Science backs up benefits of palm oil


  • Letters
  • Wednesday, 19 Apr 2017

RECENTLY, I read an article on palm oil which caused me great amusement as I found it not only misleading but also quite simple in its approach.

The article “Is palm oil an unhealthier option?” by Eunice Quek was published in a newspaper in Singapore.

I am not here to say that palm oil is the elixir. All foods, be they oils and fats, carbohydrates or proteins, when consumed in excess will do more harm than good.

As for palm oil, it is one of the 17 oils and fats in this world. In the article, the writer portrayed palm oil firstly as an oil that is bad for the consumer mainly due to its higher level of saturated fats and secondly that most palm oil is hydrogenated, resulting in the formation of trans fatty acids (TFA), which is why one should stay away from it.

This is misleading and the writer should get the facts right. Firstly, while palm oil does have a high percentage of saturated fatty acids (about 50%), too many nutritionists including the writer fail to understand that people don’t eat fatty acids as pure chemicals but as oils and fats in these products. Like all other food products, the health effects of an oil or a fat depend on what it contains and on what it does not, and also on what is eaten. In this context, the writer’s science was outdated.

Please note that there are now more than 650 scientific studies which all conclude that not a single proponent can link coronary heart disease (CHD) with the intake of saturated fat. Why do you think virgin coconut oil with saturated acid profile of more than 90% is deemed as a life-prolonging lipid to consume?

Kindly take a look at the Nurses Health Study, the biggest cohort study ever undertaken involving some 80,000 nurses in the United States, which surprisingly after 21 years showed that there was no correlation between saturated fats and coronary heart disease. In March 2010, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published two recent systemic reviews and meta-analysis, the first including nine cohorts evaluating 160,673 individuals and the second including 16 cohorts among 214,182 individuals. Again, the research found NO significant association between saturated fatty acid intake and CHD risk.

Finally, the writer should also refer to the recent findings from the British Medical Journal in 2015 again stating that saturated fats are NOT associated with an increased risk of death, heart disease, stroke or type 2 diabetes but that it is indeed the consumption of TFA that is the main culprit.

This now leads me to TFA. The writer was absolutely right in saying that TFA intake increases the risk of premature death due to CHD. In fact, according to the British Medical Journal, the consumption of TFA increases the risk of premature death, for example CHD by 34%.

The writer’s statement that palm oil is often hydrogenated is also misleading as palm oil is semi solid in its inherent state and does not require hydrogenation. I work with various oils and fats and can categorically state that the main oils in need of partial hydrogenation are rape, sun and soybean oil which are totally liquid in their natural form. To stabilise these oils and make them more functional, they are often hydrogenated. On the other hand, palm oil is widely known within the oils and fats industry as a TFA-free vegetable oil, and an oil that is often used around the world to replace TFA-rich components as it provides the functionality and versatility without needing hydrogenation.

I was therefore surprised to read the article and felt sorry for the readers who would be seriously misled by the so-called professional advice. What we should all do is to consume food in moderation, including oils and fats. Trying to vilify an oil like palm oil does no justice to science nor to readers as the science in the article was outdated, simply wrong and needs to be corrected.

CARL BEK-NIELSEN

United Plantations Bhd

Malaysia


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