E-Mail Edition  Volume 4   Number 2

Originally published Spring, 2007

Published by Piccadilly Books, Ltd., www.piccadillybooks.com.

Bruce Fife, N.D., Publisher, www.coconutresearchcenter.org

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  • Ask Dr. Coconut

  • The Palm Oil Solution: A Healthy Alternative to Trans Fats

  • Palm Tocotrienols: A New Super Antioxidant




Ask Dr. Coconut TM 

Dr. Bruce Fife a.k.a. "Dr. Coconut" answers two of the most often asked questions about coconut oil.


I often see coconut oil being sold in the store right next to palm oil. What is the difference between these two oils?

 In some ways coconut and palm oils are very similar. They are unique in that they are vegetable oils that contain a high percentage of saturated fat. Because of this they are highly resistant to oxidation and make excellent cooking oils. Because of their high saturated fat content they both have high melting points and may be solid at room temperature. Both are products of palm trees, hence they are often referred to as the tropical oils. Both oils are good and offer many health benefits. This, however, is where the similarity ends.

Coconut and palm oils are very different from one another in chemical composition, appearance, and character. Even their influence on health is uniquely different. They come from different species of palm and from different parts of the plant. Coconut oil comes from the seed of the coconut palm (Cocos nucifera). Palm oil comes from the fleshy fruit of the oil palm (Elaesis guineensis).

If you see a bottle of virgin palm oil and virgin coconut oil sitting side by side in a store you will quickly notice a distinct difference. In the relatively cool temperature of the store both oils will be in their solid form. The virgin coconut oil will be a pure white. The virgin palm oil, however, will be a deep orange-red. The red color is from carotenes. Carotenes are plant pigments that give fruits and vegetables their red, yellow, and orange colors. When melted, the palm oil takes on a dark red color. For this reason, virgin palm oil is called "red" palm oil.

Red palm oil is the premiere form of palm oil just as virgin coconut oil is the best. Like virgin coconut oil, red palm oil has undergone minimal processing and is considered to be of superior quality to ordinary palm oil.

Unlike coconut oil, palm oil does not have a sharp melting point. Coconut oil melts at temperatures above 76 degrees F (24 C). Palm oil has a much more gradual melting point. So it may be liquid or solid or a bit of both over a range of temperatures. This can give the oil a mottled appearance with a combination of colors ranging from light orange to dark red. You can have two bottles of red palm oil sitting side by side in the same room and one will be mostly liquid and the other mostly solid. They can remain like that for days or even weeks.

The reason for the difference in melting point between coconut oil and palm oil is due to the very different chemical makeup of the oils. Coconut oil consists of 92 percent saturated fatty acids, 6 percent monounsaturated fatty acids, and 2 percent polyunsaturated fatty acids. About 63 percent of the fatty acids are medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA). This high percentage of MCFA is principally responsible for giving coconut oil is sharp melting point.

In contrast, palm oil has 50 percent saturated fatty acids, 40 percent monounsaturated fatty acids, and 10 percent polyunsaturated fatty acids. It contains less than 0.5 percent MCFA. The type of fatty acids in palm oil is more varied so the melting character is less precise.

It is the MCFA in coconut oil that gives it most of its remarkable healing properties and makes it uniquely different from other oils. Palm oil does not have this unique feature. The primary saturated fatty acids in palm oil are palmitic acid (44 percent) and stearic acid (4 percent). These are common saturated fats found in all vegetable oils.

What makes palm oil special, and especially red palm oil, is not so much the fatty acids as it is the nutrient content. Red palm oil contains more phytonutrients than any other dietary oil. Many of these nutrients are powerful antioxidants, which protect the oil from oxidation and make it ideal for cooking. Red palm oil contains a synergistic mix of vitamin E, vitamin K, CoQ10, alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lycopene, and about 20 other carotenes. In addition to ordinary vitamin E, it contains a super powerful form of vitamin E known as tocotrienol. This form of vitamin is 60 times more potent than ordinary vitamin E.


