The Use of Red Palm Oil as an Intervention Food to Prevent Vitamin A Deficiency
Vitamin A is an essential nutrient that supports growth, immune function and vision in humans. Vitamin A deficiency is primarily a public health concern in developing countries where dietary sources of vitamin A are not as available as they are in industrialized countries. Vitamin A can be obtained from carotenoids (primarily beta-carotene) in certain plant products such as dark green, leafy vegetables and dark orange fruits and vegetables such as sweet potato and mango. However, red palm oil is the richest naturally occurring source of beta-carotene. It contains a total of 500-800 mg of pro-vitamin A carotenoids/ kg oil which is 15 times greater than the carotenoid contents of a carrot. Not only is red palm oil a rich source of beta-carotene, but the carotenoids that it contains are easily absorbed because they are already dissolved in oil. For these reasons, red palm oil is a plant food that solves the problem of poor bioavailability (Burns & Rice, 2013).
Red palm oil has been an important cooking oil in the diets of populations living near the tropical rain forest because the palm oils originated in the rain forest regions of West Africa (Burns and Rice, 2013). In its natural state, red palm oil has a bright color and strong taste. Its distinctive flavor could diminish its chances of acceptance but because it is highly concentrated, it has authority over other food-based interventions to improve vitamin A deficiency (10 grams of red palm oil can provide over 40 mg of pro-vitamin A carotenoids) (Burri, 2012). This means that it does not need to be consumed in large amounts and that it should not be consumed on a daily basis. Few studies have investigated consumer preferences regarding palm oil consumption. One study showed that women and children consumed baked goods containing red palm oil and another study showed that when products containing red palm oil were distributed at no-cost, consumers used them (Burri, 2012). However, the most interesting part of the study was the fact that a large percent of consumers did not believe in the effectiveness of red palm oil as a preventative measure for vitamin A deficiency and 20% of the consumers even dropped out of the study when they were told about the positive correlation between red palm oil and vitamin A deficiency.
Although cooking preparations dealing with red palm oil are acceptable amongst women and children, heating and cooking palm oil can result in the elimination of carotenoids. Some reports show an astounding loss of 100% of carotenoids in pure red palm oil after heating at 180 C (Burri, 2012). However, other reports show that temperatures of 200 C for 2 hours resulted in only a 59 % loss (Brahman, Manorama & Rukmini, 1996). Lower temperatures such as 140 or 150 C are associated with losses of only 10% to 15%. The stability of oil is dependent on how the palm oil is processed. Overall,...