Is it safe to use palm oil?

Palm oil is widely used as vegetable oil for cooking and a staple in tropical cuisines. Palm oil is extracted from the fruit and seeds of the oil palm. Oil palm trees originated in West Africa but large plantations of oil palm trees can be found in Indonesia and Malaysia. Palm oil can be found in our favorite sweet treats and even in household products. Surprisingly, most consumers do not have sufficient knowledge about palm oil. Here are some frequently asked questions about palm oil:

What does palm oil do to your body?

Palm oil has several health benefits such as preventing cardiovascular diseases and cancer, rich in antioxidants, providing soft skin and improving hair growth, boosting energy, and helps in pregnancy development. Palm oil contains beta-carotene that helps in improving vision. The antioxidants found in palm oil helps in protecting the body against free radicals that cause aging, damage our vision, and increase our risk in acquiring diseases. In addition, palm oil can improve brain function because of tocotrienols, a form of vitamin E, which has strong antioxidant properties that improves brain health. It slows the progression of dementia and reduces the risk of stroke.

Furthermore, palm oil has also been reported to reduce the risk factors of acquiring heart diseases such as decreasing LDL cholesterol. However, there are also other factors to consider aside from a decrease of LDL cholesterol. Consequently, reheating palm oil decreases it antioxidant properties and contributes to the risk of heart disease. There are other claims that palm oil can cause heart disease because of the saturated fat present in its composition.

Which oil is best for the heart?

According to the report from the Federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans, saturated fat (solid fat) is linked to a higher risk of heart diseases.  Dieticians advise the public to replace the use of oils with saturated fats to oils with unsaturated fats. Oils that are produced from seeds, olives, nuts, avocado, oily fish, and vegetable oils help decrease the levels of LDL cholesterol in the blood. 

Hence, plant-based oils are the best for the heart as they contain unsaturated fats (liquid fat) including monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. On the other hand, butter, lard, coconut oil, and palm oil contain mostly saturated fats (solid fat).

Olive oil is the most known cooking oil with unsaturated fats that maintain healthy levels of cholesterol. Sunflower oil and safflower oil can also be an alternative for olive oil. Sunflower oil contains vitamin E that is good for the heart while safflower oil contains a high amount of omega-6 fatty acids, which prevents the hardening of the arteries by maintaining the levels of cholesterol in the body.

What are the healthiest oil for cooking?

Undoubtedly, the healthiest oils for cooking contain heart-healthy poly- and mono-unsaturated fats such as sunflower oil and olive oil. Sunflower oil is a rich source of vitamin E, an antioxidant that keeps a healthy heart. Sunflower oil contains more than 80% of monounsaturated fats. Surprisingly, canola oil makes it to the list of healthy oils. The common misconception about canola oil is it is bad for the heart health as it is associated with fried food.. Moreover, it is chemically processed but this fact does not affect our health significantly in a negative way.

Avocado oil is gaining popularity as one of the healthiest oils. It is not chemically processed like vegetable oil and canola oil. Furthermore, it contains monounsaturated fats. However, avocado oil costs more than other oils. On the other hand, if you want more flavorful oil, sesame oil is your best choice. It is cold-pressed rather than chemically processed. Another alternative is flaxseed oil which contains a high amount of omega-3 fatty acids. In a nutshell, pick oils with less than 4 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon.

What food uses palm oil?

Palm oil can be found in our favorite sweet treats without your knowledge. Though there are health benefits associated with palm oil, take note that too much of anything is bad for you. Remember that palm oil has high fat content, which is not good for our health.

Most of the food items that contain palm oil may not come as a surprise since we already have the common knowledge to eat them in moderation. Here are some:

  • Cereals
  • Bread and cookies –palm oil is commonly used in making bread because it is cheap, easy, and stable at room temperature
  • Ice cream – palm oil is used to improve texture of your favorite sweet treat
  • Chocolate – palm oil contributes to the glossy shine of processed chocolate and helps stabilize it at warmer temperature
  • Margarine – palm oil is used in the production of margarine for its stabilizing properties that’s why butter is always the better alternative for margarine
  • Instant noodles
  • Nuts and chips
  • Ready-made food

Does KitKat contain palm oil?

Yes, Kitkat contains palm oil as most of chocolate products do for stabilization. News circulated around the globe about the scandal the company has been involved regarding their breach of RSPO statutes and code of conduct regarding their use of unsustainable palm oil. Nonetheless, Nestle has promised to support the campaign in improving the social and environmental performance in the palm oil industry.

Does Hershey’s use sustainable palm oil?

Yes. As mentioned earlier, most chocolates use palm oil for its stabilizing properties but The Hershey Company claim that they use RSPO-certified palm oil. Furthermore, The Hershey Company has an ongoing commitment on sustainability through ensuring that their palm oil supply is fully traceable from responsible sources.

What is palm oil mainly used for?

At this point, you already know that palm oil is used for cooking and as an ingredient for sweets and other products that need its stabilizing qualities. Palm oil is commonly used in curries and other spicy dishes. Palm oil is often used for frying for its high smoke point. 

But palm oil is also used in the production of cosmetics, soaps, hair care, prepackaged food, and cleaning products. Palm oil is also used to manufacture bio-fuel. In addition, palm oil is also used as animal feed. 

Is coconut oil the same as palm oil?

