in most mainstream discussions of diet and health*.

One conspicuous way nutritionism manifests is in the idea that saturated fat is harmful. Any fat rich in saturated fatty acids is typically assumed to be unhealthy, regardless of its other constituents. There is also apparently no need to directly test that assumption, or even to look through the literature to see if the assumption has already been tested. In this manner, 'saturated' tropical plant fats such as palm oil and coconut oil have been labeled unhealthy, despite essentially no direct evidence that they're harmful. As we'll see, there is actually quite a bit of evidence, both indirect and direct, that their unrefined forms are not harmful and perhaps even beneficial.

Palm Oil and Heart Disease

Long-time readers may recall a post I wrote a while back titled Ischemic Heart Attacks: Disease of Civilization (1). I described a study from 1964 in which investigators looked for signs of heart attacks in thousands of consecutive autopsies in the US and Africa, among other places. They found virtually none in hearts from Nigeria and Uganda (3 non-fatal among more than 4,500 hearts), while Americans of the same age had very high rates (up to 1/3 of hearts).

What do they eat in Nigeria? Typical Nigerian food involves home-processed grains, starchy root vegetables, beans, fruit, vegetables, peanuts, red palm oil, and a bit of dairy, fish and meat**. The oil palm Elaeis guineensis originated in West Africa and remains one of the main dietary fats throughout the region.

To extract the oil, palm fruit are steamed, and the oily flesh is removed and pressed. It's similar to olive oil in that it is extracted gently from an oil-rich fruit, rather than harshly from an oil-poor seed (e.g., corn or soy oil). The oil that results is deep red and is perhaps the most nutrient-rich fat on the planet. The red color comes from carotenes, but red palm oil also contains a large amount of vitamin E (mostly tocotrienols), vitamin K1, coenzyme Q10 and assorted other fat-soluble constituents. This adds up to a very high concentration of fat-soluble antioxidants, which are needed to protect the fat from rancidity in hot and sunny West Africa. Some of these make it into the body when it's ingested, where they appear to protect the body's own fats from oxidation.

Mainstream nutrition authorities state that palm oil should be avoided due to the fact that it's approximately half saturated. This is actually one of the main reasons palm oil was replaced by hydrogenated seed oils in the processed food industry. Saturated fat raises blood cholesterol, which increases the risk of heart disease. Doesn't it? Let's see what the studies have to say.

Most of the studies were done using refined palm oil, unfortunately. Besides only being relevant to processed foods, this method also introduces a new variable because palm oil can be refined and oxidized to varying degrees. However, a few studies were done with red palm oil, and one even compared it to refined palm oil. Dr. Suzanna Scholtz and colleagues put 59 volunteers on diets predominating in sunflower oil, refined palm oil or red palm oil for 4 weeks. LDL cholesterol was not different between the sunflower oil and red palm oil groups, however the red palm oil group saw a significant increase in HDL. LDL and HDL both increased in the refined palm oil group relative to the sunflower oil group (2).

Although the evidence is conflicting, most studies have not been able to replicate the finding that refined palm oil increases LDL relative to less saturated oils (3, 4). This is consistent with studies in a variety of species showing that saturated fat generally doesn't raise LDL compared to monounsaturated fat in the long term, unless a large amount of purified cholesterol is added to the diet (5).

Investigators have also explored the ability of palm oil to promote atherosclerosis, or hardening and thickening of the arteries, in animals. Not only does palm oil not promote atherosclerosis relative to monounsaturated fats (e.g., olive oil), but in its unrefined state it actually protects against atherosclerosis (6, 7). A study in humans hinted at a possible explanation: compared to a monounsaturated oil***, palm oil greatly reduced oxidized LDL (8). As a matter of fact, I've never seen a dietary intervention reduce oxLDL to that degree (69%). oxLDL is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, and a much better predictor of risk than the typically measured LDL cholesterol (9). The paper didn't state whether or not the palm oil was refined. I suspect it was lightly refined, but still rich in vitamin E and CoQ10.

