Google “palm oil” and you may be surprised by what you find. Not long ago, we were told it’s bad for us. Now we’re told it’s healthy. But what’s all this about deforestation? Do we need to worry about endangering baby orangutans? And are oil palm farmers really being kept in poverty?
Many people aren’t even aware of these controversies. But once they start digging around on the Internet, they find a lot being said on both sides. Here are the facts behind five of the biggest concerns:
Issue #1: Tropical oils such as palm oil contain saturated fats, which are bad for you.
This idea that saturated fat causes heart disease has finally been debunked. There was never any science behind it. 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. Palm oil is also the only oil that’s rich in Vitamin E tocotrienols, which help support heart and brain health.
Issue #2: Rising demand for palm oil is bad for the planet.
The truth is that oil palms only require about 1/10th the amount of agricultural land as other oil-producing crops, to produce the same amount of oil. The same trees will produce fruit every three months for 30 years. This is the world’s most efficient oil crop.
Issue #3: Palm oil plantations are destroying the rainforests.
Every country is different. Malaysia, for example, is one of the good guys. It produces sustainable palm oil. More than 50 percent of Malaysia’s forests are protected forever. Most of the oil palms are grown on old rubber plantations. It’s not newly cleared land. A lot of people get their geography mixed up. They think Indonesia and Malaysia are the same place. They are different countries. But Indonesia is finally trying to model its palm oil production after Malaysia’s, because Malaysia’s practices are more responsible and kinder to the planet.
Issue #4: The palm oil industry is killing orangutans and elephants.
I can’t speak to what’s happening everywhere, but I can confirm that Malaysia is the world’s leader on orangutan conservation. They take care of their 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.
Issue #5: Oil palm farmers are living in poverty.
The Malaysian palm oil industry is being praised for lifting the family farmers – they call them smallholders – out of poverty, and for building new roads, schools and healthcare facilities.
Educating ourselves is important, so that we can recognize truth versus exaggerated claims and make responsible decisions about the foods we consume.
Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS, also known as “The Nutrition Myth Buster” ™ is a nationally known board-certified nutritionist and expert on diet and weight loss. He is the best-selling author of 15 books including The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth, Living Low Carb (now in its fourth edition), and is the co-author, with cardiologist Stephen Sinatra, of the controversial best-seller, “The Great Cholesterol Myth: Why Lowering Your Cholesterol Won’t Prevent Heart Disease and the Statin-Free Plan that Will”. His latest book, Smart Fat: Eat More Fat, Lose More Weight, Get Healthy Now!– written with PBS star Steven Masley, MD— was published by Harper Collins in January 2016.