Editor's note: Palm oil, made from palm kernels, is a staple in Nigeria, used especially in soups and of course, beans. However, lately, it has been getting a bad rap among promoters of 'healthy' eating. Legit.ng's contributor, Ifeyinwa Nzeka analyses the matter to help decide whether to eat or not to eat.
This palm oil matter is serious and some people seem to have made themselves "advisors in council" on the matter.
Whenever I see a food picture or post with palm oil "flowing", I go straight to the comments section to have a good laugh (don't judge, don't we all?). I am there for the comments from these advisors in council and otherwise with comments ranging from "The palm oil is too much, kilode?" "Haba, do you want to take a bath with it?" "You must know palm oil is unhealthy, don't you?”
It is quite amusing so one begins to wonder if these advisors in council on palm oil matters – let’s call them ACOPOM shall we? I mean, everything has an acronym these days – will soon come together to protest the high quantity of vegetable oil versus the sardines in a tin of sardine. No, but jokes apart, if these advisors would complain about the amount of oil in another person’s food, surely, they really should be complaining about the high amount of oil and the small amount of fish in a product that they pay for.
Of equal interest to me is the replies to the ACOPOM’s comments particularly from those who are pro palm oil. Replies ranging from "Obviously, you must have failed chemistry, palm oil is one of the healthiest oils globally”, “Go and cook your own”, “If the palm oil is much it is as the cook intended so face front” “When you cook your own, reduce the palm oil if you like” or in solidarity, someone immediately sends their own palm oil “drenched” meal.
… And the debate goes on and on in both formal and informal settings, never ending.
Our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and ancestors ate palm oil blissfully, dredging it generously over yam like syrup over pancakes, without thinking twice. Today, palm oil often gets bad press and we hesitate before adding it to our meals.
In this era of healthy living, with more of us becoming more conscious of what we eat and the health benefits or otherwise of food ingredients that form a part of our daily diets, it is even more important that we have the right information. It is also important that we do not give up healthy food and ingredients that are indigenous to us simply because we do not have the right information.
You see, you are ACOPOM and yet you eat banga soup, what is banga? You eat butter, you eat plenty fried things made with vegetable oil, you like buttery cake, you love cookies, your swallow must be a mountain, if there aren’t up to five pieces of meat in your plate, you haven’t eaten, you must have one large loaf of agege bread for breakfast, you can’t do without soft drinks or beer and the list of things goes on and on. And yet you complain about a whole food like palm oil? Maka why?
Now if your mother boiled these fruits as a child, sprinkled it with salt and you ate it like a snack, (in Eminem’s voice) please stand up, please stand up, please stand up. This is one awesome superfood that’s great for growing children too. Now if only I could get the children around me to eat this in place of candies and cookies.
I’ll have you know that red palm oil in its raw form and as we know it here in Nigeria is actually very healthy and has great health benefits. It is composed of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids in near equal amounts however, it does not contain the major cholesterol raising fatty acid in saturated fats, known as myristic acid (C14).
So, although red palm oil is high in saturated fat, it actually protects against heart disease. Studies have shown that it lowers cholesterol and helps maintain a proper blood pressure. It also contains high amounts of beta-carotene (which has powerful anti-oxidant functions thereby strengthening the body’s immunity), lycopene and vitamin E (alpha tocotrienol).
Red palm oil contains more carotenes than can be found in tomatoes or carrots.
Really and in truth, shouldn’t the amount of palm oil in another person’s meal be the least of our problems in today’s world? I say this literally and figuratively.
Ifeyinwa Nzeka is a Cordon Bleu trained chef, hospitality practitioner and blogger who is passionate about Nigerian food and cuisine.