Palm oil is a vegetable oil derived from the fruit of the oil palm tree. It has also gotten a bad rap because of its saturated fat content. It has been shunned by people and denigrated by advisory groups despite research showing it’s not harmful and has no connection to heart disease. In fact, it has been shown to be protective of blood vessels29 and to reduce blood pressure and heart disease risk. It even seems to improve cholesterol profile. The confusion about palm oil stems from the fact that it contains palmitic acid, a saturated fat that is considered to be bad if it is in high levels in your bloodstream.

However, as you now know, dietary saturated fats don’t raise blood saturated fats except in the context of a highcarb and high-sugar diet. In fact, through lipogenesis, palmitic acid in the blood is produced in the liver from eating carbs and sugar, not from eating palmitic acid in the palm oil or other fats. i Palm oil is grown commercially in several tropical countries but mainly in Indonesia and Malaysia. In its highly processed form it is a common ingredient in margarines, biscuits, breads, breakfast cereals, instant noodles, shampoos, lipsticks, candles, detergents, chocolates, and ice creams (and should be avoided in these products). Palm oil has a light, buttery flavor. But there are different kinds of palm oil and they are not all good for your health or the environment.

Red palm oil is the Virgin, unrefined stuff that comes from the flesh or fruit. Palm oil is naturally reddish, and it comes chock full of vitamins and antioxidants, including vitamin E, beta-carotene (much more than carrots or tomatoes), and coenzyme Q10 (key for cellular respira\ tion). While the Vitamin E in most foods is mainly tocopherol, the vitamin E in red palm oil is made up of both tocopherols and tocotrix enols, which are especially effective antioxidants. If you want to use palm oil, this is the one to use.

Refined palm oil is about 50 percent saturated fat, 39 percent monoc unsaturated fat, and only around 11 percent polyunsaturated fat. While it is stable for cooking (and storage), you shouldn’t use it. When palm oil is highly refined, it loses its color and taste right along with the inar~ guably beneficial effects.

Palm kernel oil comes from the same tree, but instead of coming from the fruit, it comes from the seeds of the plant-the kernels. Palm kernel oil is highly saturated (around 80 percent SPA, 15 percent MUFA, and 2.5 percent PUFA). Be careful not to confuse fresh palm fruit oil (or red palm oil from the fleshy fruit part of the plant), which is the good stuff full of antioxidants such as tocotrienols and carotenoids, with palm kernel oil or refined palm oil, the bad stuff, which is found in roughly half of the packaged goods in American grocery stores. The bad palm oil goes by many names, including palm kernel oil, palmitate, and glyceryl stearate, and can be hidden in processed foods.

The Dark Side of Palm Oil

Palm oil is now the most widely used vegetable oil on the planet (though corn and soybean oil are the most common in the United States), accounting for 65 percent of all vegetable oil traded internationally. By 2020, the use of palm oil is expected to double, as the world’s population increases and as people-especially in countries like China and India-~become more affluent and consume more processed foods con» taining palm oil.

Clearing land for oil palm plantations has led to widespread deforese tation in Indonesia and Malaysia as well as other regions. This has pushed many animal species to the brink of extinction, including rhi/ nos, elephants, orangutans, and tigers. The clear cutting of forests has also forced indigenous peoples off their land, depriving them of their livelihoods and damaging the ecosystem, depleting clean water and fertile soil. Globally, the destruction of tropical forests is a major contributor to climate change. The annual carbon emissions that result from the deforestation of much of Indonesia’s rainforests (which are then turned into palm oil plantations) exceed emissions from all the cars, trucks, planes, and ships in, the United States combined.

Indonesia and Malaysia produce more than 85 percent of the palm oil in America’s processed foods. In 2014 Business week published an investigation by the Schuster Institute of Investigative Journalism on the extensive use of child labor on palm oil plantations. Most of the palm oil found in America’s food supply, dubbed conflict palm oil, is produced in ways that cause large-scale rain forest destruction and human rights abuses.

The FDA has declared trans fats a nonsafe food additive that must be eliminated from the food supply. This has forced the junk food industry to frantically search for alternatives. Unfortunately, conflict palm oil is the main substitute for trans fats. Since 2006, When the FDA first required labeling of foods With trans fats, manufacturers started swapping palm oil for trans fats and its use has increased 500 percent in the last ten years and is found in over half of all packaged goods.

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