Is Palmitic Acid Good or Bad for You and Which Foods Are High in It

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Is Palmitic Acid Good or Bad for You and Which Foods Are High in It?

Palm oil, palm kernel oil, coconut oil, flaxseed oil, butter, cheese, milk, and meat all contain palmitic acid. This saturated fatty acid has 16 carbon atoms and makes up 20% to 30% of total body fatty acid content. Although palmitic acid is often considered harmful, it is actually necessary for various cognitive, metabolic, and hormonal functions.

What is palmitic acid?

Palmitic acid is a saturated long-chain fatty acid consisting of 16 carbon atoms. It is naturally present in many plants and animal food sources.

  • Palm oil
  • Palm kernel oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Flaxseed oil
  • Butter
  • Cheese
  • Milk
  • Meat

Long-chain fatty acids typically have 13 to 21 carbon atoms. Palmitic acid accounts for 20% to 30% of total fatty acid content in the body and 60% of total saturated fatty acid intake in the U.S. While the body can produce palmitic acid by breaking down other fatty acids, it also obtains it from dietary sources.

If the intake of palmitic acid from food sources is high, the body reduces its endogenous production. Conversely, when the external supply decreases, the body increases endogenous production to maintain the necessary levels.

Saturated fatty acids like palmitic acid are often considered harmful, but they are required for cognitive, metabolic, and hormonal functions.

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Role of palmitic acid in biological functions

The liver plays a central role in controlling palmitic acid levels in the body, ensuring it is available for various physiological functions.

  • Palmitic acid constitutes 20% to 30% of the phospholipids in the cell membrane, making it an essential component.
  • Palmitic acid reacts with proteins through palmitoylation, enhancing their ability to adhere to the cell membrane and promoting energy production and movement within the cell.
  • Palmitic acid facilitates the transport of other molecules within the cell.
  • Palmitic acid is utilized by the lungs to produce surfactants, which prevent the alveoli from sticking together during respiration.

QUESTION

Harmful effects of palmitic acid

While palmitic acid is necessary for bodily functions, excessive intake can have negative effects. Unhealthy diets coupled with sedentary lifestyles often lead to elevated palmitic acid levels in the body, which can contribute to heart disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is a leading cause of death in the U.S., with one in five deaths attributed to heart conditions. In 2020, heart disease caused 697,000 deaths across all ethnicities.

A 2017 study found that saturated fatty acids, including palmitic acid, increase the risk of coronary heart disease. Conversely, replacing saturated fatty acids with whole grains and proteins can lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases, with unsaturated fatty acids being particularly beneficial for heart health.

Another study from 2016 demonstrated that palmitic acid increases the risk of heart disease by 18% in both men and women. The study recommended replacing palmitic acid with plant proteins or polyunsaturated fats to lower the risk.

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Eating palmitic acid has also been associated with obesity and insulin resistance, which can contribute to diabetes. High levels of palmitic acid may also be linked to atherosclerosis, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases, although more research is needed to fully understand these connections.

However, conflicting reports exist regarding the harmful effects of palmitic acid. A 2015 medical review could not definitively conclude whether palmitic acid is harmful to the cardiovascular system. The study compared the effects of palm oil, rich in palmitic acid, to other oils and found that all oils had similar effects on serum lipid content.

Should you take palmitic acid or avoid it?

As more research is needed to determine the exact role of palmitic acid and its effects on the body, it is best to moderate its intake. While saturated fatty acids can be included in the diet, it is recommended to limit the intake of fatty acids like palmitic acid to 10% of the total diet.

Sources:

Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism: “Saturated Fat Consumption and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease and Ischemic Stroke: A Science Update.”

Annals of the American Thoracic Society: “The Role of Surfactant in Lung Disease and Host Defense against Pulmonary Infections.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Heart Disease Facts.”

European Food Safety Authority: “Re-evaluation of fatty acids (E 570) as a food additive.”

Frontiers in Immunology: “Protein Palmitoylation and Its Role in Bacterial and Viral Infections.”

Frontiers in Physiology: “Palmitic Acid: Physiological Role, Metabolism and Nutritional Implications.”

Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health: “Saturated fat, regardless of type, linked with increased heart disease risk.”

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Healthcare: “Saturated Fatty Acids and Cardiovascular Disease: Replacements for Saturated Fat to Reduce Cardiovascular Risk.”

International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition: “Palm oil and palmitic acid: a review on cardiovascular effects and carcinogenicity.”

Molecules: “Biological and Nutritional Properties of Palm Oil and Palmitic Acid: Effects on Health.”

National Center for Biotechnology Information: “Palmitic Acid.”

Science China, Chemistry: “Understanding Protein Palmitoylation: Biological Significance and Enzymology.”

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: “Increasing dietary palmitic acid decreases fat oxidation and daily energy expenditure.”

Vaprosy Pitaniia: “Nutritional value and functional properties of flaxseed.”

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