As I discussed in my recent interview with Jimmy Moore, atherosclerosis is only one factor in heart attack risk (10). Several other factors are also major determinants of risk: clotting tendency, plaque stability, and susceptibility to arrhythmia. Another factor that I haven't discussed is how resistant the heart muscle is to hypoxia, or loss of oxygen. If the coronary arteries are temporarily blocked-- a frequent occurrence in modern people-- the heart muscle can be damaged. Dietary factors determine the degree of damage that results. For example, in rodents, nitrites derived from green vegetables protect the heart from hypoxia damage (11). It turns out that red palm oil is also protective (12, 13). Red palm oil also protects against high blood pressure in rats, an effect attributed to its ability to reduce oxidative stress (14, 15).

Together, the evidence suggests that red palm oil does not contribute to heart disease risk, and in fact is likely to be protective. The benefits of red palm oil probably come mostly from its minor constituents, i.e. the substances besides its fatty acids. Several studies have shown that a red palm oil extract called palmvitee lowers serum lipids in humans (16, 17). The minor constituents are precisely what are removed during the refining process.

Palm Oil and the Immune System

Red palm oil also has beneficial effects on the immune system in rodents. It protects against bacterial infection when compared with soybean oil (18). It also protects against certain cancers, compared to other oils (19, 20). This may be in part due to its lower content of omega-6 linoleic acid (roughly 10%), and minor constituents.

The Verdict

Yet again, nutritionism has gotten itself into trouble by underestimating the biological complexity of a whole food. Rather than being harmful to human health, red palm oil, an ancient and delicious food, is likely to be protective. It's also one of the cheapest oils available worldwide, due to the oil palm's high productivity. It has a good shelf life and does not require refrigeration. Its strong, savory flavor goes well in stews, particularly meat stews. It isn't available in most grocery stores, but you can find it on the internet. Make sure not to confuse it with refined palm oil or palm kernel oil.


* The approach that Pollan and I favor is a simpler, more empirical one: eat foods that have successfully sustained healthy cultures.

** Some Nigerians are also pastoralists that subsist primarily on dairy.

*** High oleic sunflower oil, from a type of sunflower bred to be high in monounsaturated fat and low in linoleic acid. I think it's probably among the least harmful refined oils. I use it sometimes to make mayonnaise. It's often available in grocery stores, just check the label.

47 comments:

Eric said...

Thanks for the great post Stephan!

I've been using palm oil myself for many years, especially when it comes to frying or other high-heat cooking methods. This choice rests on the following hypothesis: Although I agree that most animal fats are more stable during high-heat cooking than all liquid oils (due to the inherent stable nature of the saturated fats they contain), I do still wonder about the effects of high heat with regards to the oxidation of the cholesterol they contain. I figure palm oil being high in saturated fats and devoid of cholesterol could possibly be a better choice... Although, don't get me wrong, I would never completely condone the use of good lard, butter or ghee :)

Deadlysting81 said...

Stephan,

You mentioned not confusing red palm oil with palm kernel oil? Is palm kernel oil "harmful" or simply likely to not be as potentially beneficial as red palm oil?

Jack C said...

Coconut oil is about 92% saturated, of which 18% is myristic acid. Butter fat contains 12% myristic acid.

Myristic acid has many distinctions, including the fact that it raises LDL cholesterol more than any other fat. It also raises HDL cholesterol an equal percentage.

Saturated fat increase the number of large LDL particles in men. Myristic acid, more than any other saturated fat, increases the preponderance of large LDL particles and decreases the concentration of atherogenic small dense LDL. (PMID 9583838: Free text)

Myristic acid stimulates endothelial nitric-oxide synthase (eNOS)more than any other fat. (This is a good thing) (PMID 15970594: Free text)

Myristic acid at normal dietary amounts increases tissue content of the omega-3 EPA (C20-5)(PMID 16188210 Free text))

Myristic acid is endoginously synthesized in breast tissue more than any other fat, I suppose for a good reason.

Myristic acid enhances kidney function (per Mary Enig)

Coconut oil does away with skin infections. (PMID 19134433) It makes a good aftershave. (I don't know if myristic acid is responsible or not.)

Paul said...

Great post.

I am curious what you think about the notion that atherosclerosis is actually caused by a deficiency of ascorbic acid. The handful of animals that cannot produce it endogenously all get atherosclerosis when deficient and not at all when getting adequate amounts.

Unfortunately this has not been studied in humans.

