Palm oil and saturated fat (SAFA)

Palm oil consists of 50 per cent saturated fats. SAFA have important metabolic functions, but can be synthesized by the body and are not required in the diet. Reducing SAFA intake is a major focus of most dietary recommendations aiming to prevent chronic diseases including coronary heart disease (CHD). National and international dietary expert panels recommend that saturated fat consumption should not exceed 10 per cent (Germany, the Netherlands, the Nordic nations, FAO/WHO 2010) to 12 per cent (France) of the overall daily energy intake. EFSA advises SAFA intake should be as low as possible within the context of food based dietary guidelines (EFSA 2010). Despite the well-established guidelines,the SAFA intake is still beyond recommendations in many European countries (Harika 2013).

Replacing SAFA

Without paying attention to what SAFA is replaced with, SAFA reduction may not reduce chronic disease risks. Recent meta-analyses of prospective cohort studies indicate that consumption of SAFA in itself is not associated with increased risk of CVD (Siri-Tarino 2010, Chowdhury 2014, de Souza 2015). However, modelled SAFA replacement by PUFA, is related to lower coronary risk (Jakobsen 2009).This has been confirmed by randomized controlled trials. A recent systematic review concluded that lowering SAFA reduced the risk of cardiovascular events by on average 17%. Replacing SAFA with PUFA appeared protective of cardiovascular events, while replacing with carbohydrates was not beneficial (Hooper 2015).

The FAO states that there is convincing evidence to conclude that replacing SAFA with PUFA decreases the risk of CHD. There is probable evidence that replacing SAFA with largely sugars and rapidly digested starches has no benefit on CHD, and may even increase the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) and favour metabolic syndrome development (FAO/WHO 2010). 

Individual saturated fats

Individual SAFA have specific effects on blood lipids (Mensink 2016). However, there are few studies that investigated the effect of individual SAFA on the risk of specific diseases. By nature, specific SAFA always occur as a mix and different fats and oils have a great variability in fatty acid composition. This makes it difficult to draw conclusions about the impact of specific fatty acids on health resulting in differences in dietary recommendations. In France recommendations on SAFA intake differentiate between the individual fatty acids (ANSES 2011). According to the Health Council of the Netherlands scientific knowledge is inadequate for establishing dietary reference intakes for all individual fatty acids separately (Health Council of the Netherlands 2001).