FIT WebQoof: Is Palm Oil Really Worse Than Smoking and Alcohol?
India’s palm oil consumption  has increased from 3 million tonnes to nearly 10 million tonnes.
India’s palm oil consumption has increased from 3 million tonnes to nearly 10 million tonnes.(Photo: iStockphoto/altered by FIT)

FIT WebQoof: Is Palm Oil Really Worse Than Smoking and Alcohol?

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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.

This makes India the biggest consumer as well as importer of the adaptable and cost-effective oil.
India’s palm oil consumption has grown exponentially.&nbsp;
India’s palm oil consumption has grown exponentially. 
(Photo Courtesy: IndexMundi)
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Claim

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.

Also Read : Reality Check: Fish Oil is No Brain Food

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:

Palm oil is 100 percent fat. Its fatty acid breakdown is 50% saturated fatty acids, 40% monounsaturated fatty acids and 10% polyunsaturated fatty acids. 

The saturated fat in it is mostly palmitic acid, apart from which it contains oleic acid and some amount of linoleic and stearic acid.

Studies

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’.

It is the opinion of the authors that palm oil consumed as a dietary fat as part of a healthy balanced diet does not have incremental risk for cardiovascular disease.

Also Read : Is Coconut Oil Really the Villain It Is Made Out to Be?

What the Doctors Say

“Mustard oil is a good option for Indians because of its less saturated fat content and easy affordability.”
“Mustard oil is a good option for Indians because of its less saturated fat content and easy affordability.”
(Photo: iStockphoto)

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.

If you keep smoking and consuming alcohol, olive oil would not be of any help. But if your blood pressure and diabetes is in control, if you have a healthy lifestyle, then moderate consumption of palm oil would not be of any harm. 
Dr Praveen Chandra

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.

Due to the absence of a good large-scale study, it is difficult to say with conviction whether palm oil is actually so harmful or not. But clinical guidelines are clear about one thing: Saturated fat and trans fat is to be avoided at all costs. 
Dr Pramod Kumar

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.

The Verdict

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.

Also Read : 5 Best Essential Oils To Boost Your Immunity This Season

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