Is palm oil good or bad for you?

Is palm oil good or bad for you? Nigerians do love their oil. You can peep into any pot of soup or stew and can almost be guaranteed to see a deep layer of oil lying on top of whatever ingredients are hidden deep underneath. I constantly ask at restaurants and parties “why is the food so oily?” and I constantly get a very popular answer “madam, that’s why the food dey sweet!”  Really now?!  Sweet? Seriously, I don’t see what can be sweet about having to use a straw to drink the oil floating on top of your bowl of soup. But anyone who has dug into a bowl of Nigerian soup or stew will tell you, it is ‘sweet’ aka finger-licking good.  Anyhoot! Red palm oil is unrefined or virgin oil extracted from palm fruits. 

My Nigerian peoples have probably not heard the health warnings about oil, cholesterol and all. But, they may already know something that the rest of the health enthusiasts out there are just discovering about palm oil. Contrary to popular opinion, palm oil really is “GOOD” for you?! Shocking! Commonly used in traditional dishes, palm oil (or palm fruit oil as it is also known) is a staple, used by generations of Nigerian, and West African, women to make the most mouthwatering dishes you could imagine. So, if it wasn’t bad for our grandmothers, why has it become bad for us? Have we been sucked into western propaganda about cholesterol and oils? After a number of comments on my blog and a few emails from my blog readers asking if “2 table spoons of oil is too much” for this or “no way you used 2 cups of palm oil” for that, I decided to dig around online to find out why there was all this hoopla about how “bad” palm oil is for your health.  However, what did I find? Mainly new schools of thought about how the health benefits of this indigenous cooking oil of ours. Even more shocking is that palm oil has ZERO cholesterol, and that it is becoming a key ingredient in dairy-free and natural health food products often found on store shelves in place such as Whole Foods in the US and UK. Just read the labels and you’ll see for yourself.

Feel free to form your own opinion. I will continue to make traditional Nigerian dishes with palm oil and palm fruit sauce or butter – guilt free. It’s only as bad as you believe it to be and, like many other factors in life, is best when consumed in moderation. Palm oil is even Dr. Oz approved. The doctor calls red palm fruit oil his most miraculous find for 2013. And for me, in combination with many other unique ingredients, you just cannot cook many traditional West African dishes without it! 

I was so intrigued by what I was learning about palm oil, I purchased a book on Amazon about it – The Palm Oil Miracle by Dr. Bruce Fife.  It was a very informative and easy read. The great part is that there are some recipes in the last chapter that use palm oil and I’ll definitely be trying out a few and sharing on the blog. I also recommend reading the book if you are health conscious and want to learn more about this oil. 

What I found out from my research is that palm oil is one of the healthiest oils and it has zero. I repeat – zero cholesterol. As I stated earlier. Other things I learned are;

  • It is a rich, natural source for tocotrienols (a unique form of vitamin E) and carotenoids (Pro-vitamin A)
  • Tocotrienols from Red Palm Oil is a powerful brain and heart protective vitamin E
  • Red palm oil has more of the antioxidant carotene than tomatoes or carrots
  • It’s unique combination of Tocotrienols and Carotenes [might] help stall the aging process
  • Palm oil has been used as both a food and a medicine for thousands of years. It was prized by the pharaohs of ancient Egypt as a sacred food
  • In tropical Africa and Southeast Asia, it is an integral part of a healthy diet just as olive oil is in the Mediterranean
  • It possesses excellent cooking properties and is more heat stable than other vegetable oils and imparts great taste, texture, and quality
  • As a natural vegetable oil, it contains no trans fatty acids or cholesterol
  • It is currently being used by doctors and government agencies to treat specific illnesses and improve nutritional status
  • Recent medical studies have shown that palm oil, particularly virgin (red) palm oil, can protect against many common health problems; protects against heart disease, improves blood sugar in diabetics, helps protect many forms of cancer, supports healthy lung function and healthy immune system among others

Here are a few more useful sources of information about palm oil that you can find online:

5 Comments

  1. Zero cholesterol is a big deal!

    But is it healthier than say olive oil?

  2. Belated Response

    Now that the health benefits have been cleared up circa cholesterol etc. the main issue with red palm oil is that it is packed with calories. 1 table spoon contains about 130 calories. Thus if you are using one cup = 16 tablespoons, 16 x 130= 2080 calories, which is more than the recommended daily calorie intake for women (2000).

    Granted or should I say hopefully one will not be eating the whole pot of soup in one sitting, but what amount/ how many servings is one having? This does not include the caloric / nutritional contents of all the other ingredients in the soup lest to mention the ‘swallow’ nor other meals that need to be consumed for the day. Thus, if your aim is weight loss, no more than 1-2 tablespoons/day is recommended.

    Even if you are not aiming to lose weight, if you are consuming more calories than you are burning chances are you will put on weight and if that’s not checked, one may become obese and the body fat from obesity on its own greatly increases the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease that our dear red palm oil tried to prevent in the first place.

    I hope I’ve been able to clear some misconceptions. I’ve also been reading around the subject lately and as a doctor feel that people should be rightly informed so as to avoid committing ‘health blunders’. Sorry for the long post. Take care.

  3. Thank you for not going with the current fad of declaring so many of our traditional foods unhealthy. We as Nigerians/ Africans should be able to analyse our food content scientifically without being dragged into the fads that pass for Western nutritional advice. Palm oil is meant to be ‘bad’, yet it’s in all of the junk food eaten by so many people, from biscuits to ready meals to our daily bread bread. We forget that it’s not palm oil in its natural form that’s been analysed and declared unhealthy – it’s the hydrogenated version, which, like all hydrogenated fats, should be boycotted as they have a detrimental effect on the human body. Natural fats are great! There are increasing schools of thought (in the same West) advocating a return to natural wholesome foods – coconut oil, butter, lard and palm oil – the very foods many of us are saying are unhealthy. I say bring on the palm oil!

  4. Funmi Lawal

    Good or not, its traditional and i like it compared to Veg.oil

  5. Chinwe A

    I’m so glad to hear of the health benefits associated with Red Palm Oil. Research does, however, differentiate between Red Palm Oil and Palm Kernel Oil, the former being the more healthier choice. That being said, which one are we actually taking? Is it the palm kernel or the palm fruit? Or is the kernel separated from the fruit before the oil is processed? Or are we making the oil out of the fruit as a whole?

    Thank you for the article. I found it so helpful. Looking forward to your response.

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