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Red palm oil not only supplies fatty acids essential for proper growth and development, but also it contains an assortment of vitamins, antioxidants, and other phytonutrients important for good health. Red palm oil gets its name from its characteristic dark red color, which comes from carotenes such as alpha-carotene, beta-carotene and lycopene—the same nutrients that give tomatoes, carrots and other fruits and vegetables their rich red and orange colors.
Red palm oil is the richest dietary source of provitamin A carotenes (beta-carotene and alpha-carotene). It has 15 times more provitamin A carotenes than carrots and 300 times more than tomatoes. This has made it a valued resource in the treatment of vitamin A deficiency. People who do not consume enough vitamin A in their diets suffer from blindness, weakened bones, lower immunity, and impaired learning ability and mental function. One teaspoon (about 20 ml) a day of red palm oil supplies children with the daily recommended amount of vitamin A. Nursing mothers, by adding red palm oil into their diets, can double or triple the amount of vitamin A in breast milk.
Red palm oil contains a greater number of nutrients than any other dietary oil. In addition to beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, and lycopene, it contains at least 10 other carotenes, along with tocopherols and tocotrienols (members of the vitamin E family), CoQ10, phytosterols, and glycolipids. In a 2007 animal study, South African scientists found consumption of red palm oil significantly decreased p38-MAPK phosphorylation in rat hearts subjected to a high-cholesterol diet.
Since the mid-1990s, red palm oil is cold-pressed and bottled for use as cooking oil, and blended into mayonnaise and salad oil. Red palm oil antioxidants like tocotrienols and carotenes are also fortified into foods for specific health use and anti-aging cosmetics.