Tropical Oils - Safer Than You Think

Tropical Oils - Safer Than You Think

Gabe Mirkin, M.D.

"Tropical oils" refers to oils made from palm, palm kernel and 
coconut oils. In the 1980s, the American soybean industry was 
worried that foreign tropical oils would replace their oils as the 
number one fat, and take money from the American farmer.

A public relations firm working for the American soybean industry 
devised a campaign that would help to convince consumers that 
tropical oils were unhealthful. Foods made with soybean oil were 
labelled "contains no tropical oils." Later the U.S. Federal Trade 
Commission made that label illegal because there was an implied 
health claim that tropical oils are harmful and there is no evidence 
to back it up. the total amount of tropical oils in the U.S. diet 
was about two percent, so anything that caused consumers to avoid 
them would have a negligible effect on cholesterol. The whole issue 
was a trade war and not about health effects. 

Tropical oils are used in foods for functional reasons. They are 
excellent for shortening because they don't get rancid easily, they 
produce flaky pastry and good color on fried foods, and they don't 
give a greasy feel to crackers. It is difficult to substitute most 
other vegetable oils for the tropical ones because their 
polyunsaturated fats have a short shelf life. To prolong the shelf 
life, manufacturers convert soybean oil in your food to partially 
hydrogenated oils which are known to be harmful to your health 
(increasing risk for a heart attacks and certain cancers). 

The countries with the highest palm oil intakes in the world are 
Costa Rica and Malaysia. Their heart disease rates and serum 
cholesterol levels are much lower than in western nations. This 
never was a real health issue.

Checked 8/3/12