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Health Effects of Palm Oil in the Diet

By Bradley Cohen

Palm oil is one of the most widely used oils in the United States and the world, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Palm oil comes from the pulp of the palm fruit and is red in color, as opposed to palm kernel oil, which comes from the seed. Palm oil is used in foods such as margarine, cooking oil, soups, crackers and baked goods. One of the reasons for its popularity is because it is about 1/3 cheaper than soybean oil, the CSPI states. According to the "Asia Sentinel," palm oil is the cheapest cooking oil in the world. The oil is also the center of controversy due to accusations that Southeast Asian rainforests, especially on the Malaysian Island of Borneo, are being destroyed to make way for palm plantations, according to the BBC.

Heart Disease and Stroke

The fat content in palm oil is about 50 percent saturated and 50 percent unsaturated, according to Doctor Astrid Pujari, who published an article in the "Seattle Times" in 2007. Foods high in saturated fat can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke, according to the American Heart Association.

Possible Benefits

Palm oil also contains vitamin E compounds and cartenoids, which are natural antioxidant compounds related to vitamin A. Although the vitamin compounds have healthful benefits, palm oil is still relatively high in saturated fat compared to other vegetable oils, Pujari states. Proponents of palm oil point that it also contains a high percentage of oleic acid, the healthful fatty acid in olive oil and canolia oil, and linoleic acid which can have enough positive effects on cholesterol to offset the negative effects of the saturated fat, according to Pujari.

Negative Effects on Cholesterol

A study done by the United States Department of Agriculture found that palm oil had negative effects on bad cholesterol, or LDL, and apolipoportein—a protein attached to fat particles that carries LDL through the bloodstream—compared to canola and soybean oil, which are high in unsaturated fat. The purpose of the study was to test whether palm oil was a healthy substitute for trans fats. The study found that, while palm oil is a popular substitute due to its ability to be used as a hard fat in packaged food, it is the high proportion of unsaturated fat in palm oil can also be bad for your heart.

Health Warnings

The American Heart Association and American Diabetes Association warn people to stay away from palm oil due to the probability that it can promote cardiovascular disease.

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