Advantages of Cooking with Red Palm Oil

Palm Oil is Rich in Antioxidants!

Red palm oil is a minimally processed palm oil that naturally contains tocopherols and tocotrienols (vitamin E), and carotenoids (vitamin A)—which gives the oil its red color. It comes from the fruit of the tropical palm tree Elaeis guineensis, and has been used as a nutritious source of oil for thousands of years in Asia and Africa.1

These natural antioxidants act as scavengers of oxygen free radicals and are believed to play a protective role in cellular aging, atherosclerosis, cancer, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease.2345

The Richest Source of Carotenoids

Red palm oil has a higher bioavailability of antioxidant nutrients (proportion of nutrients that are usable by the body) than other vegetable sources6 and is a particularly important dietary oil for people who are not taking an excellent vitamin E supplement, with tocopherols and tocotrienols, and full-spectrum carotenoid nutritional supplement. It is considered the richest natural source of carotenoids with concentrations of 700-1000 ppm. That’s 30 times more than is contained in carrots!

There are over 600 different naturally-occurring carotenoids—the red, orange, and yellow plant pigments that give fruits and vegetables their vivid colors. Most fruits and vegetables contain varying concentrations of carotenoids, but their colors are often covered up by green chlorophyll contained in the plant.

Red palm oil contains high concentrations of beta- and alpha-carotene, which make up approximately 90% of its total carotenoid content. Importantly, red palm oil is one of the few excellent dietary sources of alpha-carotene, which has been shown to have even more powerful anticancer effects than beta-carotene.

The most widely studied and well understood nutritional role for carotenoids is their pro-vitamin A activity. Vitamin A can be produced within the body from certain carotenoids, notably beta-carotene.7 Scientists believe that because of its high carotenoid content red palm oil may enhance immune system

Moreover, it is well recognized that the carotenoids are most stable and best absorbed in the presence of fat, which acts as the carrier. In addition to the beta-carotene, which accounts for 55% of the carotenoids in red palm oil, it contains several other carotenoids which have properties different from their pro-vitamin A activity. Alpha-carotene (35%), lycopene, phytoene, and zeta-carotenes are the other major constituent carotenoids in red palm oil. All of these carotenoids have shown impressive anti-cancer properties, and unlike synthetic beta-carotene supplements, red palm oil contains a natural mix of many carotenoids.

The Power of Vitamin E to Improve Blood Lipids

Vitamin E has been shown over and over again to help reduce LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, raise “good” HDL cholesterol, reduce risk of heart attack, rev up the immune system, fight cancer, and lower the risk of developing cataracts. It is one of the most important phytonutrients in edible oils. But while most people think vitamin E is just a simple vitamin, it’s actually much more. In fact, vitamin E isn’t one compound, but rather a series of related compounds that have vitamin E activity including four tocopherols (alpha, beta, gamma, and delta) and four tocotrienols (alpha, beta, gamma, and delta).

A healthy diet contains a mixture of all these vitamin E compounds, but most dietary supplements contain only large amounts of alpha tocopherol, which do not simulate the blend of tocopherols and tocotrienols that is necessary to insure a balanced intake of vitamin E-like compounds. A chemical analysis of red palm oil shows that it contains abundant amounts of many tocopherols and tocotrienols.20

Tocotrienols have been found to significantly inhibit HMG-CoA reductase (the enzyme that controls the rate at which cholesterol is synthesized), which ultimately results in lower cholesterol.21 This same effect has been shown in people after they ingest palm oil.22

Red palm oil is not hydrogenated, not processed with toxic solvents such as hexane, and contains no trans-fatty acids. Moreover, it is well recognized We’ve been hearing a lot lately about the dangers of trans-fatty acids—how they raise LDL (bad cholesterol) and other blood lipids, lower HDL (good cholesterol), and increase the risk of diabetes. The problem is that just about every type of processed food contains some trans-fats. Now, thanks to a new government ruling, the labels on all packaged foods will have to divulge how much of the notorious artery-clogging fats they contain.

Trans-Fatty Acids: Why Are They So Bad?

Unfortunately, trans-fats and the foods that contain them make up the bulk of fat consumption in our Western diet. They’re found in margarine, fast food, deep-fried foods—including French fries and potato chips, baked goods, processed convenience foods, candies, cured and aged foods such as sausages, luncheon meats, and some cheeses. Stay away from these kinds of foods. Stick with fresh, wholesome foods, and cook with red palm oil!

Most supermarket oils are processed, oxidized, hydrogenated, deodorized, bleached, de-gummed or otherwise altered. These unhealthy fats contain trans-fatty acids that are created by heat, as in deep frying, and by hydrogenation.

Hydrogenation extends the shelf life of food products and makes liquid fats solidify so they’re easy to spread on bread and crackers, etc. A good example is oil and vegetable shortening. Oil is a liquid at room temperature; it is hydrogenated to produce solid vegetable shortening. The process of hydrogenation also increases the saturated fat content. Unfortunately, this process produces trans-fatty acids, which your body doesn’t like, and which plays a major role in disease.23

This, of course, increases the risk of atherosclerosis, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and a weakened immune system. Even so-called “healthy” margarines and those marked “cholesterol-free” contain trans-fatty acids that should be avoided. Whenever you see “hydrogenated” or “partial hydrogenated” on a food label, there is trans-fat in the product.

