Palm Oil Now More Widely Produced Than Soybean Oil - Here's Why You Need To Get This Oil Out Of Your Diet
Palm oil has been sold to the world as yet another increasingly sustainable and healthy alternative to other vegetable oils. It is now the most widely produced edible vegetable oil globally, passing soybean oil eight years ago. Following the repetitive formula which comes out of the food industry decade after decade--any time the next big economical, versatile and immensely popular of edible oils come along to be integrated into thousands of food products, inevitably we find out that they're not so great for our health or the environment. Palm oil is no exception from this formula and here's why you need to get this oil out of your diet for good.
There are many companies who deceive consumers into purchasing foods manufactured with ingredients which completely contradict their corporate philosophy statements on earth-friendly lifestyles. Kashi, and Earth's Balance are just two examples of companies I've investigated who generously use GMO ingredients in most of their products as well as palm oil under the guise of creating health conscious communities.
These brands are no better than junk food and unfortunately many vegetarians and vegans have fallen prey to the superficial marketing tactics employed to consumers.
Why Is Palm Oil So Popular?
The short answer is profit.
From the moment we take our morning shower to the time we nibble on a gluten-free cookie with our afternoon coffee to when we wash up at night before turning in, we use dozens of products containing palm oil or its derivatives, including palm kernel oil.
The major difference between palm and palm kernel oil is where they were extracted. In the case of the palm oil, it is extracted from the palm fruit (specifically the African Palm). For palm kernel oil, it is named as such because the oil is derived from the seed of the same palm tree being mentioned.
A major global commodity, palm oil has found its way into a staggering array of snacks, confectionery goods, moisturizers, shampoos, margarine, and even biofuels.
The use of palm oil has skyrocketed in recent years, and at 50 million metric tons in 2010, it is the most heavily utilized vegetable oil. While consumers in India, China, and Indonesia directly buy raw palm oil for cooking and frying, in developed markets many are unaware that palm oil is used in approximately half of all packaged foods, personal care, and cleaning products.
Palm oil's dramatic growth has occurred for good reason. The oil palm is currently the most efficient vegetable oil crop in the world. While one hectare of land can produce just 0.38 tons per year of soybean oil, 0.48 tons of sunflower oil, and 0.67 tons of rapeseed oil, that same hectare can produce more than 3.7 tons of palm oil.
You can imagine how the food industry can profit from such an arrangement due to not only the efficiency of production but the abuse of those populations used to extract and manufacture the oil.
High yields and low land requirements, then, make palm oil the least expensive vegetable oil in the market. Palm oil is also versatile, as it is readily usable for baking, frying, soaps, cosmetics, and biofuel. In contrast, most other vegetable oils require hydrogenation for some food uses.
In Indonesia and Malaysia, which account for almost 90 percent of world production, palm oil accounts for approximately 5 percent of gross domestic product, generates roughly 5 percent of export earnings. This people are exploited on a daily basis and paid pennies so that the world can have palm oil.
Composition of Palm OilAnd Its Health Effects
The palm oil and palm kernel oil are high in
saturated fatty acids, about 50% and 80%
respectively and esterified with glycerol. The Oil palm gives its name to the saturated
fatty acid palmitic acid of which it contains 44% by composition. According to the World Health Organization, evidence is "convincing" that consumption of palmitic acid increases risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, placing it in the same evidence category as trans fatty acids.
According to a report in The Journal of Clinical Investigation, rats fed a diet of 20% palmitic acid and 80% carbohydrate for extended periods showed alterations in central nervous system (CNS) control of insulin secretion, and suppression of the body's natural appetite-suppressing signals from leptin and insulin (the key hormones involved in weight regulation). The results found that many of the deleterious effects of high-fat diets, specifically those enriched with palmitic acid, are CNS mediated resulting in reduced insulin activity. CNS resistance to leptin and insulin compromises the ability of both hormones to regulate food intake and body weight in the presence of diets high in saturated fat/palmitic acid, subsequently resulting in obesity.
Two meta-analysis have examined the effect of palmitic acid on serum cholesterol. In a 1997 study based on 134 clinical studies, British researchers concluded that, compared to carbohydrates, palmitic acid raises blood
cholesterol levels (Clarke et al. 1997). In 2003,
Dutch scientists conducted a meta-analysis of
35 clinical studies (Mensink et l. 2003) and
examined what many experts consider the best
indicator of heart-disease risk: the ratio of total
cholesterol to HDL cholesterol Institute of
Medicine, National Academies 2002). Palmitic
acid increased the total: HDL cholesterol ratio
more than other saturated fatty acids, including
lauric acid and myristic acid, which are abundant in palm kernel oil. Palm oil
increases the total: HDL cholesterol ratio more
than the average U.S. or British dietary fat (Jensen
et al. 1999; Keys et al. 1957). That finding indicates
that, in terms of blood cholesterol, palm oil is
somewhat more harmful than the average U.S.
dietary fat and much more harmful than such
liquid oils as olive, soy, and canola.
