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Palm oil can be found in the composition of many food products, mainly sweets and junk food, e.g. French fries. It is eagerly used by producers, mainly because of the price. Unaware consumers, on the other hand, buy massively products with hydrogenated palm oil, not being aware of its negative impact on he alth.

Palm oilis obtained on a massive scale from the flesh of the fruit of the oil palm (Guinea oil). This fat is dark yellow or orange in color and comes from the carotenoids present in it. It also contains: vitamin E, vitamin K, sterols, squalene and coenzyme Q10. The presence of antioxidants extends the durability of the fat and prevents chemical changes of its fatty acids. Palm oil contains approx. 50% saturated fatty acids, approx. 40% monounsaturated and approx. 10% polyunsaturated fatty acids. It is naturally a semi-solid product. The food industry uses refined palm oil and its fractions as well as hardened palm oil. During refining, carotenoids and most of the antioxidants are removed, hence the oil turns light yellow in color. The hardening process, on the other hand, changes the consistency of the oil to a solid. It also produces trans fats that are harmful to he alth.

Is palm oil unhe althy?

When considering the he alth effects of palm oil, it is essential to distinguishcrude palm oilandhydrogenated palm oil . Crude palm oil, not subjected to the hardening process, has a positive effect on he alth. Despite the high content of saturated fatty acids (approx. 50%), palm oil does not worsen the blood lipid profile and does not increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Scientists in China conducted a study in which they compared the effects of palm oil, soybean oil, peanut oil and lard on blood cholesterol levels. They showed that palm oil reduces total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol, as well as increases the level of HDL (good) cholesterol. In contrast, soybean oil and peanut oil had no effect on blood cholesterol levels. Australian researchers have shown that palm oil and olive oil have a similar effect on levelsindividual lipoproteins, total cholesterol, and triglycerides. Other studies have found that palm oil raises HDL cholesterol more than canola oil. Coconut oil increased total serum cholesterol by 10%, while both corn and palm oil decreased total cholesterol by 36% and 19%, respectively.

The results of these studies show a positive effect of palm oil on he alth. But be careful! They concern crude palm oil. The situation changes dramatically when the oil is subjected to the hardening process. And it is this hardened palm fat that is used by food producers. Trans fats, which are formed during the hardening process, also known as hydrogenation, are to blame.

Worth knowing

Why are trans fats dangerous?

The term "trans" refers to the position of substituents on a double bond. Double bonds are present in unsaturated fatty acids and the substituents of these bonds are naturally in the "cis" position. During hydrogenation in the presence of a catalyst and under the influence of high temperature and pressure, hydrogen atoms are attached to the double bonds and the fat becomes saturated. However, this is a reversible process, the bonds may break and the fatty acid will revert to unsaturated. For the most part, however, it does not return to the "cis" position, but goes to the "trans" position. This very slight difference in chemical structure dramatically changes the effect of fats on he alth. They lose all their positive properties and become only a source of energy for the body.

The properties of cell membranes change under the influence of increased consumption of trans fats. Their fluidity, flexibility and permeability decrease. The effects of trans fats on the body are well known and thoroughly researched. Based on numerous studies, incl. specialists from the European Food Safety Office, it was found that these fats are highly atherogenic and increase the risk of cardiovascular events, because they increase the level of bad LDL cholesterol and lower the level of good HDL, and also raise the level of triglycerides. Disturbance of the ratio between HDL cholesterol and LDL cholesterol significantly increases the risk of coronary artery disease. Hydrogenated vegetable fats containing trans fats have a worse cardiovascular effect than saturated animal fats. Saturated fat also raises LDL, but does not lower HDL, so there is less imbalance between the two.

The consumption of trans fatty acids positively correlates with an increase in body weight and tissue growthfatty tissue, mainly abdominal. This relationship was found, inter alia, in in a 9-year study of 16,587 men. Increased consumption of trans fatty acids resulted in an increase in waist circumference three times greater than in the case of consumption of saturated fatty acids of similar calorific value. The presence of trans fats in the diet reduces the sensitivity of cells to insulin. Increased insulin production by the pancreas leads to the accumulation of lipids in visceral adipose tissue, increases insulin resistance, and may cause the development of type II diabetes.

