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Palm oil and its cholesterol controversy

One question some of my patients ask me is whether palm oil is good or not in respect to raising the blood cholesterol level and causing cardiovascular diseases. Note in most parts of Africa, palm oil has no alternative when it comes to cooking soups that are native to this region. Most times these soups are consumed on a daily basis, so the significance of this question can be appreciated.

Present knowledge suggests that dietary cholesterol may not play a major role in raising blood cholesterol level, what is important is the saturated fatty acids in the diet that is readily converted in the liver into total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, which is regarded as bad cholesterol, and is well known to cause cardiovascular diseases.

Palm oil has 0% cholesterol. It consist of 50% saturated fatty acid known as palmitic acid, and 50% unsaturated fatty acid, linoleic and oleic acid. Palm oil also contains vitamin E, vitamin A and antioxidants that protect against heart disease. Unsaturated fatty acids are known to be good for the heart. So the main controversy with palm oil is the saturated fatty acid, palmitic acid which some studies have said is converted to cholesterol in the body and may lead to cardiovascular diseases. While other studies have noted that palmitic acid is not like other saturated fatty acids and that it does not affect the blood cholesterol level.

Recommendation is moderate intake of palm oil. It may have both beneficial effects and possible adverse effects.

About Dr Emeka Okocha

Consultant Cardiologist with interest in preventive cardiology

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