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Am J Clin Nutr. 2001 Oct;74(4):501-9.

Comparison of the effects of supplemental red palm oil and sunflower oil on maternal vitamin A status.

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  • 1School of Biological and Molecular Sciences, Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, United Kingdom.



Conflicting results have been reported on the ability of dietary carotenoids to improve vitamin A status in lactating women. Red palm oil is one of the richest dietary sources of beta-carotene.


We aimed to determine the efficacy of red palm oil in increasing retinol and provitamin A status in pregnant and lactating women.


Ninety rural, pregnant Tanzanian women from 3 randomly selected villages were recruited during their third trimester to participate in 3 dietary intervention groups: a control group, who were encouraged to maintain the traditional practice of eating staples with dark-green leafy vegetables, and 2 study groups, who were given either sunflower or red palm oil for use in household food preparations. The intervention lasted 6 mo. Plasma samples were collected at the third trimester and 1 and 3 mo postpartum, and breast-milk samples were collected 1 and 3 mo postpartum.


Supplementation with red palm oil, which is rich in provitamin A, increased alpha- and beta-carotene concentrations significantly (P < 0.001) in both plasma and breast milk. Plasma retinol concentrations were similar in all dietary groups. Breast-milk retinol concentrations tended to decrease from 1 to 3 mo postpartum in the control group, but were maintained in both oil groups. The difference in change in breast-milk retinol concentration between the red palm oil group and the control group was significant (P = 0.041).


Consumption of red palm oil increases concentrations of alpha- and beta-carotene in both breast milk and serum and maintains breast-milk retinol concentrations. Sunflower oil consumption seems to conserve breast-milk retinol similarly to consumption of red palm oil. Breast-milk retinol might be maintained through increased dietary intake of these vegetable oils and use of mild cooking preparation methods (such as the addition of oil at the end of cooking and avoidance of frying).

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