Q: Is red palm oil as “miraculous” as Dr. Oz says?
A: Hardly. Like so many of Dr. Oz’s endorsements, this one is supported by amazingly little scientific evidence. He claims that red palm oil can fight heart disease, as well as battle belly fat and stop aging “inside and out.” It’s also supposed to prevent dementia, liver disease, bone loss and so on. Red palm oil “may very well be the most miraculous find of 2013,” he declared on his TV show.
Red palm oil, also available in capsules, is simply minimally processed palm oil, derived from the fruit of Southeast Asian and African palm trees. It has the same fatty acid profile as refined palm oil, meaning that it’s high in both saturated and monounsaturated fats. But unlike refined palm oil, red palm oil is rich in carotenoids, including alpha carotene, beta carotene and lycopene, which give it the orange-red color. (The refining of the oil removes these compounds.)
According to a paper published this year in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, red palm oil also contains vitamin E and heart-healthy sterols, while other recent papers have noted its phenolic compounds and high antioxidant capacity. Some research has shown that consuming red palm oil increases blood carotenoid levels and improves antioxidant status.
But that’s true of many plant foods. Moreover, none of this proves that red palm oil has medical benefits and will, for example, reduce the risk of heart disease. In fact, a 2003 study in Biomedical and Environmental Sciences found no changes in blood cholesterol, for good or bad, in Chinese men who consumed the oil for six weeks. Overall, there are too few human studies on the effects of palm oil (red or refined) to know if it is detrimental, neutral or beneficial to the heart (or anything else).
There is no need to supplement your diet with red palm oil. There are better ways to get carotenoids (colorful fruits and vegetables) and vitamin E (whole grains, seeds and nuts). Plus, there is growing concern that palm oil production is leading to deforestation and destruction of orangutan habitats in Malaysia and Indonesia. You’d be wise to be skeptical about all of Dr. Oz’s so-called miracles.