Is Palm Oil Bad for you? - The Answer

By Max. D Gray. Updated: July 13, 2020
Is Palm Oil Bad for you? - The Answer

Palm oil is a liquid that is extracted from the fruits of the African palm, which is scientifically known as Elaeis guineensis, and has its origin in some African regions, although it is also cultivated in areas of South-East Asia and South America. This oil is one of the most consumed in the world and, in fact, is an ingredient in virtually all food products in a supermarket.

However, currently various studies by the World Health Organisation have argued that palm oil is not a good choice for our health, even though it is found in many processed foods. That is why, in this oneHOWTO article, we give you some information on this controversial oil. Is palm oil bad for you? Here's the answer!

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What does palm oil do?

Palm oil is produced through the fruits obtained from the African palm trees also known as Elais guineensis. This tropical plant gives out two different oils: palm oil, which is extracted from the fruit's flesh, and palm kernel oil, which is extracted from the seed. The latter is the product commonly used in commercial products. This evergreen plant is cultivated in some regions of Africa and south-west Asia, these being the two areas that produce the most palm oil and Malaysia and Indonesia being the countries with the largest growing palm oil crops.

As we have mentioned above, palm oil is one of the most used oils both globally and daily, we consume it in virtually all the processed food we buy at our local supermarket. In addition, it is not only used as an ingredient in food products but also, this product can be found in an infinity of cosmetics, among them, face and body creams, toothpaste and soaps, to name a few.

This widespread use is due to three reasons:

  1. Compared with other oils, palm oil is more economical to produce. Therefore, we can find it in different products, mainly foods.
  2. It remains in the solid state at room temperature much longer than other oils, which is beneficial for the final product in which this oil is used to maintain its shape.
  3. It is a "healthier" substitute to trans fats. As palm oil contains saturated fats, it is considered an alternative for those processed products that used to use trans fats from animal sources[1].

You should also know that palm oil is also currently being used as a form of bio-fuel.

Benefits of palm oil

The nutrients in palm oil have proven to contain certain benefits for human health, which is why it is approved as and edible ingredient in all countries.

  • According to recent studies, moderate palm oil consumption promotes efficient use of nutrients and induces an adequate hemoglobinization of red blood cells and thus improves the immune system's function.
  • It is also proven to inhibit lipid peroxidation and protein oxidation, thus working as an antioxidant that will protect the brain from damage[2]. The amount of beta-carotene in this oil also contributes to its antioxidant properties.
  • Palm oil contains vitamin E, which contributes to fighting several neuro-degenerative diseases such as ischemic strokes[3].
Is Palm Oil Bad for you? - The Answer - What does palm oil do?

Is palm oil bad for you? - Palm oil health dangers

Many people wonder if it is bad to consume palm or palmitic oil and the answer is YES: their daily consumption can have very negative effects on a person's health.

This food, at a nutritional level, has an excessive content of saturated or bad fats (short chain fatty acids). In fact, it has been found that approximately 50% of the fatty acids of this product are of this type. The problem with these fats is that they remain stored in our body and, with their repeated consumption, can lead to produce the following cardiovascular problems:

  • Weight gain and obesity.
  • Hypertension. A report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that there is evidence that palm oil contributes to increased risk of heart disease.
  • Diabetes.
  • Increased bad cholesterol (LDL) in the blood.
  • Reduces good cholesterol (HDL).
  • Promotes liver problems. A recent study[4]found that, when taken in high quantities it can induce a high toxicity to the liver as it decreases its cellular radial architecture.

This does not mean that a low consumption of this food will not cause all these problems in your health,so this does not mean that by not consuming it directly we will avoid these problems, but we will reduce the risk in a very important way.

The problem, is that most people consume it daily and in excessive amounts because it is an ingredient of almost any supermarket product.

