Both palm and coconut oils come from the fruit of palm trees. They also share one unusual characteristic: Although both come from plant sources, both contain saturated fat, more commonly found in animal protein. Saturated fat hardens at room temperature, unlike unsaturated fats, which remain liquid. Eating saturated fat can raise your low-density lipoprotein levels, the “bad” cholesterol, which may increase your risk of developing heart disease. Palm kernel oil, often confused with palm oil and also derived from the fruit of the palm tree, contains saturated fat as well.
The composition of palm oil and coconut oil differs. Coconut oil contains a higher percentage of saturated fats; saturated fats make up around 90 percent of coconut oil. Around 50 percent of the oil in palm oil is saturated; palm kernel oil, like coconut oil, is highly saturated. The saturated fats in palm oil are palmitic acids, which make up 45 percent of palm oil, and stearic acids, which make up 5 percent. The unsaturated fats in palm oil are oleic acid, which makes up 40 percent, and linoleic acid, which makes up 10 percent. The saturated fats of coconut oil consist mostly of medium-chain triglycerides.
The effects of both palm oil and coconut oil on cholesterol levels are difficult to assess. Both can raise cholesterol levels in people who already have high cholesterol levels, NYU Langone Medical Center reports. Coconut oil, however, also appears to raise high-density lipoprotein, the “good” cholesterol, more significantly than other saturated fats. When used for cooking, palm oil may have unhealthy effects due to oxidation.
Some studies have shown a positive effect on lipid levels from coconut and palm oils. In a Brazilian study reported in the July 2009 issue of “Lipids,” coconut oil did not raise lipid levels in 40 obese women over a 12-week period. In the 2009 issue of “British Journal of Biomedical Science,” researchers from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology in South Africa reported that red palm oil, a refined palm oil, does not promote atherosclerosis and reduces cholesterol, possibly because of the ratio of saturated to unsaturated fat and the high levels of antioxidants such as beta carotene and vitamin E.
Coconut and palm oils are both atypical saturated fats. Since they come from plants, they have antioxidant properties that may have health benefits. Saturated plant oils like coconut oil may be a healthier choice than other saturated fats, but still may not have all the health benefits of unsaturated fats, Walter C. Willett, M.D., of the Harvard School of Public Health says.
- NYU Langone Medical Center: Tropical Oils
- "Lipids"; Effects of Dietary Coconut Oil on the Biochemical and Anthropometric Profiles of Women Presenting Abdominal Obesity; M. Assuncao, et al.; July 2009
- "British Journal of Biochemical Science"; Red Palm Oil: Nutritional, Physiological and Therapeutic Roles in Improving Human Wellbeing and Quality of Life; O.Oguntibeju, et al.; 2009
- Harvard Health Letter; Ask the Doctor: Coconut Oil; Walter Willett, M.D.; May 2011
- coconut dÃ©cortiquÃ©e image by jharela from Fotolia.com
This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.