In a study published in a 1999 issue of "Plant Foods for Human Nutrition," three Nigerian biochemistry researchers extol some of the nutrients found in fresh palm oil, but point out that the oil in an oxidized state can threaten physiological and biochemical functions of the body. They acknowledge that manufacturers of processed foods oxidize palm oil in their products for a variety of culinary purposes, meaning that much of the palm oil consumers eat is in an oxidized state. The dangers of oxidized palm oil include organotoxicity of the heart, kidney, liver and lungs, as well as reproductive toxicity, the researchers claim. Additionally, they note, oxidized palm oil can cause an increase in free fatty acids, phospholipids and cerebrosides.
Palm oil can definitely lead to an expanded waistline according to the National Institutes of Health. It also appears to increase the risk of bleeding and should not be used for the two weeks prior to any surgery.
The problem with palm oil is not so much its saturated fat content because we know coconut oil has plenty of that and it's one of the healthiest oils on Earth.
However, coconut oil does not suppress the body's natural appetite-suppressing signals from leptin and insulin. It is the triglyceride structure in palm oil which creates potentially negative health effects in contrast to coconut oil whose structure actually promotes health. Coconut oil also contains much higher amounts of myristic, lauric, and capric acid which are relatively absent in palm oil. Although coconut oil also contains palmitic acid, the ratio is much lower (about 9 times lower) and coconut oil's saturated fat profile is much more balanced than palm oil. The health promoting effects of coconut oil exceed palm oil's by a very large margin.
The Cost of Palm Oil To The Earth
Indonesia has achieved its goal of becoming one of the two largest palm-oil producers and exporters in the world. But at what cost?
The most hospitable climates are situated within 20 degrees of the equator, the same region where tropical rain forests flourish and carbon-rich peatlands abound. Indonesia and Malaysia alone comprise more than 10 percent of the world's remaining tropical rain forests, yet some predict that if current trends continue, Indonesia's surviving rain forests will almost entirely disappear by 2022. Deforestation is especially noticeable on Borneo, an island more than twice the size of Germany.
Environmentally-conscious groups have taken notice. In the early 2000s, campaigns focused on rain forest destruction--with the attendant increase in greenhouse gas emissions and loss of biodiversity--gained significant traction in many markets, and large multinationals that use palm oil were targeted with various forms of protest, including consumer boycotts.
In addition to deforestation, oil palm expansion has resulted in land use disputes with indigenous populations, frequently pitting plantation owners holding government concessions against native inhabitants with traditional land tenure. And if palm oil consumption continues to grow, as much as 15 million additional hectares of land, equivalent to five times the size of Belgium, will be needed by 2050--and that's assuming that the use of palm oil as biodiesel feedstock doesn't take off as a result of favorable regulations in the European Union and elsewhere.
At least half of the world’s wild orangutans have disappeared in the last 20 years; biologically viable populations of orangutans have been radically reduced in size and number; and 80 percent of the orangutan habitat has either been depopulated or totally destroyed. The trend shows no sign of abating: government maps of future planned land use show more of the same, on an increasing scale.
In Malaysia, peat swamp forests are being obliterated, and the disappearing forests endangering the habitat of the “pygmy elephant -- the smallest elephant on Earth -- the clouded leopard, the long-nosed tapir and many rare birds.”
As word spreads about the devastation that palm oil cultivation can cause, people are beginning to take notice and companies are beginning to make changes. Sustainable palm oil is in its infancy, and according to Worldwatch Institute, palm oil sustainability criteria remain controversial.
Check out saynotopalmoil.com to get a full perspective on what's happening throughout the world because of palm oil.
The palm oil industry has attempted to define a "sustainable" method of extracting and manufacturing palm oil. The Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO)--an association of NGOs and industry stakeholders across the value chain (growers, millers, refiners, and consumer goods manufacturers), the Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil System (ISPO), and the Rainforest Alliance have each set about defining and enforcing sustainability standards. And indeed, in 2012, just eight years after its founding, the RSPO alone certified around 7 million metric tons of certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) production capacity, which, at 14 percent of world oil palm demand, is a good start at addressing the question of availability. Yet concerns persist and it's not a solution to the problem. Why? Because quite simply, we don't need palm oil.
If we need to ravage
forests to obtain a food product that's not even healthy in the first place, why are we doing it? More than 95% of the palm oil viability framework is for big corporate interests involving processed and packaged foods that are a huge detriment to our health in the first place, so why pursue this nonsense? It's time to boycott this oil once and for all.
Some say finding an alternative to palm oil is no easy task, but why do we need an alternative to poison? So we can satisfy the food industry to serve us additional ingredients that do little or nothing for our health?
Coconut oil as well as less common jatropha and jojoba have passed the hurdle of technical feasibility and still present some challenges in terms of affordability, acceptability, and sustainability, but at least they offer us far more in terms of health promoting attributes over palm oil.
Your wallet is your voice. Don't bow down to corporate interests that are taking palm oil to the next level to unsustainability and using marketing tactics to convince the public of its healthy properties which are next to none. We don't need junk or processed foods and we certainly don't need palm oil.
Natasha Longo has a master's degree in nutrition and is a certified fitness and nutritional counselor. She has consulted on public health policy and procurement in Canada, Australia, Spain, Ireland, England and Germany.