The international audience at the 2016 Palm Oil Trade Fair and Seminar took a critical look at U.S. consumers’ perceptions of saturated fat, including Malaysian certified sustainable palm oil. During a session presented by Malaysian Palm Oil Council Deputy CEO and Science and Environment Director Kalyana Sundram, the audience reviewed American food labels, dietary guidelines as well as the recent research. After years of shunning high-fat foods, more consumers are starting to embrace products made with healthy fats. This may benefit Malaysian family farmers who sustainably produce much of the palm oil used in the United States.
Major natural saturated fat sources include dairy products, fatty meats, coconut oil and palm oil. Two primary types of oil are derived from the palm fruit: palm kernel oil and palm fruit oil. Palm kernel oil is derived from the seed of the palm fruit and contains more than 80 percent saturated fat. Palm fruit oil, often simply referred to as ‘palm oil’, is derived from the fruit’s flesh and contains 50 percent saturated fat.
For decades, people associated saturated fat consumption with increased cardiovascular risk, but this theory has been proven false. Consumer perceptions about fat, however, are slow to change. This may be in part due to current American nutrition labels.
Sundram explained that recent studies on saturated fats have not been adequately highlighted, such as this meta-analysis which concluded that saturated fat consumption is not associated with an increased risk of heart disease or stroke, or a Japanese study which concluded that saturated fat consumption was inversely associated with mortality from stroke.
Sundram also pointed to studies showing that fat consumption may assist in weight loss, including a 2007 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study which showed that Swedish women consuming cheese and full-fat dairy experienced lower weight gain as they grew older.
American consumers are beginning to realize the benefits of saturated fat consumption, as evidenced by the decrease in consumers who categorize coconut oil and lard as “bad”. Consumers are continuing to learn about non-GMO Malaysian certified sustainable palm oil – such as its inclusion in heart healthy products such as Smart Balance spreads and its role replacing factory-made trans fats – and this will benefit the Malaysian palm oil industry.