Another oil which is often confused with palm oil is palm kernel oil. Palm oil and palm kernel oil come from the same plant.  Palm oil is extracted from the red, fleshy fruit of the oil palm tree. Palm kernel oil comes from the seed or kernel inside the fruit. These two oils are very different from each other.

Palm Fruits


Palm kernel oil is very similar in composition to coconut oil and has basically the same health benefits. Like coconut oil, it melts at about 76 degrees F (24 C) and is clear when melted and white when solid.

All three tropical oils—coconut, palm, and palm kernel—are healthy oils and are excellent for use in cooking.







Trans fats are out and now a controversy rages. With a new US federal law that requires all food labels to disclose the amount of trans fatty acids, everyone is becoming concerned about the amount of hydrogenated fat in their foods.

This past December, New York City's Board of Health approved an amendment to the Health Code to phase out artificial trans fat in all of the city's restaurants and food service establishments. This is the first such ban on trans fats in the United States. Cities in at least 18 other states are considering similar bans. Denmark has banned trans fats from the entire country and other European countries are considering similar measures.

 Since the landmark announcement in 2002 by the United States Institute of Medicine which stated that "no level of trans fats are safe," food manufacturers have been scrambling to find alternatives to hydrogenated vegetable oil—the source of trans fats in our food. Hydrogenated vegetable oils, including margarine and shortening, are found in most every packaged food item on the grocery shelves and used extensively in the food service industry. Making a change is an enormous undertaking that affects you, me, and everyone, everywhere.

Finding a suitable replacement hasn't been easy. Before we had hydrogenated oils, food processors and restaurants used animal fats and tropical oils. Most food processors hesitate to return to animal fats, fearing negative customer reaction to the addition of saturated fat and cholesterol. Liquid vegetable oils are not suitable for most applications in the food processing industry because they oxidize easily and go rancid quickly. So they are not even an option. The only reasonable alternative is tropical oils. Palm oil has become the most frequently used alternative to hydrogenated fats.

Palm oil possesses excellent cooking and baking properties, making it ideal for the food processing industry. Bakeries are now turning to palm oil. Newman's Own brand was one of the first commercial bakers to incorporate palm oil into their baked goods. Many schools are currently phasing out hydrogenated oil and incorporating palm oil into their lunch programs. Your children may be eating palm oil at their schools now.

Some people have questioned the use of palm oil because it is highly saturated. Anti-saturated fat consumer education groups have come out vocally, even taken out full page ads in the New York Times to combat the use of palm oil. Consequently, a controversy is currently raging. Some say palm oil, being high in saturated fat, is not much better than the hydrogenated oils it is replacing. Others say that palm oil is a healthy, cholesterol-free oil and despite its high saturated fat content does not promote heart disease. With both sides expressing opposing views, the public is confused. When they see food prepared with palm oil they don't know what effect, if any, it has on their health.

So what are the facts? Palm oil, as it turns out, is a very healthy fat and an excellent replacement for hydrogenated oils. Over the past two decades there have been literally hundreds of studies on the health aspects of palm oil. The consensus among researchers is that palm oil does not promote heart disease.  In fact, studies show it lowers cholesterol. Palm oil provides the highest natural dietary source of health-promoting antioxidants such as vitamin E and beta-carotene. In addition, it contains CoQ10, tocotrienols, alpha-carotene, lycopene, and other important nutrients. These nutrients are known to protect against cancer, heart disease, and other health problems. Researchers have stated that palm oil contains the most potent natural anticancer substances known.

Palm oil contains an equal mixture of saturated and unsaturated fat. Forty percent of the total fat content is monounsaturated—the same type found in olive oil. Ten percent is composed of essential polyunsaturated fatty acids.  This mixture of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fat makes palm oil an excellent cooking oil. It is very heat stable and highly resistant to oxidation. It has a smoke point of  437 degrees F, making it ideal for all types of cooking and baking, including deep frying.

Crude or virgin palm oil has been used as a food for generations. It is packed with antioxidants and contains the highest concentration of beta-carotene than any other food source. Beta-carotene gives foods such as squash, carrots, and tomatoes their rich red and yellow colors. Virgin palm oil is commonly referred to as "red" palm oil because the high concentration of beta-carotene gives it its characteristic orange-red color.