No. Palm oil and coconut oil may come from the fruits of palm trees but they are different in some cases. Palm oil comes from the flesh of the oil palm (Elasis guineensis) while coconut oil comes from the white meat of the coconut fruit (Cocos nucifera). Nonetheless, palm oil and coconut oil are tropical oils that are suitable replacements for shortening, butter, and margarine. These are vegetables with high saturated fat which is not good for the heart. Palm oil is a richer source of vitamin E. However, there are various claims that coconut oil is a better alternative than palm oil because of its abilities to cure skin ailments and coconut oil production does not harm the environment unlike its counterpart.

Can palm oil cause health problems?

Palm oil may be a staple in the kitchen for its high smoke point that makes it suitable for cooking but there are some drawbacks in using palm oil. There are several claims that palm oil is both good and for the heart. Some studies have shown that palm contribute in increasing the risk of heart diseases.

Is modified palm oil bad for you?

According to some dieticians, the purest form of palm oil, which is a rich source of valuable nutrients, is rarely used. Consequently, modified palm oil is used by food manufacturers instead. Modified palm oil is high in saturated fat and had already lost a large amount of nutrients. A recent study have found that modified palm oil is linked to an increased risk of heart attack. Consequently, nutritionists and dieticians strongly recommend to use healthier alternatives for palm oil such as olive oil, flaxseed oil, and sunflower oil.

What’s so bad about palm oil?

Because of high saturated fat content of palm oil, too much consumption of it can be harmful for heart health. Moreover, there are other factors that make palm oil bad for you other than the health risks that comes with it. Production of palm oil is also a threat to the environment, the wildlife, and to humans. 

Why is palm oil in demand?

Palm oil is used to produce several household products, including shampoos, soaps, candles, and bread, that are used in a regular basis. Palm oil can handle frying without spoiling and blends well with other oils. Palm oil is relatively cheap; thus, the surge of demand in the industry. Oil palms are productive and cheap crops that produce a large amount of oil. In fact, palm oil is the most widely used vegetable oil globally. We consume over 50 million tons of palm oil each year. Moreover, palm oil can be used in several applications. Because of its high fat content, palm oil can also be used in manufacturing moisturizing products.

Accordingly, palm oil is in demand because there are only a few feasible alternatives. Hence, palm oil is known as the most versatile raw material for food and non-food products and biofuel. Not only it has better yield per hectare, palm oil also requires less pesticides and fertilizer than other alternative oils.

Why is palm oil bad for the planet?

Because of the growing demand of palm oil, the industry needs more palm oil plantations. However, the strategy of acquiring larger palm oil plantations had placed the planet in threat. . Oil palms yield well in low-lying, tropical regions, which typically houses rainforests and peatlands as well. Thousands of hectares of rainforests are destroyed every year to establish palm oil plantations. 

People burned down forests to make way for plantations. Burning down forests, as we all know, is not good for the environment as it causes pollution and disruption in wildlife. Burning down forests is a culprit of greenhouse gas emissions. Forests are important in absorbing carbon from the atmosphere and prevent global warming. Deforestation has been a global problem: causing climate change and global warming. Deforestation leads to soil erosion. A row of trees create channels which takes soil with it. However, establishing plantations is not the only reason to clear forests. Building infrastructure for palm oil production also benefits in clearing down forests.

Notwithstanding the environmental effects, palm oil production also destroys the habitat of endangered species. The disruption in the ecosystems threatens the health and diversity of wildlife. Forests provide soil formation, nutrient cycling, stabilization, and water purification which are essential ecosystem services. These ecosystems are then replaced with monocultures, or “green deserts”, in which animals and plants cannot thrive. The loss of habitat is a threat for endangered species from illegal hunting and poaching.

Moreover, erosion can affect the efficiency of waterways. Oil palm plantations can also cause land and water pollution. Large plantations of palm oil require large amounts of fertilizers and pesticides which pollute groundwater and soils.

What are the negative effects of palm oil production?

The production of palm oil is growing steadily for five decades. From 1995 to 2015, the annual production grew from 15.2m tons to 62.6m tons. Palm oil production has serious harmful effects in the environment as the demand increases steadily every year. Consequently, palm oil production has also negative effects in other sectors.

Palm oil is the main agricultural export of Indonesia and Malaysia. Palm oil production has provided jobs to the locals, especially in remote rural areas, intended to help alleviate poverty. However, several reports claimed that land grabbing is one of the problems of indigenous communities to establish palm oil plantations, robbing the indigenous people of the access to land and resources.  This results to displacement of indigenous communities that creates a snowball effect in clearing forests for farming. 

There are also serious labor concerns about abusive labor conditions on some plantations. Some oil palm plantations depend on imported labor of undocumented immigrants. Some plantations do not provide proper contracts to their workers. There are also trafficking cases reported in Indonesian and Malaysian palm oils. Moreover, child labor has been identified in some plantations.

Unsustainable production of palm oil has negative effects in the economy as a main contributor of environmental destruction. Palm oil production can cause pollution that increases the risk of acquiring diseases and deterioration of health in residents.

How many orangutans die each year from palm oil production?

The destruction of rainforests is a threat to wildlife. It results to the loss of natural habitat of some endangered species including rhinos, tigers, and orangutans. According to research, approximately 100,000 orangutans had died in the past 16 years as the result of unsustainable palm oil production. Moreover, the rapid rate of orangutans killed is a threat to extinction in the next 25 years. The displaced orangutans are seen as agricultural pests and killed in search of food in plantation areas. Roughly 50,000-60,000 orangutans are left in few rainforests.



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