Palm oil is used in many products and it may seem harmless enough, but when it comes to your health, this vegetable oil should be avoided. It is high in saturated fats that can contribute to heart disease and should be used in moderation.
Nutritionists generally recommend avoiding products that contain palm oil. Here are a few reasons why.
1. It’s High in Saturated Fat
Palm oil is one of the world’s most common edible fats, grown on the African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis). It’s found in foods and consumer products like lipstick, detergent, deodorant, and soap. It’s also a popular cooking oil because it can be used at high temperatures and has the consistency of shortening or butter. It’s often touted as a healthier alternative to trans fats, but it has its own problems. It has a higher saturated fat content than other liquid oils, and this can raise your cholesterol and triglyceride levels. These levels contribute to heart disease.
In fact, a diet that’s high in saturated fat can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke by raising your LDL or “bad” cholesterol levels. Saturated fats can also decrease the amount of “good” HDL cholesterol you have in your body.
Another reason why palm oil is bad for your health is how it’s produced. To make palm oil, the native rainforests of Africa and Asia are slashed and burned to make way for large plantations. This loss of acreage leads to increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which can cause global warming. It’s important to look for palm oil that’s labeled as sustainably sourced. You can also choose to buy organic palm oil or find other substitutes for it in your recipes.
2. It’s a Carcinogen
Palm oil is a popular cooking and manufacturing ingredient because it is cheap, stable, pale in color and odorless. It’s also less saturated than butter, which means it can be used for frying mass-produced food products without the risk of producing too much trans fat.
However, it’s important to remember that palm oil is not good for your health even when used in small amounts. A recent study found that consuming palmitic acid — the main component of this oil — can increase the spread of cancer cells in the body, a process known as metastasis. While the study does not suggest that palm oil causes cancer, it’s an important reminder to avoid this type of fat in your diet.
In addition, this vegetable oil is often paired with high-sugar foods, such as chips, cookies and frozen desserts. This can lead to weight gain and elevated cholesterol levels. For those who are looking for a healthier alternative, experts recommend replacing palm oil with other vegetable oils that are liquid at room temperature such as olive or canola. These options contain omega-3 fatty acids, which may help reduce your heart disease risk. Additionally, these alternatives are better for the environment than palm oil, which is linked to deforestation, land conversion and exploitation. The global demand for palm oil is rapidly growing, so it’s important to choose wisely when shopping for food products.
3. It’s Not Healthy for the Environment
While palm oil does have some health benefits, the way it is produced is not good for the environment. To produce the popular ingredient, huge areas of rainforest – mainly in Indonesia and Malaysia – are slashed and burned to make room for the palm trees, says Hunnes. This deforestation is linked to higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which can raise global temperatures and threaten human health.
The destruction of these forests also puts animals like orangutans, pygmy elephants, and Sumatran rhinoceros at risk of extinction. In addition, the process of growing palm oil often leads to pollution in local water systems through dumping untreated waste into streams and rivers. These waters are contaminated with high levels of chemicals, which can cause the nutrient imbalance known as eutrophication and kill fish and other wildlife.
While avoiding palm oil entirely is not possible, consumers can support the companies that are using sustainable methods. Look for the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) label on products and choose those made by reputable brands that follow these guidelines. You can also try to use vegetable oils like sunflower, safflower, and avocado oil instead of palm. These oils are stable at high temperatures, so they work well in baked goods and in frying. They are also rich in vitamin E, which helps prevent cancer and heart disease.
4. It’s Not Healthy for You
The saturated fat content of palm oil makes it not healthy for your heart. Most health experts recommend other oils, such as olive oil, for cooking. If you need to use a product with palm oil, check the nutrition label and ensure it’s only used in small amounts. The fat content of other vegetable oils (such as sunflower, rapeseed or canola) is low, making them better options for your overall health.
The biggest drawback of using palm oil is the impact it has on the environment. As demand for palm oil has grown, tropical forests have been razed to make room for plantations. These old-growth forests are vital to biodiversity and act as a carbon sink, so they must be protected.
While some conservation organizations are critical of sustainable palm oil, they support it over a boycott and advocate for responsible practices. You can help protect the planet by ensuring that any products you use that contain palm oil are certified deforestation-free by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.
It’s important to remember that, regardless of whether it’s sustainable or not, palm oil is not good for you. Choosing products with healthier, unsaturated fats is always the best option. If you must use palm oil, choose the unrefined variety because it’s less processed. It is also more environmentally friendly than the refined version.