Palm oil is a vegetable oil from the fruit of the palm tree (Elaeis guineensis), which originated in West Africa and is now widespread throughout the tropical areas of America and South East Asia. From the seeds of the palm tree, another vegetable oil, palm kernel oil, is obtained, which has a composition different from that of palm oil and is mainly used for non-food applications.

Palm oil processing
A woman stoking fire at a local palm oil mill

Until now, red palm oil has been shown to contain high concentrations of beta- and alpha-carotene, and is presumed to possess a higher vitamin A value than other foods.

It is amazing that palm oil provides about 7000 retinol equivalents of carotene per 100g of weight, which is about 17 times the amount of carotene in carrots. Similarly, the abundant tocotrienol (a form of Vitamin E) found in red palm oil is about 40 – 60 times more potent than tocopherol (another form of Vitamin E) in terms of antioxidant properties.

Earlier researches showed that red palm oil significantly reduces the risk of suffering an attack of stroke, enhances cardiovascular health in several ways, its anticancer nutrient known as tocotrienol blocks and mops up harmful free radicals and prevents them from causing oxidative injury to vital body organs, improves vision, protects from degenerative brain disease and improves skin health.

However, recently, a European safety agency has said that substances produced when palm oil is processed at high temperatures may cause cancer, based on animal studies.

According to WebMD, the agency studied harmful substances that form during food processing when vegetable oils are heated to temperatures of 392 F or higher. The highest levels of these substances, known as glycidyl fatty acid esters, or GEs, are in palm oils and palm fat, followed by other oils and fats. Margarines, pastries, and cakes are the main exposure sources for anyone over age 3.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)’s panel concluded that average exposures are a concern for younger age groups, and high exposures are a concern for all age groups. The report does not include recommendations for “safe” levels.

However, the panel concluded that an infant receiving only formula (which. can contain palm oil) would be below the level of concern. The panel also said levels of the harmful substances in palm oils and fats fell by half between 2010 and 2015, due to voluntary measures by producers to improve processing techniques.

EFSA declared that palm oil is more carcinogenic than any other oil, following similar claims by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Why could refined palm oil be cancerous? The detailed EFSA report, published in May 2016; said palm oil is more dangerous than other vegetable oils when refined at temperatures above 200 degrees Celsius (200C).

How palm oil intake may cause cancer

Also, a recent academic study recently published in Science Daily has linked palm oil to the aggressive spread of cancer.

Read more: Naij.com