The theory goes that AA is used to hydroxylate profile and lysine to make collagen and fibrin, the two primary strengthening components in arteries. When inflammation load exceeds the arteries ability to regenerate itself, it reverts to the adaptation of atherosclerosis, else the artery would rupture.

-Paul

Michael said...

Thanks Stephan for another great post. I have had a difficult time using red palm oil (readily available at Whole Foods if one is in your area) consistently in cooking, due to its strong flavor. Sometimes I have the same issue with unrefined coconut oil.

However I do incorporate coconut oil, red palm oil, and macadamia nut oil in a treat called "cocoa candies." They are not candy by any stretch of the imagination (and quite popular in some WAP circles) but they are quite tasty and an easy way to incorporate these oils (and coconut meat) into your diet.

I will be posting about them soon.

The 50 Best Health Blogs said...

QUOTE:
"It isn't available in most grocery stores"

Maybe that's why I'm not familiar with it.

Does anybody know how its health benefits compare with butter?

Jim

Jamie Scott said...

Some good stuff out of the University of Barcelona on oleic acid (the source of which they obviously favoured olive oil). They found oleic acid had anti-cancer properties compared to n-6 vegetable oils which they said increased tumor aggresiveness. The dirty little secret of the olive oil industry (and others) is that animal fat is a richer source of oleic acid than olive oil.

Blogpost here: http://primalmuse.blogspot.com/2010/07/omega-6-protect-your-heart-but-speed-up.html

morley said...

Stephan,
As always, another enlightening post.
Many of your earlier posts have encouraged me to explore the difference between the "social construction of reality" and the "truth." It would seem that dynamic applies here, as well.
I am amused by the extent to which the public & professional communities are obsessed with cholesterol and the degree of saturation in fats. The last time I checked, flies do not cause garbage and in the same vein, cholesterol works the same way -- it is "flies" being attracted to "garbage" heart tissue. I would encourage you and your faithful readers to read Tom Cowan, MD's article on the Weston A. Price website (www.westonaprice.org), The Cause of Heart Disease. It is time we elevate the CHD argument and leave this "nutritionism" behind. This will be a most unpopular strategy given the billions involved, but this will stand the test of time when historians look back on all this hysteria re low-fat, statins, cholesterol, "clogged" arteries, the way we regard the 17th century use of leaches to ward off/treat disease.
Come on, it's time to move off this ridiculous platform and educate the public about what is truly going on inside their bodies...

Bar none, the most important dietary step -- as you so eloquently note -- is to eat the foods that have sustained cultures for the millenia. This would include butter, ghee, red palm oil, etc. The proof is in the pudding, not the test tube...

Matt Stone said...

Totally Michael... Red palm oil is yucky! Lol.

Jim said...

Thanks for another interesting and informative post, Stephen.

A minor typo nit: "nitrites derived from green vegetables protect the heart from hypoxia damage" - I think you meant 'nitrates', eh?

Hey Morley, actually the proof of the pudding is in the eating. ;)

Aaron Blaisdell said...

I've been using red palm oil (purchased at WF) in my gluten-free pancake batter for years. The pancakes turn out a golden red color and my kids love them. I haven't tried the oil in other dishes yet, but I think I'll have to do some experimenting, especially the next time I make a stew.

trix said...

I've had some Tropical Traditions Red Palm Oil in by cabinet for several months. I have only used it for cooking once (fried chicken in it) with less than tasty results.

Stephan, do you have any recipes using Red Palm Oil you can share that actually taste good, like maybe in a meat stew?


Lucy

Helen said...

I haven't tried unrefined palm oil, but since adding more saturated fat to my diet, all that's happened to my cholesterol is that my HDL has gone higher. My triglycerides and LDL, always low, are unchanged. Now I have the "ideal" breakdown among these three constituents. I don't know my oxLDL or VLDL status, but because my trigs are low and my HDL high, I am optimistic about my pattern.

Anna said...

I've had some Red Palm Oil in the cabinet for a while, but also have found the strong taste has limited my use of it. It's great in some of the bison dishes I make, like chili, but I hadn't tried it in too many other ways.

But RPO has been on my mind recently after a recent discussion about it, so this post spurred me into action while preparing last night's dinner.

I googled for West African red palm oil recipes and spices and came up with a chicken soup recipe that would work with what I had on hand. Like many online recipe sites, the same exact recipes seem to turn up over and over on various sites, I guess to promote the ads that blink at readers.

