The oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) is native to many West African countries, where local populations have used its oil for culinary and other purposes. Large-scale plantations, established principally in tropical regions (Asia, Africa and Latin America), are mostly aimed at the production of oil, which is extracted from the fleshy mesocarp of the palm fruit, and endosperm or kernel oil. Palm oil is different from other plant and animal oils in that it contains 50% saturated fatty acids, 40% unsaturated fatty acids, and 10% polyunsaturated fatty acids. The fruit also contains components that can endow the oil with nutritional and health beneficial properties. These phytonutrients include carotenoids (alpha-,beta-,and gamma-carotenes), vitamin E (tocopherols and tocotrienols), sterols (sitosterol, stigmasterol and campesterol), phospholipids, glycolipids and squalene. In addition, it is recently reported that certain water-soluble powerful antioxidants, phenolic acids and flavonoids, can be recovered from palm oil mill effluent. Owing to its high content of phytonutrients with antioxidant properties, the possibility exists that palm fruit offers some health advantages by reducing lipid oxidation, oxidative stress and free radical damage. Accordingly, use of palm fruit or its phytonutrient-rich fractions, particularly water-soluble antioxidants, may confer some protection against a number of disorders or diseases including cardiovascular disease, cancers, cataracts and macular degeneration, cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease. However, whilst prevention of disease through use of these phytonutrients as in either food ingredients or nutraceuticals may be a worthwhile objective, dose response data are required to evaluate their pharmacologic and toxicologic effects. In addition, one area of concern about use of antioxidant phytonutrients is how much suppression of oxidation may be compatible with good health, as toxic free radicals are required for defence mechanisms. These food-health concepts would probably spur the large-scale oil palm (and monoculture) plantations, which are already seen to be a major cause of deforestation and replacement of diverse ecosystems in many countries. However, the environmental advantages of palm phytonutrients are that they are prepared from the readily available raw material from palm oil milling processes. Palm fruit, one of only a few fatty fruits, is likely to have an increasingly substantiated place in human health, not only through the provision of acceptable dietary fats, but also its characteristic protective phytonutrients.