Red palm oil is also one of the richest dietary sources of vitamin E. In addition to the vitamin E found in most other foods, palm oil contains a special type of vitamin E known as tocotrienol. Tocotrienol is a super potent antioxidant with up to 60 times the antioxidant power of ordinary vitamin E.

Red palm oil contains a rich source of health promoting nutrients, far more than any other dietary oil. In fact, it contains so many nutrients that it is encapsulated and sold as a dietary supplement as well as a cooking oil. Studies show that palm oil can help reduce risk of blood clots and atherosclerosis, improve the ratio of good cholesterol to bad, normalize blood pressure, protect against several forms of cancer, protect against the damaging effects of radiation, and improve vitamin and mineral status. Because of its excellent cooking properties and its high concentration of health promoting nutrients, palm oil is an ideal replacement for hydrogenated vegetable oils.

As hydrogenated vegetable oils are being removed from foods, palm oil is taking its place. You and your family may already be consuming it in your foods now. Look at ingredient labels. If palm oil is listed you can rest assured that you are getting a healthy fat which is completely free of harmful trans fatty acids. Because of palm oil's many healthy benefits and excellent cooking properties, you are also likely to find it sold in the cooking oils section of your local health food store.


Shocking Truth About Palm Oil

The Shocking Truth About Palm Oil

by Dr. Bruce Fife

Available from Piccadilly Books, Ltd.

click here




In recent years there has been a wealth of exciting research on a relatively little known class of nutrients called tocotrienols. Tocotrienols are a super potent form of vitamin E possessing up to 60 times the antioxidant power of ordinary vitamin E. Their effects are far beyond that of regular vitamin E. Research shows that tocotrienols lower cholesterol, keep blood thin and flowing freely, dissolve arterial plaque, and extend lives of stroke and heart disease patients. They also demonstrate powerful anticancer properties and protect the brain from degenerative conditions such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.

There are two major types of vitamin E—tocopherol and tocotrienol—each consisting of four subtypes.  The subtypes are identified by the prefix alpha, beta, gamma, and delta. The tocopherols (alpha-tocopherol, beta-tocopherols, gamma-tocopherol, and delta-tocopherol) are the most common. Alpha-tocopherol is the form of vitamin E we are most familiar with and the type commonly used in vitamin supplements and foods. When people talk about vitamin E, they usually mean alpha-tocopherol. For many years alpha-tocopherol was believed to be the most biologically active form of vitamin E, and therefore the most important. Recent studies now show that the other form of vitamin E, the tocotrienols, can have a much greater influence on health and disease prevention and treatment.

Tocopherols, the ordinary form of vitamin E, are relatively common in our diet. Tocotrienols, on the other hand, are harder to get. They are found in small amounts in some nuts, seeds, and grains. By far the most abundant source of these super antioxidants is in palm oil. Palm oil is one of the richest natural sources of vitamin E in general, and the richest source of tocotrienols.

Because tocotrienols are powerful antioxidants, they can be useful in the prevention and treatment of heart disease. Heart disease is characterized by atherosclerosis, or the buildup of plaque in the arteries. A number of studies have demonstrated the ability of antioxidants to prevent cholesterol oxidation and, thereby, arrest the development of atherosclerosis. Although ordinary vitamin E is a potent antioxidant, it has only shown modest benefit in this respect. Palm tocotrienols, however, have shown to very effective in stopping and reversing atherosclerosis and, therefore, protecting against heart attacks and strokes.

Studies show that the tocotrienols can actively remove plaque buildup in arteries and reverse the progression of atherosclerosis. This has been demonstrated in both animal and human studies. In one study, for instance, 50 subjects were divided into two equal groups. All the participants had been diagnosed with atherosclerosis and had suffered at least one stroke. At the beginning of the study the degree of blockage of their carotid arteries ranged from 15 to 79 percent. Without any other changes to their diets or medications, half of the subjects began taking a daily palm oil supplement containing tocotrienols. The other half received placebos and served as the control. The degree of atherosclerosis was monitored using ultrasound scans over an 18 month period. In the group receiving tocotrienols, atherosclerosis was halted in 23 of the 25 subjects. In seven of these subjects, atherosclerosis regressed. In comparison, none of those in the control group showed any improvement. In fact, the condition in 10 of them worsened (Tomeo, 1995). This study demonstrated that tocotrienols not only stop the progression of atherosclerosis but can reverse it as well.