My soup using Red Palm Oil is based on this recipe (below) for Muamba Nsusu chicken soup.

http://www.congocookbook.com/chicken_recipes/muamba_nsusu.html

poached chicken meat, off the bone and torn up or diced
1 quart of chicken bone broth (simmered 24 hours). quarter cup of tomato paste

I used almond butter instead of peanut butter (I just ground the almonds into AB at the store the other day and didn't have any PB).

My additions to the basic recipe were:

1 ear of fresh sweet corn kernels (cut off the cob)
1 carrot cut into thick slices
2 small sweet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1" chunks and steamed
2-3 roasted garlic cloves
2 teaspoons of garlicky olive oil
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
pinch of red pepper flakes
2 dashes of ground cayenne pepper
2 pinches of ground cardamon
ground white pepper to taste
a bit of sea salt to taste (1/4-1/2 teaspoon?)

I more or less followed the basic recipe at the link (above). I should have included the carrots while steaming the sweet potato, but I didn't have them ready). I tossed the carrots slices and the corn kernels into the soup while the broth was heating up; the carrots were cooked but still somewhat firm.

I thought a diced ripe red tomato or two added and warmed through just before serving would have been a nice addition, but tomatoes aren't in season yet so I'll wait to try that.

We also had some crunchy jicama sticks (raw) on the side.

It had a bit more lingering spice heat than I expected with the addition of the cayenne pepper, but it was good - spicy but not too hot.

My husband had two servings for his dinner and gave it 2 thumbs up, and our 11 yo son ate one bowl without comment (only asked what was in it), which is high praise from him, indeed, considering it was a "new" food that "hides" things (or else he was too hungry from swimming most of the afternoon to care). Honestly, I wasn't sure at first about the tomato paste and nut butter combo, but it was good. My husband immediately thought there was PB in the soup, but didn't guess the tomato paste.

I'll be working on more ways to use Red Palm Oil after I do some more reading on Africa cuisine.

I took a photo of the bowl of soup. Email me if you want to see it - againstthegrain at me dot com

Anna said...

I've had some Red Palm Oil in the cabinet for a while, but also have found the strong taste has limited my use of it. It's great in some of the bison dishes I make, like chili, but I hadn't tried it in too many other ways.

But RPO has been on my mind recently after a recent discussion about it, so this post spurred me into action while preparing last night's dinner.

I googled for West African red palm oil recipes and spices and came up with a chicken soup recipe that would work with what I had on hand. Like many online recipe sites, the same exact recipes seem to turn up over and over on various sites, I guess to promote the ads that blink at readers.

My soup using Red Palm Oil is based on this recipe (below) for Muamba Nsusu chicken soup.

http://www.congocookbook.com/chicken_recipes/muamba_nsusu.html

poached chicken meat, off the bone and torn up or diced
1 quart of chicken bone broth (simmered 24 hours). quarter cup of tomato paste

I used almond butter instead of peanut butter (I just ground the almonds into AB at the store the other day and didn't have any PB).

My additions to the basic recipe were:

1 ear of fresh sweet corn kernels (cut off the cob)
1 carrot cut into thick slices
2 small sweet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1" chunks and steamed
2-3 roasted garlic cloves
2 teaspoons of garlicky olive oil
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
pinch of red pepper flakes
2 dashes of ground cayenne pepper
2 pinches of ground cardamon
ground white pepper to taste
a bit of sea salt to taste (1/4-1/2 teaspoon?)

I more or less followed the basic recipe at the link (above). I should have included the carrots while steaming the sweet potato, but I didn't have them ready). I tossed the carrots slices and the corn kernels into the soup while the broth was heating up; the carrots were cooked but still somewhat firm.

I thought a diced ripe red tomato or two added and warmed through just before serving would have been a nice addition, but tomatoes aren't in season yet so I'll wait to try that.

We also had some crunchy jicama sticks (raw) on the side.

It had a bit more lingering spice heat than I expected with the addition of the cayenne pepper, but it was good - spicy but not too hot.

My husband had two servings for his dinner and gave it 2 thumbs up, and our 11 yo son ate one bowl without comment (only asked what was in it), which is high praise from him, indeed, considering it was a "new" food that "hides" things (or else he was too hungry from swimming most of the afternoon to care). Honestly, I wasn't sure at first about the tomato paste and nut butter combo, but it was good. My husband immediately thought there was PB in the soup, but didn't guess the tomato paste.

