Professor Dr Ammu K Radhakrishnan Professor of Pathology (Immunology), International Medical University, Kuala Lumpur
Plants contain unique substances, called phytonutrients, which are believed to confer health benefits to us, such as protection from certain diseases while boosting our heart health. Research has uncovered a considerable amount of phytonutrients in palm oil. In a review paper co-authored by Professor Dr Ammu K Radhakrishnan, published in the Malaysian Journal of Nutrition in 2010, it is stated that palm oil contains the following phytonutrients.
Vitamin E, primarily tocotrienols, which we have featured considerably in previous issues. You can refer to past issues for more information. We will let other phytonutrients get the spotlight in this article!
Carotenoids. These are substances that give palm oil its orange-reddish colour. Crude palm oil is said to be one of the richest natural plant sources of carotenoids, containing 13 different types.
α-, β- and γ-carotenoids are converted into vitamin A in the body, making palm oil a good choice of cooking oil for people who are vitamin A deficient.
β-carotene can prevent LDL cholesterol – the bad cholesterol – from undergoing oxidation and increasing our risk of coronary heart disease.
Research increasingly suggests that some carotenes may protect from certain cancers, such as breast cancer.
Phytosterols (or ‘sterols’) are well-known for their ability to help lower the cholesterol levels in our body. They are frequently added to foods traditionally known to be high in fats (margarine, butter, etc) to reduce the total cholesterol and bad cholesterol content.
Squalene. This substance is mostly found in shark liver oil, but fortunately for sharks, many of which are endangered, it can also be obtained from plant sources including palm oil.
It helps to inhibit cholesterol production, thus reducing cholesterol levels and providing a boost to heart health.
It may also help reduce the risk of certain cancers, such as skin cancer.
The following are present in smaller quantities in palm oil.
Possible health benefits
Promote and support better nerve function.
Improve memory and brain function as we age.
Can be useful to pregnant women, to help support the memory and brain development of the baby.
Boost energy production by the body.
Protects from cell damage caused by free radicals and other byproducts of metabolism.
The above two benefits make this phytonutrient useful in supplementing the treatment of people with heart diseases.
Inhibit oxidation of bad cholesterol, thus promoting better heart health.
May protect from cancers such as prostate cancer and breast cancer.
Loganathan, R., et al. (2010). Health promoting effects of phytonutrients found in palm oil. Mal J Nutr;1 16(2):309-22. Epub 2010 Aug 15.