Palm oil is a type of edible vegetable oil derived from the palm fruit. Grown on oil palms, palm oil is produced throughout Africa, Asia, South America and North America. Fifty million tons of palm oil is produced annually, with the majority of the global supply being exported from Indonesia and Malaysia.
Palm oil is one of the world’s most popular vegetable oils due to its low cost, lack of trans fats, long shelf life and wide availability. It is very commonly used in food preparation and can be found in many products in the U.S. since the stand against trans fats in processed foods became prevalent. Palm oil can also be found in products such as shampoos, cosmetics, cleaning agents and toothpaste.
Palm oil may be widely used, but that does not mean it is healthy. And aside from negative health implications, palm oil creates a plethora of environmental issues – such as deforestation, habitat degradation and endangering species native to lands where oil palms are grown and harvested. Learn all the reasons you should cut palm oil out of your diet:
High in Saturated Fats
Palm oil is widely used in processed and packaged foods, given it contains no trans fats. It does, however, contain high levels of saturated fats. While considered safe to consume in moderation, saturated fats are a threat to cardiovascular health. The American Heart Association recommends limiting the amount of saturated fats in your diet to less than seven percent of your total daily calories. In a 2,000 calorie/day diet, that equates to about 16 grams of saturated fats per day. A study conducted in which individuals consumed a diet high in palm oil over a five-week period found that it increased their LDL cholesterol levels in a very similar manner as trans fats. This makes sense as chips made with palm oil contain 75 percent more saturated fats than those made with sunflower or canola oil.
It is very difficult to find palm oil that hasn’t been heavily refined. The refining process for palm oil, and most vegetable oils, depletes many of the vitamins and nutrients that are present in the oil initially and also makes it more difficult for our bodies to digest. Therefore, very few of the positive health benefits of palm oil can be found in the final product.
A study published in 1999 evaluated palm oil and its impact on our health. They found that several of the nutrients found in fresh palm oil can threaten physiological and biochemical functions of the body when in an oxidized state. Most of the palm oil consumed today has been oxidized for a variety of culinary purposes. Most notably, the dangers of oxidized palm oil include toxicity of the kidneys, lungs, liver and heart as well as reproductive toxicity. Additionally, oxidized palm oil has been found to cause an increase in free fatty acids, phospholipids and cerebrosides.
Many countries that grow and harvest palm oil do not have regulations in place that address the methods in which the oil is harvested or how it impacts the environment. The areas that are responsible for the majority of the world’s palm oil supply harvest the oil through burning rainforests without any plans for rehabilitation. This large-scale deforestation is contributing significantly to climate change. Indonesia, a primary exporter of palm oil, is the third highest greenhouse gas emitter in the world largely due to the burning of the timber and forest undergrowth in their rainforests. This produces enormous quantities of smoke and destroys habitat for thousands of species. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), each hour an area of rainforest the size of 300 football fields is cleared for palm oil production.
With such massive deforestation, it is no surprise that several animals are losing their land and having their lives threatened on a daily basis. Currently one-third of all mammal species in Indonesia are considered critically endangered as a result of the palm oil industry.
In particular, the orangutan has suffered tremendously with over 90% of their habitat destroyed over the past 20 years. The U.N. has declared this a “conservation emergency” as an estimated 1,000-5,000 orangutans are killed each year amounting to over 50,000 orangutans over the last two decades. Orangutans are not only beautiful creatures, they are crucial to the ecosystem as they carry and distribute seeds throughout the rainforest. At the current rate of destruction, orangutans will likely be extinct within 10-20 years.
Other animals are suffering greatly as well, with tiger and elephant numbers dwindling in areas that harvest palm oil. Not just due to habitat destruction, but also the new found ease for poachers to find these precious creatures as they no longer have the shield of the forest to keep them safe.
The palm oil industry has not only displaced and killed thousands of animals, humans living in regions that rely on the oil have suffered greatly as well. It is not uncommon for the government to sell large plots of land owned and inhabited by indigenous people to large corporations for their own financial gain.
Along with having their land taken from them, natives also struggle with deforestation as they rely on the land for food, work and safety. Oftentimes this leaves individuals with no choice but to work for the large palm oil plantations in which they are often faced with poor working conditions and are barely paid enough to survive. If they do not choose to work on their own, many laborers are forced into the industry through debt bondages or human traffickers. Children are often made to work as well and receive little to no pay for their efforts.
As you can clearly see, palm oil is bad for your health, the environment, animals and people. Here is how you can work to avoid palm oil and stop supporting the harmful industry:
- Be wary of products including “vegetable oil” as it is often largely comprised of palm oil.
- Choose products in which the oils are clearly labeled, such as “100 % canola oil.”
- Carefully read all prepackaged food labels as many contain palm oil.
- If a product’s saturated fat content makes up more than 40 percent of its total fat content, it likely contains palm oil.
- Ingredients with the word “palm” are derived from the palm oil and should be avoided. There are several other variations of the ingredient under various names you can see here.
- If in doubt, Google it. Type in the product name alongside “palm oil” and see what pops up in the results.
We hope that this helps you to better understand the dangers of the palm oil industry and provides you with some ways in which to avoid the ingredient, if you so wish.
If you have any comments or questions regarding palm oil, its uses or how to avoid it please share with us by commenting below or on our Facebook page!