Frequently Asked Questions
Is palm oil a healthy ingredient?
Palm oil offers a unique, heart-healthy 50-50 blend of saturated and unsaturated fat. Plus, it’s loaded with nutrients, such as vitamin E tocotrienols. These antioxidants are up to 60 times more potent than tocopherols, the more common vitamin E form.
Scientists have debunked the theory that saturated fat consumption is linked to heart disease. Nutritionists now consider saturated fat consumption part of a healthy diet. Natural saturated fat-containing foods such as nuts, avocados, fatty fish and palm oil should not be avoided.
In fact, a groundbreaking new study coming out of Malaysia has found that restricting carbs may have a greater benefit to heart health than restricting total fat consumption. The study, “A Cross-Sectional Study on the Dietary Pattern Impact on Cardiovascular Disease Biomarkers in Malaysia”, examined how diet patterns, lifestyle, genetics, age and socioeconomic factors affect heart disease risk.
Senior author Dr. Kalyana Sundram states: “Our study found that higher proportions of carbohydrates in the diet tend to be associated with elevated levels of multiple cardiovascular disease risk factors including dyslipidemia (defined as high triglycerides, elevated total or bad LDL cholesterol or low levels of the good HDL cholesterol), high blood pressure and plaque-promoting small LDL cholesterol particles,”. He added that, “Higher proportions of dietary fat intake were not associated with elevating these risk factors.”
TOP 10 HEALTH BENEFITS OF PALM OIL
- Red palm fruit oil has more carotene than tomatoes or carrots. It is a rich source of beta-carotene, an antioxidant that helps strengthen the body’s immune system, and is associated with a reduced risk of cancer, heart disease and cataracts.
- Palm oil has more vitamin E than any other vegetable oil. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant capable of reducing the harmful free radicals in the body. It helps to support overall health while delaying the aging process. By the way, canola oil also claims to be high in Vitamin E, but it only contains tocopherols which are the most common form of Vitamin E also found in most multi-vitamins. Tocotrienols are significantly harder to come by, and palm oil is their richest source.
- Red palm oil is a solid fat, so does not have to undergo unhealthy hydrogenation. Hydrogenation of oils produces trans fatty acids, which have been implicated in numerous diseases including breast cancer, colon cancer and heart disease. Trans fats are also believed to impair development in newborns.
- Vitamin E tocotrienols derived from red palm oil have been shown to reduce neurological damage due to stroke. They may also enhance the speed of stroke recovery.
- The vitamin E tocotrienols in red palm oil support the brain’s white matter health. A two-year human clinical study demonstrated that tocotrienols weaken the progression of white matter lesions, which may reduce stroke risk.
- Red palm oil’s vitamin E tocotrienols may slow your body’s ability to create new fat cells and kill off some of the fat cells you already have. They may be a new tool in resolving today’s obesity epidemic.
- Red palm oil’s vitamin E tocotrienols appear to protect the livers of adults diagnosed with high cholesterol and Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD). NAFLD is one of the most common liver disorders, possibly triggered by obesity, insulin resistance, lipid peroxidation and oxidative stress.
- Red palm oil has a neutral effect on cholesterol. Its effects on blood cholesterol levels are similar to olive oil, and better than common cooking oil blends.
- The carotenes in red palm oil may help protect your skin against UV damage. It’s like sunscreen from the inside out.
- Palm oil may even help you lose weight. Healthy fats improve your satiety so you might end up consuming fewer calories.
What food products contain palm oil?
Due to its excellent stability, palm olein is the No. 1 choice in the world as frying oil for foods such as instant noodles, French fries, potato crisps, doughnuts and fried meats and snacks.
The natural solid nature of palm stearin make it most ideal for formulating solid fats such as vanaspati, margarine, shortenings and other bakery fats. More importantly, these palm fats are not hydrogenated and therefore are trans-fatty acids free.
Why is palm oil is so attractive to food manufacturers?
Malaysian sustainable palm oil has many advantages. While anti-palm oil interests enjoyed tremendous success into the late 1990s, recognition of the adverse impact that partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (trans fats) were having on the health of consumers resulted in a renewed appreciation for natural imported vegetable oils. Most recently, palm oil consumption levels have grown to more than one million tons in the U.S. alone.
What about the environmental concerns linked to oil palm cultivation?
Is it possible to produce responsible palm oil?
Yes. Sustainable sourcing and a transparent supply chains and are quickly becoming a reality.
Responsible manufacturers use palm oil that has been certified sustainable, meaning it has been produced in a way that complies with environmental and societal criteria. There are several palm oil certification standards currently in use. Two common standards are the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO).
Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil
RSPO was developed by an international team of palm oil producers, traders, investors and nonprofits in 2004. The first shipments of RSPO-certified palm oil were produced in Malaysia and became available in 2008. As of January 2019, 19 percent of the global palm oil supply (or 13.47 million tons) is RSPO certified.
To become RSPO certified, growers must meet a set of environmental and social criteria designed to minimize negative impacts of palm oil production. These includes agreeing not to clear primary forests or areas of significant biodiversity, reducing pesticide use and treating workers according to local and international labor standards.
