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When it comes to “clean” and “healthy” eating, the conversation isn’t just about what you’re cooking (though that’s important, too). It’s also about what you’re cooking with. And in our book, two of the top contenders are palm oil and coconut oil.
Here, we’re going to talk about the differences - and the pros and cons - between the two. This is an interesting conversation because, while there’s been a lot of attention on coconut oil, palm oil may not even be something that’s on your radar. And it should be - so let’s dive in.
In this article:
Now, palm oil has certainly gotten a bad rap over the years - falling behind competitors like olive oil, canola oil, and vegetable oils- because of what is happening in the environment. For effective palm oil production, farmers have to clear trees in tropical rainforests. This can be detrimental to both the forests and the wildlife within.
That’s why, if you choose to buy this tropical oil, you want to make sure that you find a product that’s both eco-friendly and sustainable. That said, this is not necessarily the piece of the puzzle that we’re going to focus on today. Instead, we’re going to pay attention to the health benefits of palm oil.
Pure and Plentiful
There is no other crop that can yield as much oil per acre as palm fruit. On top of that, this plant-based oil absorbs fewer pesticides and chemical fertilizer than coconut oil, corn oil, and soy oil. This makes it a plentiful and pure oil choice (both of which tend to be huge concerns with all the hydrogenated, fractioned, and refined oils on the market today).
That said, make sure you're buying the right stuff here. There are three possible products you can buy from the palm:
- Palm kernel oil: As the name suggests, palm kernel oil is derived from the kernel of the oil palm
- Palm oil: This is extracted from the pulp of the oil palm fruit
- Coconut oil: This is a palm oil too since it's extracted from the kernel of the coconut (a palm fruit).
Palm oil has 50% saturated fat content. That, on its own, might seem like a red flag. After all, the American Heart Association has explicitly linked saturated fats to coronary heart disease (CHD), and they don’t recommend it as a fat source or as a cooking oil. However, many of these conclusions were based on bad information - the real problem in the studies with the combination of carbohydrates and saturated fats. Not the fats themselves.
So the saturated fat in palm oil isn’t something that you should necessarily be worried about.
Additionally, the majority of the saturated fat in palm fruit oil is called palmitic fat (44%). Palmitic acid has also gotten a bad rap from some of the studies.
Here’s the catch: some, if not all, of these studies, are done on refined isolated palmitic acid, not on the virgin palm oil itself. Now, any refined oil is going to be a less healthy choice overall. It’s certainly going to perform worse in studies.
On the flip side, here are some pretty hardcore, credible studies that show that saturated fats are not dangerous, especially compared to unsaturated fats:
Palmitic acid, in particular, can be used for energy by the body.
High In Vitamin E
Palm oil is also very high in vitamin E. In nature, vitamin E always comes in a complex, and the other half of the vitamin E complex is made of compounds called tocotrienols. I recently purchased a book called Tocotrienols: Vitamin E Beyond Tocopherols. This book shows you all the amazing research on vitamin E complex.
In one section, it says, “Vitamin E is a collective name for a family of fat-soluble compounds. Tocotrienols move more freely and more efficiently within the cell membranes than do tocopherols, especially in tissues with saturated fatty layers such as the brain and the liver.”
In other words, consuming the whole vitamin E complex is very important and healthy. Unfortunately, though, this doesn’t happen very often.
Why not? Typically, when people get vitamin E from the health food store, they don’t realize they’re getting a synthetic version of vitamin E and only one tiny fraction of the vitamin E complex - tocopherol. They’re not getting the whole complex.
This is not as healthy as taking the whole vitamin E complex, and it can take away some of the benefits. These include:
- It counters radiation damage
- Helps regrow hair
In short, Vitamin E is one of the main antioxidants that protects the inside of your arteries from oxygenative damage. So it’s quite incredible.
Palm oil has one of the highest sources of the vitamin E complex.
High in Vitamin A
Palm oil also has vitamin A. On one hand, this isn’t the most effective form of vitamin A - it’s beta-carotene and alpha-carotene. These are pre-vitamin As, meaning that they have to be converted into vitamin A by the body and that only happens in a small percentage.
That said, some of this does convert into retinol, which is the actual active vitamin A.