I'll be working on more ways to use Red Palm Oil after I do some more reading on Africa cuisine.

I took a photo of the bowl of soup. Email me if you want to see it - againstthegrain at me dot com

Anna said...

I've had some Red Palm Oil in the cabinet for a while, but also have found the strong taste has limited my use of it. It's great in some of the bison dishes I make, like chili, but I hadn't tried it in too many other ways.

But RPO has been on my mind recently after a recent discussion about it, so this post spurred me into action while preparing last night's dinner.

I googled for West African red palm oil recipes and spices and came up with a chicken soup recipe that would work with what I had on hand. Like many online recipe sites, the same exact recipes seem to turn up over and over on various sites, I guess to promote the ads that blink at readers.

My soup using Red Palm Oil is based on this recipe (below) for Muamba Nsusu chicken soup.

www.congocookbook.com/chicken_recipes/muamba_nsusu.html

poached chicken meat, off the bone and torn up or diced
1 quart of chicken bone broth (simmered 24 hours). quarter cup of tomato paste

I used almond butter instead of peanut butter (I just ground the almonds into AB at the store the other day and didn't have any PB).

My additions to the basic recipe were:

1 ear of fresh sweet corn kernels (cut off the cob)
1 carrot cut into thick slices
2 small sweet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1" chunks and steamed
2-3 roasted garlic cloves
2 teaspoons of garlicky olive oil
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
pinch of red pepper flakes
2 dashes of ground cayenne pepper
2 pinches of ground cardamon
ground white pepper to taste
a bit of sea salt to taste (1/4-1/2 teaspoon?)

I more or less followed the basic recipe at the link (above). I should have included the carrots while steaming the sweet potato, but I didn't have them ready). I tossed the carrots slices and the corn kernels into the soup while the broth was heating up; the carrots were cooked but still somewhat firm.

I thought a diced ripe red tomato or two added and warmed through just before serving would have been a nice addition, but tomatoes aren't in season yet so I'll wait to try that.

We also had some crunchy jicama sticks (raw) on the side.

It had a bit more lingering spice heat than I expected with the addition of the cayenne pepper, but it was good - spicy but not too hot.

My husband had two servings for his dinner and gave it 2 thumbs up, and our 11 yo son ate one bowl without comment (only asked what was in it), which is high praise from him, indeed, considering it was a "new" food that "hides" things (or else he was too hungry from swimming most of the afternoon to care). Honestly, I wasn't sure at first about the tomato paste and nut butter combo, but it was good. My husband immediately thought there was PB in the soup, but didn't guess the tomato paste.

I'll be working on more ways to use Red Palm Oil after I do some more reading on Africa cuisine.

I took a photo of the bowl of soup. Email me if you want to see it - againstthegrain at me dot com

Anna said...

I've had some Red Palm Oil in the cabinet for a while, but also have found the strong taste has limited my use of it. It's great in some of the bison dishes I make, like chili, but I hadn't tried it in too many other ways.

But RPO has been on my mind recently after a recent discussion about it, so this post spurred me into action while preparing last night's dinner.

I googled for West African red palm oil recipes and spices and came up with a chicken soup recipe that would work with what I had on hand. Like many online recipe sites, the same exact recipes seem to turn up over and over on various sites, I guess to promote the ads that blink at readers.

My soup using Red Palm Oil is based on this recipe (below) for Muamba Nsusu chicken soup.

www dot congocookbook dot com/chicken_recipes/muamba_nsusu.html
(replace the space-dot-space in the URL with a . google wouldn't accept this long URL )

poached chicken meat, off the bone and torn up or diced
1 quart of chicken bone broth (simmered 24 hours). quarter cup of tomato paste

I used almond butter instead of peanut butter (I just ground the almonds into AB at the store the other day and didn't have any PB).

My additions to the basic recipe were:

1 ear of fresh sweet corn kernels (cut off the cob)
1 carrot cut into thick slices
2 small sweet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1" chunks and steamed
2-3 roasted garlic cloves
2 teaspoons of garlicky olive oil
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
pinch of red pepper flakes
2 dashes of ground cayenne pepper
2 pinches of ground cardamon
ground white pepper to taste
a bit of sea salt to taste (1/4-1/2 teaspoon?)

