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The Endurance Athlete’s Guide to Red Palm Oil

nutiva red palm oil jar

It used to be hard to keep up with Dr. Oz, but now it’s simply impossible. I can’t even remember which fat burner is best (EGCG? Green coffee bean extract? Raspberry ketones?,) so there’s no way I’m going to be able to keep up with his oil recommendations!

I believe it went from canola oil to olive oil to coconut oil to MCT oil to macadamia oil to grape seed oil and now to red palm oil. But I could be wrong. And I could be getting other doctors’ recommendations confused with his. (After all, there are multiple doctors with their own talk shows nowadays.)

That said, I didn’t know a darn thing about red palm oil before the Dr. Oz segment. So, I set out to research it and see if it would do any good for endurance athletes…

An Introduction to Palm Oil

Palm oil is nothing new. It’s prevalent in many processed foods, so you’ve probably had it before without even knowing it. When you see some variation of the term “palm oil” on a label, it refers to palm kernel oil, which is oil made from the seed of the oil palm tree fruit.

This palm kernel oil is more than 89% saturated, with fractionated palm oil being even worse. Think of it as taking processed food and processing it even more. (Not unlike partially hydrogenated soybean oil.)

Palm fruit oil, on the other hand, is about 50% saturated, and actually contains some nutrients. Enough nutrients to make it a miracle superfood? We’ll see…

What Is Red Palm Oil?

The simplest way to explain it is that it is oil pressed from the fruit of the oil palm tree. The fruits look like little red chestnuts, and they’re pressed to extract the oil (much like you can do with olives and avocados.) The raw, virtually unprocessed oil is still red, meaning it is rich with nutrients.

Most is imported to the USA from Africa or Malaysia.

(As far as taste, let’s just say that I’ll stick with olive oil.)

What You Heard on the Dr. Oz Show

Let’s recap some of the claims about this substance:

  • No other oils – olive, coconut, etc. – compare to the nutritional value of red palm oil.
  • Virgin organic sustainable red palm fruit oil is a bona fide miracle food.
  • Red palm oil has great science behind it for its beneficial role in fighting heart disease and high cholesterol.
  • Research is showing that the antioxidant power of red palm oil can be of help in protecting against a variety of health problems, including osteoporosis, asthma, cataracts, macular degeneration, arthritis, and liver disease.
  • Red palm oil goes straight to the liver and ignites your metabolism. It’s instant energy because it doesn’t need time to be broken down, as is the case with other fats.
  • The health benefits of red palm fruit oil can be achieved by incorporating only 1-2 tablespoons into your daily diet.

Sounds good? You bet.

Is it for real? Well, I’m not so sure about that…

The Actual Health Benefits of Red Palm Oil

In theory, this oil does sound promising.

It starts as a colorful fruit, with that color coming from carotenes (including beta-carotene and lycopene.) That’s what you get in tomatoes and carrots already, but red palm oil offers a significantly higher amount. Basically, you’re getting a lot of Vitamin A here.

The oil is also a rich source of tocotrienols (forms of Vitamin E,) CoQ10, and more.

So, red palm oil is a good source of important vitamins and antioxidants that have been found to improve heart and brain health. Therein lies the potential for lowering your blood pressure and preventing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Unfortunately, that’s as far as I can go. The current research is, let’s say, lackluster at best.

Red Palm Oil vs Coconut Oil vs Fish Oil

Red palm oil is being compared to some other oils which have also been heralded for their health benefits.

It is somewhat similar to coconut oil. They are both are high in saturated fat so you can cook successfully with either one. Nutrient-wise, coconut oil contains more medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) than red palm oil, for more energy, but red palm oil holds the distinct health advantage thanks to the the carotenoid and tocotrienol antioxidants.

Fish oil, however, is completely different. Its health benefits come mainly from its high levels of omega-3 essential fatty acids (namely EPA and DHA) which are hard to get otherwise. There’s also this itty bitty difference where fish oil benefits are backed by clinical research. And those benefits, such as enhanced muscle recovery, are especially nice for endurance athletes!

Where to Buy Red Palm Oil

If you do decide you want to try this oil, it’s not particularly easy to find. Your best chance to find something good would be to look in African grocery stores if they exist in your area. Failing that, you can try Sprouts or Whole Foods. Finally, your easiest option is, of course, Amazon.com.

I am not a connoisseur of red palm oil, but I’ve heard that Juka’s is the best out there. And the best part is, this is one of the ones you can purchase on Amazon.com!

Here’s the full list of available options on Amazon.com:

Other oils that can be ordered online:

I’m sure there are more, but the problem is, some of the new ones might be sketchy companies just trying to make a quick buck by taking advantage of Dr. Oz’s loyal followers. (One exception would be Nutiva.)

How to Use Red Palm Oil

Although credible studies aren’t exactly prevalent, the outlook is good. So I’m certainly not against using red palm oil.

I say, if you are really, really interested in the carotenes and Vitamin E, have 1 Tbsp per day for a month. Then see what happens. That’s my simple advice.

Why 1 Tbsp? Well, any more is probably going to be too many calories for most people and would negate any purported benefits. If you need to take it in greater quantities, you’re likely going to gain weight, which rarely brings about any health benefits!

Trying to lose weight? Skip it entirely. Even at 1 Tbsp per day, you’re looking at around 120 extra calories. Have a tomato instead! It’s one thing to take in quite a few calories from fish oil, since it’s difficult to get the Omega-3’s otherwise. But you can absolutely get red palm oil’s benefits elsewhere (with fewer calories I might add.)

And don’t forget, it’s twice the price of a good coconut oil. So I personally wouldn’t cook with it or eat it for enjoyment (unless you crave that red palm flavor!)

 

References and Further Reading

 

Are you using red palm oil? Let me know what you think of it!

 

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2 Comments
  1. Hi! I just stumbled on your article while trying to learn more about red palm oil. I used to eat this stuff years ago and recently found a 15 oz jar of the Nutiva brand at my local Whole Foods for just $6.50. Even if your local store doesn’t carry it, they might be willing to special order, I’ve done this in the past with other things. The flavor is milder than what I’ve had in the past, and seems like it would be a good substitute for butter (which I’m allergic too). I happen to like it, but I guess that just comes down to personal preference 🙂

  2. @John

    Thanks for sharing! At that price it seems comparable to the Nutiva coconut oil.

    If it works for you as a butter substitute, great! It’s always good to have options!

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coach levi
Hi, I'm Coach Levi. I'm a USA Cycling Certified Level 3 Coach as well as Level 1 Certified with Precision Nutrition. Want to feel better, ride faster, and look great? Let's work together!

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Coach Levi is my favorite child and favorite cycling coach. I'd choose him over Christoper McCarmikael even. Did I mention that Levi can coach you to a healthier lifestyle where you look and feel your best?
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