Is palm oil unhealthy and harmful to the environment? What is it about the claims?
Palm oil, also called palm fat, and palm kernel oil are heavily criticized. So the cheap fat should be harmful to health and at the same time harm nature. To understand this, some information about the manufacture and the ingredients that we would like to give you today is necessary. And what are the palm oil disadvantages for the environment? Find out what palm fat is, what it is used for, why palm oil is unhealthy and what alternatives are available.
Palm Oil Unhealthy – What is Palm Oil?
Palm fat is a vegetable oil that is obtained from the pulp of the oil palm. Palm kernel oil is obtained from the kernel of the fruit. Because this vegetable oil is so cheap to manufacture and easy to process, it is popular as an ingredient in food, including unhealthy convenience foods, and other goods. So palm oil is also used in cosmetics (e.g. soap), but also in detergents and even baby food. Chocolate and chocolate spreads in particular are known for the palm fat they contain – even though palm oil is said to be unhealthy.
How is palm oil made?
The palm oil palm originally comes from the rainforest in West Africa. This also means that the palm oil plant prefers warm and humid climates. Since such a climate also exists in other areas of the world (Malaysia, Indonesia and South America) and the demand also increased over time, the cultivation has been extended to areas outside Africa.
Palm oil and the environment
However, in order to create enough space for the palm oil plantation (oil palms need plenty of space to grow), large areas of the rainforest have been and will continue to be destroyed. Since this is also caused by the burning of plants, not only is the fact that entire ecosystems are lost that unsettling, it is also that the fires release CO2 emissions.
Thus, palm oil cultivation unfortunately also makes a major contribution to the destruction of the rainforest and thus damages not only the health of the individual, but the environment in general. And why is palm oil unhealthy?
Why is palm oil so unhealthy?
Regardless of whether you consume palm oil in food or absorb the palm oil in cosmetics through the skin – palm oil products are harmful in whatever form. To what extent, depends primarily on the type of manufacture. But why is palm oil unhealthy?
How Harmful is Palm Oil to Health – Palm Oil Effect
So-called saturated and unsaturated fatty acids exist in fats, of which the saturated are unhealthy and the unsaturated are beneficial for human health. Palm fat (like many other vegetable oils) contains just those harmful fatty acids in larger quantities than the unsaturated ones. And that is exactly what palm oil brings with it problems for health. The fatty acids not only lead to obesity, but also promote the development of heart diseases. Since palm oil increases cholesterol levels (or the unsaturated fatty acids they contain), it can also cause diabetes. All of this makes palm oil unhealthy.
Is palm oil carcinogenic?
In itself, the risk of getting cancer from palm oil cannot increase from the oil itself. Nevertheless, palm fat is considered carcinogenic. What's wrong now? Is palm oil harmful to this disease?
The oil can become dangerous if it is heated during processing. This creates so-called fatty acid esters and more specifically 3-MCPD and glycidyl. The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment classifies these substances as carcinogenic. Animal experiments have shown that tumors develop from a certain dose. In addition, the palm oil is said to have toxic effects on the liver, kidneys and testes.
Products containing palm oil and alternatives
In Germany, on average, every second product contains palm fat, even though palm oil is said to be unhealthy. However, the law requires that manufacturers also state this on the label. Palm oil is particularly popular for the following products:
- Chocolate Spreads: Palm fat is particularly popular for the beloved chocolate spreads because it achieves a perfect consistency that hardly any other fat can match. If you don't want to do without the delicious nougat cream, choose a Nutella alternative without palm oil, for example. For example, “Vego” is one Nougat cream without palm oil and uses shea butter instead. Products with palm oil that are sustainable include “Samba”, “Bionella” and “Cocoba”. It is best to make chocolate spread yourself.
- Chocolate bar: Hardly a well-known brand of chocolate bars does without palm fat. But if you want to avoid palm oil, since palm oil is unhealthy, it is best to go to the organic shop. There are plenty of alternatives that are free of palm oil or at least contain the oil in organic quality. “Rapunzel”, “Alnatura” and “ichoc” are just a few of the possible variants. In general you can choose from Alnatura Choose sweets without palm oil, including cookies, muesli, and chocolate without palm oil.
- Soap: Alternatives are also hard to find in standard shops for soaps. Big brands use palm fat, though mostly certified. A popular palm oil substitute is coconut oil. “Natural” from Speick uses this oil instead of palm fat. Or opt for lesser-known brands that also do without palm oil.
- Cream: If you are looking for a palm oil alternative with this type of cosmetic product, you have to search a little longer and dig deeper into your pocket. This is also the case with “Quince” by Dr. Hauschka. Alterra's day cream uses organic quality apricot kernel and evening primrose oil instead of palm fat and is available at a cheaper price.
Palm fat in food and cosmetics
- Finished products: Sometimes it has to be quick, but did you know that ready meals also contain palm fat? This applies, among other things, to bag soups, frozen pizzas and various finished pasta dishes. Instead, try choosing food from the organic shop without palm oil, or even better – cook yourself. There are plenty of dishes that can be prepared quickly. Then you don't have to worry about palm oil being unhealthy either.
- Margarine: The margarine itself is a very controversial product. You can get an alternative to palm oil if you buy butter instead. According to the EU regulation, this may no longer be sold as such if vegetable oils are added. Then the product is called mixed fat.
Alternative names for palm fat in food and cosmetics
Although many products have a label that tells you whether palm oil or palm fat is included, some manufacturers are so clever about using other names that many don't know that means exactly that. This makes it difficult for consumers to consciously avoid palm oil.
The World Wide Fund of Nature (WWF) has therefore published a list of alternative names. You can find this and another detailed list in the links at the end of the article. Here are a few examples:
- fatty acid
- Glyceryl (stearates)
- Palmates (e.g. sodium palmate – sodium salts of palm oil fatty acids)
- Palm fruit oil
- vegetable fat
- palm kernel
- vegetable oil
- PEG-100 stearate
- Sodium palm kernelate
- Zinc stearates
What about the organic product?
Is palm oil unhealthy when used in organic quality? The difference between organic palm oil and conventional palm fat is basically only that the organic products are not grown with pesiticides and artificial fertilizers, but in accordance with the requirements for ecological cultivation. So it doesn't contain any chemicals.
It is sustainable palm oil, but it does not change the natural composition of the oil. With organic quality, you can assume that no rainforest has been cleared and that small farmers receive fair income from production.
Assessment of fatty acid esters by the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment
List of alternative names for palm fat and oil; List of WWF
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