After reading a Hindu BusinessLine article blasting palm oil and riddled with myths, Peter Pressman, MD, MS, FACN authored an in-depth rebuttal to set the record straight. The editors of Free Malaysia Today immediately saw the educational value of printing Pressman’s article, which is based in part on his own scientific research and his first-hand experience on Malaysia’s oil palm plantations. 

Pressman, a distinguished food scientist with impeccable credentials, contradicted myths printed in the Hindu BusinessLine article, point by point. They include: 

  • Myth: saturated fat contributes to heart disease. 

Not true. “An accumulating mass of rigorously designed and conducted studies of hundreds of thousands of subjects not only confirm that saturated fat intake is not associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease, stroke or cardiovascular disease but that some saturated fats are actually anti-atherogenic, i.e. protect against vascular disease,” Pressman wrote. He then explained the biochemical reasons why palm oil does not elevate heart disease risk. 

  • Myth: The high saturated fat content of palm oil boosts “bad” LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, both of which are known to be risk factors for heart disease.

Not true. Pressman cited a 12-month Malaysian diet and population study involving 577 healthy participants which found that carbohydrates, not fats, raise heart disease risk factors. “The overwhelming majority of participants (83.9%) cooked meals prepared with palm oil / palm olein,” he noted. 

  • Myth: Increased palm oil consumption can lead to increased death due to stroke. 

Not true. “An exhaustive, published two-year human clinical study found that palm-derived vitamin E tocotrienols support the brain’s white matter health by slowing the progression of white matter lesions. These same tocotrienols were shown to help the brain undergo less damage due to stroke and then to recover more quickly. Brain white matter lesions are not only linked to increased stroke risk, but they are also known to be linked to the development of other neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease,” Pressman wrote. 

  • Myth: Consuming palm oil that’s been repeated reheated may cause plaque deposits in the arteries due to a decrease in the oil’s antioxidant activity and formation of trans fats (a highly toxic form of fatty acid).

“This is very much like saying that running a red light while driving a Ferrari is dangerous. The truth is that running a red light while driving any car is dangerous,” commented Pressman. “Repeatedly heating any oil creates contaminants – that at high enough levels – are potentially dangerous to human health. These include, but are not limited to, trans fats. Isolating palm oil in this statement is myopic and inflammatory journalism.”

  • Myth: Palm oil consumption is harmful for the environment and wildlife. 

“This statement ignores the fact that the entire country of Malaysia, one of the world’s leading palm oil producers, is a net carbon sink meaning that it does not contribute to greenhouse gases. Malaysian palm oil has been produced sustainably and responsibly for more than 100 years, and its forest cover is actually increasing,” wrote Pressman. He then gave detailed, personal accounts of the Malaysian palm oil industry’s conservation efforts. 

He wrote, “In conclusion, I would insist that before demonizing palm oil and perpetuating fear of its consumption, responsible media ought to check the facts. Dig deeper. If they do, they’ll discover there’s an entirely different story to tell.”

Among his other credentials, Pressman is a reviewer for the “Journal of Food Science,” the “Journal of Food & Chemical Toxicology,” and serves on the Editorial Board of Toxicology Research and Application. He has served on the Food Additive Task Force of the International Special Dietary Foods Industries (ISDFI) along with distinguished scientists representing the European Union and from the Chan School of Public Health, Harvard University.