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Palm oil

Palm oil 

  • Increased palm oil consumption is related to higher CAD mortality rates, particularly in developing countries. Palm oil consumption represents a saturated fat source relevant for policies aimed at reducing cardiovascular disease burdens.1
  • In developing countries, increases in palm oil consumption are associated with higher mortality due to CAD to a greater degree than in countries that have been historically wealthy. In developing countries, the number of deaths attributed to ischemic heart disease increased 68 per 100,000 for every additional kilogram of palm oil consumed per capita annually, whereas in high-income countries, the number of deaths increased by 19 per 100,000. These increases occur above and beyond those caused by smoking and other important economic, demographic, and nutritional trends.
  • Extensive literature documents the link between the consumption of saturated fats (such as palm and coconut oil, as well as animal fats) on plasma total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol and heart disease.2 3, 4Consumption of Palm oil raises the LDL (perhaps second only to coconut oil) and its consumption can increases CVD.
  • Ironically, past policy efforts in developed countries have focused on reducing consumption of hydrogenated vegetable oil which in turn increased the consumption of palm oil. Palm oil causes increases in total cholesterol and LDL concentrations and thus elevates the risk of CAD.
  • Randomized controlled trials have clearly shown that replacement of the saturated fats present in usual diets with polyunsaturated fats reduces CAD rates.5 In Poland, substitution away from saturated fats towards non-hydrogenated rapeseed and soya bean oil was associated with a steep and rapid decline in CAD mortality between 1990 and 2002, even after adjusting for changes in smoking and fruit and vegetable intake.6, 7
  • Consistent with this, after per capita consumption of palm oil increased in Mauritius during a decade of economic growth, a government-led intervention to decrease palm oil use was followed by a substantial drop in mean plasma cholesterol levels.8
  • Global palm oil consumption represents an important health policy challenge. The consumption of palm oil overtook soybean oil consumption globally in 2003, and the increasing price competitiveness of palm oil relative to soybean oil has resulted in palm oil’s status as the dominant oil in the global market.
  • The production and human consumption of palm oil, a tropical vegetable oil rich in saturated fats, have risen substantially in recent years, increasing by 40% from 1990 to 2007 in the world’s least developed countries. Between 1989 and 2002 the availability of calories from edible oil (mainly from palm oil) increased by 50% from 158 to 231 cal per day).
  • Due to elimination of import duties unhealthy oils are becoming less expensive. The world market for palm oil is forecast to surpass 100 million metric tons by 2015, fueled primarily by demand in growing economies such as China and India. Their future palm oil consumption could potentially increase cardiovascular disease-specific mortality.
  • Economic policies that curtail palm oil consumption in rapidly developing countries require careful consideration similar to those implemented successfully in Poland and Mauritius. Nutritional and environmental concerns associated with palm oil production and consumption may prompt a call for measures to increase the relative price of palm oil. Benefits of such a policy must be weighed against what fat substitutes would be made, especially by poorer individuals, if the prices of both trans-fats and saturated fats were targeted via tax (see also Fat tax in Saturated Fat)
  • National and international organizations including the World Health Organization and U.S. Departments of Agriculture and of Health and Human Services recommend consuming fewer saturated fats as opposed to monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats to reduce the prevalence of cardiovascular diseases.9 There is very little awareness about the sources and dangers of saturated fat among the Indian medical community and the general public alike and manufacturers have successfully avoided including it in the food label. (see also Coconut and Tropical Oils)


1.Chen BK, Seligman B, Farquhar JW, Goldhaber-Fiebert JD. Multi-Country Analysis of Palm Oil Consumption and Cardiovascular Disease Mortality for Countries at Different Stages of Economic Development: 1980-1997. Global Health. Dec 16 2011;7(1):45.

2. Katan MB, Zock PL, Mensink RP. Effects of fats and fatty acids on blood lipids in humans: an overview. Am J Clin Nutr. Dec 1994;60(6 Suppl):1017S-1022S.

3. Hu FB, Willett WC. Optimal diets for prevention of coronary heart disease. Jama. Nov 27 2002;288(20):2569-2578.

4. Mozaffarian D, Micha R, Wallace S. Effects on coronary heart disease of increasing polyunsaturated fat in place of saturated fat: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. PLoS Med. Mar 2010;7(3):e1000252.

5. Mozaffarian D, Micha R, Wallace S. Effects on coronary heart disease of increasing polyunsaturated fat in place of saturated fat: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. PLoS Med. Mar 2010;7(3):e1000252.

6. Zatonski WA, Willett W. Changes in dietary fat and declining coronary heart disease in Poland: population based study. Bmj. Jul 23 2005;331(7510):187-188.

7. Zatonski WA, McMichael AJ, Powles JW. Ecological study of reasons for sharp decline in mortality from ischaemic heart disease in Poland since 1991 [see comments]. Bmj. 1998;316(7137):1047-1051.

8. Uusitalo U, Feskens EJ, Tuomilehto J, et al. Fall in total cholesterol concentration over five years in association with changes in fatty acid composition of cooking oil in Mauritius: cross sectional survey. Bmj. Oct 26 1996;313(7064):1044-1046.

9. Yach D. Nutritional change is not a simple answer to non-communicable diseases. BMJ. 2011;343:d5097.

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