By now, you know that you should be avoiding trans fats. As food manufacturers re-formulate their brands to replace trans fats with other alternatives, it’s easy to become confused when you read the new food labels. Saturated, unsaturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated? Olive, canola, soy, Malaysian palm fruit oil, palm kernel oil, coconut oil or animal fats (beef tallow, lard) – which are the healthier choices? The answers may surprise you.
Did you know that the fats you eat can raise your cholesterol? Or that nutritionally, Malaysian palm fruit oil may be as healthful as olive oil? “It is exciting to learn that there are options for oils on the market that provide a nice alternative to butter or even olive oil – which isn’t always appropriate for all types of cooking,” comments Registered Dietician, Nutritional Consultant and Author Felicia Stoler. “For example, red Malaysian palm fruit oil contains both beta-carotene and vitamin E. While that doesn’t mean you should eat large amounts of chicken wings fried with it, it is reassuring to know that when you cook or bake with it, it will taste great, it won’t raise your cholesterol and it delivered beneficial nutrients.”
Palm fruit oil vs Palm Kernel Oil: Read the food labels carefully!
Don’t confuse palm fruit oil with the much maligned palm kernel oil that was once widely used in movie popcorn. Cultivated in Malaysia, natural Palm fruit oil comes from the plant’s fruit (the fleshy part) and contains numerous micronutrients. Numerous studies have confirmed the nutritional value of palm fruit oil make it as healthful as olive oil.
In contrast, palm kernel oil comes from the plant’s kernel (seed). It contains about 85 percent saturated fats which can raise your cholesterol levels. So it’s best to think carefully before consuming it as a major part of your dietary fat intake.
Almost 90 percent of the world’s palm fruit oil is used as food. In fact, palm fruit oil is the second largest edible oil consumed, accounting for almost one quarter of the world’s fats and oil supply. Foods made with palm fruit oil, which is naturally trans fat-free (a claim also shared with olive oil), have a long shelf life and other desirable properties including great texture and flavor. Palm fruit oil also is very affordable.
What makes palm fruit oil so good? It contains almost equal amounts of unsaturated fats and saturated fats, (mainly palmitic and smaller amounts of stearic acids). As a result of its unique balanced composition, palm fruit oil has almost no impact on your cholesterol as long as your total dietary fat intake is in line with the levels recommended by health agencies such as the American Heart Association. Basically it behaves more like a healthier monounsaturated fat (the type of fat found in nuts, canola and olive oil) than a saturated fat. The virgin and red varieties of palm fruit oil are also rich in powerful antioxidants called tocotrienol and tocopherols (vitamin E), as well as carotenes (vitamin A).
Cooking with palm fruit oil
Olive oil is healthful and is ideal for sautéing and savory baking, but its flavor isn’t suited for many recipes and it is best used at lower temperatures. Butter also burns easily. “It’s very hard for a novice cook to know what the actual temperature is in a pan. Palm fruit oil is chef-friendly because it is very stable and is great for high heat cooking.
“Palm fruit oil can easily be substituted for solid fats such as butter, margarine or shortening, and is delicious when used for cooking and baking. Palm fruit oil or olive oil can also be blended with a small amount of butter if you want the buttery flavor when cooking at higher temperatures or baking.”
Natural palm fruit oil is better for the environment
Some food manufacturers and suppliers have begun using highly-processed, genetically-modified oils to replace trans fat in their products. “For those of us who prefer natural, unprocessed foods, Malaysian palm fruit oil is the obvious and smartest choice,” says Stoler. “The Malaysian oil palm growers are the leaders in environmentally-sensitive cultivation programs. Theirs is a premium product that is good for the environment and good for your health.
“As a dietician, I also understand that your family won’t eat something that doesn’t taste good. Malaysian palm fruit oil is the gold standard of palm oils. As with any oil, moderation is still important. Don’t make the mistake of thinking if a little is good, a lot is better. No one is recommending that you eat it in large quantities, and Malaysian palm fruit oil won’t make poor food choices better.
“But when you make the choice to eat products made with Malaysian palm fruit oil, or to cook with it in your own kitchen, you never have to worry about the flavor.”
Malaysian palm fruit oil: All-natural and naturally trans-fat free. It contains almost equal amounts of unsaturated fats and saturated fats, (mainly palmitic and smaller amounts of stearic acids). In the body, it behaves more like a monounsaturated fat. It has virtually no adverse impact on your cholesterol levels. Comparable nutritionally to olive oil, it can be used for cooking at higher temperatures than olive oil and is ideal for those cooking applications when you don’t want the flavor of olive oil.
Monosaturated fats: Lower total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol while increasing the HDL (good) cholesterol. Found abundantly in avocados, nuts, olive oil and liquid palm fruit oil (called palm olein).
Polyunsaturated fats: Lower total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol while increasing the HDL (good) cholesterol. Found in all vegetable oils, abundant in corn oil and sunflower oil. Omega 3 fatty acids in fish oil are an example.
Saturated fats: Raise total cholesterol as well as LDL (bad) cholesterol. Found abundantly in animal products such as beef and pork as well as palm kernel oil and coconut oil.
Trans fats: Raise LDL (bad) cholesterol and lower HDL (good) cholesterol. Also adversely raise a number of disease-related risk factors. Still found in many processed foods such as French fries and baked goods.
Felicia Stoler is a member of Media Relations Inc.’s panel of highly respected third-party experts. She is compensated to express her own professional opinions, through the media, about certain products.
Dr. Felicia D. Stoler is a registered dietitian, exercise physiologist and expert consultant in nutrition and healthful living. She was the host for the reality show, Honey We’re Killing the Kids on TLC. She is the author of Living Skinny in Fat Genes™: The Healthy Way to Lose Weight and Feel Great (Pegasus 2011). She specializes in integrating behavior modification to influence positive health outcomes. Stoler is the published author of numerous articles on nutrition, exercise, health and wellness.