Palm oil has a natural balance between saturated and unsaturated fats, and therefore, has no affect on the risk of heart disease.
PROBLEM: Can palm oil be a healthy component in baked products while retaining full functionality as a trans fat substitute?
SOLUTION: Palm oil is a healthy alternative to trans fat because saturated fat is not as unhealthy as once believed, and palm oil has a natural balance between saturated and unsaturated fats.
Early in baking history, butter and animal fats were used that were solid at room temperature. While animal fats are used less often today, a solid fat or shortening is still required to achieve the desired taste, texture and shelf life of most baked products. Since the emergence of commercially available liquid vegetable oils over 100 years ago, repeated efforts to substitute solid fats with liquid oils have failed. Hydrogenation was invented to convert liquid oils into a solid fat that can be used in baking. Palm oil is already well known as an excellent bakery shortening due to its natural content of saturated fat.
But 20 years ago, nothing was known about the health effects of trans fat, a byproduct of the hydrogenation process. The health effect of naturally occurring fats, such as saturates and polyunsaturates, was already under investigation at that time and the so-called “Diet-Heart Hypothesis” had been created. It stated that people with high blood cholesterol were at higher risk for heart disease, and because eating saturated fat increases serum cholesterol, saturates are expected to increase heart disease. For decades saturated fat was condemned as “artery clogging.” And a media campaign started in 1985, called “The Poisoning of America,” bullied bakers and restaurant chains into eliminating saturated fat in favor of trans fat. Almost nothing was known about the health effect of trans fat on health, and the idea that saturated fat was “artery clogging” was still just a hypothesis.
Since 1985, an enormous health initiative has been launched to prove once and for all that saturated fat is unhealthy. The results were surprising — saturated fat was not found to be “artery clogging,” rather it had no effect on the risk of heart disease — neither good nor bad. But small amounts of trans fat increased risk of heart disease significantly! When both the good (HDL) and bad (LDL) cholesterol were measured (instead of just total cholesterol), saturated fats increased HDL more than any other kind of fat, largely cancelling out the increase in LDL. Trans fat has the opposite effect, reducing HDL and increasing LDL. Palm oil, which has a natural balance between saturated and unsaturated fat, is therefore predicted to have no effect on the risk of heart disease.
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