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Anonymous viral WhatsApp message contains false palm oil scare stories

A recent viral WhatsApp message contained a number of false statements about palm oil, leading to a needless health scare among many. Palm oil is a common product used in food products and toiletries sold around the world, but it sometimes falls victim to scare stories which have no basis in scientific fact. The message which circulated in September 2023 carried the name of Dr Tejas Patel, a reputable cardiologist. Dr Patel did not write the message and soon denounced its claims in a video posted on Facebook, stating that he had no knowledge of the text or its contents. He also reported the incident to the police.

The themes and alleged facts in the anti-palm oil WhatsApp message are completely false. It tries to paint palm oil as a threat to our health. In fact, palm oil contains a unique combination of saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids. A holistic, balance fatty acid profile like this is important for maintaining overall health. Research shows the effect of palm oil’s fats on cardiovascular health are neutral, meaning it poses no threat when consumed as part of a balanced diet.

Palm oil also contains healthy nutrients like vitamin E, an antioxidant which helps safeguard cells, and vitamin A, which helps immune function and vision. It can also help absorption of vitamin K, which assists with bone health. Furthermore, thanks to its antioxidant properties and beta-carotene content, palm oil is less likely to fall victim to oxidation and the creation of free radicals, which cause harm. That reduces our likelihood of age-related neurodegenerative diseases.

There is no scientific evidence whatsoever to support the wild scaremongering about palm oil contained in the viral WhatsApp message. The message also singles out palmitic acid as a cause for concern. In reality, palmitic acid is nothing to worry about. Although it is present in palm oil, it appears in even larger quantities in other food products such as meat and dairy.

In fact, palmitic acid is the most common saturated fatty acid found in nature. It can be found in various species of plants and animals. It is even naturally present in the human body, making up more than one fifth of the body’s total fatty acids. If it is not consumed as part of a healthy diet, the human body generates its own. The average person consumes more than 20 grams of palmitic acid per day, and it has an important role in human health. Clearly, the fact that palm oil contains palmitic acid is not a reason to be scared for our health.

One of the many mistakes made by the anonymous author of the aggressive, frightening WhatsApp message which seeks to scare people away from palm oil is its failure to properly distinguish between naturally occurring and industrially produced trans fats. Some other vegetable oils undergo a hydrogenation process which does not apply to palm oil. That process can result in the formation of harmful trans fats.

In contrast, the trans fats found in palm oil occur naturally. In any respect, they are generally found in very small amounts. As a result, when palm oil is responsibly produced and processed in the normal way, there is a negligible or non-existent chance that it could ever contribute any significant levels of harmful trans fats to the human diet.

Of course, like all fat, palm oil contains a dense concentration of energy and can therefore lead to obesity and other lifestyle-related health risks if consumed irresponsibly. However, to link health problems like these to palm oil is nonsensical, especially when the alternative products like ghee are no better. An overall poor diet, not palm oil, causes weight gain and obesity.

People who receive the circulated viral message about palm oil should not believe it. It was not written by Dr Tejas Patel and it has no science or research to back it up. Palm oil is perfectly healthy as part of a balanced diet and there is no reason to be scared of it.

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