I more or less followed the basic recipe at the link (above). I should have included the carrots while steaming the sweet potato, but I didn't have them ready). I tossed the carrots slices and the corn kernels into the soup while the broth was heating up; the carrots were cooked but still somewhat firm.

I thought a diced ripe red tomato or two added and warmed through just before serving would have been a nice addition, but tomatoes aren't in season yet so I'll wait to try that.

We also had some crunchy jicama sticks (raw) on the side.

It had a bit more lingering spice heat than I expected with the addition of the cayenne pepper, but it was good - spicy but not too hot.

My husband had two servings for his dinner and gave it 2 thumbs up, and our 11 yo son ate one bowl without comment (only asked what was in it), which is high praise from him, indeed, considering it was a "new" food that "hides" things (or else he was too hungry from swimming most of the afternoon to care). Honestly, I wasn't sure at first about the tomato paste and nut butter combo, but it was good. My husband immediately thought there was PB in the soup, but didn't guess the tomato paste.

I'll be working on more ways to use Red Palm Oil after I do some more reading on Africa cuisine.

I took a photo of the bowl of soup. Email me if you want to see it - againstthegrain at me dot com

Anna said...

I made a great chicken soup using Red Palm Oil last night based on a West African recipe I found online. I'll write up my version of it (I added some ingredients) and post it. Right now I'm off the the county fair!

Hans Keer said...

Informative post again Stephan. I find red palm oil easily irritates the throat. Also a lot of woods are sacrificed for growing lots of oil palm trees. Also I think you should eat coconut oil and red palm oil only in the places where these fruit-bearing trees grow. It's a shame these healthy oils are transported all over the world. Stick to your area and the seasons.

Jay said...

In west Africa where the oil palm grows in the wild it is chimpanzees favourite food and they crack the stone using a two pound rock to get the kernel too, it takes considerable skill to avoid smashing the kernel and shell into an inedible mass.
Here in the UK unrefined red palm oil can be found in most ethnic grocers and some supermarkets but they sometimes also sell "Red Palm Oil" which is refined palm oil with added carotene and nutritionally worthless but it has a very mild flavour.

Ellen said...

Here's a few interesting looking recipes

http://www.junglepi.com/recipes/poultry.html

Anna said...

Sorry about the multiple entries yesterday - something funky was happening with my google login - I thought my comment wasn't going through.

Stanley said...

Wait a sec... palm oil has vastly more omega-6 than omega-3. So while it might be healthy to eat, given enough fish oil, it looks like a death sentence if it's one's main fat source. Some manufacturers (e.g. Carotino) have tried to fix this problem by mixing it with other vegetable oils (such as canola). But the result is a large amount of alpha-linoleic acid ("veggie omega-3"), which appears to be associated with prostate cancer.

I'm intrigued by Jack C's comment that "myristic acid at normal dietary amounts increases tissue content of the omega-3 EPA". But palm oil contains negligible myristic acid. So we still have an omega-3 defficiency problem.

So my guess is that Nigerians and Ugandans also eat a lof fish. Indeed, both countries have ready access to large bodies of water.

I would be thrilled if it turned out that the omega-6 in palm oil also somehow resulted in increased tissue levels of EPA and DHA, but I have no reason to believe that this is the case.

Thanks for sharing the research into this beneficial-with-caveats vegetable oil. It sounds like it has real health benefits, if one gets enough DHA and EPA. I think I'll have a sardine curry with red palm oil for lunch...

Matthew said...

Stanley there are a couple of more recent reviews of the association between alpha-linolenic acid and prostate cancer.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19321563

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19921446

The evidence of a link appears less conclusive now than it did 10 years ago.

taliva said...

Speaking of recipes, Stephen, could you please post on how to make buckwheat crepes you wrote about some time ago?

Robert Andrew Brown said...

Stanley

If Omega 3 linolenic ALA intake is increased, on the balance of probabilities LA Omega 6 linoleic intake is likely to be even higher.

The paper might actually have been unintentionally measuring increased Omega 6 intake. Excess Omega 6 has been associated with an increased risk of a range of cancers.

Robert Andrew Brown said...

