Palm Oil: Good or Bad?

There is a lot of debate as to whether palm oil, the most produced vegetable oil in the world, is good or bad for your health. Many websites claiming that the fat in palm oil is ‘good fat’ needed for a healthy diet. While this is not entirely wrong, lets break this down.

A common misconception is that saturated fats are bad for your body and can lead to obesity and in some cases cause cardiovascular disease. But how much truth is there actually in this?

Contrary to popular belief, not all saturated fats are bad for you. It is important to note that different saturated fatty acids differ in their effects on blood cholesterol levels. Indeed, saturated fats such as stearic acid, the dominant fat in butter and lard, has no effect on blood cholesterol. It is in fact, primarily three saturated fatty acids, palmitic acid, lauric acid and myristic acid that have adverse effects on blood cholesterol levels.

source: wikicommons, Calvero. Palmitic Acid.

Palm oil is comprised of fatty acids, 50% saturated fatty acids (44% of which are palmitic acid), 40% unsaturated fatty acids and the rest containing other vitamins and minerals. Palmitic acid, from which the oils’ name is derived, is a hyper-cholesterolemic fatty acid which is not good for the body. Hyper-cholesterolemic fatty acids increase LDL concentrations (a protein which distributes cholesterol around the body), thus increase blood cholesterol levels.
The remaining 40% of unsaturated fatty acids are more beneficial for your health. Aiding in decreasing cholesterol levels but not at a rate that counters the effects of palmitic acid. It is overall advised to avoid palm oil in order to stay healthy.

As well as being bad for your health, especially for those with high cholesterol levels or risks of heart disease, the production of palm oil is having terrible consequences on our environment. Palm oil is the most produced oil because it is the cheapest of the vegetable oils. This high demand has detrimental effects on the environment. Mass deforestation has lead to the loss of the critical habitat for a large number of endangered species, including the beloved orang-utan, which are facing extinction due to habitat loss.

Credit: fliqr (rare planet)

Malaysia and Indonesia currently produce more than 80% of the world’s palm oil supply. Unsurprisingly they also have the worlds highest deforestation rates. These alarming deforestation rates also greatly affect the fight against climate change. The felling of the forests contributes to the loss of an immense carbon sink, the natural reservoir that removes carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere.

So what foods should you stay away from?

Having said all this, it is difficult to avoid palm oil because it is used in a huge array of products from ice cream to soap. In fact, around 50% of all packaged products consumers purchase contain some form of palm oil. But it doesn’t hurt to read labels of products before purchasing to stay healthy and help save the planet.
However tasty, stay away from pizza and cookies!

Credit: fliqr (angrycorella)

2 Responses to “Palm Oil: Good or Bad?”

  1. madelinek says:

    Haha good timing indeed Paul!
    Sustainable palm oil is certified palm oil which must fulfil the criteria devised by the the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Although sustainable palm oil is certainly better than non-sustainable palm oil, most still believe that the RSPO standard needs to be more strict in order to counter the more serious impacts of the palm oil industry.
    Concerning how stringent the labelling has to be, under Australian law, food labels are not allowed any incorrect statements. Labels are allowed to include general health claims (such as calcium is great for your bones), without mention of specific diseases or any misleading statements.

  2. Paul Hanley says:

    Well timed post; i made a rendang curry tonight that had “sustainable palm oil” in it and i was wondering how stringent the labelling has to be?