There’s a buzz going around about red palm oil. From what I understand, Dr. Oz gave it a thumbs up as a healthy oil, and said on his show that it can increase your metabolism and whittle away belly fat. (I did note that on the Dr. Oz website, it mentions the oil as a metabolism booster but makes no claims about reducing fat from specific areas of your body.) 

As I learned at the Natural Products Expo last fall, when Dr. Oz gives an endorsement to a product, it’s a big deal. Many people — especially women like me who are at the age where reducing belly fat seems about as possible as becoming an astronaut — are giving palm oil a try.

So I decided to do a little research, and here’s what I learned about red palm oil.

First, of all, despite how I wish the miracle belly-fat reducing statement were true, it’s not. There isn’t a food product out there that can pinpoint a specific section of the body. Red palm oil might have health benefits and it might even aid in weight reduction when used along with a reduced calorie, increased exercise regimen, but it can’t pinpoint anyone’s belly and help it magically shrink when you ingest a few tablespoons of it a day.

So what is red palm oil?

Red palm oil is taken from the fruit of the oil palm tree. It comes from the same part of the palm tree as regular palm oil, but it is less processed and retains the red color from its high concentration of carotenes. It’s rich in vitamins A and E. Apparently, the process of creating regular palm oil strips out the carotenes along with other nutrients.

It’s difficult to determine the exact nutrient content in red palm oil because details seem to be scarce online. After 10 minutes of searching, I found only one company that makes a red palm oil product and put its nutritional label data on its website. Tropical Traditions, a company that makes a USDA Organic version of red palm oil, says on its nutritional label that it contains 8,480 percent of the daily value of vitamin A while nutrition data on regular palm oil says it contains no vitamin A.

So it seems that red palm oil retains more nutritional value than regular palm oil, but there’s something else to consider. The conventional creation of palm oil is bad for the planet. In Indonesia, the growing demand for palm oil is driving the destruction of tropical forests. In Malaysia, peat swamp forests are being obliterated, and the disappearing forests endangering the habitat of the “pygmy elephant — the smallest elephant on Earth — the clouded leopard, the long-nosed tapir and many rare birds.”

As word spreads about the devastation that palm oil cultivation can cause, people are beginning to take notice and companies are beginning to make changes. Sustainable palm oil is in its infancy, and according to Worldwatch Institute, palm oil sustainability criteria remain controversial. But it’s a start.

The increased consumer interest in red palm oil has increased demand, at least in the United States. And increased demand for a product like this one rarely leads to sustainability.

If you’re going to add red palm oil to your diet, it’s not a bad idea nutritionally. Just don’t expect any miracles. Be careful of what companies you buy from, though. The more people who buy from companies that are beginning to source sustainably will let the entire market know that consumers demand sustainable red palm oil.

Do you use red palm oil? Have you started using it recently because of all the media attention it’s been getting, or is it something you’ve been using for a while?

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