Palm oil is the main ingredient in many processed foods, but what exactly is it and how does it affect your body?
The answer may surprise you.
The chemical compound found in palm oil is called polysorbate 80.
“It is not just an additive, it is the molecule that makes it into all of the processed foods that we eat,” explains Professor John McLean, the lead researcher on the new study.
“It’s an incredibly important ingredient in the food chain, it’s a by-product of the production process and we need to understand it,” he says.
But what exactly does palm oil do?
Professor McLean explains it’s all about the structure of the fatty acid chains in palm trees.
“Palm oil is made up of fatty acids, or monounsaturated fatty acids that form the basis of all the fats that we can eat,” he explains.
“Each fatty acid has a structure that is quite complex and each fatty acid is made of a different type of molecule, which we call the monounsesaturated fatty acid, or MUFAC, and the saturated fatty acid,” he explained.
“There are a number of different types of monounseaturated fatty acyl chains and a number other types of saturated fatty acids.”
The MUFACA structure of an individual fatty acid chain is the same regardless of the amount of the oil, the size of the molecule, or the type of oil used.
“So, for example, the monosaturated fatty fatty acid in coconut oil is a lot like the MUFAA structure of a single saturated fatty.”
It’s this structure, and a lot of different fatty acids found in the oil molecules, that make palm oil such a valuable source of protein.
Palm oils contain up to 70 per cent of the total protein in the diet, Professor McLean says.
“That’s because the MUBAA structure is much more easily absorbed by the body, it gets absorbed through the skin, and it gets metabolised into different forms of fatty acid.”
And when you get to the MUCFA structure, it has a different metabolic pathway, which means it’s broken down more slowly and it is then converted into more complex molecules like triglycerides, which are important in energy production.
“The new research shows how a wide variety of fatty acyls can be synthesised into complex, functional molecules, Professor John said.”
What’s exciting about this work is that we know from looking at palm oil that there are different types and different functions for different types, and that they’re actually quite stable, stable and stable,” he said.
It’s a lot more complex than it seems, Professor McNally says, adding it was important to understand the different structures in the oils before they could be used to make new proteins.”
We want to understand how these fatty acids are used in the body,” he added.
He also says more research is needed to understand what effect different oils have on different cancers.
A lot of studies have looked at what oils have been linked to, Professor McHale said, and what effect they have on certain diseases.”
These findings show that palm oil has a wide range of benefits for a variety of diseases, including breast cancer, ovarian cancer, breast cancer,” he told ABC News.”
In terms of breast cancer itself, it seems to have a protective effect against breast cancer because it’s actually very low in estrogen, so it seems like a good source of anti-estrogenic agents.
“I think there are many other important applications that could be put to use with palm oil in terms of antiaging, anti-ageing, for instance in treating arthritis, arthritis related inflammation, for treating depression, for diabetes, and possibly even in treating diabetes itself,” he concluded.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg and we still have a lot to do to understand these benefits.”
The researchers from the University of Queensland, the University and Melbourne University, and Professor Mclean are collaborating to explore the role of palm oil on cancer.
Professor Mclean says it’s important to find out what is happening in the plant-based food chain and how this affects our health.
If you have a food allergy, or you’re not sensitive to animal products, you can eat palm oil and it won’t affect you, ProfessorMcLean said.