Palm Oil: What it is and its health benefits

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Natural products have been sources of studies for many years and researchers are always looking for substances that can act in a beneficial way in the body, helping to improve many metabolic processes and also to prevent diseases.

Some vegetable oils are considered functional because they have fatty acids and vitamins important for health, and among them is palm oil. However, some health professionals still question its potential benefits and also whether palm oil is bad for health.

Learn about the many benefits and properties of palm oil below, learn why some researchers say palm oil is bad for you, and see how this oil can be used in everyday life. 

What is palm oil?

Palm oil is extracted from a native palm tree ( Elaeis guineenses ) on the west coast of Africa, where it has been consumed for thousands of years, and which was brought to Brazil in the 16th century. It is also known as red palm oil for its distinctive reddish-orange color. 

The palm basically produces two types of oils: palm kernel oil and pulp oil. The first is extracted from the seed endosperm, with ten times lower productivity. Pulp oil, in turn, is produced in greater quantity and is extracted from the fruit's mesocarp. Malaysia and Indonesia are currently the largest palm oil producers in the world, producing a total of 87% of production.

According to reports by the Food and Agriculture Organization , in 2010, palm and palm kernel oils accounted for 35% of all vegetable oil consumption in the world, surpassing its biggest competitor, soy oil, which participated with 28% of the entire consumer market that year.

This shows that the cultivation of palm and the production of palm oil are very promising within the perennial plant agribusiness.

What are the benefits of palm oil?

Palm oil is one of the oils extracted from the oil palm fruit, containing close proportions of saturated fatty acids, with 40% to 48% of palmitic and 4% to 6% of stearic, and unsaturated fatty acids, with 36% to 44% oleic (omega 9) and 6% to 12% linoleic (omega 6).

In much smaller proportions, this oil also contains fatty acids lauric, myristic, palmitoleic, linolenic (omega 3), arachidic, eicosenoic, among others.

Palm oil is widely used in the manufacture of margarine, and is also widely used as cooking oil and in the production of vegetable butter for the manufacture of products such as cakes, pies, cookies, creams, breads, among many other food products. In addition, palm oil can be used as a raw material in the manufacture of soap, soap, detergents, softeners, washing powder and as a fuel in diesel engines.

This oil is also an excellent source of vitamin E and antioxidant substances such as tocopherols and tocotrienols. It is also rich in beta-carotene, an important source of vitamin A.

Despite having so many positive aspects, many people still wonder if palm oil is bad for your health or if it really brings so many benefits. These questions arise mainly due to the amount of saturated fatty acids present in it.

Many studies show that saturated fats can increase bad cholesterol (LDL) and triglycerides, which are risk factors for developing heart disease. In general, the higher the saturated fat content, the more solid the oil at room temperature. Palm oil is a semi-solid at room temperature. Likewise, other studies show that not all saturated fats have the same structure and that some do not cause health problems.

Although there are doubts about whether palm oil is really bad, it has many properties that can help improve physical and mental health. Here are some of the benefits and properties of palm oil:

1. Helps improve vision health

Palm oil is rich in beta-carotene, a carotenoid that acts as a precursor to the body's production of vitamin A. Other carotenoids such as lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin cannot be converted to vitamin A, making beta-carotene very important in the diet.

Vitamin A, in turn, is part of the formation of glycoproteins and is essential in improving vision health, as it helps protect the cornea, which is the part of the eye that concentrates and transmits light that enters the eye. A vitamin A deficiency can cause difficulty seeing in low light conditions, causing ocular, and may even in the most extreme cases lead to total blindness.

2. Prevents premature aging

Palm oil is rich in vitamin E, which is one of the nutrients with the best antioxidant power, being known as the vitamin of youth. Vitamin E is responsible for neutralizing the action of free radicals, which act by accelerating the body's aging process. Due to its antioxidant action, vitamin E helps to prevent many degenerative and chronic diseases.

In addition, this vitamin also protects the body's fats against the oxidation process, creating a protection of the cell plasma membrane and contributing to the proper functioning of all body cells.

3. Helps in the slimming process

Many studies show that palm oil loses weight depending on the amount of omega 6 and 9 fatty acids in its composition. These fatty acids help in hormonal control, improving satiety, and help in the lipolysis process, that is, in breaking down fats, thus favoring weight loss.

A survey conducted in Canada in 2003 showed that a group of men who used palm oil within a specific diet had significant weight loss results, reducing an average of half a kilo of weight over the 27 calendar days.

Despite these points we can say that palm oil slims, this product is rich in calories and should be used in appropriate amounts in the diet.

4. Improves the appearance of skin and hair

Palm oil has a high moisturizing and moisturizing power, helping to improve the appearance of the skin, giving it more smoothness and shine. For the hair, it helps in the recovery of the threads, sealing the cuticles, bringing hydration and a healthier appearance, especially for the most dry and damaged ones with aggressive treatments.

For this reason, palm oil can be used extensively in cosmetic products, including creams, conditioners and body moisturizers.

5. Improves brain functions

Studies have shown that the tocotrienols present in palm oil can increase the protection of neuron structures, stimulating cognitive functions, preventing the growth of brain lesions and reducing the risk of developing diseases such as stroke. In addition, the presence of substances with antioxidant power in palm oil also helps to improve brain health.

6. Prevents cardiovascular disease

Many studies show that palm oil helps prevent heart-related diseases, mainly due to the reduction in bad cholesterol (LDL) levels and the increase in good cholesterol (HDL) levels.

Controlling cholesterol prevents the growth and accumulation of fatty plaques in the arteries that can cause high blood pressure and, as a result, lead to many cardiovascular problems.

Is palm oil bad or not?

In short, the idea that palm oil is bad for you comes from the fact that the oil, like coconut oil, for example, has a lot of saturated fat. Many studies have linked consumption of large amounts of saturated fat to health problems, although many others have sought to prove that this is not true.

There's one more important issue for those who argue that palm oil is bad: it would be hard to find a version today that hasn't been heavily refined, and this process strips away much of the beneficial nutrients and makes it harder to digest.

Conclusion

Although many researchers question whether palm oil is harmful, it has numerous health benefits, being rich in substances that can help improve physical and mental well-being. However, the use of palm oil must always be done properly and with the monitoring of a health professional.

(Reference – https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/palm-oil#TOC_TITLE_HDR_7, https://www.lybrate.com/amp/topic/benefits-of-palm-oil-and-its-side-effects)

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