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Why palm oil is harmful

Everyone is used to the popular saying - “Health is wealth!” Going back in time, ancient humans have depended on oil, especially palm oil for cooking food. Very little or nothing is known about palm oil and the danger it poses as one of the main ingredients of food.

In recent times, the emergence of a newly-established factory called Tsehay Union Edible Oil Manufacturing – made possible by the concerted efforts of concerned farmers in Gondar, Ethiopia – brought a new routine in the education of people about the dangers of saturated oils. In the past, the government was depending on the importation of unsaturated oil for consumption, which made it a little less expensive for an ordinary consumer to purchase.

The establishment of the oil factory literally made access more robust and consumption became more economical. The costs associated with these locally produced oils are low, contributing to the growth of the economy by making use of locally made products. Tsehay Union became the first of its kind. What made it more admirable is the large capacity of production that they’ll be able to churn out on a daily basis.

The negative implication of the use of saturated oils led to this great feat, championed by the concerns of various farmers. Health concerns became the driving force, especially the danger posed by palm oil and the like.

Palm oil is very common, especially in Western African countries where it is produced and consumed in large quantities.

Some of the uses of palm oil, apart from food, includes but not limited to production of soap, remedy for cough, an antidote for poison, healing of open wound etc. Many African homes are used to these alternatives as it is practiced in rural settlements.

Behind the usefulness of this “essential commodity” is the blind-spot of harm that is most often ignored out of ignorance. The health hazard of palm oil consumption is more expensive than the healthy alternative there are.

Palm oil, like coconut oil and butter, constitute a very high percentage of saturated fat. This accounts for more than 50 percent of saturated fat, lower than only butter (68 percent) and coconut oil (91 percent), according to a study.

According to a paper published by Wolf Hamm (2013), the solid fat content of palm oil rises as the temperature of the room becomes cooler. For instance, if the room temperature is 15o Celsius, the solid fat of palm oil rises to around 43 percent. If the temperature goes as low as 5o Celsius, the saturation or solid fat of palm oil rises to a life-threatening 70 percent.

In essence, the risk factor of some kinds of oil is evident in their chemical components and their formation processes. Research shows that coconut oil is the most unsafe oil to consume as its saturated fat is as high as 91 percent.

According to Harvard Medical School’s Harvard Heart Letter, March 2019 edition, all fat “contains a mixture of different fatty acids,” which are “the basic building blocks of fats,” it said, “however, butter, lard, palm and coconut oil contain mostly saturated fatty acids. Most plant-based oils on the other hand, consist predominantly of unsaturated fatty acids, which include both monounsaturated polyunsaturated fatty acids.”

  • Saturated fat has no double bonds between the carbon atoms in the fatty acid chains. Animal fats are highly saturated – e. g. Butter.
  • Monounsaturated fat has a single double bonds in their fatty acid chains.
  • Polyunsaturated fats have two or more double bonds in their fatty acid chains.
  • Trans Fats are partly hydrogenated to produce fewer double bonds.

The presence of fat in foods make the body susceptible to heart-related diseases and the end result could be as dangerous as death in some cases. According to Harvard School of Public Health: “all fats have a similar chemical structure – a chain of carbon atoms bonded to hydrogen atoms,” it said “what makes one fat different from another is the length and shape of carbon chain and the number of hydrogen atoms connected to the carbon atoms,” it added.

It is important to note that fatty acids are the building blocks of Triglycerides. Components of fatty acids includes; long hydrocarbon chain – forming a range of 4 to 30 carbons (12 – 24 being the most common). The chain is linear and it contains even number of carbons. The second component is carboxylic acid group.

Between 2000 and 2002, the average oil production from major food crops shows that palm oil is second only after Soya Beans, with a production of 23,962,660mt as against the likes of Sesame Seed oil and Safflower oil which accounted for 767,940mt and 156,574mt, respectively.

This shows that the consumption level of palm oil and other highly saturated oils are high as against the case with Sesame seed oil and Safflower oil, despite the risks in its consumption.

In essence, there are good and bad fats which every household should know and choose appropriately.

Unsaturated fats are highly beneficial to the body, as they can help improve “blood cholesterol levels,” heart rhythm stabilization, inflammation control etc. This good fat can be found in natural fruits like avocados, olive, canola oils. Some nuts also share in the certification of “good fat”- these include almonds, hazelnuts, and pecans, not forgetting fish oil.

