Palm Oil: Health Demon or The Healthier Option?
Ok, let’s talk about Palm Oil. There have been a lot of conflicting reports over the years, with some people citing it as healthier than coconut oil and others demonizing its health impact.
When it comes to health there is, unfortunately, an industry at play. While this does mean that there will be conflicting advice and agendas, it does not mean that we should throw the baby out with the bathwater. So how do we sift the fact from the exaggerated when it comes to palm oil? Well let’s take a look at what some of the experts have had to say.
Is Palm Oil A Health Fiend?
Palm oil is made two ways. From the fruit itself and from the kernel. Both versions of this oil, as well as coconut oil, originally got a bad rapport in health circles. This is as they are high in saturated fat which has long been linked to heart disease. Saturated fat has been known to boost bad cholesterol and triglycerides.
Celeste Robb-Nicholson is the M.D.Editor in Chief at Harvard Women’s Health Watch. She says that palm oil is, however, only 50% saturated fat and, therefore, has a better fatty acid composition than palm kernel oil and trans fats.
She continues: “In recent years, we’ve learned a lot more about the health effects of various fats. The honor of unhealthiest fat now goes to trans fat. Which not only increases LDL and triglyceride levels, but also reduces “good” HDL cholesterol. Most trans fat is artificially created through hydrogenation. Partially hydrogenated oil, used in many processed baked goods and snacks and for frying foods, is a major source of trans fat.”
So we know that it isn’t the worst option for your health, but is it as good as people on the opposite side claim?
Is Palm Oil Better Than Coconut Oil?
Well, yes this one appears to be true. However, to understand what this means for your health we need to take a closer look and examine the context.
People spanning the coastal regions of West and Central Africa and Central and South America have heralded palm oil as a “sacred food” for over 4,000 years.
Cambridge World History of Food says:“The view still persists in some circles that palm oil is an unhealthy tropical grease. And it is difficult for palm oil producers to counter this perception because the product had little or no public image among Western and Asian consumers before the recent media debate.’
And while it has been seen to be a better health option than coconut oil as it has 35% less saturated fat content. This is not the end of the story, and doesn’t mean that it is the healthiest option.
As Dr Robb-Nicholson says:
“It’s less saturated than butter and contains no trans fat. But just because it’s not as bad as trans fat doesn’t make it a health food. According to Harvard nutrition experts, palm oil is better than high–trans fat shortenings and probably a better choice than butter. But vegetable oils that are naturally liquid at room temperature should still be your first choice.”
These vegetable oils are olive oil and canola oil. So palm oil is really an average option for your personal health. Not the best, but not the worst either. However, when it comes to this ingredient there is more to consider than just your individual well being.
What About The Environmental Impact?
The biggest problem with palm oil is that it is unhealthy for our planet. Most of the palm oil producers do not follow sustainable practices.
The industry is linked to major issues such as:
- habitat degradation,
- climate change,
- animal cruelty and
- indigenous rights abuses
World Wildlife Fund say an area the equivalent size of 300 football fields of rainforest is cleared each hour to make way for palm oil production.
They add that this large-scale deforestation is pushing many species to extinction. Findings show that if nothing changes species like the orangutan could become extinct in the wild within the next 5-10 years. And Sumatran tigers less than 3 years.
So, while palm oil may have health benefits that outweigh those of coconut oil and trans fats. One needs to dig deep and think about the environmental impact. And, as always, the healthier options – such as olive oil – are not only better for you, but also better for the planet.