RSPO has been praised for promoting the growth and use of sustainable palm oil. It has helped educate millions about the sustainability of this important crop. RSPO has also been criticized, especially by environmental nonprofits who feel the standards don’t do enough to protect pristine forests or palm oil laborers. Other certifications, such as MSPO, Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN), International Sustainability & Carbon Certification (ISCC) have emerged to address additional concerns.
Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil
Malaysia, which produces nearly half of the world’s RSPO-certified palm oil, developed its own certification build upon RSPO’s foundation and meet local needs. The MSPO certification program was developed by the Malaysian government with input from an international team of academic and environmental stakeholders. It’s not aimed at competing with other certification methods, but rather supporting Malaysia’s people, environment and wildlife.
MSPO certification covers all aspects of palm oil production, from the field to the final product. The standards affirm the country’s commitment to the planet, its people and responsible palm oil production.
- This nationwide plan helps Malaysia conserve its rainforests. In 1992, at the Rio Earth Summit, Malaysia pledged to keep at least 50 percent of its land under forest cover. It has kept that promise. A Guardian article on MSPO praised the program’s ability to “create a nationwide conservation landscape which could see the protection of tigers in Peninsular Malaysia, the elephants of Sabah and the orangutans of Sarawak in safe habitats.”
- This nationwide program also supports Malaysia’s independent oil palm farmers, who found other certification standards onerous. In Malaysia 40 percent of palm-planted lands are tended by these family famers (called smallholders). Policies and financial assistance are in place to help smallholders obtain certification and compete fairly in the global palm oil market.
The MSPO program was launched in 2015 and already has certified more than 3.6M hectares as of December 25, 2019, approximately 62 percent of Malaysia’s palm-planted land.
Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) certification became mandatory as of 2020, and the country is working toward 100% compliance.
Malaysian Palm Oil Council CEO Dr. Kalyana Sundram explains, “MSPO certification is yet another strong tactic that Malaysia is using to lead the world by example,” said. “We are intentionally paving the way for other countries who rely on the authenticity of their products, such as Italy with its olive oil, to ensure the trade and consumers that their products are pure and responsibly produced.”
Consumers can help by encouraging manufacturers to use certified sustainable palm oil. Find certification seals on product labels or on manufacturers’ corporate responsibility websites.
Does palm oil cultivation harm wildlife?
Oil palm plantations provide a stable home for dozens of wildlife species. Unlike annual oilseed crops, such as canola and corn which need to be cleared up to twice a year, oil palm trees grow for nearly 30 years before needing to be replaced. This provides a lush, stable ecosystem for many different animals including long-tailed macaques, collared kingfishers and wild pigs.
Malaysia, one of the world’s largest producers of sustainable palm oil, is also recognized as the one of the world’s megadiverse countries by the United Nations’ Convention on Biological Diversity. Borneo, Earth’s third-largest island, which Malaysia shares with Indonesia and Brueni, is home to hundreds of mammal, bird and amphibian species, and thousands of exotic plant species.
Fact: More than 11,000 orangutans live safely in Sabah, on the northern tip of Borneo. Malaysia’s Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center, a renowned leader in orangutan care, was established more than 50 years ago. It was the first center to return orangutans to the wild. Reports that the Malaysian palm oil industry is responsible for a declining Sabah orangutan population are misleading as they refer to a loss in a specific region only. The overall Sabah orangutan population has been stable for more than fifteen years thanks in part to palm oil industry initiatives. Learn more.
Many in the palm oil industry have gone to great lengths to protect their native wildlife. A few initiatives they have undertaken:
- The Malaysian palm oil industry has partnered with the Malaysian government on the establishment and operation of the Malaysian Palm Oil Wildlife Conservation Fund (MPOWCF). The MPOWCF participates in highly effective conservation efforts throughout the country, such as funding an orangutan population survey which identified and mapped key habitats to better protect these majestic creatures.
- The MPOWCF also partners with the Sabah Wildlife Department on the Wildlife Rescue Unit, which is active in conservation as well as translocation of wildlife impacted by human-wildlife conflict. These teams monitor protected wildlife and help any in need.Conservationist and journalist Aaron Gekoski’s work with the WRU has been documented in the TV series Borneo Wildlife.
- Not stopping with orangutans, the MPOWCF also provided major funding for the Borneo Elephant Wildlife Sanctuary.
- To help elephants move safely from rainforests to other protected lands, Malaysian conservationists have created special elephant corridors. These wide swaths of protected lands help elephants move freely around the tropical country.
The best solution for protecting our wildlife and rainforests is to support stronger standards and beef up enforcement of already existing laws and legislation
One way this can be done is by supporting the global use of certified sustainable palm oil, which is produced in compliance with stringent laws protecting wildlife, the environment and small family farmers.
Is palm oil a leading cause of deforestation?
The report also compared corporate sustainability commitments compared to these four drivers. Just 12 percent of companies have pledges relating to beef, yet 59 percent have palm oil pledges. “This is a matter of concern, considering that cattle have a deforestation footprint that is nine-times larger than the one associated with palm oil,” the report states.
The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) concurs that livestock is the largest driver of deforestation in the world.
There is no debate that palm oil cultivation has been linked to deforestation. That said, responsible palm oil growers – those who produce certified sustainable palm oil – must abide by standards which prohibit clearing primary forests for palm plantations.