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palm oil & health

Biomedical research indicates that palm oil, which is high in saturated fat and low in polyunsaturated fat, promotes heart disease. 

Though less harmful than partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, it is far more conducive to heart disease than such heart-protective liquid oils as olive, soy, and canola. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, World Health Organization, and other health authorities have urged reduced consumption of oils like palm oil. Nearly 1 in 2 processed food products in our supermarkets contain palm oil or a derivative of.

Palm oil is an edible oil derived from the pulp of fruits of the oil palm (Elaeis guineensis). Palm oil is used around the world in such foods as margarine, shortening, cooking oil, soups, sauces, crackers and other baked & processed foods as well as cleaning & personal products. It has become the most widely used oil. Palm oil is one-third cheaper than soybean oil (the 2nd highest used oil globally) and yields 10 times more pounds of oil per acre than soybeans).

Palm Oil and Heart Disease in Mauritius

Perhaps the most damning indictment of palm oil comes from a natural experiment on the island nation of Mauritius, whose population in the 1980s suffered high rates of heart disease. Health experts theorized that palm oil—whose cost was subsidized by the government—was one of the causes of the heart disease. So in 1987, the government began a health promotion program and switched the subsidy from oil made mostly of palm oil to one made mostly of soy.That “governmental action to substitute soybean oil for palm oil as the subsidized, rationed oil resulted in a remarkable reduction in cholesterol levels,” according to K. Srinith Reddy, of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi.ii The World Health Organization reported that changing the cooking oil resulted in a 15 percent decrease in serum cholesterol in the population.

On the basis of a large body of scientific studies, several authoritative health agencies have evaluated the healthfulness of palmitic acid and palm oil. For instance, the World Health Organization has stated that there is “convincing evidence” that palmitic acid increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. It advises that “intake of foods rich in myristic and palmitic acids should be replaced by fats with a lower content of these particular fatty acids.”

More recently, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases stated: “Cut back on foods high in saturated fat or cholesterol, such as meats, butter, dairy products with fat, eggs, shortening, lard, and foods with palm oil .”

According to medical experts who carried out a major multi-country study sponsored by Columbia University’s development-oriented Earth Institute, the burdens of heart disease—in terms of both health and economics—will fall heavily on people in developing countries. Already, heart disease, caused in part by certain cooking oils and fats, kills millions of people a year in China and India. Researchers estimate that in 2030 in China, half of the projected 9 million deaths from heart disease will occur among people in their prime working years, age 35 to 64. India and China also happen to be the world’s two biggest importers of palm oil

The Columbia University study concludes that without concerted interventions by the public health community, national governments, private enterprise, and ordinary citizens, an international health crisis due to heart disease is looming in China, India, and other developing countries. Reducing consumption of palm oil would be one good way to start addressing that crisis.