Page Banner

United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: Dietary Modulation of Immune Function and Oxidative Stress

Location: Immunity and Disease Prevention Research Unit

Title: Red palm oil as an intervention food to prevent vitamin A deficiency.

Author
item Burri, Betty

Submitted to: Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety
Publication Type: Review Article
Publication Acceptance Date: November 25, 2011
Publication Date: March 22, 2012
Citation: Burri, B.J. 2012. Red palm oil as an intervention food to prevent vitamin A deficiency.. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety. 11:221-233. DOI: 10.1111/j.1541-4337.2011.00181.x.

Interpretive Summary: Vitamin A deficiency is an important cause of blindness. Red palm oil is the richest source of beta-carotene and alpha-carotene, which form vitamin A. We evaluated red palm oil carotenoid concentrations and used this data to estimate the amount of red palm oil needed to meet vitamin A requirements. Amounts ranged from 7.0 – 30 grams per day (1.5 – 6.7 teaspoons per day), which are easy to consume. The amount of red palm oil needed to supply the recommended dietary intake of vitamin A to all 208,100,000 people most in danger for vitamin A deficiency, for one year, is 0.83 million tonnes, a fraction of world palm oil production. Despite its abundance, red palm oil has seldom been used for vitamin A deficiency prevention on a national level. We evaluated the factors that impact red palm oil availability preventing vitamin A deficiency. The most important factor by far was refining method. Thus, important barriers to the use of red palm oil as a food-based intervention to prevent vitamin A deficiency appear to be that: 1) red palm oil requires refining, limiting its profitability and availability for small farmers, and 2) the goal of most refining methods is to create a low cost, bland, odorless, colorless fat, which requires removing carotenoids. A third barrier is cost, since red palm oil use would compete with high-dose vitamin A supplements, which are heavily subsidized. We conclude that red palm oil could prevent vitamin A deficiency in many food deficit countries if carotenoids were conserved during its refining, and costs were low enough to make it an attractive alternative to nutritional supplements.

Technical Abstract: Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is an important cause of blindness. Red palm oil (RPO) is the richest food source of VA-forming carotenoids. We evaluated RPO carotenoid concentration and bioavailability, and used this data to estimate the amount of RPO needed to meet VA requirements. Amounts ranged from 7.0 – 30 g/d (1.5 – 6.7 tsp/d), which are easily consumed. The amount of RPO needed to supply recommended dietary intakes of VA for all 208,100,000 people most in danger for VAD for one year is 0.83 million tonnes, a fraction of world palm oil production. Despite its abundance, RPO has seldom been used for VAD prevention on a national level. We constructed Pareto charts to highlight the variables that influence the ability of RPO to prevent VAD. The most important variable by far was refining method. Most refining methods are designed to remove color and flavor from RPO, resulting in a bland product that lacks carotenoids. Thus, the important barriers to the use of RPO as a food-based intervention to prevent VAD appear to be that: 1) RPO requires refining, limiting its profitability and availability for small farmers. 2) The goal of most refining methods is to create a low cost bland, odorless, colorless fat, which requires removing carotenoids. 3) Cost, since RPO use competes with high-dose VA supplements, which are heavily subsidized. We conclude that RPO could prevent VAD in many food deficit countries if carotenoids were conserved during its refining, and costs were low enough to make it an attractive alternative to nutritional supplements.

Last Modified: 10/1/2014
Footer Content Back to Top of Page