You may or may not have seen palmitic acid listed on food ingredient labels. That’s because if coconut oil or palm oil are on the ingredient list, the food may very well have palmitic acid and not label it. This fatty acid is found in animal products and some plant oils.
So, what is palmitic acid and what are its possible health effects?
Palmitic acid is a saturated fat. It’s naturally found in some animal products like meat and dairy, as well as in palm and coconut oils.
Palmitic acid may also be used as an additive in foods. Because of this, and because palm and coconut oils are frequently used in processed foods, you might be getting palmitic acid in your diet without even realizing it.
Find out about the many evidence-based health benefits of coconut oil.
About 1 in every 4 deaths in the United States every year is due to heart disease. It’s the leading cause of death for both men and women. Factors like obesity, lack of exercise, and smoking can increase your risk for cardiovascular disease.
Unfortunately, it seems like the evidence suggests palmitic acid can, too. Studies show that palmitic acid can significantly raise LDL cholesterol — or “bad” cholesterol — levels.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), palmitic acid raises these LDL levels more than other saturated fats, like stearic acid. They say there is convincing evidence that high consumption of palmitic acid can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
One study has also linked high consumption of palmitic acid to a greater risk of obesity and insulin resistance, which is a precursor to type 2 diabetes.
A 2015 review article, however, was unable to draw any firm conclusions about the links between palmitic acid and increased risk of developing obesity, cardiovascular disease, or cancer. Overall, there is insufficient evidence to state whether palmitic acid directly leads to harmful health effects.
One review published by the European Food Safety Authority states that up to 10 percent consumption of dietary palmitic acid is safe; however, this is based on data that no longer meets their updated guidelines. Clearly, more conclusive research is still needed.
Coconut oil contains about 90 percent saturated fat, with each tablespoon containing 9.57 grams, according to the USDA. However, the saturated fat in coconut oil may not be as harmful as other saturated fats.
It’s also important to keep in mind that although plant oils like palm oil and coconut oil contain palmitic acid, they might not affect the body in the same way as if you ingested palmitic acid alone.
Lauric acid is another type of saturated fat found in coconut oil, making up about 50 percent of its fatty acid content.
However, while lauric acid similarly raises cholesterol, it’s also been found to raise HDL (good) cholesterol, even more than it raises LDL (bad) cholesterol. Still, it remains unclear if this increase in HDL counteracts any increase in LDL.
Like so many other things in our diet, moderation is key. While eliminating all animal products and processed foods might be feasible for some, that lifestyle isn’t for everyone!