And people around the world recognize this. Certain cultures in Africa, for example, have a high risk of going blind (which is caused by a vitamin A deficiency). They regularly consume palm oil to combat this deficiency, and they do notice significant improvements with their eyesight.
Other things it can help with?
- It’s an antioxidant, meaning that it can fight against free radical damage
- It has an important role in the formation of the heart, lungs, kidneys, and other vital organs
- It can repair skin and help skin grow
- It can help form and maintain teeth, bone, soft tissue, white blood cells, the immune system, and mucous membranes
High in Phytonutrients
It also has quite a few phytonutrients. One group is called the phytosterols. These are also shown to lower total cholesterol - balancing good HDL and bad LDL cholesterol - which is a significant benefit for many people.
They’re also the precursors to steroid hormones, including cortisol. As you may already know, cortisol helps fight stress.
Cortisol, for example, is a steroid hormone to help fight stress. It can also control, regulate metabolism, reduce inflammation, and help with memory formation.
Looking for a good source of palm oil? Try Nutriva red palm oil: it’s loaded with vitamin A and vitamin E, and it’s unrefined - meaning that it hasn’t lost any of its natural healthy compounds.
Before we get into the details, let's break down what we're really talking about here. Coconut oil - or at least virgin and extra-virgin coconut oil - is made using the meat of the coconut (unlike coconut water, which is simply poured out of the center of the coconut). The meat is scooped out and cold-pressed to extract the oil.
The result? An oil that's:
- Antiviral, anti-fungal, and anti-bacterial.
- Said to help blast belly fat, curb appetite, strengthen the immune system, increase weight loss, help yeast infections, and even stave off dementia and Alzheimers.
- Comprised primarily of saturated fats, though these fats are primarily medium-chain, which are easier to process than long-chain fatty acids.
- Said to boost HDL cholesterol or "good" cholesterol.
Other benefits include:
Coconut oil is nine times lower palmitic acid than palm oil, but it’s very high in lauric acid. In the body, lauric acid turns into monolaurin, which is:
- Great for the immune system
Coconut oil is also rich in other healthy fatty acids, including capric acid and myristic acid.
Also, a good portion of coconut oil is medium-chain triglycerides (MCT). These are a type of medium-chain fatty acid (MCFAs) that doesn’t necessarily convert to fat in the body. Instead, MCTs are used as energy, and they’re really good to induce more fat burning.
In other words, MCT triglycerides can - somewhat counter intuitively - actually help you lose weight and improve your heart health. As for calories, these fatty acids are also typically used right away, and they are very rarely stored a fat.
MCTs are also very friendly to your liver and gallbladder. Digesting this fat doesn’t involve a lot of bile or a lot of work from the liver. Instead, it immediately goes right into the lymph system through your intestines, and it’s used right away for energy.
Coconut oil is 92% saturated fats. Now, there is a lot of negativity surrounding saturated fats - especially when compared to monounsaturated fats - with many “experts” linking them directly to coronary heart disease (CHD).
Honestly, though, saturated fat is not a bad thing:
- It’s very stable
- It will not increase bad cholesterol
- It will not clog your arteries
- It’s not the type of fat that will cause heart attacks, insulin resistance, or anything like that.
Coconut oil is also a great part of the ketogenic diet to give you energy. You can put it in all sorts of recipes for keto bombs, and this will help you with the keto diet and intermittent fasting.
So what’s the point here? With keto diet, you want to have a high fat, medium protein, and low carbohydrate diet. Fat is the only nutrient that does not spike insulin - protein and carbohydrates both do. On top of that, any large meal spikes insulin as well. The goal, then, is to stop this from happening by eating less frequently and eating high fat.
This will prevent any insulin spikes and allow your body to start burning fat rather than sugar.
To this end, consuming small snacks with coconut oil - aka keto fat bombs - will help you maintain your keto diet and intermittent fasting without getting too hungry. It will also increase HDL and lower LDL.
Now, I know that some of you are going to ask in the comment section how much vitamin E and vitamin A are in coconut oil? The answer is close to zero. I think there’s like 0.001%. So that’s definitely a point of differentiation between the two oils.
In short, though, coconut oil has its benefits and everyone knows that. But palm oil has some additional benefits that I wanted to increase your awareness of. If you’re going to buy some, just make sure that it’s sustainable palm oil and eco-friendly.