What is palm oil?
We hear a lot about palm oil and all sorts of controversies around it. But what actually is palm oil? It is edible, very versatile oil derived from the fruit of the oil palm or palm kernels. It’s main supply comes from African oil palms Elaeis guineensis and American oil palms Eliaeis Oleifera & Attalea Maripa. This oil has a very long history dating back to 5000 years. In 19th century it was the most exported product out of West African countries. Soon the palms were brought to Asia and now Malaysia and Indonesia make 85% of global supply.
Is palm oil unhealthy?
Unrefined palm oil is a good source of vitamin E. During RBD process which stands for “refined, bleached, deodorized” (OMG!) those values are lost along with it’s natural reddish colour. What we have left is a fat that is amongs most saturated. You might be surprised to know that coconut oils has nearly the same content of highly saturated fat which is more than butter, beef fat or lard yet it gets much better marketing in “health world”. This puts things into perspective, right?!
Why is it so bad for us? Your body needs fat for energy, neuro processes and other body functions but too much of it can seriously damage your health. Excess clogs your arteries causing high blood pressure, rise of cholesterol, eventually leading to cardiovascular disease, obesity, strokes and other health conditions.
You might think that this doesn not concern you as you. The chances are that if you are buying packed produce available on a supermarket shelves you have most likely consumed it without being aware.
What products contain palm oil?
Due to its diversity and low price it is added not only to foods such us biscuits, crisps, pizza, bread, ice cream, chocolate, breakfast cereal but also to cosmetics, soap, toothpaste, lipstick, shower gels, shampoo, deodorants and many more. It is estimated that over 50% of products on supermarket shelves contain palm oil. That’s a lot! Looking out for palm oil in the everyday produce is a difficult task. Checking list of ingredients can be very confusing. There are hundreds of alternative names under which this ingredient can be hiding such us glyc, searic acid, palm olein, laur, sulfoacetate, stear, E471, simply vegetable oil. The list is very long and I would not expect anyone to attempt trying to memorize all of them.
Destruction to the environment
Palm oil is the main cause of deforestation and now also considered as the main cause of climate change and global warming. Rain forest is being cleared, often burned to make space for this lucrative business. Huge pollution from the fires, smog for hundreds of miles, chemical pesticides and fertilizers used in the plantations polluting rivers poisoning people and animals are just few of the many issues.
This aggressive ways of exploiting land is destructive to humans as well as animal habitat. Orangutan Foundation International reports 1000 – 5000 orangutans being killed each year and over the last decade reducing their population by 50%! This is very sad, painful, shocking almost unbelievable that with the knowledge we have this is still continuing!
What can you do to help?
- Reducing consumption is one of many things you can do. Eat more whole foods! This not only will ensure there is no palm oil in your diet but also will have some seriously positive effect on your health.
- Avoid processed food. Most of them have a long list of ingredients and chances are that palm oil is added
- Find joy in cooking! Be in control by preparing simple home made meals and treats. Getting the whole family involved will open opportunity for education about the issue and will build connection and consciousness about the choices we make.
- Choose products that have clearly labeled use of other oils (sunflower, olive, corn…)
- If you can not avoid buying products without palm oil look out for RSPO logo. Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil is an organization promoting production of sustainable palm oil aiming to transform markets to make sustainable palm oil the norm.
- Google it! Finding if your favorite brand of cereal or biscuits is made with sustainable produce has never been easier. Making a simple search can open your eyes!
Be in control!
It’s quite understandable that reading all this can be overwhelming. Our life became all about the convenience as we try to survive the paste of modern living. Having an understanding of the problem is already one step forward to solving it. Yet again by shopping consciously and making the right choices we can have a positive impact. Be assured that all chances are part of a process which will take time. If you can research ONE product a week that your shop for and swap it for a sustainable alternative by end of a year you will be a green ninja!