Nutritional Benefits of Red Palm Oil

We have been overwhelmed with many questions on the health benefits and other nutritional contents of red palm oil. I hope this piece addresses the questions raised by the likes of Nneka Udokwu, Hajia Damilola Odusille, Eno Essien and the others.

Not too long ago, I walked into a pharmaceutical/cosmetic shop on Opebi Road, Ikeja, Lagos, and on the shelf were bottles of red palm oil [RPO] food supplement capsules. Though I have heard of its existence since 2013, it was my first time of coming across it in Nigeria.

I checked the containers of the supplement and saw that they originated from the US. The three different brands: ‘Natural red palm oil concentrate softgels’, ‘Red palm oil capsules Juka’s Organic Co.’, ‘Red Palm oil, the new super food of the year’, by Botanic Choice’

Stopping in my tracks, I pondered ‘red palm oil in capsules? I thought some people advertise that palm oil is bad for our health, especially the heart and now is being promoted as a food supplement. I know a few people with health issues who will not touch red palm oil even with a pole.

However, the stories are changing. Recently, in the US, a very popular American television host, Dr. OZ, referred to RPO as the miracle oil for longevity and the new weight loss miracle. Dr. Oz is an accomplished and still active cardiovascular surgeon. He is an academic and a research scientist who has hundreds of scientific publications to his name

For years, scientists from the so-called developed world, especially the United States, have campaigned relentlessly against the consumption of RPO. It was a target of massive advertising campaign, including widely published allegations that it was hazardous to health.

It was attacked as ‘saturated’ since it contains 44% palmitic acid and 5% stearic acid, thereby allegedly raises blood cholesterol and increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Because it was comparatively new to many of the so-called developed countries, it was judged solely on the basis of its saturated fatty acid content while its numerous benefits were over looked.

Those days, especially before the 1990s, food producers in US had to state ‘No red palm oil’ in food labels for consumers to patronise them.

However, many reputable scientists both abroad and at home have conducted more than eighty research studies in order to help dispel these inaccurate myths and share the truth about palm oil.

The positive results of these nutrition studies have persuaded many to reconsider their previous judgments on palm oil. A major milestone for the positive reputation of palm oil was when the US Food and Drug Administration [FDA] announced in 1994 that it would no longer permit the use of ‘No red palm oil’ labelling.

That helped reinforce that “facts’’ rather than “myths” will prevail in regards to palm oil.

A sizable and growing body of scientific evidence indicates that palm oil effect on blood cholesterol is relatively neutral when compared to other fats and oils. A recent study comparing the effect of palm oil and olive oil enriched diets on 21 healthy, free living normocholosterolemic subjects found no difference in total and LDL cholesterol levels. There appears to be several explanations. Palm oil contains a high percentage of monounsaturates[40%]. Palm oil saturated fatty acids are palmitic [44%] and stearic[5%] which do not appear to elevate blood cholesterol in people with cholesterol within normal range.

Recent animal studies found that palm oil stimulates the synthesis of protective HDL cholesterol and removal of harmful LDL cholesterol.

It also appears that palm oil, compared to polyunsaturated oils, poses a reduced risk for cancer. This may be due to the tocotrionols in palmoil.

In fact, Professor KK Carol of Centre for Human Nutrition at the University of Western Ontario and David Kritchevsky of the Wister Institute recently concluded that evidence indicates that tocotrienols in palm oil are effective anti-cancer agents and provides adequate justification for clinical trials in human cancer patients.

Recently at the International Conference Centre Birmingham at the Biomedical Science Congress, Dr. Oluwafemi O. Oguntibeju, Department of Biomedical Sciences, Faculty of Health & Wellness Sciences, Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Bellville Campus, South Africa, further elucidated the potential of the red palm oil in the healing process.

Scientifically known as Elaeis Guineensis, palm oil essentially contains rich, balanced mixture of saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, providing a higher level of bioavaliable nutrients than any other vegetable source.

Like coconut oil, palm oil is also rich in medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), which mobilise body fat stores, increase the metabolic rate and is a great source of energy.

Palm oil is a rich source of antioxidants, especially Vitamin E. While the health benefits of Vitamin E are widely known, less widely known is the fact that Vitamin E is a complex of many constituents broken into two groups: tocopherols (alpha, beta, gamma and delta) and tocotrienols (alpha, beta, gamma and delta). And while alpha tocopherol is the form most commonly marketed as Vitamin E, the full spectrum of both tocoperols and tocotrienols are required for optimal assimilation.

The super-antioxidant tocotrienols are particularly important for optimal health. These natural antioxidants act as free radical scavengers and are believed to play a protective role in cellular aging, atherosclerosis, cancer, arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers now believe that the tocopherols and tocotrienols together provide constituents that help limit damage during a heart attack.

RPO not only supplies fatty acids essential for proper growth and development, but it is packed with an assortment of vitamins, antioxidants and other phytonutrients important for good health.

For instance, the red colour comes from carotenes such as beta-carotene and lycopene – the same nutrients that give tomatoes and carrots and other fruits and vegetables their rich red and orange colours.

Carotenes are valuable nutrients and powerful antioxidants. They are also important because the body can convert them into Vitamin A, an essential nutrient.

Vitamin A deficiency can cause blindness, weaken bones, lower immunity and adversely affect learning ability and mental function.

“Vitamin A is only found in animal foods. Such foods are too expensive for many people. Carotenes in fruits and vegetables can supply the needed Vitamin A if an adequate amount of fat is also consumed. Carotenes require fat for conversion into Vitamin A. Unfortunately, those who cannot afford animal products often do not eat much fat either.

Populations with ample carotene-rich foods available often suffer from vitamin A deficiency because they don’t get enough fat in their diet. Dr. Albert Egbuehi of the Department of Biochemistry, College of Medicine, University of Lagos, said: “Red palm oil is the richest dietary source of provitamin A carotenes (beta-carotene and alpha-carotene). It has 15 times more provitamin A carotenes than carrots and 300 times more than tomatoes. This has made it a valued resource in the treatment of Vitamin A deficiency. Just one teaspoon a day of red palm oil supplies children with the daily recommended amount of Vitamin A. Nursing mothers are encouraged to supplement their diet with palm oil to enrich their milk with the vitamin.”(The Nation)

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