Is Palm Oil Bad for you? - The Answer - Is palm oil bad for you? - Palm oil health dangers

How to identify palm oil in a product

To assess how much palm oil you take every day, it's important you check your food labels, because many brands don't use the word palm oil as it already has a bad name, so they try to disguise it with the following pseudonyms:

  • Palm kernel oil
  • Fractional and hydrogenated vegetable fat of palm kernel
  • Palm kernel
  • Palmolein
  • Palm olein
  • Palm fat
  • Palm lard
  • by its scientific name, elais guineensis
  • Glyceryl
  • Octyl palitate
  • Palm fruit oil
  • Palm stearine
  • Palmate
  • Palmitate
  • Palmitic acid
  • Palmytoyl oxostrearamide
  • Palmitoyl tetrapeptide-3
  • Palmityl alcohol
  • Sodium kernelate
  • Sodium lauryl sulfate
  • Sodium palm kernelate
  • Vegetable fat
  • Vegetable oil
  • Stearic acid
  • Stearate
  • Etyl palmitate

Other negative effects of palm oil

Eating products with palm oil not only causes the health problems mentioned above, but palm oil also aggravates global problems, namely the following:

Exploitation of the environment

Every year, innumerable kilometers of rain forest are burnt due to the excessive production of palm kernel oil. This is because the mass consumption of this product is in constant need for new cropland, which is why forests are being turned into cropland for this product. Among the countries that are most harmed by this exploitation we find Borneo, New Guinea, Sumatra and some regions of Southeast Asia such as Malaysia and Indonesia. The negative consequences of this production is that, on the one hand, deforestation of the lungs of our planet is increasing to be able to plant more palms and, on the other hand, are causing the displacement and the death of people who live in these areas, as well as the extinction of diverse species that live in those forests. To give an example, during palm crop expansion, 55% to 59% of crops in Malaysia had been modified from forests during the period of time between 1990 and 2005, which translated in to a decrease of 77% forest birds and 83% less butterflies, thus affecting the area's biodiversity[5]. All this due to the destruction of their environment and the pollution that it has produced.

Poor working conditions

The growth of this industry has also led to an increase in labor, employing many rural families. However, this does not mean an improvement in the conditions of the workers at the plantations of these palms. On the contrary: it has increased the amount of people working as what it's known as semi-slavery and the amount the child labor in these productions.

Is Palm Oil Bad for you? - The Answer - Other negative effects of palm oil

List of products containing palm oil

As we have indicated, palm oil or butter is consumed excessively daily because it is found in different food and cosmetic products. Next, we invite you to review the labeling of the following products:

  • Spreadable products: jams, margarine and cocoa or hazelnut spreadable cream.
  • Industrial confectionery: cakes, cookies, chocolate and pastries.
  • Pre-cooked food: fried potatoes, frozen fritters, instant noodles, pre-cooked soups and pizza dough.
  • Appetizers: crackers, bagels, ice cream and other snacks. Packaged bread may also contain palm oil according to the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF).
  • Cosmetics: Check the label on shampoos, lipstick, soaps, creams (facial and body) and lotions
  • Detergent
  • Biodiesel fuel

This article is merely informative, oneHOWTO does not have the authority to prescribe any medical treatments or create a diagnosis. We invite you to visit your doctor if you have any type of condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to Is Palm Oil Bad for you? - The Answer, we recommend you visit our Healthy living category.

  • Celeste Robb-Nicholson, M.D.Editor in Chief, Harvard Women's Health Watch, October. 2007
  • Sen CK, Rink C, Khanna S. Palm Oil–Derived Natural Vitamin E α-Tocotrienol in Brain Health and Disease. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 2010;29(3 Suppl):314S-323S.
  • D.O Edem, Palm oil: Biochemical, physiological, nutritional, hematological and toxicological aspects: A review. Plant Foods for Human nutrition, September 2002
  • Koh, Lian Pin, and David S. Wilcove. "Is oil palm agriculture really destroying tropical biodiversity?." Conservation letters 1.2 (2008): 60-64.

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