It’s in our food, soaps, shampoos and other products. Here’s why choosing products containing palm oil actually protects the environment and your health.
Whether you realize it or not, you are likely consuming palm oil every single day. The amount of palm oil used in our foods has dramatically increased over the past few years. To reduce our intake of unhealthy trans fats, food manufacturers are replacing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils with other oils, with palm oil providing a natural and viable solution. In his new book, “The Shocking Truth about Palm Oil”, certified nutritionist and naturopathic physician Bruce Fife explains why this trend is good for our health and the environment.
Fife has spent much of his career researching tropical oils. “As I wrote about palm oil’s many health benefits, people started contacting me with concerns that it was destroying the environment. With this book, I am exposing the lies about palm oil and who is behind them. I am also revealing the reassuring facts.”
Why we should instead worry about corn, canola and other “seed” oils
Fife explains that about 90 percent of our cooking oils are genetically engineered seed oils. “Soy, corn, canola and other genetically engineered seed oils are designed to tolerate higher amounts of pesticides that are horrible for your health and the environment. Most people don’t realize, for example, that they could have high pesticide residues.”
He contrasts this with palm oil which he describes as, “Probably one of the most nutritious oils we have available to us.” About 80 percent of palm oil imported into the U.S. is from Malaysia, where it is certified sustainable. It is also non-GMO. “It is filled with vitamins and has a lot of health benefits,” adds Fife. “Palm oil is associated with improved cardiovascular health. And because of its high carotenoid levels, it’s credited for helping to reduce rates of childhood blindness in many parts of the world.”
Who is demonizing palm oil and why?
Fife asserts that the seed oil industry is perpetuating the attacks on palm oil. “Palm oil is low cost, so it makes sense why the seed oil industry is nervous. The seed oil industry is very rich and powerful. They know how to manipulate the media and special interest groups to use them as unsuspecting puppets to spread their propaganda.”
He continues, “First, there was the anti-saturated fat campaign back in the 80s after which tropical oils almost disappeared from the American diet. That was based on bad science which has since been overwhelmingly debunked.”
Now the seed oil industry is getting people’s emotions worked up by focusing on environmental issues. It’s all false information but as a result, people are more confused than ever!”
He warns that if the seed oil industry wins the war against palm oil, our need for edible oils would be met by genetically modified soy, corn, canola, cottonseed and other oils. But they aren’t as efficient to produce as palm oil. “Since seed oils need 10 to 20 times more land to produce the same amount of oil as palm oil, vast areas of virgin tropical rainforest and grasslands would be converted for agriculture.” He adds that in addition to the use of environment-destroying pesticides, wildlife would be driven from their homes. “Corn and canola oils can really damage our environment,” he says.
Why choosing palm oil is a better solution
The Malaysian palm oil industry deeply respects nature’s delicate balance. It’s common for palm oil plantations to rely on natural predators, such as birds of prey, instead of chemicals to manage pest populations. Malaysia also has a long-standing zero burning policy. Instead, empty fruit bunches, old fronds and palm oil mill effluent are recycled to return nutrients to the soil. Old palms are pushed over, shredded and left to decompose in the warm sun.
This also saves on the use of inorganic fertilizers and, as important, there’s no air pollution from burning the old palms. The palm fiber and palm kernel shells are used as fuel to generate steam to power the palm oil extraction process. Excess steam is used to generate electricity for the plantation and factory workers.
Non-GMO, certified sustainably produced palm oil is pressed from the fruit of the oil palm tree. Each tree produces for an average of 30 years on plantations which are also home to many wildlife species. “Back at the 1988 Earth Summit, Malaysia committed to preserving more than half of its rainforests. It’s preserved even more than that,” commented Fife. Palm oil is legally cultivated only on land zoned for agriculture. Many of Malaysia’s oil palm plantations once farmed rubber or coconut but were converted to more efficient and sustainable oil palm.
“The Malaysian palm oil industry is also actively involved with wildlife conservation. Most of the country’s orangutans, for example, live in its vast protected forest areas.”
He concludes that, “You can eat palm oil without worrying about your health or the environment. In fact, you’re actually protecting the environment each time you choose palm oil because the genetically modified alternatives are so harmful.”
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.