Editor’s Note: The Malaysian Star interviewed Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC)’s new CEO Dr. Kalyana Sundram. This is part two of four excerpts we’ll publish from this interview. Prior to being appointed to this post in January 2017, Sundram was MPOC’s Deputy CEO and Science and Environment Director. A well-respected professional, Sundram has served on committees at the World Health Organization, Food and Agriculture Organization, and the International Union of Nutritional Sciences. He holds 21 palm oil-related patents and has published extensively on palm oil.
Malaysian Star: Is palm oil healthy?
Sundram: My family cooks with palm oil. Minimizing health risks is about leading a healthy lifestyle and eating a balanced diet, and that includes dietary fat. If you’re eating a zero-fat diet, you’re in trouble. Scientists have been researching the association of oils and fats with cancer for over 50 years. Literature is ablaze with scientific documentation of how the rate of cancer progression is higher in laboratory animals fed with oils rich in polyunsaturated fats like soy and corn.
We replicated the research model and found that palm oil was less cancer promoting in animals than these other oils. But although our work was published in very good peer science journals, we didn’t jump to the conclusion that palm oil was anti-cancer, and soy and corn were pro-cancer because these studies weren’t conducted on the population.
The bottom line is, if you consume palm, soy or corn oil, there’s no cancer risk if you have a healthy lifestyle. There were also studies showing how heated fats increase cancer risk in laboratory animals. Because liquid fat from seed oils like olive, soybean and corn, oxidize faster than palm oil, the latter is thought to be less cancerous.
Again, we refrained from over-claiming because we felt we needed better proof, especially in humans.
So, is palm oil cancerous? I’m ready to debate with any authority who makes such a claim because there is absolutely no evidence to support it. The positive thing about palm oil is that it contains vitamin E tocotrienols and pro-Vitamin A carotenoids. These nutritional compounds are sold separately as health supplements. While tocotrienols have anti-cancer properties, we don’t have evidence that it can cure cancer. At best, it’s a nutritional supplement that probably helps to prevent the onset of certain cancers. It is also proven to help prevent stroke in humans.
Despite the positive evidence, we have been very conservative in how we position palm oil.
It may be time to change our approach.