For years, we’ve been told that we should restrict the amount of saturated fat in our diets if we want to manage our LDL (bad) cholesterol level and reduce our risk of heart disease. But few of us realize that limiting the saturated fat in our diets may also reduce our HDL (good) cholesterol levels. Researchers recently took a closer look at this Catch-22 dilemma, and published their findings in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition. Their results may cause you to re-think the type of cooking oil you’ve been using.

“We know that most people who have high total cholesterol levels also have high concentrations of fat circulating in their blood plasma immediately after eating,” explains researcher Kalyana Sundram, PhD, who helped to design and conduct the study, which was undertaken at the National University of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. “We wanted to know if the size, or chain length, of the saturated fatty acid molecules made a difference in how much fat finds its way into our bloodstreams after we eat. We also wanted to know the effect that these different types of fat have on our LDL and HDL cholesterol concentrations.”

Same meals/different fats used in the study

Twenty healthy adults ate a week’s worth of typical Malaysian meals, prepared with one of three different fats to give them varying saturated fat content and different ratios of saturated-to-polyunsaturated fatty acids:

1. Lauric and myristic acids (a coconut and corn oil blend)

2. Palmitic acid (pure palm olein from Malaysian palm fruit)

3. Stearic acid (a cocoa butter and corn oil blend)

The volunteers’ blood was sampled to measure the amount of fats circulating in the blood plasma as well as their LDL and HDL concentrations. The blood tests were done after fasting to give a baseline, then again at two, four, five and six hours after meal consumption.

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“We know that the more time that fat molecules spend circulating in your blood, the higher your risk of adversely impacting blood-related clotting factors or thrombotic indices,” explains Dr. Sundram.

Researchers found that, after two hours, the meals prepared with the palmitic acid and the lauric/myristic acid blends both increased HDL levels significantly, by 7.6 percent and 14 percent respectively, compared to meals prepared with stearic acid, which appeared to depress the levels of HDL.

In addition, the amount of time that the fats circulated in the blood plasma was highest with stearic acid meals, with the level peaking at five hours. By comparison, the levels peaked at four hours for the palmitic acid and the lauric/myristic acid blend. “Our bodies appear to be able to clear the palmitic acid and lauric/myristic acid blends faster/more efficiently than stearic acid.

“What all of this means to you and me, is that we shouldn’t be afraid of all saturated fats. However we should understand that some may be healthier for the body than others. While you can’t easily find bottles of a coconut/corn oil blend on your supermarket shelves, it is becoming increasingly easy to find Malaysian Palm Fruit Oil with a composition similar to that used in this study.”

Dr. Sundram adds that Malaysian Palm Fruit Oil is also rich in antioxidants and other nutrients such as beta carotene and vitamin E tocotrienols that make it a smart choice for every cook’s pantry.

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