Palm oil, I bet you’ve seen it listed as an ingredient in many products, and heard all sorts of conflicting information about palm oil. I sure did and I was so confused about it all that I decided to dig deep into this whole palm oil controversy and learn more about. After all, palm oil is used in about 50% of the foods found in the supermarket!
What I learned was interesting – palm oil is in fact a good fat, but ONLY if the palm oil is responsibly sourced from Malaysia, which is the second-largest palm oil producer in the world. What this means is that not all palm oil is the same and that’s why there are so many myths about it.
On this post we’re going to do some myth busting! We’ll go over the top 4 myths I found people repeating over and over when it came to palm oil. Now, keep in mind that I’m busting these myths based on Malaysian palm oil, so if you end up getting a palm oil coming from another country, some of these things might not be true.
Debunking 4 common myths about palm oil (based on science)
Myth 1: Palm oil is unhealthy because it contains saturated fat
A common question when it comes to palm oil – is palm oil bad for you? So let’s find out.
Palm oil contains almost equal amounts of unsaturated fats and saturated fats. This balance is what makes it healthier than other saturated fats. In the body, palm oil behaves more like a monounsaturated fat (olive oil is monounsaturated). In fact, study after study have confirmed that eating saturated fat doesn’t increase our risk factors for heart disease.
Palm oil is also one of nature’s richest sources for vitamin E tocotrienols. This isn’t the kind of vitamin E found in most vitamin supplements. Studies funded by the National Institutes of Health show that tocotrienols help protect brain cells. Other studies show they support bone health, younger looking skin, hair, liver and heart health.
The USDA has given palm-based products sold under the Smart Balance brand (containing up to 50% palm oil and 50% local oils) the right to carry the U.S. patented label “To help increase HDL (good cholesterol) and improve the Cholesterol Ratio (HDL/LDL)”. This is because palm oil is actually not bad for you.
Palm oil has a higher smoke point than most other edible oils. You can sauté with it at high temperatures, without it breaking down and creating potentially cancer-causing compounds. Hence, why it’s a great oil to have in your kitchen! Plus, palm oil is naturally trans-fat free and non-GMO.
Because of its creamy texture and natural ability to extend the shelf life of foods, food manufacturers are using palm oil to replace unhealthy trans fats in our food supply. Which is good thing, it’s better to buy a product with palm oil than GMO filled unhealthy trans fats.
When Americans reduced our intake of saturated fat, and replaced it with vegetable oils (corn, soy, canola, etc.), experts say the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 in our diets became wildly out of balance.
This is a big problem because omega 6s are the building blocks of inflammatory chemicals in our bodies, and we are consuming 6 to 25 times more of them than we are the anti-inflammatory omega 3s. Substituting Malaysian palm oil for corn oil or soybean oil helps to restore the balance.
Myth 2: Other edible oils are better for the environment than palm oil
This was one of the things I keep hearing people say over and over again and the main reason why I can only recommend Malaysian palm oil. Palm oil harvested in other parts of the world is what gave palm oil a bad reputation, but Malaysian one is different, and here’s how:
In 2008, Malaysia was the first to produce and export sustainable palm oil – 100% of Malaysia’s palm oil will be certified sustainable by 2020.
Palm oil is the most efficient oil crop and the plantations are incredibly high yielding. One acre of oil palm produces 11 times more oil than an acre of soybean, 10 times more than sunflower and 7 times more than canola. Best of all, oil palm trees don’t need to be cleared and replanted every year as with corn, canola and soybean crops. This results in significantly less environmental impact, as well as stable homes for wildlife.
And in case you didn’t know, Livestock is actually the largest driver of deforestation in the world.
What I loved about Malaysian palm oil is that more than 260 species of plants and animals reside in or next to Malaysian palm oil plantations. Barn owls and snakes are used to control pests and keep rodents away from the growing trees. These animals coexist with other animals who call the plantations home, so these animals get to live a normal life.
When it comes to the harvesting, only the fruit is harvested. Each oil palm tree has a long, productive lifespan of up to 25 years. Workers pick bunches of fresh fruit year-round and then the fruit is crushed to produce this nutritious oil, similar to how olive oil is made. Every part of the tree is eventually used so nothing goes to waste.
Most new oil palm plantations in Malaysia were formerly used for less productive, less sustainable crops. Fields formerly used for rubber tree plantations are now lush with more efficient oil palms.
But not all of Malaysia is covered in palm oil plantations. The government has designated only 20 percent of its landmass to agriculture and about two-thirds of that is used for the country’s 600 million oil palm trees. Rainforests are still the biggest part of Malaysia and cover 60% of the land, so the palm oil crops are not destroying the Malaysian environment.
In all, 80 percent of Malaysia has green tree cover, making this country one of the largest carbon sinks in the world. This is important because carbon sinks diminish carbon dioxide, cool and oxygenate the air, and help fight global warming.
Myth 3: Palm oil plantation workers are kept in poverty
Malaysian palm oil production is helping to eradicate poverty. In the 1960s, Malaysia’s government introduced land settlement schemes to help its landless farmers and smallholders improve their quality of life. Today, these associations help farmers secure their land and receive a fair income as well as support the greater community by building roads and schools.
Myth 4: Palm oil production puts orangutans and other animals in harm’s way
The beautiful and pristine rainforests in Malaysia are not being chainsawed or burned for oil palm cultivation at the expense of wildlife habitats, contrary to what people think. Malaysia’s Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center was the first center to return orangutans to the wild. This facility was set up more than 50 years ago. It is dedicated to caring for displaced orangutans and other animals, as well as educating locals and visitors about how to peacefully coexist with wildlife.
Keep in mind orangutans are not native to peninsular Malaysia. Most of Malaysia’s orangutans (about 24,000) live on in protected forests where they have ample natural habitat to thrive.
Do we cook with palm oil?
You bet we do! In my home we use coconut oil, avocado oil, ghee and palm oil for cooking. They’re all great oils to cook in high temperatures and I use them for different dishes.
One thing I love about palm oil is that it has a dark orange color so when I’m cooking a dish that I’d love to add more color to, I cook it with palm oil. For example, cooking cauliflower in palm oil just makes it look more appealing for my kids, so we always cook our cauliflower with it.
Another way we use palm oil is when making popcorn! Cook 1/2 cup of kernels in 3 tablespoons of Malaysian palm oil and you’ll end up with a tasty, pretty looking popcorn.
Palm oil also has a very mild flavor, unlike coconut oil, so you can pretty much use it in any dish and not taste it.
Do you need to buy organic palm oil?
If you’ve been following Mama Instincts for a while you know that most of what we buy is organic because I don’t want to feed my children foods with pesticides. However, not all plantations are as susceptible to pests and don’t need lots of pesticides.
For example, the EWG comes out every year with a clean 15 list. These are products you don’t need to buy organic because they’re not heavily sprayed with pesticides. Palm oil is one of these things that you don’t need to buy organic because it won’t be contaminated with high amount of pesticides.
We get this Malaysian palm oil but as long as you get one from Malaysia, you can get any brand you like. Same with foods, if you’re buying pre-package foods, make sure you’re buying products that contain palm oil from Malaysia.
Malaysia is a leader in sustainable palm oil cultivation and production. They put the needs of the planet and its people first when producing palm oil, unlike some other countries where palm oil has devastated its country and population.
This is why I wanted to share with you all these finding and bust some palm oil myths that are being shared online. Plus, palm oil is a great and very affordable way to cook your dishes, and one that is filled with nutrients – so it’s a win-win for everyone!