Food With Palm Oil

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We are here to teach you how to live a healthier, more balanced life. Food With Palm Oil So…let’s get started! Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil derived from the mesocarp of the fruit of the oil palms. The oil is used in food manufacturing, in beauty products, and as biofuel. Palm oil accounted for about 33% of global oils produced from oil crops in 2014

Food With Palm Oil

Over the last few decades, palm oil production has exploded worldwide, quietly seeping into our homes, cars, and grocery stores. But this ubiquitous product has devastated communities and ecosystems across the Global South; it is an industry based on stolen land and slave labor. Iconic animals such as the orangutan now teeter on the brink of extinction; fires lit to clear the way for plantations spew carbon emissions to rival those of industrialized nations.  

In Jocelyn Zuckerman’s groundbreaking work of investigative journalism, Planet Palm: How Palm Oil Ended Up in Everything—and Endangered the World, the human and environmental cost of cheap and shelf-stable products is laid bare. 

Many people have not heard of palm oil- but here’s a list of fifteen products you likely have sitting in your pantry, shower, or medicine cabinet that contain it. It’s not always called “palm oil”- it’s often present in derivative form, under these names you might have seen before: 

Vegetable Oil, Vegetable Fat, Palm Kernel, Palm Kernel Oil, Palm Fruit Oil, Palmate, Palmitate, Palmolein, Glyceryl, Stearate, Stearic Acid, Elaeis Guineensis, Palmitic Acid, Palm Stearine, Palmitoyl Oxostearamide, Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-3, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Kernelate, Sodium Palm Kernelate, Sodium Lauryl Lactylate/Sulphate, Hyrated Palm Glycerides, Etyl Palmitate, Octyl Palmitate, Palmityl Alcohol

Lipstick

Palm oil holds color well, doesn’t melt at high temperatures, has a smooth application, and virtually no taste. This makes it ideal for use in lipstick- as well as other cosmetics. 

Commercial Pizza Dough 

It’s tempting to grab premade pizza dough when you’re getting creative in the kitchen- but it may be a better idea to make your own. Palm oil is added to both frozen and fresh dough to stop it from sticking together and to enhance texture. 

Instant Noodles 

Up to 20% of the weight of a pack of instant noodles, palm oil is used to precook the noodles so all you have to do is add hot water. 

From Planet Palm:  “India’s wildly popular Maggi instant noodles, which are made by Nestlé, also list palm oil second. The place is drowning in the stuff….Nor is palm oil doing anything close to stabilizing food security at its source…These days, the communities rely on instant noodles (some containing 20 percent palm oil) and government-issued rice water to survive.” According to Planet Palm, India is a leading consumer of palm oil. 

PALM OIL USES

The history of palm oil goes back around 5,000 years to ancient Egypt. Archaeologists found residue in a tomb at Abydos that was dated back to 3,000 BCE. Palm oil has been used as a cooking oil in West and Central Africa for centuries, and by the late 1800s it was the primary export of countries like Ghana and Nigeria.

European merchants eventually began trading for it, and the British widely used it as a machine lubricant during the Industrial Revolution. By the late 19th and early 20th centuries palm oil was being introduced in Indonesia and Malaysia, where it grew especially well in tropical rainforest areas.

These days palm oil is used in thousands of products, from foods and soaps to biofuel. Its current popularity is easy to understand: Oil palms are easy and inexpensive to grow, whether on small family farms or huge plantations.

Because palm oil has more saturated fats than canola oil, corn oil, linseed oil, safflower oil, and other vegetable oils, it withstands extreme heat and resists oxidation much better. It also contains no trans fats, which makes it healthier for people concerned about cholesterol and heart disease.

But of course you wouldn’t be reading a story on How to Avoid Products With Palm Oil if you didn’t know that the product has some huge negatives associated with it as well.

8 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT PALM OIL

Our palm oil scorecard shows that many of the foods we eat are still contributing to deforestation. Here’s what you need to know. 

PALM OIL SCORECARD

© James Morgan / WWF-International

1. WHAT IS PALM OIL?

It’s an edible vegetable oil that comes from the fruit of oil palm trees, the scientific name is Elaeis guineensis. Two types of oil can be produced; crude palm oil comes from squeezing the fleshy fruit, and palm kernel oil which comes from crushing the kernel, or the stone in the middle of the fruit. Oil palm trees are native to Africa but were brought to South-East Asia just over 100 years ago as an ornamental tree crop. Now, Indonesia and Malaysia make up over 85% of global supply but there are 42 other countries that also produce palm oil.