This adds another layer, on high oleic sunflower v olive oils.


"Comparison of palmolein and olive oil: effects on plasma
lipids and vitamin E in young adults"



"Under the conditions of this experiment plasma total and low-density-lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol were almost identical with the two oils, so that when the palmitic acid (16:0) in palm oil replaced oleic acid (18:1) in olive oil the expected increase in LDL cholesterol was not seen."

http://www.ajcn.org/cgi/reprint/61/5/1043

mareserinitatis said...

If you feel up to it, I'd really like to see a comparison of various oils.

melati said...

thanks for articles

Alex said...

Wilderness Family Naturals sells a red palm oil that has a milder taste than other red palm oils:

WFN Red Palm Oil

cassan said...

I haven't tasted it directly, but I'm looking forward to using red palm oil in the near future - if I can rest assured about it, that is.

Unfortunately, there is one important caveat to using palm oil. Much of the palm cultivation in the world occurs in Southeast Asia, and increasingly in the Amazon, where it is causing unsustainable deforestation of tropical ecosystems.

I recommend reading about the issue, as even "sustainable" palm oil production has come under criticism:

http://www.worldwatch.org/node/6082

http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/news/palm-oil-cooking-the-climate

Here's a documentary about the issue:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Burning_Season_%282008_film%29

Glades said...

After reading Bruce Fife's book on palm oil I ordered both red and refined. The refined has been great for cooking, but now I wonder if I should avoid it. I found the red oil inedible. Perhaps the brand I bought is harsher than some.

Any bloggers here who have used the refined type without negative effects?

Linda said...

Palm oil is very good provided with the benefits mentioned above. It is good with heart diseases and immune system as such.On the other hand, excess of anything is bad. Use of Palm oil in every food you eat would would leave a bad effect in the long run.

russell said...

This is the most informative post on Palm Oil I've seen yet. Bravo!

I just wanted to add that palm oil contains all 8 forms of Vitamin E which likely contributes to its health-enhancing qualities.

I've recently started adding it to my morning health shake which before was supplemented only with coconut oil.

The vilification of this healthy fat is just another example of Western Medicine getting nutrition "dead wrong".

-Russell http://healthoutrage.com

gallier2 said...

Hey, I asked my wife for some recipes with red palm oil, she's from Gabon and it's a staple there.
As already noticed it has a strong flavour and should only be used with ingredients that have themselve a strong aroma or else it will be overwhelmed. So it is used mainly with smoked meat or fish or with greens like kassava leaves or spinach. The smoked meats and fishes as the Africans do have a really strong flavour and I don't know if you will be able to find them in North America, in Europe you can find them in ethnic markets that are found in several big cities (Brussels, Paris and also smaller towns).
There's also a rice recipe where the oil is firstly heated up to the smoke point (it's done so that the strong flavor escapes in the vapours) and the rice is then added to the oil. The rice is then cooked in that oil, a little bit like the spanish paƫlla. The rice will be coloured in a dark yellow, orange colour and tastes really good.

Brandon said...

Here's what I learned from your post: Like most controversial foods, palm oil is typically very healthy in it's unrefined state, while just so-so or unhealthy in its refined state. Like most controversial foods, most food companies use the refined oil, and it is difficult/expensive to find the oil in its unrefined state.

In my circle of RDs, its pretty well agreed that the main concern is that palm/coconut contain a lot of total fat, and therefore, Calories, while the fact that they contain a lot of saturated fat is not as important. (So easy to overeat, easy to significantly add on Calories). In other words, they don't want to add too much of a health halo to it.

Good post.

Healthtec Software said...

Thanks for discussing topics on good health.We must know what oil suits our body the most.Some use olive oil and some vegetable oil.It is essential to watch out for healthy and nutritious diet at home.
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Chin said...

Thanks your efforts to educate people about natural approaches to health.
http://foodforahealthylife.blogspot.com

JBG said...

Those who have used both refined and unrefined versions of red palm oil -- what do they look like?

I bought some RPO from Swanson that has a flavor I find acceptable in judicious amounts, and that LOOKS unrefined -- it's thick and dark red with lots of yellow. I would expect refined to be thinner, and lighter and more uniform in color.

Informed comments solicited.

JBG said...

Here is a simple "recipe" that can be used with various oils.

