Palm is tree of opportunity

By Rod Addy

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Palm oil Nutrition

Palm oil is a potential goldmine for processors seeking to make foods healthier or more functional, according to Dr Pramod Khosla of Wayne State University in the US.

In particular, red palm oil is rich in Vitamin E and carotenoids, which promote Vitamin A intake. "There's a string of data that suggests that red palm oil is very effective at fighting Vitamin A deficiency," said Khosla. "Some palm oil types also have tocotrienols [part of the Vitamin E family], very potent antioxidants." Tocotrienols helped fight the oxidative effects of LDL (bad) cholesterol, he said. There are indications that these can inhibit breast cancer cell proliferation, particularly gamma-tocotrienols.

One the most exciting areas of potential research into palm oil benefits was in the field of neural degeneration, said Khosla. Tests on rats suggested alpha-tocotrienols could restore neuronal cell viability and restore neural pathways. Results were pending for tests on dogs and small-scale human trials would follow if they were positive, he said. "Other data on tocotrienols is still in its infancy."

Studies suggested that red palm oil could increase carotenoids in breast milk when fed to pregnant women, he said. "Others indicate that red palm oil when fed to rabbits could reduce atherosclerosis [fat lining the arteries].

"Palm oil contains an appreciable amount of saturates, which makes it ideal for replacing trans-fatty acids," he said. And it was also a good source of water soluble polyphenols.

There is also potential for deriving nutraceutical ingredients from the waste by-products of palm oil, particularly phenolics, which are also powerful antioxidants, said Khosla. He was speaking at the first UK International Functional Food Conference in Oxford last month.