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Updated 19 October 2015

Red palm oil – Dr Oz’s ‘miraculous find’

Red palm oil contains copious amounts of beta-carotene and vitamin E and has been hailed as a 'superfood'.

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In January 2013 Dr Bryce Wylde appeared on the Dr Oz Show and made some remarkable claims about the health benefits of red palm fruit oil. Dr Oz called it the “most miraculous find of 2013” and, according to Bryce Wilde, you only need two tablespoons a day to benefit from this oil.

High beta-carotene content

Palm oil is derived from the fruit of the African oil palm tree (Elais guineensis) which originally comes from West Africa. Nowadays, however, 85 percent of palm oil worldwide is produced in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Palm fruit oil should not be confused with palm kernel oil which is made from the kernel of the fruit and does not have the health benefits associated with the oil made from the fruit itself. Palm kernel oil is also more than 89% saturated, whereas palm fruit oil is only about 50% saturated.

Read: Saturated vs. unsaturated fats

Unrefined or virgin palm oil is called red palm oil because of its reddish colour, which is caused by its high beta-carotene and lycopene content.  Red palm oil is the highest natural source of beta- and alpha carotene, which can be converted by the body into vitamin A. Red palm oil is also a rich source of a very powerful form of vitamin E, called tocotrienol.

Most of the palm oil consumed all over the world however is refined, and in the process loses its red colour, and is often referred to as “white” palm oil. It is more popular for cooking because, unlike red palm oil, it doesn’t add any colour or flavour to food. (The refining process unfortunately also removes the tocotrienol and beneficial carotenes.)

The main problem associated with palm oil is that the industry is linked to environmental issues like deforestation, climate change and habitat degradation, especially that of the orangutan. According to the World Wildlife Fund, an area the equivalent size of 300 football fields of rainforest is cleared each hour to make way for palm oil.

Read: Logging and deforestation

Removes stubborn belly fat

Dr Oz believes that red palm oil is the secret to longevity, mainly because of the carotenes and tocotrienols it contains, and claims the following benefits:

  • It sharpens your brain and can lower your risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
  • It increases blood flow through the arteries, and even though it contains saturated fat, it can reduce your cholesterol by 40 percent.
  • It goes directly to the liver and increases your metabolism, which helps to remove stubborn belly fat.

Dr Oz recommends that red palm oil be used instead of butter or margarine and says that it is great for cooking at high temperatures because of its high temperature tolerance.

Not everyone is convinced about the “miraculous properties” of red palm oil and some people are worried about the negative spinoffs of the publicity someone as influential as Dr Oz has given to the product.

Read: Dr Oz grilled for promoting miracle diet drug

Increased demand for red palm oil will lead to increased production, which could lead to even further destruction of large parts of the Malaysian and Indonesian jungle where endangered animals like the orangutan live.

Read: Humans related to orangutans

Not backed up by science

Some experts also assert that the health claims about red palm oil are not backed up by science and Scott Gavura, writing for Science-Based Medicine has, among other things, the following to say about Bryce Wylde and Dr Oz’s claims:

  • “It’s foolish and short-sighted to declare red palm oil as healthy or beneficial based on the limited data that exists.”
  • “There is no clearly established need for the routine supplementary consumption of the carotenoids and vitamin E in red palm oil.”
  • “The impact of red palm oil consumption on your health is likely to be insignificant, compared to the big drivers of health.”

In conclusion, it seems that most of the criticism leveled against the claimed health benefits of red palm oil is based on “lack of evidence” – therefore the jury’s still out.

So, why don’t you get a bottle and see if it works for you? 

Read more:

US panel warns against Vitamin E and beta-carotene
Carotenoid to fight fat?
Good fats for a healthy heart

Sources:
Say no to palm oil
Science-Based Medicine
Nutiva
Why you should give red palm oil a try
Global Health Lab



 
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