Know the different guises of palm oil and opt for healthier alternatives

OILS LABELLED 'VEGETABLE OIL' OR 'BLENDED OIL'

These products tend to have palm oil as their main ingredient.

Check the ingredient list - if palm oil is listed first, it means that it is the most abundant oil in the product.

Do not be fooled into thinking that a particular cooking oil is healthier based just on packaging claims like "no cholesterol".

Plant-based oils never contain cholesterol in the first place, only animal-based oils do.

Instead, check the nutritional information panel for saturated fat content, which is a more important determinant of blood cholesterol levels.

DISHES SERVED AT HAWKER CENTRES AND FOOD COURTS

Most food stalls tend to use blended oils that are high in palm oil content. It may be useful to ask your favourite hawker to make the switch to a healthier oil.

One example is the palm-canola mix that the Health Promotion Board is now encouraging food sellers to use as it is lower in saturated fat.

PROCESSED OR PACKAGED FOOD

Cookies, potato chips, chocolate, peanut butter and instant coffee - all these popular food products may be made with palm oil.

If you eat such processed food products regularly, consider looking for alternatives that use another type of oil. For instance, some brands of potato chips are cooked with sunflower oil.

Of course, it is best to limit the consumption of salty snacks, candy and pastry items. Try having some fruit and nuts for a snack instead.

OTHER TIPS

•Palm oil may be listed under different names in the ingredient list, such as palm olein or, simply, vegetable fat. In such cases, compare products by looking at the saturated fat content stated in the nutritional information panel. Pick the one that has less saturated fat and more unsaturated fat.

•Cooking oil products may be described on the label as cold-pressed, refined, unrefined, light or pure. But all these terms are not directly relevant to the saturated or unsaturated fat content in the oil. For example, cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil means it is mechanically extracted without using heat or chemicals. Compared with "light" olive oil, more flavour and phytochemicals are preserved.

Poon Chian Hui

•Source: Associate Professor Rob van Dam, Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, National University of Singapore

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 12, 2016, with the headline 'Know the different guises of palm oil and opt for healthier alternatives'. Print Edition | Subscribe