FIT WebQoof: Is Palm Oil Really Worse Than Smoking and Alcohol?
The inexpensiveness and versatility of palm oil has made it a staple component of products in Indian kitchens, shops, restaurants, packaged foods, and even bathroom essentials like soaps and shaving creams. India’s consumption of the oil increased by over 230 percent in the last two decades, and the country is currently consuming almost 17 percent of the world’s total oil consumption.
A WhatsApp message that has been circulating claims that palm oil is the real culprit behind heart attacks in India, and that it is far worse than alcohol and smoking combined.
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True or False?
Palm oil is produced from the fruit of the oil palm (Elaeis guineensis), which is grown in the tropical regions of the world, majorly Indonesia and Malaysia.
Healthline gives a break up of its composition:
The saturated fat in it is mostly palmitic acid, apart from which it contains oleic acid and some amount of linoleic and stearic acid.
Study results on the potential health risks of palm oil have been conflicting. The suspicion arises because of its saturated content.
Saturated fats are known to increase low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, that increases risk of cardiovascular diseases. An extensive report by the Center for Science in the Public Interest refers to various studies that have shown that palmitic acid raises blood cholesterol levels and promotes heart disease.
On the other hand, there are studies that conclude that all saturated fat is not equally harmful. Moreover, since palm oil contains oleic acids, linoleic acids and vitamin E tocotrienols, it has antioxidant properties that can ‘inhibit cholesterol synthesis’.
What the Doctors Say
FIT spoke Dr Praveen Chandra, Chairman, Cardiology at Medanta-The Medicity, who said that palm oil in itself is not the problem, but moderation is key.
He laid down the following things to keep in mind:
- Ensure that the oil is from a good source. It should be processed properly.
- Don’t heat it too much. Reheating is to be completely avoided.
- Mustard oil is a good option for India as it is affordable. Olive oil, on the other hand, is good but relatively expensive. It is not readily available either.
- It is advisable to use different oils. Indians have traditionally been cooking dishes in different oils for their distinct flavors. But this practice also has medicinal value because of the different compositions of these oils.
Most importantly, the doctor reiterated that exercising regularly and consuming a balanced diet is the most important. Oil alone isn’t a big issue.
FIT also got in touch with Dr Pramod Kumar, Director and Head of Department for Cardiac Sciences, Fortis Healthcare, Shalimar Bagh, who explained that any oil that has a high content of saturated fat is harmful for the heart. While palm oil is one of them, it is also slightly different because it has monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Several small studies have come up with different results- some claim it is beneficial, and others claim it increases risk of stroke and heart attacks.
He also added that palm oil can be substituted with olive oil, if needed. Otherwise, moderate consumption of palm oil with a healthy lifestyle would not create problems.
While study results on the direct link between palm oil and cardiovascular health might be conflicting, it is clear that palm oil is not the sole villain that it is made out to be. Consumption of saturated fat in excess, is of course, problematic and harmful. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and consuming oil in moderation is crucial in keeping health problems at bay.
And no, palm oil is definitely not worse than smoking and alcohol. Remember, moderation.