Issues related to dietary
fats and their implications for health remain a major preoccupation for the
American consumer. The large battery of information being bombarded on the
consumers, to say the least, is bewildering and serves largely to confuse the
lay consumer. Yet, most of these dietary recommendations are geared towards
leading the consumer towards a healthier lifestyle that according to the health
pundits should ensure a better and longer life for most of us. Are the consumers
getting the correct message based on established scientific principles and
In recent times, probably
one of the most debated issues in relation to dietary fats has been the
role of trans fatty acids (TFA) and their implications for human health.
After more than 50 years of concerted efforts to sweep the evidence under
the carpet that there are unquestionable benefits from consuming partially
hydrogenated polyunsaturated fat preparations, the bubble has finally burst.
No less than the most authoritative expert (health) committee in the USA,
namely the Institute of Medicine (IOM), has determined that the upper tolerable
limit for trans fatty acid consumption in the human diet is zero. Interpreted
simply, the recommendation is towards zero trans for a healthier diet makeup.
The FDA has no other avenue
but to legislate for the reduction and declaration of trans fatty acids
from the American diet and by 2006 all food products are required to make
this declaration so that the consumers are able to make the correct healthy
The American Food Industry
have to quickly find alternatives that can be used to replace trans fatty
acids and such alternatives must be the healthier choice compared to current
hydrogenated fat formulations.
are the alternatives to trans fatty acids? To answer this issue we must
first understand our culinary habits, which are rather difficult to change
despite the obvious push to eat a healthy diet. The different staple foods
that have been traditionally made with hydrogenated fats (and are still
continued) must be successfully reformulated without loss of taste and
sensory perceptions. These
foods require a solid fat profile that is so important for their functionality
and taste. Loose the hydrogenated fats from these formulations, and in
reality the industry has little choice but to turn to saturated fats.
Unlike the early 1980s,
there is now a wealth of scientific evidence that supports the fact that
palm oil is wholesome nutritious edible oil. Palm oil is indeed rich in
both the saturated palmitic and monounsaturated oleic acid. It also contains
sufficient quantities of the polyunsaturated linoleic acid. Given its natural
versatile composition, palm oil is easily fractionated into liquid oil,
palm olein (higher monounsaturated oleic acid, same constituent as in olive
oil and lower content of saturated palmitic acid) and a solid fat, palm
stearin (lower content of oleic acid and higher content of palmitic acid).
It is mostly this palm oil and liquid palm olein that reaches the American
MPOB has pioneered more
than 142 different nutritional trials evaluating palm oil and its components,
mostly through research partnership with a number of American, European
and Australian institutions of high repute. The human studies that have
evaluated palm oil and palm olein document a clear scientific observation:
when palm oil / olein is incorporated into the human diet at current recommended
levels of fat consumption it is not deleterious to the human lipid and
lipoprotein profile and hence does not constitute a risk for coronary heart
disease via increased total cholesterol (TC) or LDL-cholesterol levels.
This augers well for a claim that palm oil/olein is basically a neutral
fat at such levels of recommended fat consumption. The latest review on
this particular subject published in Lipid Technology (2004) is attached
for easy reference. Primary papers cited in the review and published in
leading biomedical and nutrition journals are also available.
Palm oil / olein, has the
capacity to add a new health dimension to this current trans dilemma and
shows promise as a partner for the American food industry in its efforts
to reformulate foods with zero trans content. But the road that palm oil
could offer, already paved by good science, is again facing numerous discriminatory
actions that continue to send unwarranted fears for the consumers. If the
consumer had easy access to the scientific literature they would be better
informed and learn that when consumed at the current recommended levels
of fat intake (30% fat energy), palm oil/olein is essentially a neutral
fat and compares favorably with the gold standard olive oil and other monounsaturated
fats such as Canola and rapeseed oils. A true test to this claim is demonstrated
simply by blending palm oil with specific liquid oils such that the recommended
American Heart Association's Step 1 diet (10% saturates; 10% polyunsaturates;
10% monounsaturates) is readily achieved, even when palm oil's contribution
is 50% of the blend. The validity of the health benefit of such a blend
is underscored by a human dietary trial (published in a peer-reviewed journal)
and three US patents that specify claims for improving one's cholesterol
ratio via increases in the beneficial HDL-cholesterol with the palm based
AHA Step-1 blend.
Scientific evidence against
excess consumption of saturated fats is already well entrenched and associated
with increased risk for coronary heart disease (CHD). Despite this, science
has made steady progress and there is sufficient evidence indicating that
all saturated fatty acids are not equally CHD enhancing. For example stearic
acid is being touted as a neutral fat for cholesterol metabolism. More
important, moderation in the quantity of fats we consume is the key towards
a healthy lifestyle. Although American fat intake trends are showing a
slow but steady decline, the current levels of fat intake are still in
excess of the recommended 30% energy optimum fat consumption advocated.
The effects on cholesterol
metabolism are definitely different when these fats are compared, with
the trans fatty acids. Trans
caused a significant decrease in the beneficial HDL-cholesterol and then
shifted the ratio of LDL/HDL -cholesterol for the worse. Saturated fats
actually have the capacity to increase the beneficial HDL-cholesterol.
The consumer should do well to remember that the IOM assigned zero tolerance
for trans fatty acids, yet advises moderate intake of saturated fatty acids
which could still form the building block of a healthy diet.
In the latest authoritative
review of saturated fats published in the American Journal of Clinical
Nutrition (September 2004), dietary studies with palm oil have been referred
to as palmitic-oleic-rich. This is an important definition more so since
most of the palm based oil that reaches the USA is the liquid palm olein,
which is mostly unsaturated oleic acid and palmitic acid. This natural
combination, when consumed at recommended levels of fat intake has been
shown to be a neutral fat for cholesterol metabolism and regulation.
In the American diet, palmitic
is the major saturated fatty acid, but it is not sourced from palm oil
but from red meat, pork, poultry, dairy fat and processed foods. The contribution
of palm oil in the American diet remains extremely low (< 2% energy)
Indeed if the drive is
towards a more healthy choice, there is ample evidence for the beneficial
partnership between palm oil and the other monounsaturated and polyunsaturated
oils, especially soybean oil.
So, the American food industry
will be regulated towards minimizing the use of hydrogenated fat and what
realistic choice does it really have?
An option today would be
to go natural. In this context palm oil presents itself as a neutral choice.
The final choice should lie within your grasp as a consumer. We are simply
stating that in such a fat there is definitely a positive health role for
palm oil and palm
oil will never completely replace soybean oil as the major edible oil in
the USA. Since soybean and other liquid oils cannot be hydrogenated, we are
simply suggesting a marriage among these commodity oils. In this marriage,
palm oil has a functionality task, to provide the solid fat content in most
of the solid fats that are the mainstay of current American culinary habits.
The advantage, rather than
disadvantage, is the fact that palm oil / olein now has a proven record of
neutrality towards plasma lipids and CHD risk and the above proposed marriage
would only serve to improve the overall fatty acid profile of the Americans,
possibly moving closer to the magical Step 1 diet advocated by the American