The recent Charleston Post and Courier article, Trans fat’s replacement, palm oil, is troubling, contained some valuable information for readers. Unfortunately, it was buried under misinformation about palm oil. Of course, not all palm oil production is equal. But since the majority of the United States’ palm oil comes from Malaysia, articles referencing American use of palm should state the relevant facts instead of propaganda farmed from international NGOs.
The article’s premise that the U.S. government’s, “effort to remove trans fats from the human food supply appears to have resulted in a replacement ingredient that not only is likely harmful to the health of humans but ultimately to the planet,” is simply untrue.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s order to remove partially hydrogenated oils, the primary source of trans fats, from the American food supply will improve Americans’ health. Studies have shown that consuming this harmful ingredient increases your risk of heart disease as well as your risk of developing type 2 diabetes or having a stroke.
Many American food manufacturers have chosen to replace this artificial fat with naturally trans fat-free and non-GMO Malaysian certified sustainable palm oil. This nutrient-rich oil offers the same creamy texture and shelf-life qualities. Data shows it’s also better for the planet and your health than other alternatives.
The article states that, “the demand explosion for palm oil, which has been around for a while, is creating another reason for countries in tropical regions to slash and burn rainforests for a commodity in addition to the usual suspects of beef, soybeans and wood.”
This is misleading. The modern and eco-friendly country of Malaysia has been cultivating palm oil for nearly 100 years. “Slash and burn” techniques have long been banned. Oil palm is only planted on legal agricultural land. The trees grow for 25 years and then are replaced with higher-yielding varieties. This enables Malaysia to meet the growing need for sustainably produced palm oil without damaging its pristine rainforests.
We applaud the reporter for mentioning beef, but he should have included data to tell the complete story. According to a FAO report, livestock is the single largest anthropogenic user of land, accounting for 71 percent of agricultural land, or 30 percent of land surface on the planet. Livestock is the largest driver of deforestation in the world. Oil palm plantations account for just 0.31 percent of the world’s agricultural land use, miniscule compared to livestock.
The article states that, “Now palm oil, just like trans fat used to be, seems to be in everything that comes in a package, from cookies, crackers, ice cream, candy, margarines and similar spreads, microwave (and movie) popcorn to even “energy bars.” Check your ingredient labels. And it goes beyond food. The cheap oil also is in a lot of soaps, shampoos, toothpastes and other body products.”
True, Malaysian sustainable palm oil is found in many products, including many consumers consider healthy. But it’s not used because it is “cheap”. It’s simply a smarter choice. Malaysian palm oil is competitively priced due to its efficient cultivation. Oil palm is by far the most productive oil-bearing crop. One acre of oil palm yields ten times more oil than a acre of soybean plants, and six times more oil than a rapeseed (canola) field.
Manufacturers also choose palm oil because it satisfies consumers’ demand for a natural, better-for-you oil. Unlike soy, canola and other commonly used oils, Malaysian palm oil is non-GMO. Pure red palm oil is also loaded with brain- and heart-healthy nutrients such as vitamin E tocotrienols and carotenoids.
The article states: “Rain forests are considered carbon sinks, a natural system that absorbs and stores more carbon than it emits, and are critical in trying to slow global climate change.” True. For decades, Malaysia has taken great pride in caring for this irreplaceable natural resource. At the 1992 Rio Earth Summit the country pledged to keep at least half of its land under forest cover. They have kept that promise to the world. This article in Global Oils and Fats Magazine details why Malaysian certified sustainable palm oil can meet the demand for palm oil without contributing to climate change. The article points out that Malaysia’s forested land is actually increasing, and concludes, “When it comes to being sensible about climate change, Malaysian palm oil is second to none.”
The article states: “Then there are displacement of indigenous people and animal life. While the orangutan is the hallmark species for the damage done in Indonesia, the conversion of the diverse rain forest into the monocultures of palm trees, acacias and beef cattle displaces a full range of animal life.” Palm oil cultivation is good for Malaysian people and wildlife. EU leaders have credited sustainable oil palm cultivation for lifting many Malaysians out of poverty. Family farmers tend to more than 40 percent of the palm-planted areas in the country. Many indigenous people, such as the Temiar tribe, credit palm oil for boosting their standard of living and the health of their environment. And animals live safely in or near the lush plantations. Almost all of Malaysia’s orangutans live in protected lands. This isn’t a challenge because an astonishing 60 percent of Sabah, where many of the treasured animals reside, is under forest cover. Funding from the Malaysian Palm Oil Wildlife Conservation Fund educates land holders and also supports wildlife rescue units and rehabilitation centers.
The article concludes with a discussion about the role of fat in the diet: “Experts at Harvard University deemed palm oil to be better than trans fat and probably better than butter, but ‘that doesn’t make it a health food’ and suggested sticking with oils that remain naturally liquid at room temperature, such as olive oil and canola oil.”
Malaysian certified sustainable palm oil is one of several fats that should be included in a healthy diet. Olive oil is a nutritious oil, but it degrades into dangerous chemicals at 380 degrees. That’s why many experts suggest using Malaysian sustainable palm oil (which has a smoke point over 450 degrees) for high-temperature cooking.
Recent research shows that the saturated fats found in nuts, seeds and tropical oils such as palm and coconut oil are healthy. The research that led to the non-fat craze decades ago has since been debunked. Even the Dietary Guidelines no longer consider cholesterol a nutrient of concern.
What should be eliminated is trans fat-laden partially hydrogenated oils. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that says reducing trans fat consumption may prevent 20,000 heart attacks a year. Many experts agree that sustainably produced and naturally GMO-free Malaysian palm oil is a safe, healthy and eco-friendly trans fat alternative.