Put half an inch or so of water in a small saucepan large enough to accept a metal canning funnel (the kind used to help put food into canning jars). Center the funnel in the pan, cover, and bring water to a boil.

Put 2/3 or so teaspoon of oil into a glass pyrex cup and swish it around to be sure the sides are coated 2/3 of the way up.

Crack an extra-large egg into the cup, place the cup on the canning funnel, turn the heat back to simmer, cover, and cook for about four minutes. (This assumes starting with a refrigerated egg. Use less time for a room-temp egg.)

The result I prefer is with the white *just* congealed and the yolk not quite congealed.

The oil keeps the egg from sticking to the pyrex dish and adds a nice flavor. I've been using olive oil for a long time, and have now tried both coconut oil and RPO.

As might be expected, the coconut oil provides the mildest flavor of the three, and the RPO the sharpest. I find all three, each in its own way, delicious.

My RPO is so thick that the "swishing" has to be done in its case by physically moving the oil across the desired surface area with the back of a spoon.

JBG said...

Answering my own question, my guess is that the Red Palm Oil I have is unrefined. This description matches well what I have:

"In its virgin form, the oil is bright orange-red due to the high content of carotene. Palm oil is semi-solid at room temperature..."
http://www.americanpalmoil.com/foodproducts.html

But the situation is a bit ambiguous:

"During the conventional refining process 100% of the natural carotenes (pro-Vitamin A) and a substantial portion of vitamin E were destroyed. However, with the new refining technology, greater than 90% of the natural carotenes and vitamin E may be retained."
http://www.americanpalmoil.com/faq.html#18

In any case, I've been using the oil for a number of days now, and my taste for it only grows. I recommend it.

Here is the specific product I have:

http://www.swansonvitamins.com/SWU269/ItemDetail

where it is described as "minimally processed".

A pound jar costs %6.99 + S&H. I buy lots of things from Swanson, so my marginal S&H is zero.

mded said...

The best red palm oil come form elaeis oleifera species which is not so economical to produce compare to the industry standard elaeis guineensis. So far only one company produce the oleifera red palm.


http://thepalmoil.blogspot.com

JBG said...

mded said: "The best red palm oil come form elaeis oleifera species which is not so economical to produce compare to the industry standard elaeis guineensis. So far only one company produce the oleifera red palm."

In what sense is it "best"?

Who says so?

What is the one company that produces it?

The URL you supply goes to what appears to be a resource for commodity speculators. I looked around there for awhile without finding anything relevant to your post.

A Google search on "elaeis oleifera" did not produce any hits of obvious use.

What you say is interesting; please provide the necessary specifics for following up on it.

Inspector Fowler!!! said...

Thanks for this. I used to watch my dad harvest the nuts from the palm trees and my mom steam the nuts and process the oil naturally at home. I never listened to any story of such pure gift of nature being harmful.

Today, I have found a good mixture of my native foods and some foreign ones here in America. Never left "what have sustained my ancient culture". Never got carried away by 'researchers'. Never needed a doctor...like my parents and siblings!!!

james said...

i put 1 table spoon in the bottom of disposable plastic dose cups . i let it cool in the freezer for about 5 minutes.i put a table spoon of powdered sugar or a sweet coca mix on a paper towel,i cut the palm oil into swallow able sizes and roll them in the powder than take them like a pill.i always have a warm cup of coffee or coca hand in case they dont want to go down . no bad taste

Ozioma Okpara said...

Red palm oil is among the best type of edible oil. I'm from east Nigeria, where we have native wild red palm oil trees everywhere that have not undergo any biotechnological engineering. They are simply natural! And the red palm oil gotten from them remains liquid at room temperature unlike the engineered ones. For supply contact me. ozispesal (at) gmail.com

Theresa said...

Palm oil really is an amazing substance and also economical: It has the greatest yield per area of all plant oils. And as long as it grows under such fortunate conditions as in your neighbourhood, Ozioma, it is just perfect.
But please, dear all, bear in mind that palm oil is maybe too popular: The increasing need of palm oil is responsible for deforestation and for the suffering of native people who are forced to leave their homes and work at plantations under awful conditions.
Make sure you buy fair and organic palm oil if you don't want to live without it. Thanks!!!
For more information, for example have a look here (article in The Ecologist)