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The Food and Nutrition Bulletin is intended to make available policy analyses, state-of-the-art summaries, and original scientific articles relating to multidisciplinary efforts to alleviate the problems of hunger and malnutrition in the developing world. It is not intended for the publication of scientific articles of principal interest only to individuals in a single discipline or within a single country or region. Notices of relevant books and other publications will be published if they are received for review. The Bulletin is also a vehicle for notices of forthcoming international meetings that satisfy the above criteria and for summaries of such meetings.
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Palm oil has been consumed for some five thousand years in Africa, where the tree originated, but it did not become significant as a dietary component on a worldwide basis until its production was undertaken in Malaysia in the 1960s. Since that time, production has increased exponentially, and by 1984 palm oil had attained the number-one position in the world export trade in fats and oils. Today it maintains that position and is exported to more than ninety countries. In terms of production, it is second only to soy-bean oil. There has been controversy on the nutrition and health aspects of palm oil, however, with research on the topic accelerating continuously since 1987.
Results from research in laboratories in the United States, Australia, Canada, Europe, Japan, and several developing countries have been published in such refereed journals as the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Nutrition Research, the New England Journal of Medicine, the British Journal of Nutrition, Atherosclerosis, the Journal of Lipid Research, and Cancer Research. In view of the rapid progress made on the nutrition and health characteristics of palm oil, the Malaysian Palm Oil Promotion Council has produced a series of comprehensive reviews on the subject with the assistance of the Nutritional Advisory Committees for North America and Europe and the International Nutrition Advisory Council. The first was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition  and the second in Nutrition Research . The following nine papers represent the third collection of articles on the nutritional value and food uses of palm oil to be published in the last three years.
The first two papers deal with the most critical and controversial aspect of palm oil use in human diets- the extent to which it is cholesterolaemic. The problem arises because palm oil has been grouped with coconut oil as a "tropical oil", although their effects on cholesterol levels are quite different, as these articles point out.
There is no controversy over the subject of the next two papers-the ability of red palm oil to prevent vitamin A deficiency because of the biological value of its carotenoids. The tocopherol activity of palm oil is also of nutritional significance, as discussed in the fifth paper; there is increasing evidence that vitamin E may be beneficial in reducing the risk of coronary heart disease and possibly of cancer.
The two papers that describe the food uses of palm oil in Japan and China are also applicable to other areas of the world. The final two papers discuss the use of palm oil on the Indian subcontinent and in North Africa and West Asia. Palm oil is also used extensively for human consumption in some countries of Latin America, although this is not dealt with in the present series of articles.
A collected reprint of these papers is available without charge from the Malaysian Palm Oil Promotion Council, 1st Floor, Bangunan Getah Asli, 148 Jalan Ampang, 50450 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; telephone (603) 248-1075, fax (603) 242-2935.
Dr. Chong Yoon Hin
Nutri-Pro Shd Bhd
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
1. PORIM International Palm Oil Development Conference. Am J Clin Nutr 1991;53(suppl):989S-1086S.
2. Nutr Res 1992;12(suppl.1).
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