Palm oil: harmful to health and the environment

Palm oil is one of the most widely used oils in the world. It is obtained from the fruits of the so-called African palm (Elaeis guineensis) and is found as a raw material in food and cosmetic products.

This oil is one of the ingredients present in processed bakery products, appetizers, savory snacks, pre-cooked products, cream spreads, toppings, etc. And it is so widely used because it is very cheap, palatable and with a smooth and stable texture at any temperature. It also has greater durability since it oxidizes less than other oils.

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Palm oil use and consumption issues

Environmental problems

To install oil palm monocultures, the native forest of countries like Indonesia and Malaysia is cut down with irreversible effects on this important ecosystem and its biodiversity.

Large-scale deforestation jeopardizes the habitat of endangered species such as the orangutan or the Sumatran tiger, which are on the verge of extinction.

In the case of the Sumatran tiger, it is estimated that there are currently fewer than 400 individuals left, not only because of the loss of their habitat but also because they are hunted near plantations under the pretext of their “dangerousness”.

In addition, like any forest or jungle felling, it generates CO2 emissions that contribute to the current climate crisis.

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damage to health

From a nutritional point of view, it is not a healthy option, because it is an oil very high in saturated fats similar to butter (about 50%), fats which, according to experts, contribute to increase cholesterol levels, causing clogging of the arteries, which leads to coronary problems.

It is frequently found in ultra-processed products because it is an inexpensive ingredient that provides a pleasing texture and appearance to the consumer.

A study was able to verify its harmfulness to health. Several people consumed a palm oil diet and in just 5 weeks their LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) increased

In addition, scientific studies lead to link the consumption of this substance to cancer. The European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) states that when palm oil is heated above 200°C in industrial processes, it produces fatty acids capable of modifying DNA and causing cancer. While the Institut de Recerca Biomèdica (IRB) in Barcelona could conclude, based on its laboratory tests, that this ingredient could have a direct effect on metastasis.

Unfortunately, it is estimated that the use of palm oil will increase in the coming years to replace even less healthy trans fats.

Social inequality

This oil is the cheapest on the market, largely due to the child labor or forced labor used on the crops, as well as the unfair wages workers receive.

Other problems arise around this disastrous culture, such as workers poisoned by prohibited products. In addition to the displacement of indigenous populations, threats and even murders.

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How to detect palm oil in products?

An easy way to avoid its consumption is to stop buying ultra-processed products like cookies, bread, brioche, packaged pastries, ice cream, instant noodles and margarine.

Unfortunately, the use of palm oil is not always visible on the label, especially when its derivatives are used as colorants, flavors or emulsifiers.

However, it is possible to check the list of ingredients if it contains: vegetable oil, vegetable fat and sodium laureth sulphate (cleaning products).

Another way is to read the nutritional table; If 40% of the total fat in a processed product comes from saturated fat, it is very likely that this product contains palm oil.

Some food manufacturers and distributors avoid putting their name clearly on the label, so it may appear under names such as: palm kernel oil, vegetable (palm) fat, fractionated and hydrogenated palm kernel vegetable fat, sodium palmitate, Palm Stearin (Palm Stearin), Palmolein or Palm Olein (Palmolein), Palm Butter or Elaeis guineensis (its scientific name).

Choice

Whenever possible, it is best to prepare foods at home with healthier oils, such as olive or sunflower oil, or to choose products that replace palm oil with another type of healthier fats, such as sunflower olive oil. You can also look for the RSPO certification label. Although it is still not very established in Europe, it distinguishes the products of companies that have taken a step forward towards more sustainable production.

Source consulted: Union for Concerned Scientists. Fact sheet. Palm oil and global warming. Availability: www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/legacy/assets/documents/global_warming/palm-oil-and-global-warming.pdf.

Video by Juan Llorca in which he explains very well why it is not advisable to consume palm oil and, above all, which foods our children consume the most contain it:

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