Can palm oil be replaced with other sources of (saturated) fat?
Saturated fatty acids occur naturally in many foods such as meat and dairy and come from different animal and vegetable sources. It is indeed often possible to replace one source of saturated fat with another. At the same time there are limitations with respect to availability and sustainability aspects as well as technical challenges. Simply replacing one source of saturated fat with another will have an impact on the quality of the product, but also on supply and demand, price etc.
From a health perspective, replacing palm oil by other fats can have both unfavourable and favourable effects. When people are concerned about saturated fatty acids because of their impact on cholesterol and the risk of cardiovascular diseases, it is important to realise that the relationship between nutrition and health must be considered in relation to the whole diet and not in terms of single food items. The combination of all dietary factors has a greater impact on cholesterol level than a moderate SAFA intake.
Research is increasingly showing that without paying attention to what SAFA is replaced with, SAFA reduction may not reduce health risks. The scientific studies also indicate that the macronutrients used to replace SAFA play an important role. However, replacing SAFA for polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) does have a proven positive effect.
The widespread use of palm oil is due to the versatile and functional role it performs in food products, such as its stability and good preservative properties, neutral taste and smell, smooth and creamy texture. It is generally used in a mix with other vegetable oils. The selection of oils and fats is made according to the product requirements, as well as the environmental or nutrient profile.
Compared to butter, palm oil has lower content of SAFA. The levels of SAFA in butter are 70%, while palm oil contains equal amounts of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. Butter also contains trans fatty acids, which are considered unhealthy. Like most natural seed oils, palm oil only contains very little amounts of trans fats (<1 percent).