Keep trans fats to a minimum

It is recommended that the energy supply from trans fats should not exceed 1%, which for a person consuming 2000 kcal per day means 2 g of these fats supplied with food. The average consumption of trans fats in Poland is 2.8-6.9 g per day. However, if we eat a portion of fries, a portion of breaded chicken, 100 g of cookies and 100 g of popcorn, we will get about 40 g of trans fat! In Poland, fast-food fries contain 18% of trans fats, i.e. an innocent portion provides them as much as 9 grams, which is more than 4 times the norm of consumption. In Poland, there are no legal regulations that would impose the necessity to specify the content of trans fatty acids in food products, or limit the amount of these fats in food. Therefore, it is our responsibility to consciously choose and consume as little as possible products containing hydrogenated vegetable fats, including palm oil.

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Author: Time S.A

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Why do food producers love hydrogenated palm oil?

Adding hydrogenated vegetable fat to food products, and consequently its high consumption, leads to very negative he alth effects. However, this does not stop producers from taking advantage of it. From the economic and technological point of view, the use of hydrogenated palm oil brings only benefits. The hardened fat at room temperature has a solid consistency, which enables its wider use than in the case of liquid fats. It is also more stable, oxidizes slower and has greater resistance to high temperature. It can be storedlong and without refrigeration.

Hardened palm oil is found primarily in foods with a long shelf life. Baked goods prepared with its participation have a greater volume, better porosity and a more delicate structure. Hardened palm oil is very popular among restaurants, mainly fast-food ones, because due to the high smoke point in one fry, it can be fried many times and for many hours. The crisps also owe their characteristic crunchiness to frying in hydrogenated fat. Due to the fact that it is solid at room temperature, the chips do not drip fat.

Another aspect that is very important for producers is the price. Palm oil is the cheapest fat available. Guinea oilseed is the most efficient oil plant. 1 hectare of palm plantation can produce up to 10 times more oil than from other oilseed crops. The average harvest of soybean oil is 0.37 tonnes per hectare per year (t / ha / year), sunflower - 0.53 t / ha / year, rapeseed - 0.69 t / ha / year, and palm oil - 4.14 t / ha / year. Work on increasing the yield of palm oil is still ongoing. Up to 10 t / ha / year can be obtained from the most productive varieties. In 2009, the area of ​​oil palm plantations accounted for 4.8% of the total oilseed crops, and the share of palm oil in the total oil production was as much as 30.8%! This translates into very large differences in the price of oils. And as it is commonly known, producers are always looking for savings.

It is also worth mentioning the huge devastation of the natural environment related to the development of oil palm plantations. In Indonesia and Malaysia, rainforests are cleared for plantations, which deprives animals of their natural living conditions and increases the emission of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. The expansion is opposed by pro-ecological organizations that engage the largest food producers in efforts to stop this practice. We can also contribute to reducing the production of palm oil by resigning from purchasing products that contain it.

This will be useful to you

Where is the hardened palm oil hidden?

In hard baking margarines, fries, confectionery, shop sweets: cookies, chocolates, bars, ice cream and other sweet snacks, crisps, popcorn, peanut butter, mayonnaise, as well as in ready and instant products: broth cubes , powdered soups, Chinese soups, powdered creamers, tortilla pancakes, some muesli, frozen chips and other frozen and jarred ready mealscake mixes, puddings and powdered milk desserts, cappuccinos, 3-in-1 coffee… The list is long and can be expanded all the time. In principle, any finished food is suspect to contain hydrogenated palm oil. Therefore, it is necessary to read the labels and look for oil in the composition. Under what slogans can we find him there? Usually, the list of ingredients does not include palm oil, andhydrogenated fat, hydrogenated fat, partially hydrogenated fat, hydrogenated vegetable fat, hydrogenated vegetable oil . Be vigilant and always check the ingredients, because unhe althy hydrogenated palm oil can be found even in high-end products.

ExpertAleksandra Żyłowska-Mharrab, dietician Food technologist, dietitian, educator. A graduate of Biotechnology at the Gdańsk University of Technology and Nutritional Services at the Maritime University. A supporter of simple, he althy cuisine and conscious choices in everyday nutrition. My main interests include building permanent changes in eating habits and individually composing a diet according to the body's needs. Because the same thing is not he althy for everyone! I believe that nutritional education is very important, both for children and adults. I focus my activities on spreading knowledge about nutrition, analyze new research results, and make my own conclusions. I adhere to the principle that a diet is a lifestyle, not strict adherence to meals on a sheet of paper. There is always room for delicious pleasures in he althy and conscious eating.

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