The dangers associated with saturated fats can never be quantified. This is so because the higher the saturated fat content, the more solid the fat becomes at room temperature. When you are cooking, it is safer to choose a fat that is liquid instead of solid at room temperature. That advice, according to the federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans, “is based on a large body of evidence showing that replacing solid fat (mainly saturated fat) with liquid fat (mostly unsaturated fat) is linked to a lower risk of heart attack and death from heart disease,” the Harvard Heart Letter said.

Palm oil is relatively high in saturated fats, mostly palmitic acid which amount to more than 50 percent which means that palm oil is predominantly saturated. Unsaturated fatty acids are oleic and linoleic acids. Generally, oil from kernel is higher in saturation, having qualities that are similar to coconut and butter.

There are credible alternatives to the highly saturated fatty oils that are currently in high demand. Considering the health implication of high saturated fats, it is important to consider other healthy alternatives like Canola oil, safflower oil, Sesame oil, sunflower oil and the recently considered Niger seed (Guizotia abyssinica) oil.

Now, let’s talk about the Niger (ኑግ) Seed Oil. This ancient seed is believed to have existed for more than 5,000 years in the highlands of Ethiopia where it has originated and grown as an oilseed. According to Health Benefits Times: “Niger (ኑግ) seed is now grown widely in Ethiopia, India and Nepal and on a smaller scale in parts of montane, eastern and southern Africa, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Pakistan and the West Indies.”

Niger (ኑግ) Seed is rich in amino acids, apart from its nutty nature and taste. Below are some of the health benefits of Niger seed oil and why it should be considered as a credible alternative to other highly saturated palm oil, coconut oil, butter and the like.

Some of the many health benefits of Niger (ኑግ) seed oil includes, but not limited to the following;

  1. It improves sleep. With its mineral contents which includes magnesium, potassium and zinc are responsible for the stabilization of circadian rhythms that helps to induce the release of neurotransmitters that is needed by the body to rest. Try Niger seed oil is you are suffering from insomnia.
  2. It improves heart health. Because it improves cholesterol balance, it is better and more beneficial than other vegetable oils and it has high levels of omega-3 fatty acids and linoleic acid. Its anti-inflammatory of its healthy fat helps to lower blood pressure and regulate cardiovascular system.
  3. It minimizes inflammation. The large quantity of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds makes it very useful for people suffering from gout, rheumatism, fever, high blood pressure or arthritis.
  4. The antioxidants present in Niger seed oil makes it a good remedy for troubled skin issues like rashes, scars, burns, irritation etc. it helps to stimulate the healing process. It also helps to boost the immunity around wounds or lacerations.
  5. Provides solution for gastrointestinal issues. For healing solutions related to cramps, hemorrhoids, stomach upset, bloating or constipation, Niger seed oil is a perfect option for these issues. Because it reduces inflammation, it protects against improper nutrient uptake and bacteria.
  6. With no side effects, Niger seed oil is beneficial for the treatment of rheumatism in a speedy manner.
  7. It boosts the immune system and prevents infections in the body as it serves as a guard against internal infections.

The revelation of the Niger seed oil is a blessing to anybody who considers it as an alternative to saturated oil fats.

Niger (ኑግ) seed oil should be considered in order to enjoy all the health benefits attached to this wonderful seed and stay away from what causes more harm than good in the body.

With the foregoing as important pointer in the improvement of healthy habits, especially when it comes to oils, a newly inaugurated edible oils producing factory has taken the bull by its horn by championing the production of unsaturated oils in Ethiopia.

Towards the end of February, 2019, Tsehay Union edible oil factory was inaugurated in Gondar, Ethiopia with hopes to, not only improve the economy of the country by cutting down unemployment rate and boosting the economy, but also providing alternative source of edible oils to the neighboring towns, cities, the country and neighboring countries in the long run.

Tsehay Union concentrates on the production of healthy oils like sesame oil, sunflower oil, and Niger oil. This move would in turn encourage a strong will to consider alternative oils unsaturated Niger oil and other non-fatty and unsaturated oils like sesame and sunflower oils.

Ed.’s Note: Abebe Hailu is a technologist and works on Material Science Research and Product Development in Silicon Valley, California. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. He can be reached at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @AbebeHailu20.

Contributed by Abebe Hailu