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Dietary fats play an important role in human health. They are required for providing energy and supporting cell growth. Fats are also necessary for the role they play in blood clotting, muscle movement, absorption of nutrients and the production of hormones. There are various types of fats, including saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and trans fats. One vital source of fats are oils which include palm, olive, canola, soybean and corn, among others.

Malaysian palm oil is the source of countless contributions in a variety of industries including cooking, frying, baking and confectionary. Fractions of palm oil and palm kernel oil are also, widely used to produce a wide variety of food items including non-dairy creamers, chocolates, confectionery, ice cream and biscuit coating. Critics have opposed the use of palm oil products without having the science to back up their claims. Proving these accusations false are numerous scientific studies that have been carried out over the years, attesting to the fact that palm oil is a true gift from nature in terms of health benefits and versatility of use. These experts have confirmed the advantages of using palm oil in our diets through intensive research studies.

Advice about diet and health previously portrayed saturated fats as being harmful. This dated back to the findings from the Seven Countries Study (SCS), conducted in the mid 20th century, which investigated diet, lifestyle and other risk factors for cardiovascular disease across multiple counties and cultures. Current dietary guidelines and recommendations follow from the SCS findings and encourage low consumption of saturated fats, high use of omega-3 from seafood and plants, and suggest avoiding trans fats.

However, new cutting-edge research is questioning whether saturated fats really are as bad as they are made out to be. Dr. Rajiv Chowdhury, a Senior Associate in Global Cardiovascular Health at the University of Cambridge, and a renowned cardiovascular health expert, along with his colleagues, conducted a comprehensive study researching the effects of saturated fat and investigating any connections to cardiovascular disease. Dr. Chowdhury’s meta-analysis collated data from 72 studies, consisting of more than 600,000 participants from 20 countries.

Results of this study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2014, initiated much interest and discussion as the study found no significant association between total dietary saturated fat and the risk of heart disease, but did find a strong association between higher trans fats and a high risk of heart disease. These findings indicate that it would be desirable to use oils with zero trans fats such as palm oil.

Another study by Malhotra et al., published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2017, also found that saturated fat does not clog arteries and that coronary heart disease is a chronic inflammatory condition, the risk of which can be effectively reduced through healthy lifestyle interventions such as moderate exercise and by reducing stress.

Palm oil has been scientifically proven to help reduce the risk of arterial thrombosis and atherosclerosis, to reduce cholesterol levels and blood pressure and to inhibit the growth of cancers. It contains a rich, beneficial mix of fats, vitamins and nutrients with no unhealthy trans-fatty acids.

A 2019 study led by Dr. Sundram et al., published in the Scientific Reports journal, confirmed that rather than restricting fat consumption in order to improve heart health, it would be of greater benefit to reduce carbohydrate consumption. This study examined comprehensive measures of subgroups of lipoproteins in Malaysian participants, almost 84% of whom used palm oil in their food preparations versus the remainder who used more unsaturated vegetable oils. It was found that a higher amount of carbohydrates in the diet was associated with higher levels of cardiovascular disease risk factors while higher dietary fat intake did not show the same association.

Palm oil also contains bioactives that boost health and prevent diseases. Malaysian oil palm fruits contain antioxidants that include Vitamin E, carotenes and phenolic antioxidants. These bioactive ingredients have been studied by scientists and are considered to prevent cardiovascular diseases, cancers and other degenerative diseases.

Tocotrienols and tocopherols are both beneficial bioactives found in Malaysian palm oil. Palm oil provides the largest number of Vitamin E-tocotrienols found in any natural product, with rice bran coming in a far second. Other vegetable oils like olive, corn, canola, soybean and sunflower do not carry these advantageous bioactives at all. Tocotrienols make up 66 – 79% of the Vitamin E in crude palm oil. This particular type of Vitamin E has strong antioxidant properties providing benefits in the areas of cardiovascular, cancer and skin health.

Other beneficial bioactive ingredients present in Malaysian palm oil include carotenoids, such as the b-carotene which plays an important role as an originator of Vitamin A. Crude palm oil contain the highest amount of b-carotene found in any natural plant. The carotenes content per kilogram in crude palm oil is more than 15 times that found in carrots. As this particular carotenoid’s source is the red palm oil, there is no concern of toxicity associated with other forms either. The intake of red palm oil increases Vitamin A which is particularly beneficial to pregnant and lactating mothers and breast-fed infants.

Apart from the oil itself, the by-products of palm oil refining also contain bioactives. These palm phenolics and water-soluble vitamins are also powerful antioxidants. The antioxidant effects are reportedly similar to those associated with green tea. The benefits to health of these include a lowering of cholesterol levels, arthrosclerosis prevention, cancer inhibition and skin related photo-oxidative damage prevention.

A 2019 study in the Journal of Oil Palm Research by Dr. Kim Tiu et al., found that repeatedly heated oils with a higher oxidation level may potentially lead to cancer progression. Keeping this in mind, palm oil is again the top choice to use for cooking as it has a proven track record of stability during frying and does not impart any flavor of its own. This is why food manufacturers around the world choose to use palm oil as the preferred frying fat medium in food preparations.

No other oil is used in as many versatile ways as palm oil is. Approximately 80% of the total palm oil produced is used in food applications, while the rest is used as the main ingredients in non-food applications such as soaps, candles, lubricants, cosmetics and as a biofuel in renewable energy applications. Palm oil is a universal food, used globally as cooking oil, in shortening, margarine and as an ingredient in fat blends and a variety of food products. Palm oil can be found in baked goods, infant formula and cake mixes, to name just a few food items. Palm oil and palm kernel oil are also widely used in non-dairy creamers, chocolates, confectionery, ice cream and biscuit coating.

There is a glut of advice, guidelines and recommendations regarding diet, health and the risks and benefits of what we consume. Ultimately the only advice to be trusted is that backed by science. Due to the numerous advantages to human health, Malaysian palm oil is used in various foods, nutraceuticals, pharmaceuticals and cosmetic products in over 150 countries around the globe. The use of palm oil worldwide for over 5000 years is in itself proof of the benefits to be acquired from this gift from nature.

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