This post was originally published on November 26, 2019 and updated on September 16, 2020.
In this era of trendy ingredients and so-called superfoods, Peter Pressman MD, MS, FACN, is determined to routinely analyze the research. He wants to understand which natural ingredients offer the greatest potential health benefits. This will enable nutritionists and dietitians to guide smarter food choices. Pressman is particularly interested in saturated fats and palm bioactives.
Pressman’s credentials include serving as a reviewer for the “Journal of Food Science,” the “Journal of Food & Chemical Toxicology,” and serves on the Editorial Board of “Toxicology Research and Application.” He has served on the Food Additive Task Force of the International Special Dietary Foods Industries (ISDFI) along with distinguished scientists representing the European Union and from the Chan School of Public Health, Harvard University. The Task Force has developed and is publishing a science driven framework for the safety assessment of technologically justified food additives during early life.
A change in thinking: Saturated fats may have health benefits
We now know we can’t generalize how dietary fats will affect us. “Individual life stage, lifestyle, and genetics must be considered before assigning a health-promoting or health-risk label on a sub-class or class of nutrients,” says Pressman. He cautions against demonizing dietary fats such as palm oil, which has a balanced ratio of unsaturated and saturated fatty acids.
Pressman says eating excessive saturated fat is not necessarily linked with heart disease. It is not supported by epidemiologic data. He adds that some food experts may be surprised to learn that the liquid fraction of palm oil, called palm olein (POL) also fits side-by-side with olive oil into the heart health/brain health category.
“POL’s association with a reduction in LDL cholesterol and the associated damage to the endothelium is equivalent to olive oil,” he points out. “POL’s positive effects are attributed to its high percentage of the monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acid, oleic acid. The vascular health-promoting effects of palm oil are most certainly also related to its bouquet of bioactive components, especially tocotrienols (forms of vitamin E) and carotenes3 (when retained in red palm oil).
Certified sustainable palm oil is a rich source of bioactives
Pressman identifies the main bioactives in red palm oil as free fatty acids, carotenoids, tocotrienols, tocopherols, sterols, phospholipids, squalene and coenzyme Q10. “Tocotrienols are generally recognized as safe and have been shown to protect against and minimize stroke-related brain damage,” he points out.
Palm carotenoids are natural, fat-soluble compounds that have high antioxidant potential. Antioxidants help reign in free radicals and can help reduce an overabundance of anti-inflammatories in the body. “There are also studies being done on how palm carotenoids affect cancer, skin health, cell-to-cell signaling and immune enhancement,” he says. “Other palm oil bioactives play an important role in enhancing health and are considered a contributing factor to a healthy lifestyle.”
After evaluating dozens of studies, Pressman concludes that, “For general nutritional health, for macro building blocks and micronutrients that can exert a multitude of brain-relevant actions, it is valuable to consider extra-virgin olive oil and especially palm oil as a cardioprotective dietary fat with the additional benefit of the “bioactive” tocotrienols and carotenes that likely further promote vascular health.”
Most of Malaysia’s palm oil is certified sustainable and may even be supplied as traceable and or segregated, so you know it’s not being mixed with fillers and other artificial products; you can trace where the supply came from.
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