Is palm oil harmful to health?

Palm oil, a type of vegetable oil derived from the fruit of the oil palm tree, has been a subject of debate regarding its health impacts. The health effects of palm oil can vary based on its processing and the context of its consumption within a diet. Here's a summary of the potential health implications:

Positive Aspects:

Nutrient-Rich:Unrefined palm oil (red palm oil) is rich in certain nutrients, including vitamin E tocotrienols and beta-carotene (pro-vitamin A), which are powerful antioxidants.

No Trans Fats:In its natural state, palm oil is free of trans fats, which are known to be harmful to heart health when consumed in excess.


High in Saturated Fats:Palm oil is high in saturated fats (about 50% of its composition), which have been linked to increased levels of LDL cholesterol ("bad" cholesterol) in some studies. High LDL cholesterol levels are a risk factor for heart disease. However, the impact of saturated fat on heart health is a complex topic, and recent research suggests the relationship may not be as straightforward as previously thought.

Processing May Reduce Nutrients:Highly processed palm oils, which are more common in processed foods, may lack the beneficial nutrients found in unrefined red palm oil.

Context of Consumption:

Dietary Balance:The health impact of consuming palm oil also depends on the overall balance of an individual's diet. Consuming a variety of fats and oils as part of a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins is likely more important for health than focusing on a single type of oil.

Moderation:Like with all fats, moderation is key. Consuming palm oil as part of a diet that keeps saturated fats within recommended limits can mitigate potential health risks.

**Is topically applied palm oil in a skin cream harmful?** Topically applied substances, including palm oil used as a skin cream, generally have minimal systemic absorption. This means that they are not significantly absorbed into the bloodstream to an extent that would affect internal organs.

The primary function of the skin is to act as a barrier, protecting internal organs and systems from external substances. While some compounds can penetrate this barrier, the amount of palm oil that could be absorbed through the skin, especially in trace amounts, is unlikely to have a measurable impact on heart health.

The concerns associated with palm oil and heart health primarily stem from dietary intake, particularly due to its high saturated fat content when consumed in large quantities. Saturated fats can influence cholesterol levels and heart disease risk when ingested, not when applied topically in small amounts.


Palm oil can be part of a healthy diet if consumed in moderation and if unrefined varieties are chosen over refined ones when possible. However, due to its high saturated fat content, individuals with specific health concerns, especially those related to heart disease, should consider their total intake of saturated fats, including palm oil.

However, if palm oil is used as skin cream to be applied topically, it has a minimal effect on the systemic health.

Given the environmental issues associated with palm oil production, using sustainable and ethically sourced palm oil can also be considered as part of responsible consumption.

Sustainable palm oil.avif

Mar 13, 2024

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