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By Alice Abler
Red palm oil has been an essential part of the human diet for thousands of years. Pharaohs of ancient Egypt were entombed with their most valuable possessions along with items they may have needed in their afterlife, and this often included red palm oil.
Today, this exceptionally nutritious fat is often incorporated in government programs to treat and prevent malnutrition in impoverished areas. Red palm oil encourages healthy growth and development through its rich composition of fatty acids, vitamins, antioxidants, and other phytonutrients.
Red vs. white palm oil
According to Bruce Fife, ND, author of The Palm Oil Miracle, organic red palm oil contains “by far, more nutrients than any other oil.” This includes at least 20 carotenes (including provitamin A), vitamin E, vitamin K, Coenzyme Q10, squalene, phytosterols, flavonoids, phenolic acids, and glycolipids, all working in combination to make red palm oil a super antioxidant.
White palm oil, on the other hand, started out as red palm oil but has been processed to remove the natural red coloring. The processing also removes much of the nutrients, especially the carotenes, which are an important part of palm oil’s abundant nutrients.
In addition to ordinary vitamin E, palm oil is especially rich in all four types of tocotrienols – each of which is an especially potent part of the vitamin E molecule . Fife continues, “These tocotrienols have up to 60 times the antioxidant activity of ordinary vitamin E.”
A balanced fat
Palm oil contains a combination of all three fat types – 50 percent saturated, 40 percent monounsaturated, and 10 percent polyunsaturated. This composition of fatty acids is very similar to that found in the human body.
With all these nutrients, it’s not surprising that red palm oil is sold encapsulated as a natural vitamin supplement. But it’s easy to get the same benefits simply by incorporating palm oil into the diet.
The high saturated fatty acid content enables palm oil to work very well in baking and cooking, and in most cases it can replace harmful hydrogenated trans fats like solid vegetable shortening. It’s semi-solid at room temperature, so some people even use it as a spread instead of unhealthy, dangerous margarine.
Palm oil’s high smoke point (436 degrees Fahrenheit) allows it to work very well for frying and sautéing. Because it’s a highly saturated fat with a high antioxidant level, red palm oil is resistant to free-radical formation and oxidation, meaning it has a long shelf life.
When shopping for the most healthful palm oil, look for “virgin organic red palm oil.” As with virgin olive oil, the term “virgin” refers to the way the oil was extracted. This means it was squeezed from the fruit without using heat or solvents, and then filtered to remove impurities. Oil extracted from the seed or the kernel is not virgin red palm oil, and often, heat is applied to extract the oil. Since oil palms are not usually plagued by disease or insects, most palm oil is grown without pesticides. To be certain, however, just look for an organic certification on the label.
Palm oil not labeled “virgin” has not been extracted at low temperatures. While palm oil can withstand very high temperatures when used in cooking, it is not recommended to reuse it as cooking oil more than once. This is because after more than one cooking, virgin red palm oil will begin to lose many of its nutrients. By the fourth time palm oil is reused as cooking oil it contains almost no beta carotene. If non-virgin red palm oil was to be heated a second time when used for cooking, it could potentially contain little to no nutrients, so be sure to look for the “organic, virgin” label.
Virgin organic red palm oil from sustainable sources is not just for pharaohs anymore. This outstandingly healthful, versatile product is readily available today and is a valuable addition to every kitchen.
For more information, see “Red Palm Oil: A Daily Dose of Vitamins From Cooking Oil” by Bruce Fife, ND, in the Fall 2007 Price-Pottenger Journal of Health and Healing. Become a member today to receive access to this journal along with many other health and nutrition resources.