The latest “miracle health product of the week” from TV personality Dr. Oz is red palm oil. Red palm oil (RPO) is a less refined version of the palm oil commonly used in industrial food production. It is derived from the fruit of the oil palm (palm kernel oil is from the kernel) and is grown in West Africa and Indonesia. RPO is about half saturated fat (44% palmitic acid) and half unsaturated (39% oleic acid) which makes it a soft solid at room temperature. The red color comes from a high content of carotenes including beta-carotene (think carrots) and lycopene (tomatoes). RPO is also a good source of tocopherols and tototrienols (forms of vitamin E I’ve written about previously). Next to coconut oil it is a good source of medium chain fatty acids (MCTs) which I have also written about. It has a distinct bitter flavor.
Now here are some of the claims Dr. Oz made for red palm oil on his show:
• protects against dementia & Alzheimer’s
• reduces bad cholesterol & atherosclerosis
• reduces belly fat
There is little or no evidence to support these claims. The scientific studies he casually refers to were either in-vitro or animal studies; there have been few human trials. For example a 2007 South African study found that red palm oil “significantly decreased p38-MAPK phosphorylation in rat hearts subjected to a high-cholesterol diet” [Wikipedia]. Another from Hungary in 2011 showed that red palm oil reduced heart damage in heart attacks in rats fed a high cholesterol diet. These are encouraging but still a long way from proving a health benefit to humans. A human trial by researchers in Denmark published in 2011 found that RPO actually raised LDL and total cholesterol compared to olive oil.
So you can try it if you want, but don’t expect a miracle. Oh, and if you do, make sure the oil doesn’t come from a Malaysian or Indonesian plantation carved (clearcut and burned) from dwindling orangutan forest habitat where 90% of the world’s palm oil originates.
For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.