KUALA LUMPUR: With 80% of palm oil used in food applications, the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) says it is constantly focusing on providing evidence of the nutritional properties of the versatile oil, backed by credible scientific research carried out in collaboration with renowned research institutions as well as in-house.
Numerous studies found that palm oil carries health benefits such as being anti-oxidant, anti-cancer as well as having the potential to be a key ingredient for high value-based food products such as infant food formulation.
“Palm oil is very unique in the sense that it is the only vegetable oil high in tocotrienols, which demonstrate positive attributes, namely anti-oxidant, anti-cancer, cardio-protective and neuroprotective effects,” said director-general Dr Ahmad Parveez Ghulam Kadir.
He also said the nutritional research and development carried by the industrial regulator, which abide with the ISO standards, covered important areas on palm oil, red palm oil and palm phytonutrients, involving human clinical interventions, pre-clinical studies as well as the development of health beneficial products.
In addition, there are research on the effects of the oil on blood cholesterol levels and other lipid parameters; the effect of red palm oil on addressing Vitamin A deficiencies; gut health; and studies on anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory activities of palm phytonutrients such as tocotrienols and carotenes.
Ahmad Parveez noted that similar approaches are applied in the research on oil palm phenolics, compounds found to exhibit numerous health benefits, making them important in the health and wellness sector.
Palm oil, he explained, is also rich in phytonutrients, for example carotenoids, tocopherols, tocotrienols, sterols, squalene, coenzyme Q10 phospholipids and polyphenols that make up one per cent of its weight.
These phytonutrients have anti-oxidative properties and some nutritional benefits beyond their antioxidant function, he said.
“Palm oil is very unique in the sense that it is the only vegetable oil high in tocotrienols, which demonstrate positive attributes, namely anti-oxidant, anti-cancer, cardio-protective and neuroprotective effects.
“We have therefore embarked on several clinical studies in collaboration with various research institutes, such as the Royal Marsden Cancer Centre in the UK, Ohio State University, Indiana University and Wayne State University in the USA as well as local universities in Malaysia in areas related to neuroprotection, radioprotection, stroke, liver and renal diseases.
“We also discovered the red palm oil carotenes in palm display important health benefits. Carotenes are pro-vitamin A, which means that they convert to Vitamin A in the body when required,” he added.
Vitamin A deficiency is a serious problem worldwide, especially amongst malnourished children, as it leads to various diseases related to an increase in infections and especially eye-related diseases.
In Malaysia, for example, Vitamin A deficiency is prevalent in Orang Asli pre-school and primary school children and those from rubber estates.
He said that about 82.2% of Orang Asli children have Vitamin A deficiency-related eye diseases, ranging from night blindness to corneal scars.
To combat this problem, MPOB is conducting a red palm oil supplementation programme in 10 rural primary schools in Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak, with children given a dietary supplement of red palm oil biscuits.
Ahmad Parveez said studies conducted by the industrial regulator have proven that oil palm phenolics have potent multiple health benefits, including antioxidant, anti-diabetic, anti-hypertensive, neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory activities.
Pre-clinical and clinical trials have confirmed that they are powerful in protecting brain and heart health.
“Hence, oil palm phenolics have wide applications in the health and wellness sector, including the nutraceutical, cosmeceutical, functional food and beverage industries.
“We are indeed very fortunate because palm oil has various health-enhancing minor components, such as tocotrienols, tocopherol, carotene, phytosterols, squalene, coenzyme Q10, polyphenols, and phospholipids.
“Currently, we are studying the inclusion of these phytonutrients in food formulations. The studies include the stability of these phytonutrients in the food matrix and extend beyond to bioavailability,” he said.
Ahmad Parveez pointed out that advancements in the fractionation process allow the palm solid fraction to be used as an alternative component to overcome the problem of trans-fatty acids in the food system, especially in Pakistan.
He also said that palm solid fractions have the great potential to play a substantial role as structural fats, especially in the production of trans-free and low saturated fat vanaspati/vegetable ghee.
“Palm-based solid components have also found their way into high-value food products such as infant food formula.
“Other than that, palm-based oils and fats are also widely used in the production of dairy product analogues such as ice-cream, creamer, and cheese (including cream and mozzarella cheese analogues), as well as in the production of confectionery fats as an alternative to the more expensive and short-in-supply cocoa butter,” he added.