askST: Is palm oil unhealthy compared to other oils and should one avoid consuming it?

Reader Sujatha Das wrote in to ask if palm oil is an unhealthier option compared to other oils and, if so, whether it should be avoided.

Food correspondent Eunice Quek finds out.

Ms Bibi Chia, principal dietitian of the Raffles Diabetes & Endocrine Centre, says that palm oil costs less than other types of edible vegetable oils, as palm - for the purpose of extracting palm oil - is widely grown in Indonesia and Malaysia.

She says: "Due to cost and proximity, food manufacturers in our region often use palm oil in snacks and other processed foods. It is also the most common oil used in hawker centres and fast food places."

Palm oil is high in saturated fat - about 52 per cent - compared to canola oil, which has 7 per cent saturated fat. Although "not as bad" as coconut oil - with 92 per cent saturated fat - she says that high intake of palm oil will increase bad cholesterol levels, which could increase the risk of heart problem and stroke.

"It is recommended to limit the amount of saturated fat you eat to less than 7 per cent of your total daily calories. If you need about 2,000 calories a day, less than 140 calories (or 16g) should come from saturated fat," says Ms Chia.

Palm oil is also often hydrogenated to make it suitable for certain foods, such as confectionery items, which increases trans fat content. Her advice is to limit the amount of trans fat intake to less than 1 per cent of total daily calories. "If you need about 2,000 calories a day, less than 20 calories (or 2g) should come from trans fat," she adds.

She also suggests limiting consumption of oily food when eating out, as palm oil is often used. In addition, one should read labels and avoid foods that have palm oil or hydrogenated palm oil as one of the first three ingredients listed on the label.