This post was originally published on February 8, 2018 and updated on January 24, 2020.

While some health aficionados are clamoring about the latest “superfood”, Peter Pressman, MD, MS, FACN suggests a more balanced approach. “It cannot be stressed enough that the reality of food is that it is a matrix made up of a combination saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats; not to mention carbohydrates and proteins, and an array of micronutrients. It is difficult to readily, consistently and accurately tease out the general effect of a specific nutrient, never mind demonizing a nutrient.”

Pressman has spent much of his career studying special topics in nutritional support and analyzing the latest research. Here are his suggestions for making smart food choices.

Saturated fats may have health benefits
“We now know that the variation in fats makes it difficult to generalize about their health effects and risks. 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.

Eating excessive saturated fat was historically linked with heart disease but Pressman says we now appreciate that is not necessarily or generally the case. “Epidemiologic data do not support saturated fatty acids (SFAs) are a major contributor to coronary heart disease risk. In fact, some SFAs may reduce stroke risk.”1 This reassurance is contributing to palm oil’s use as a trans fat replacement in our food supply.

Pressman adds that some food experts may be surprised to learn that the liquid fraction of palm oil, called palm olein (POL)2 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 carotenes32 (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.”

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Most of Malaysia’s palm oil is also 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.

The emerging science of personalized nutrition
The more we understand the health benefits and mechanisms of action driving the nutrients in our food supply such as Malaysian certified sustainable palm oil, the better prepared the industry will be to provide consumers with personalized nutrition options.

Pressman comments, “We are rapidly learning that diet and genomes interact in complex fashion. The great challenge in bringing personalized nutrition to the market lies in developing robust and meaningful diagnostic and interventional approaches.”

  1. Saturated Fats and CVD: AHA Convicts, We Say Acquit – Medscape – Jul 12, 2017; Chowdhury et al., Ann Intern Med. 2014;160:398-406. doi: 10.7326/M13-1788; Mozaffarian D. The Lancet Diabetes-Endocrinology 2015,; Knopp & Retzlaff, Am J Clin Nutr 2004;80:1102-3; Mozaffarian et al., Am J Clin Nutr 2004;80:1175-84; Mozaffarian D. J Am Diet Assoc 2011;111:665-6; Jakobsen et al., Am J Clin Nutr 2009;89:1425-32; Astrup et al., Am J Clin Nutr 2011;93:684-8.
  2. Palm oil and cardiovascular disease: a randomized trial of the effects of hybrid palm oil supplementation on human plasma lipid patterns.” Food & function1 (2016): 347-354].
  3. Stonehouse, Welma, et al. “Short term effects of palm-tocotrienol and palm-carotenes on vascular function and cardiovascular disease risk: A randomised controlled trial.” Atherosclerosis 254 (2016): 205-214.


Biography: Dr. Peter Pressman
Peter Pressman, MD, MS, FACN is Vice President of Medical Operations at Polyscience Consulting in Chatsworth, California. He is a graduate of Bowdoin College, the University of Chicago, and Northwestern University Medical School, and was trained at the University of Wisconsin and Rush-Presbyterian St. Lukes Medical Center. After serving as Assistant Professor of Medicine, Director of Educational Programs of the Pacific Center for Health Policy & Ethics, and Associate Director of the Internal Medicine Residency Program, all at University of Southern California/Keck School of Medicine, he attended at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, and later deployed in the Developing World as a Naval Medical Officer. Pressman has been continuously active in both internal medicine and surgical education, focusing on special topics in nutritional support.  Pressman is 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.

Peter Pressman is a member of Media Relations Inc.’s panel of highly respected third-party experts. He is compensated to express his own professional opinions, through the media, about certain products.