A recent follow-up of the well-known Framingham Study showed a strong link between margarine intake and coronary heart disease. The study tracked 832 men who were free of coronary heart disease when the study began. During the 21-year follow-up, about a third (267) of the men had suffered a previous heart attack. When the men’s margarine and butter intake was compared, the results showed that the margarine significantly increased the risk of heart attack. Interestingly, butter did not play a role in heart attack prediction at all! Other studies of margarine and trans-fatty acids link their consumption to premature aging and to the development of atherosclerosis, cancers, tumors and other serious illnesses.2425

More than 50% of the world’s consumption of fats and oils is in the form of solid fats. The use of solid fats is a necessity especially in the making of biscuits, breads, buns, cakes, and pastries. Invariably, the food industry hydrogenates liquid oils to convert it to solid fats. In the process, trans-fatty acids are formed. Solid fats made from red palm oil however do not require hydrogenation, and thus palm fats are trans-free.

Contains Fats That Are Beneficial to Health

The fatty acid composition of palm oil is similar to that of the fat tissue in most people on an ordinary diet. It contains a healthy mixture of all the types of fatty acids: 10% polyunsaturated, 40% monounsaturated and 50% saturated fatty acids. The saturated fatty acids are made up of 44% palmitic acid and 5% stearic acid. The unsaturated fatty acids consist of 39% oleic acid (monounsaturates) and 10% linoleic acid (polyunsaturates).

Palmitic acid, a 16-carbon-chain saturated fat, makes up almost half of the fatty acids in red palm oil. That means it’s good for supplying energy that is easy to digest and does not cause a rise in blood sugar or insulin. You have to eat, and if you aren’t getting energy from fat it will have to be from either protein or carbohydrates. Red palm oil is a good source of easy-to-digest calories without putting a burden on insulin production. It won’t cause syndrome X and it won’t raise your triglycerides or LDLs. Furthermore, it actually raises HDL levels relative to LDLs. (Note: Blood lipids are made worse by excessive dietary fat, but to put that in perspective, it is trans-fats that are the worst, refined sugar runs a close second, and then some, but not all, saturated fats. Palmitic acid, the main saturated fat in palm oil, actually improves blood lipid profiles.)

Remains Stable Even When Cooked at High Temperatures

Most oils become rancid from exposure to heat, light, and oxygen. Red palm oil is naturally protected by its high levels of vitamin E antioxidants, and has a natural resistance to oxidation and rancidity. It can be safely used for cooking, and in fact, a study examining the cooking of red palm oil at high temperatures showed that it does not have an adverse effect on blood lipids.26 It also contains a very low concentration of linolenic acid and only a moderate proportion of linoleic acid, the most readily oxidized components of oils, making it even more resistant to rancidity. For an oil that contains essential fatty acids, palm is surprisingly stable in cooking applications.

How Does Red Palm Oil Compare to Other Oils?

  • Red palm oil contains more antioxidants and vitamin E than any other oil.
  • No other oil contains a significant amount of carotenes.
  • It contains a healthy balance of all types of fat: 10% polyunsaturated, 40% monounsaturated and 50% saturated fatty acids, similar to that of the fat tissue in most people on an ordinary diet.
  • Remains stable when used for cooking.
  • It is not hydrogenated, is not processed with heat or solvents such as hexane, and does not contain any trans-fatty acids
  • On the other hand, olive oil which has typically been considered the healthiest cooking oil, is low in polyunsaturated fatty acids and vitamin E, high in monunsaturated fatty acids, and does not remain stable when used for cooking.


Red palm oil is an excellent oil for general use. But even with this high quality oil, for optimal fatty acid profile we recommend supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids from flax seed or flax seed oil, hemp oil, or fish oil. In fact, one study showed that the combination of fish oil and palm oil synergistically improves blood lipids, lipoproteins and cardiovascular risk factors.29 You can get your Omega-6 oils from nuts, seeds or good quality vegetable oil like sesame, non-GMO sunflower, and non-GMO soy oil. (The reason we say non-GMO is because the food industry is systematically engineering the seeds to have low EFAs in order to extend the shelf life—besides the fact that GMOs have not been adequately tested from a public health point of view. Use an organic, unrefined, non-GMO vegetable oil, and don’t cook it or the EFAs will be destroyed.)

Scientific research has shown the health benefits of red palm oil, which could easily replace the tremendous amounts of trans-fats used in the production of pastries and breads, without the negative health effects. Also, red palm oil presents the most sustainable option among edible oils due to its high yields, providing work to thousands of people throughout Southeast Asia. It is quite possible that red palm oil could satisfy the world’s demands for healthy oils and fats without straining the earth’s limited land and energy resources … and it’s an excellent, multi-purpose oil that will be a healthy addition to your pantry.


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    Kamsiah J., et al. “Changes in serum lipid profile and malondialdehyde following consumption of fresh or heated red palm oil.” Proceedings of Food Technology & Nutrition Conference, International Palm Oil Congress 2001, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.


    Edem DO. Palm oil: biochemical, physiological, nutritional, hematological, and toxicological aspects: a review. Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 2002 Fall;57(3-4):319-41.

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