Red Palm Oil Healthful Addition to Human Diet

Thanks to a novel process of refining crude palm oil, about 80 per cent of the natural goodness in the form of carotenoids and vitamin E in original crude Oil is retained in this healthful addition to the human diet?red palm oil (RPO). The characteristics red colour of RPO is due to the multi-carotenoids present in the oil, totalling about 545 ppm with 90 per cent as the pro-vitamin A carotenoids, beta-carotene and alpha-carotene. RPO can be processed into several fractions with different physico-chemical properties, thereby facilitating its use in a wide range of food applications. However, housewives would be more familliar with the clear RPO fraction in the attractive bottles on supermarket shelves, which is commercial red palm olein.

With a retinol equivalent (RE) of about 7,000 mg/100g, RPO is distinctly superior to carrots and tomatoes as a dietary source of the provitamin A carotenoids. What this means is that 5g (less than one teaspoon) of RPO and about twice this amount (11g) are sufficient to provide the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for vitamin A of a child and adult, respectively. You also do not have to worry about excessive intakes of provitamin A carotenoids as the body naturally regulates their bioconversion into vitamin A.

Carotenoid loss during shallow cooking is only 12-30 per cent, which is largely attributed to the high 800 ppm vitamin E in RPO, 70 per cent of which are tocotrienols and 30 per cent, tocopherols. These two varieties vitamin E are powerful antioxidants and confer oxidative stability to RPO, as well as help keep the carotenoids and other quality parameters of the oil stable for at least 9 months when stored at 30° C. Other minor components in RPO, which have potential health benefits, are ubiquinones (especially ubiquinone-10 or coenzyme-Q10) and phytosterols. Ubiquinone-10 has been reported to boost the immune system and reduce risk factors of cardiovascular heart disease (CHD). The quinol form of the compound is also a powerful antioxidant in biological systems.

So, RPO is a premium versatile oil in food applications, but are palm carotenoids bioavailable? Yes, pioneering field trials on RPO in India have found that the palm carotenoids are highly bioavailable with respect to maintaining plasma retinol concentrations. The reason for the excellent bioavailability of the carotenoids is obvious. The fat-soluble carotenoids are embedded in the oil medium and thus the carotenoids are absorbed together with the fats in the bodies. RPO can be incorporated into snacks and biscuits, which are well accepted by children. This last point is noteworthy as most children do not like to eat green, leafy vegetables despite persuasion from parents!

RPO supplementation has also been used successfully to elevate vitamin A status of lactating mothers in some developing countries, the benefits of which would be passed on to their breastfed infants. Thus, RPO would be ideal for use in food-based strategies to prevent vitamin A deficiency in countries where the nutritional disorder is still a serious public health problem. In the past 15 years, scientific research conducted worldwide has shown that palm carotenoids and tocotrienols have beneficial health effects beyond the traditional concept of the RDA. For example, palm tocotrienols have been reported to have a statin-like cholesterol-lowering action, regress atherosclerotic lesions in the carotid artery of stroke patients and supress the proliferation as well as induce the death of cancer cells.

Experimental results obtained on the potential therapeutic effects of palm tocotrienols - particularly when used in combination (producing synergistic effects) with the standard cancer drug, tamoxifen and certain plant flavonoids - in breast cancer have been very encouraging. Meanwhile, palm carotenoids have also had a fair share of the research limelight. In the United States, Barrie Tan from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has reported that palm carotenoids inhibit the development of skin and lymph node cancer in a dose-dependent manner in mice. In Canada, researchers from the University of Western Ontario found that RPO fortified with 1,000 ppm of carotenes inhibited growth and proliferation of human breast cancer cells (MDA-MB-435) in a mice model. In Japan, Murakoshi from the Kyoto Prefectural University reported that alpha-carotene from palm carotenoids has potent anti-cancer properties in the mice model.

In the area of heart disease, David Kritchevsky, who is affiliated to the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, reported that RPO reduces the severity of cholesterol-induced atherosclerosis in rabbits compared with carotenoid-free palm olein. It would seem that the beneficial effect observed was attributed to the carotenoids in RPO. We now know that palm oil does not behave like a saturated fat, mainly because of the structure of its major tryglyceride (TG) species. The amount of palmitic acid in the 2-position of the TG structure influences atherogenicity.

Palm oil contains about 40 per cent palmitic acid but only about 3 per cent are in the 2-position (good news!). When palm oil is interesterified, the randomisation process causes every component fatty acid to be present to one-third of its concentration in each position of the TG molecule. This randomised oil is significantly more atherogenic than native palm oil, underscoring the influence of TG structure on the cholesterolemic response. Red palm oil promises to be a healthful addition to human diet.

Source :
Adapted from Nagendran et al. Food and Nutrition Bulletin 2000, 21(2):189-194 and Kritchevsky D. Food and Nutrition Bulletin 2000, 21(2): 182-188. Published by Malaysian Palm Oil Promotion Council, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

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