2. WHAT PRODUCTS IS IT IN?

Palm oil is in nearly everything – it’s in close to 50% of the packaged products we find in supermarkets, everything from pizza, doughnuts and chocolate, to deodorant, shampoo, toothpaste and lipstick. It’s also used in animal feed and as a biofuel in many parts of the world (not in the UK though!). 

© Maxime Aliaga / WWF

3. WHY IS PALM OIL EVERYWHERE?

Palm oil is an extremely versatile oil that has many different properties and functions that makes it so useful and so widely used. It is semi-solid at room temperature so can keep spreads spreadable; it is resistant to oxidation so can give products a longer shelf-life; it’s stable at high temperatures so helps to give fried products a crispy and crunchy texture; and it’s also odourless and colourless so doesn’t alter the look or smell of food products. In Asian and African countries, palm oil is used widely as a cooking oil, just like we might use sunflower or olive oil here in the UK.

As well as being versatile, compared to other vegetable oils the oil palm is a very efficient crop, able to produce high quantities of oil over small areas of land, almost all year round. This makes it an attractive crop for growers and smallholders, who can rely on the steady income that palm oil provides.

4. WHAT IS THE PROBLEM WITH PALM OIL?

Palm oil has been and continues to be a major driver of deforestation of some of the world’s most biodiverse forests, destroying the habitat of already endangered species like the Orangutan, pygmy elephant and Sumatran rhino. This forest loss coupled with conversion of carbon rich peat soils are throwing out millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and contributing to climate change. There also remains some exploitation of workers and child labour. These are serious issues that the whole palm oil sector needs to step up to address because it doesn’t have to be this way.

© WWF-US/Des Syafriza

5. WHAT SOLUTIONS ARE THERE?

Palm oil can be produced more sustainably and there is a role for companies, governments, and consumers to play. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil  or RSPO was formed in 2004 in response to increasing concerns about the impacts palm oil was having on the environment and on society. The RSPO has production standards for growers that set best practices for producing and sourcing palm oil, and it has the buy-in of most of the global industry. RSPO encourage companies to: 

  • Set robust policies to remove deforestation, conversion of other natural ecosystems, such as peatlands, and human rights abuses from their supply chains 
  • Buy and use RSPO certified palm oil across their operations globally 
  • Be transparent in their use and sourcing of palm oil ensuring they know who they are buying from and where it’s been produced 

It is important that the palm oil industry continues to invest in and grow support for and smallholder programmes and sustainable landscape initiatives. WWF is also working with governments in both palm oil using and palm oil producing countries to make sure that national laws are in place to ensure that any palm oil traded is free of deforestation, conversion and exploitation.  

6. WHY DON’T WE JUST SWITCH TO AN ALTERNATIVE VEGETABLE OIL?

Palm oil is an incredibly efficient crop, producing more oil per land area than any other equivalent vegetable oil crop. Globally, palm oil supplies 40% of the world’s vegetable oil demand on just under 6% of the land used to produce all vegetable oils. To get the same amount of alternative oils like soybean, coconut, or sunflower oil you would need anything between 4 and 10 times more land, which would just shift the problem to other parts of the world and threaten other habitats, species and communities. Furthermore, there are millions of smallholder farmers who depend on producing palm oil for their livelihoods. Boycotting palm oil is not the answer. Instead, we need to demand more action to tackle the issues and go further and faster. 

© Suzie Hubbard / WWF-UK

7. CAN I TRUST RSPO CERTIFIED PRODUCTS?

The RSPO is the global standard for the sustainable production of palm oil. When palm oil is produced in adherence to RSPO standards, growers help to protect the environment and the local communities who depend on the crop for their livelihoods, so that palm oil can continue to play a key role in food security, economic development, and food supply chains. We should continue to use RSPO certified sustainable palm oil in products, as replacing it would result in more deforestation and natural habitat conversion. RSPO certified products that use palm oil from ‘Segregated’ or ‘Identity Preserved’ supply chains offer the greatest assurance of sustainable palm oil.

Along with other organisations, WWF plays an active role in influencing and shaping the RSPO standard to make sure it puts in place more safeguards for people and the planet. In November 2018, the RSPO standard was strengthened and it now represents an essential tool that can help companies achieve their commitments to palm oil that is free of deforestation, conversion of other natural habitats like peatlands, and the exploitation of people.

8. WHAT IS BEING DONE IN THE UK?

In 2012, the UK Government recognised that we were part of the palm oil problem and could also be part of the solution. They set a commitment for 100% of the palm oil used in the UK to be from sustainable sources that don’t harm nature or people. In 2019, 70% of the total palm oil imports to the UK were sustainable. This is great progress but there is more to be done to get to 100%.

