There’s a debate brewing over Halloween candy, and it doesn’t involve who ate the last peanut butter cup. Some people question the use of palm oil in the tasty treats. Reporter Wes Mayberry covered the palm oil controversy in the Scottboro (Alabama) Daily Sentinel. He explained the basics of this often misunderstood oil, and debunked the myths with the help of board certified nutritionist Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS.
Mayberry explained that palm oil comes from the fruit of the oil palm tree. Native to Africa, oil palms now flourish wherever heat and rainfall are abundant. Together, Indonesia and Malaysia provide more than 85 percent of the world’s palm oil supply, although most of the United States’ supply is of Malaysian origin. The controversy centers around palm oil’s fat content – it is naturally rich in saturated fat – and environmental impact. Mayberry explained that, if not done sustainably, palm oil production may have a negative effect on the environment, animals and people.
Palm oil and saturated fat
Bowden explained that palm oil’s saturated fat content should not cause concern. “The idea that saturated fat causes heart disease has finally been debunked,” he said. “Inflammation, not saturated fat, is what’s so dangerous. Palm oil contains less inflammatory omega-6s than most other oils, such as canola, soybean and corn. And palm oil is the only oil that is rich in vitamin E tocotrienols, which help support heart and brain health.” Malaysian certified sustainable palm oil is used by many food manufacturers as a more healthful alternative to trans fats.
Palm oil and sustainability
As for the environmental impact, Bowden said every palm oil-producing country is different. “Malaysia produces sustainable palm oil,” he said. “More than 50 percent of Malaysia’s forests are protected forever.” Bowden added that palm oil is the most efficient oil crop. “The same trees will produce fruit every three months for 30 years,” he said.
Bowden shared how the Malaysian palm oil industry has been recognized for lifting farmers out of poverty, and building new schools, road and healthcare facilities. He also praised how Malaysia cares for its wildlife. “The Malaysian palm oil industry has established the Malaysian Palm Oil Wildlife Conservation Fund to support education and conservation programs, including the Borneo Elephant Sanctuary,” he said.
Instead of worrying about palm oil, Bowden encouraged readers to think about sugar content, allergens and trans fats when selecting Halloween treats.
Robin Miller is a health and nutrition editor with more than 30 years of industry experience. She researches and writes about the nutritional benefits of palm fruit oil, with the goal of giving readers factual, science-based information that will be useful in their daily lives.