With all these trans fat free products now on grocery shelves, I have noticed that hydrogenated soybean oil has been replaced with palm oil. This palm oil is in a lot of products that are supposed to be good for you. Example peanut butter, and some Kashi bars. I was told by my doctor not to eat anything that has coconut oil or palm kernel oil in it. Is this palm oil safe to eat, or is it as harmful as the other bad oils?
Your doctor is correct and you should avoid foods that have coconut oil or palm kernel oil. Both are high in saturated fat and there's good reason to minimize your intake of saturated fats.
Palm oil is taken from the fruit of the palm, however. Palm kernel oil is pressed from the seeds (kernels) of the fruit and is much higher in saturated fat - at about 80% vs. only 50% in palm oil. Palm oil also has a higher ratio of "good fats" though and early research shows that palm oil has similar effects on cholesterol profiles (total cholesterol, HDL and LDL cholesterol) as olive oil.
So you should be safe with products like the peanut butter and Kashi bars that contain palm oil and not palm kernel oil.
Thanks for writing,
Timothy S. Harlan, M.D.