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Red palm oil comes from the palm fruit and contains a variety of essential nutrients. These nutrients may provide some health benefits. Most of the palm oil sold in the United States, however, is refined palm oil, which isn't as nutritious because the refining process destroys part of the nutrients in the oil. If you purchase red palm oil to use in making foods at home, remember to consume it in moderation, because it's high in fat and calories.
Using red palm oil can help you increase your intake of vitamins and minerals. It's a good source of vitamins A, E and K and the mineral magnesium. Adding about 1 tablespoon of red palm oil to meals three times a week was enough to improve vitamin A levels in schoolchildren in Burkino Faso, according to a study published in "Nutrition Journal" in 2006. Another study, published in "Biomedical and Environmental Sciences" in 2003, found that using red palm oil for about 60 percent of total dietary fat improved levels of vitamin E and beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A, compared to getting the same percentage of dietary fat from soybean oil.
Red palm oil provides a variety of antioxidants, including lycopenes, carotenoids, tocotrienols and tocopherols. These antioxidants may help improve recovery after a type of heart problem called reperfusion injury or ischemia, according to an article published in the "Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition" in 2008. Increasing antioxidant intake may help lower your risk for cancer, heart disease and other chronic diseases, notes another article published in the "British Journal of Biomedical Science" in 2009.
Potential Health Benefits
The 2009 "British Journal of Biomedical Science" article also notes that red palm oil may help improve immune function, help the liver metabolize medications, improve the utilization of nutrients from food and help ensure red blood cells contain sufficient amounts of hemoglobin. Oxidative stress can speed up the progression of serious health problems, such as HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, but the antioxidants in red palm oil may help limit this oxidative stress, slow down the progression of these diseases and reduce complications, helping to improve the quality of life for people with these serious illnesses, according to an article published in "Journal of Medicinal Plants Research" in February 2010, although the research is still preliminary.
Heart Disease Considerations
Palm oil contains about 50 percent saturated fat, raising concerns that it may increase heart disease risk. But an article published in the "Journal of Human Ecology" in 2009 notes that compared to other fats and oils, palm oil has a relatively neutral effect on cholesterol levels. A December 2010 article published in "Nutrition Research Reviews" compared the effects on the heart of four oils, including palm oil, and noted that palm oil may be less likely to cause clogging of the arteries than flaxseed oil, fish oil or olive oil. The tocotrienol in red palm oil, which is a type of vitamin E, may help lower cholesterol. The article also notes that some research points to a potential beneficial effect of red palm oil on heart arrhythmia.