Reversing atherosclerosis is not the only way tocotrienols protect against strokes and heart attacks. Tocotrienols also improve cholesterol values. In a study at the University of Illinois College of Medicine, researchers demonstrated a 10 percent decrease in total cholesterol in 36 hypercholesterolemic (high cholesterol) subjects given tocotrienol rich palm oil capsules for four weeks. A follow-up study of 16 subjects resulted in a 13 percent lowering of total cholesterol (Qureshi, 1995).

In another study 31 subjects took a tocotrienol supplement every day for 30 days. No other changes were made to their diets. They continued to eat whatever they desired. The results showed that the tocotrienols lowered both total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol in all the volunteers. The magnitude of reduction of total cholesterol ranged from 5 to 35.9 percent and the reduction of LDL cholesterol ranged from 0.9 to 37 percent. What was even more important was the effect the palm oil had on the cholesterol ratio. The cholesterol ratio was reduced in 78 percent of the subjects, demonstrating a highly significant and favorable response to tocotrienol supplementation (Tan, 1991).

Another type of LDL cholesterol is lipoprotein(a) or Lp(a). It is similar in structure to LDL but contains an adhesive protein that enhances its ability to stick to artery walls. Lp(a) has been identified as a separate and distinct risk factor for heart disease. In fact, Lp(a) is associated with ten times the risk of elevated LDL. Cholesterol-lowering drugs have been ineffective in lowering Lp(a) levels. Several studies have shown that tocotrienols are effective in reducing Lp(a) and thus reduce risk of heart disease (Theriault, 1999; Wood, 1993).

Tocotrienols help maintain proper blood pressure. This powerful antioxidant inhibits platelets from sticking to one another, thereby "thinning" the blood. It also reduces inflammation and assists in keeping blood vessels properly dilated so that circulation remains normal and blood pressure stays under control.

In one study researchers induced inflammation in the arteries of test animals. Inflammation causes swelling, which narrows artery passageways, restricting blood flow to vital organs such as the heart. Half of the animals received tocotrienols in their diet while the other half served as the control. In the control group, artery passageways were severely constricted and 42 percent of the animals died. However, those that received the tocotrienols showed far less inflammation and constriction, resulting in a 100 percent survival rate.

Tocotrienols also strengthen the heart so that it can better withstand stress. Researchers can purposely induce heart attacks in lab animals by cutting off blood flow to the heart. This causes severe injury and death. However, if the animals are fed tocotrienol-rich palm oil, survival rate is greatly increased, injury is minimized, and recovery time is reduced (Esterhuyse, 2005).

While tocotrienols appear to be powerful aids in preventing heart disease, they have gained more notice in the fight against cancer. Antioxidants have long been known to offer protection against various forms of cancer. Tocotrienols, being highly potent antioxidants, have demonstrated remarkable anticancer properties far superior to most other antioxidants, including their more common vitamin E cousins.

Studies show tocotrienols inhibit the growth of skin, stomach, pancreas, liver, lung, colon, prostate, breast and other cancers. Most of the research to date has been done with breast cancer where tocotrienols show great promise. They not only prevent cancer from taking hold but actively block its growth and initiate apoptosis. Apoptosis is a process where diseased cells essentially commit suicide. This is a normal process that is programmed into all of our cells in order to remove old and diseased cells. However, in cancer cells this process is blocked and affected cells continue to multiply and grow without restraint. Ordinary vitamin E does not induce programmed cell death in cancer cells. Only tocotrienols have this effect.

Initial research has been so impressive that cancer researchers have called tocotrienols the most powerful natural anticancer substances known to science (Yano, 2005). That's quite a bold statement, but it illustrates the potential tocotrienols have in cancer prevention and treatment.

