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All about “Palm oil”

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Here is the content of palm oil in detail:

Palm oil: understand everything in 2 min

What is a “portion” of palm oil worth?
Weight / volume Palm oil, 100 g
Calories 885 kcal
Protein 0 g
Carbohydrates 0 g
Fat 100g
-saturated 49.3g
– monounsaturated 37 g
-polyunsaturated 9.3 g
Vitamin K 8 µg
Alpha-tocopherol 15.9 mg
Plant sterols 49 mg
Cholesterol 0 mg

Source  : Health Canada. Canadian Nutrient File , 2010.

Over 85% of the saturated fatty acids found in palm oil are palmitic acid (16 to 0). In terms of monounsaturated fats, oleic acid (18 for 1) is the fatty acid predominant in this oil. Oleic acid is also found in very large proportions in olive oil. Finally, linoleic acid, a fatty acid from the omega-6 family, represents the most predominant polyunsaturated fatty acid in palm oil.

Palm oil is semi-solid at room temperature due to its high content of saturated fatty acids. In fact, the more a fatty substance contains saturated fat, the more solid it will be at room temperature, for example butter, which contains more than 50% saturated fat. Note that palm kernel oil contains 82% saturated fat and it will not be covered in detail in this sheet.

Palm oil is naturally trans fat free . Trans fats have had a very poor rating in recent years as it has been shown that not only do they increase LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels but they also lower HDL (“good” cholesterol) , beneficial to cardiovascular health 1 . Most trans fats are created artificially by hydrogenation in industry. Partially hydrogenated oil has been used in many processed products for decades. Mandatory labeling of trans fatsin food products has prompted several food industries to modify the fats used in their recipes. It was at this point that palm oil became popular. As mentioned earlier, palm oil contains less saturated fat than butter and no trans fat . Saturated fats, unlike trans fats, also increase HDL cholesterol levels.

Food labeling and sources

In Canada, if a product contains vegetable oil and that oil is coconut, palm, palm kernel or peanut oil or cocoa butter, it must be identified in the list of ingredients by his usual name. The generic term “vegetable oil” is not acceptable 2 . In France, the regulations concerning the food labeling of palm oils are changing. Indeed, the nutritional declaration of palm oil will be compulsory on prepackaged foodstuffs from December 2016. Until then, palm oil can be designated on the list of ingredients as oil, fat, or material vegetable fat 3 .

Food sources of palm oil

The main sources of palm oil are cookies, cakes, pastries, pastry, breadcrumbs, ready meals, crackers, potato chips, fries, donuts, cereals, chocolate bars and hazelnut spreads.

Good or bad ?

There is no doubt that the consumption of palm oil contributes to the intake of saturated fatty acids and that excessive consumption of saturated fat has been associated in the past with the increased risk of cardiovascular diseases 4 . More specifically, palmitic acid, the saturated fatty acid found for the most part in palm oil, is known to increase the concentrations of LDL and HDL 5 cholesterol . On the other hand, a recent meta-analysis carried out in 2010 demonstrated that there was no significant evidence to conclude that saturated fatty acids were associated with an increased cardiovascular risk 6 .

Only a few studies have looked directly at the impact of palm oil consumption on cardiovascular risk 7-9 . They suggest an increased cardiovascular risk associated with the consumption of palm oil during cooking. In addition, an excess of saturated fatty acids is not desirable because, in addition to its cholesterol-lowering effect, it would also exert a pro-inflammatory effect, more particularly in obese people 10 .

However, as shown in some studies, from a nutritional point of view, palmitic acid from palm oil can be a reasonable alternative to partially hydrogenated vegetable oil containing trans fatty acids . On the other hand, this effect is still less favorable than that exerted by a vegetable oil containing unsaturated fatty acids such as rapeseed oil (canola) or olive oil for example 11 .

Nutritional interests

Crude palm oil is called “red palm oil” because of its red color linked to its richness in carotenoids (α-, β- and γ-carotenes). In fact, palm oil contains between 500 and 2000 mg / kg of carotenoid oil, while other crude vegetable oils contain around 100 mg / kg. This advantage of palm oil has already been used in African countries, notably Burkina Faso, to fight against vitamin A deficiencies because carotenoids are precursors 12 . It should be noted that these pigments are eliminated during refining.

Even if all vegetable oils contain vitamin E, palm oil has the distinction of containing mainly tocotrienols (up to 500 mg / kg of crude oil) and tocopherols, especially in alpha form (150 to 200 mg / kg), having a very high vitamin E power. Refining results in only a minimal loss of vitamin E. The levels of tocopherols can however decrease by up to 40% during heating. Tocotrienols have been shown to decrease endogenous cholesterol synthesis 13 . Palm oil also contains other phytonutrients such as phytosterols (sitosterol, stigmasterol and campesterol) in amounts ranging from 40 to 90 mg per 100 g and phenolic acids (p-coumaric, p-hydroxybenzoic and ferulic), which have antioxidant properties.


By its high content of saturated fatty acids, palm oil is a semi-fluid oil and offers a very good resistance to oxidation (= does not go rancid quickly) and to heat treatments (= is stable in cooking and in frying ). In some African countries, palm oil is consumed raw and is the main source of fat in the diet. This is not the case in most other countries where it is processed palm oil that is used in prepared products. It is therefore advisable to moderate its use, without however seeking to exclude it because it makes it possible to reduce the recourse to partial hydrogenation of vegetable fats and therefore the appearance of trans fatty acids.. Red palm oil can be obtained from health food stores and used as a fat in various recipes.

Production and environmental aspects

The oil palm is native to West African countries. The oil palm is cultivated in the humid tropical zones. Production is mainly carried out by two countries, Indonesia and Malaysia, which account for 87% of supplies. Europe consumes 12% of the world’s palm oil production. It is the countries of Asia which are the biggest consumers of this oil.

Palm oil is mainly used in the food industry (80%). Up to 19% is used in oleochemistry for cosmetics for example. Finally about 1% is used for biodiesel 13 . Palm oil is most often sold and consumed refined, that is to say after being discolored and deodorized. It has the lowest production costs of vegetable oils. Unfortunately, the cultivation of oil palm is often accompanied by intense deforestation with major consequences on the climate (production of CO2 caused by forest fires) and on biodiversity (decrease in the population of orangutans).

More and more companies are working with associations like GreenPeace to set up sustainable farming systems both environmentally and socially, according to strict criteria. There are now organizations such as the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) which allow companies to obtain a certification (CSPO) meeting various criteria of sustainable development. Companies like Nestlé have been using 100% certified palm oils since 2013 14 . The Unilever company has done the same and is committed to sourcing agricultural raw materials from sustainable agriculture, including 100% palm oil by 2020 15 .

Nutritionist’s comment

The occasional consumption of palm oil in small doses is not, in my opinion, problematic. About 98% of this consumption comes from processed products such as crisps, pastries, etc. In any case, as part of a balanced diet, these foods should be eaten in moderation. Remember, this is a product that has allowed industries to replace partially hydrogenated fats containing trans fatswhich in addition to promoting the increase in LDL cholesterol levels, also lower HDL cholesterol levels, which protect the heart. However, vegetable oils rich in unsaturated fats such as olive or canola oil are far ahead in terms of health benefits. In short, consume with moderation!

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