The Truth About Palm Oil

Shares

Published: April 2, 2014


Palm oil is the darling of West African cooking but in very recent times it has come under fire with some health advocates labeling it “unhealthy” due to its high saturated fat content. To the average Nigerian, this is bad news.  What is Ewa Agoyin or Banga Stew without palm oil?

Before you say good-bye to this beloved ingredient, it is important to know that the jury is still out. Scientists on both sides of the debate are continuously studying this oil that is a favourite in Nigeria and beyond.

What’s the buzz?

The argument against the regular use of palm oil in cooking rests upon the fact that it is a saturated fat. A saturated fat is a fat or oil that is solid at room temperature. It is bad for health because it increases cholesterol, clogs the arteries and contributes to heart disease.

On the other side of the controversy, proponents for palm oil tout its disease fighting properties as a terrific reason to include it in the diet. They cite studies that show that despite being a saturated fat, palm oil contains numerous powerful, healing nutrients that actually reduce cholesterol, prevent clots and improve overall heart health. In addition, the nutrients in palm oil may protect the body from conditions such as asthma, cataracts and arthritis.

All This Confusion, What Should You Do?

Whenever I read an article about the potential negative effects of palm oil in the diet, I cannot help but think about our grandparents who indulged in plenty of palm oil almost on a daily basis and yet did not suffer the high rates of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and other chronic diseases as we do today. Surely, if palm oil was that bad for them they would have suffered multiple heart attacks and probably died at very young ages.

FREE RADIANT DIGITAL ISSUE NO 06_1

Today, we do not eat as much palm oil as they did and yet chronic diseases run rampant.  Rather, we eat inferior, processed versions of traditional favourites and indulge in fat-ridden western foods of low nutritional value. Where we used to walk or ride bicycles, we now drive. Instead being physically active, we spend numerous hours sitting in front of electronic screens watching television, surfing the net or playing video games. Surely, these changes have been greater contributors to the development of heart disease than the use of palm oil.

Palm oil is an important part of our traditional diet and culture. Eliminating it changes the colour of our food, its taste and the very culture we try to preserve whenever we eat it. Unfortunately, our lives and diets are rapidly changing and we have to make adjustments to accommodate this change.

No one ingredient can be blamed as being a lone causative agent for heart disease. Rather, it is the total amount of physical activity, the combination of foods in the diet and the quality of ingredients used that is detrimental to health.

Palm oil is an important part of our traditional diet and culture. Eliminating it changes the colour of our food, its taste and the very culture we try to preserve whenever we eat it. Unfortunately, our lives and diets are rapidly changing and we have to make adjustments to accommodate this change. Until the research is more conclusive, enjoy palm oil in moderation and follow these basic tips to reduce saturated fat intake.

1. Choose palm fruit oil as opposed to palm kernel oil. Palm kernel oil is made by pressing of the palm seed to obtain oil and generally contains more saturated fat than palm oil which is obtained from the pressing of the palm fruit.  Distinguishing between the two is fairly easy, palm kernel oil is whitish-yellowish in colour because it does not contain the healthy carotenoids that that give palm oil its rich, red colour.

2. Use in moderation. Just because it has health benefits does not mean you need to eat it by the spoonful. Much like most fats, palm oil taken in excess can actually promote obesity and its consequent risk of disease. If the red colour is your goal, consider mixing a little tomato paste and using less oil. By so-doing you boost the nutrition of the dish, obtain that rich colour and reduce the overall fat content.

Bottom lineEnjoy palm oil but do not use it every day and reduce the amount you use in each dish.

Here’s to your health!

Like what you're reading? Sign up for our free newsletter and never miss a post! Plus get a FREE digital version of our Issue No.06 with sign up.

Shares

About Cordialis Msora-Kasago

Cordialis Msora-Kasago is a Registered Dietitian (R.D) and a pioneer in the discussion of modern day healthy lifestyles in Africa. She is the founder of The African Pot Nutrition - an organization that improves the health of African people through sustainable diet and lifestyle programs. Follow her on twitter @africadietitian.

Visit My Website
View All Posts

Leave a Comment