One of the worst things that can happen to us as we age is to lose our mental capabilities. Fortunately for us, tocotrienols can come to our rescue.

Two of the most significant factors that affect brain function are oxidative stress and poor circulation. Oxidative stress generates free radicals that damage brain and nerve tissue. Poor circulation affects the brain by restricting oxygen and glucose, which are vital for proper brain function. Researchers have found correlations between oxidative stress and reduced blood flow to the brain to senile dementia, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease, and even schizophrenia. All of these conditions involve brain cell death. Tocotrienols aid the brain by reducing oxidative stress and improving blood flow.

Researchers can mimic much of the destruction seen in the above neurological disorders by feeding test animals glutamate—an amino acid that kills brain cells. The primary action of cell death is caused by free radicals. Ordinary vitamin E is not strong enough to prevent glutamate-induced cell death. But tocotrienols can quench the destructive action of glutamate. In laboratory studies tocotrienol-treated neurons maintain healthy growth and motility even in the presences of excess glutamate (Khanna, 2003).

Research is showing that tocotrienols can be of help with a number of common health problems, including osteoporosis, asthma, cataract, macular degeneration, arthritis, and liver disease and stunt the processes that promote premature aging.

A number of dietary supplements have recently come on the market containing palm tocotrienols. This is a good way to incorporate these health-giving nutrients into your life. The best food source of tocotrienols is from its source—palm oil. One tablespoon supplies more than enough to meet daily requirements of vitamin E. The advantage of getting vitamin E from a food rather than a dietary supplement is that you get a full range of tocopherols and tocotrienols as well as many other naturally occurring nutrients that work synergistically together to improve health. The best way to take palm oil is to incorporate it into daily food preparation. Simply use it in place of other oils in recipes.

For more information about the health benefits of tocotrienols and palm oil I recommend my new book The Palm Oil Miracle. Virgin palm oil is a powerhouse of nutrition. In addition to vitamin E, it is the richest natural source of beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A.


It contains a least 20 carotenoids, as well as CoQ10, squalene, phytosterols, and other health promoting nutrients. Palm oil is currently being used as a dietary supplement throughout the world to fight nutritional deficiencies and malnutrition. It is literally saving the lives of millions of children. It is a food and a nutritional supplement combined as one. Palm oil is available


at most good health food stores and online.  The Palm Oil Miracle is available at all good health food stores and online from piccadillybooks.com and amazon.com.


 Esterhuyse, A.J., et al. Dietary red palm oil supplementation protects against the consequences of global ischemia in the isolated perfused rat heart. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr 2005;14:340-347.


Khanna, S. et al. Molecular basis of vitamin E action: tocotrienol modulates 12-lipoxygenase, a key moderator of glutamate-induced neurodegeneration. J Biol Chem 2003;278:43508-43515.


Qureshi, A.A., et al. Response of Hypercholesterolemic subjects to administration of tocotrienols. Lipids 1995;30:1171-1177.


Tan, D.T.S., et al. Effect of a palm-oil-vitamin E concentrate on the serum and lipoprotein lipids in humans. Am J Clin Nutr 1991;53Suppl:1027S-1030S.


Theriault, A., et al Tocotrienol: a review of its therapeutic potential. Clin Biochem 1999;32:309-319.


Tomeo, A.C., et al. Antioxidant effects of tocotrienols in patients with hyperlipidemia and carotid stenosis. Lipids 1995;30:1179-1183.


Wood, R., et al. Effect of palm oil, margarine, butter and sunflower oil on the serum lipids and lipoproteins of normocholesterolemic middle-aged men. J Nutr Bio Chem 1993;4:286-297.


Yano, Y., et al. Induction of cytotoxicity in human lung adenocarcinoma cells by 6-0-carboxypropyl-alpha-tocotrienol, a redox-silent derivative of alpha-tocotrienol. Int J Cancer 2005;115:839-846.




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 Copyright © 2007, 2005, Bruce Fife. All rights reserved.