The benefits of red palm oil have been the topic of conversation in some of the online health groups recently with people asking if it’s really healthy or not. The oil has been drawing attention for its beneficial effects on health, especially for those who are trying to lose weight.
However, palm oil has also become the subject of intense debate due to its manner of production by the large commercial companies which is causing harm to the environment. Because of its demand large areas of forests are being destroyed and being replaced with palm oil plantations. This wipes out critical habitat for animals that have nowhere else to go
Palm oil has been used for thousands of years all over the world, but it is only recently that it has gained widespread attention for its potential health benefits. If you’re following the keto diet and you’re thinking about adding red palm oil to your diet, then here’s everything you need to know.
Related reading: Keto Diet Fats : Best and Worst To Eat
What is Red Palm Oil?
Red palm oil is a type of oil that’s derived from the African oil palm known as Elaeis guineensis. This tree can grow up to 20 meters tall and produces fruits from which the oil is derived. The red palm oil is extracted from both the pulp and kernel of the fruit.
It is estimated that for every 100 kg of palm fruit, about 23 kg of palm oil will be produced. Because of its high yield, palm oil has become a popular ingredient for cooking and is a good alternative to butter for vegans and vegetarians.
In addition, this oil has a high smoke point and heat stability, so it’s a great choice for frying and sautéing.
The oil is also used in various types of processed foods to replace unhealthy trans fats which were banned in the United States in 2018. You will find palm oil in many products you use and eat including cosmetics, shampoo, toothpaste, detergent, soap, cereals, bread, baked goods, cookies and protein bars.
However, before it is used by food manufacturers, the oil often has to undergo rigorous processing. According to Neil Blomquist, chief commercial officer for Natural Habitats, a supplier of organic palm oil,
“Red palm oil in its crude form is very strong tasting. It’s very pungent and has a smell like overripe mushrooms. It’s not very palatable.”
Because of this, the oil has to be refined to remove odors, impurities, flavors, and the red color that many customers may find unappetizing. Unfortunately, the refined version can wreak havoc both on your health and the environment, and this is one of the reasons why this oil has become very controversial.
It’s been dubbed a rainforest destroyer. Not only that, palm oil deforestation is said to be the leading cause of orangutan extinction. Then there is the exploitation of the workers.
However, these only apply to the big companies that mass-produce commercial palm oil products. If you support sustainable red palm oil, you can help minimize the damage caused by palm oil deforestation. Pure, organic red palm oil is also full of healthy fats, which is good for keto.
However Greenpeace maintains that ‘sustainable’ palm oil is a con. They claim that the big brands have broken their promise to clean up the palm oil industry and many don’t even know where their palm oil comes from.
Refined Palm Oil Vs. Unrefined Palm Oil
Remember that in order to reap the benefits of red palm oil, you must choose the right type of palm oil. Crude palm oil refers to the unrefined version of the oil, which is red palm oil.
This is the good stuff, since it has not been processed, and therefore, it has managed to retain its health benefits. Its red color is due to the carotenoids, a plant compound responsible for the bright red pigment in many fruits and vegetables. People who eat foods that are rich in carotenoids get protective health benefits as well.
Unfortunately, most of the palm oil that you will find in the market has already been refined. The oil has been stripped of its nutrients, which is why the color is white or opaque. So in order to reap the health benefits of red palm oil, make sure you choose the unrefined variety.
Blomquist of Natural Habitats states that they refine the crude oil but in a way that retains the nutrients and health benefits:
We developed a cold filtration process to neutralize the flavor of red palm oil
Some people say that the red palm oil tastes like carrots or squash. I am currently using the Nutiva Organic Red Palm Oil from Natural Habitats but I don’t find that it has much of a taste at all. It’s not unpleasant or earthy like crude palm oil which some people say they put up with for the health benefits.
Benefits of Red Palm Oil for Keto
By now, you already know that the unrefined palm oil, which still has the reddish hue, is the healthier version of the palm oil. This oil is rich in beneficial carotenoids and antioxidants that keep you healthy and strong.
Adding a tablespoon or two of red palm oil into your diet each day has been linked to several health benefits, especially for people who are following the keto diet. Below are some of the benefits of red palm oil for keto.
Related reading: Keto Diet Versus Low Fat Diet For Weight Loss
1. Healthy Fats
As you know, if you are following a keto diet, eating healthy fats is an important part of the diet. Palm oil contains equal amounts of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids.
People get worried about saturated fats because of the number of years that they have been blamed for heart disease when in actual fact it’s the refined carbohydrates that are the problem.
Related reading: Best Fats To Eat On A Low Carb Diet
This is the reason that both a ketogenic lifestyle or a low carb diet can improve cholesterol and triglyceride levels in most people.
Related reading: How a Low Carb High Fat Diet Affects your Cholesterol
The main saturated fat in palm oil is palmitic acid which is also found in coconut oil and olive oil, which has been deemed as a healthy oil. Palmitic acid has beneficial effects on insulin sensitivity and inflammation so is good for prevention of Type 2 diabetes.
Related reading: Is the Keto Diet Good for Diabetes?
Palm oil is cholesterol free and studies have shown that it can lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and raise HDL (good) cholesterol. This is helped by the oleic and linoleic acids it contains as well as tocotrienols which inhibit the manufacture of cholesterol as well.
2. Rich in Carotenoids
As mentioned, the reason behind the red palm oil’s red color is the presence of carotenoids. These powerful, radical flighting antioxidants are also the reason behind the orange color of carrots. 90% of these carotenoids are alpha and beta-carotene which can be converted to Vitamin A in the body.
Whether you’re following the keto diet or not, Vitamin A is an essential nutrient in the body. It supports the immune system, improves your vision, and maintains the integrity of the gut, which is important in keto. As a low-carb diet, it’s often common for people on keto to lack fiber, which could harm the health of the gut microbiome.
3. Vitamin E
The best way to get the benefits of red palm oil is to use it for cooking your keto-friendly meals. It’s rich in Vitamin E, which keeps the oil from oxidizing while in a hot pan. Vitamin E also helps to prevent oxidation inside your body, thanks to tocopherols and tocotrienols, which help to clean up the damaging reactive oxygen species or ROS.
The reactive oxygen species, also known as free radicals, are a normal part of life. These are produced by your body cells every single day. If they are at a low level free radicals can be good since they function as signaling molecules for your immune system.
However, if they are at high levels, the ROS could damage your body and could increase your risk of developing brain disease, heart disease, and other age-related conditions. The Vitamin E that you can get from using red palm oil can control the damage brought about by the high level of ROS.
Red palm oil contains a moderate amount of squalene. This is a protective molecule that can also be found in shark fin oil and olive oil. Squalene comes with many benefits. For one, it offers cardiovascular protection.
Studies done on rodents show that squalene offers promising anti-cancer effects. It may also help to protect you against UV radiation.
Given the many benefits of red palm oil, adding this healthy fat to your keto diet is highly recommended. But then again, you should choose the right kind of palm oil. Avoid the refined varieties and choose pure, unrefined or minimally processed red palm oil.
And by supporting sustainable palm oil production, you are also doing your part in shunning those big companies that are responsible for palm oil deforestation.
Remember though that for good health it’s always best to eat a good variety of fats and foods and not rely on just one source. It also pays to get some blood tests done regularly to see how a higher fat diet is affecting you as there is not diet that is right for everyone.