An area that represents a substantial gap in the uptake of certified sustainable palm the use of palm-derived ingredients in animal feed – for chickens, pigs and cows, for example. Much of this palm oil material is unlikely to be certified. This area requires much stronger transparency and ambition from the UK industry, and is going to be critical over the coming years if we are to truly tackle the UK’s palm oil footprint.

© James Morgan / WWF-International

WHAT CAN I DO?

The best thing we can do is support sustainable palm oil and avoid boycotts, since we know substitutions with other vegetable oils can lead to even further environmental and social harm.  

Check out our new WWF Palm Oil Buyers Scorecard to see which brands and retailers are committed to sustainable palm oil free of deforestation and destruction of nature.  

Palm Oil: Are There Health Benefits?

IN THIS ARTICLE

  • Nutrition Information 
  • Potential Health Benefits of Palm Oil 
  • Potential Risks of Palm Oil

Palm oil is made from the fruit of the African oil palm. It’s been an important type of oil for several millennia, however, over the past several decades, it has become one of the most produced oils in the world. This is because palm oil is extremely versatile — it’s semi-solid at room temperature so it can be used as a spread, it’s resistant to oxidation so it can make products last longer, and it can withstand high temperatures making it perfect for frying food.

The production of palm oil has led to deforestation and habitat destruction for orangutans, elephants, and rhinos. The problematic production of palm oil has gained widespread attention in recent years.

However, it’s not just the oil’s production that is controversial, studies conflict on whether palm oil can provide health benefits. 

Nutrition Information

A one-tablespoon serving of palm oil contains:

  • Calories: 120
  • Protein: 0 grams
  • Fat: 14 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 0 grams
  • Fiber: 0 grams
  • Sugar: 0 grams

Palm oil is a great source of vitamin E.

Palm oil is rich in antioxidants, one of which is vitamin E. This vitamin is critical for keeping your immune system healthy and for helping your cells communicate. Studies show that getting enough vitamin E in your diet can reduce your risk of heart disease, certain forms of cancer, and age related macular degeneration. 

Potential Health Benefits of Palm Oil

Palm oil is a great source of antioxidants, however, the same aspects that make palm oil useful may sometimes cause complications for people with certain medical conditions.

Some of the health benefits that scientific studies currently support include:

Better Brain Health

The vitamin E found in palm oil has been connected to improved brain health. This form of vitamin E, known as tocotrienol, has been shown to protect brain tissue from dangerous free radicals more effectively than other antioxidants. In fact, one study showed that palm oil tocotrienols may even halt the progression of brain lesions. Yet, more studies are needed to further support these findings. 

Promotes Heart Health

Certain studies appear to show that the vitamin E in palm oil can also improve heart health. The antioxidant effects of vitamin E found in palm oil seem to reduce or even halt the progression of heart disease in some patients. While more studies need to be done to replicate this effect, palm oil extract may be useful for people fighting heart disease.

Vitamin Absorption

Palm oil may help increase the amount of vitamin A you can absorb, which is a critical vitamin for your retinas and general eye health. Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means that you need fat in your diet to absorb the vitamin efficiently. Adding palm oil to your diet has been shown to increase your body’s ability to absorb vitamin A, and presumably other fat-soluble vitamins. 

Potential Risks of Palm Oil

Because palm oil is a dense source of nutrition, it may have negative effects on some people. Consider the following before using palm oil in your cooking:

While some studies suggest that palm oil decreases cholesterol levels, others suggest that it may raise “bad” cholesterol levels. These studies compared palm oil to other liquid oils such as olive oil, and generally found that palm oil performed worse than alternatives. One study found that palm oil increased cholesterol in healthy individuals. Palm oil is likely healthier than butter, but you should not add palm oil on top of other types of oil. 

Fresh palm oil and older palm oil show significantly different levels of tocotrienol. Because of this, reheated palm oil shows far fewer benefits than fresh palm oil. In fact, reheated palm oil may not just lose the heart benefits of fresh palm oil, it may actually increase your risk of heart disease such as atherosclerosis. If you are at risk for heart disease, avoid eating reheated palm oil or foods containing reheated palm oil. 

High in Saturated Fats

Compared to other liquid oils, palm oil is relatively high in saturated fats. Palm oil is about 34% saturated fat, while olive oil is less than half of that. Saturated fats are linked to an increased risk of heart disease and chronic health conditions. 

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