Palm Oil (and Orangutans Too)

If you read my book The Last Tango with Butter you’ll see that I’m a promoter of palm oil as well as lard and coconut oil.  Tragically the myth that these oils contribute to heart disease is firmly entrenched in today’s health care system and Canada’s Food Guide.  It is a sham.

So forget what you have heard, here are the facts regarding palm oil. 

Yes, half of the fat in palm oil is long chain saturated fat BUT all natural fats are essential to health, saturated fats included.  Palm oil also contains high concentrations of the antioxidant vitamin E and its lovely reddish colour is due to its high concentration of beta carotene, precursor to vitamin A.  Vitamin A, which is also an antioxidant, is crucial for vision, skin and bone health.  Palm oil also contains Co-enzyme Q an essential antioxidant for the heart.

Because of the fatty acids and antioxidants in palm oil it is extremely resistant to oxidation and free-radical formation making it excellent for cooking and baking, it has a high smoke point of 437 degrees F.  The fatty acid profile of palm oil is 50% saturated fatty acids, 40% monounsaturated fatty acids, and 10% polyunsaturated fatty acids. The high saturated and monounsaturated fatty acid content makes palm oil stable, and this is very important since rancid oils (which we often consume) damage our cells and set us up for cancer.

Because of the stability of palm oil globally it can be found in 50% of packaged, processed foods.  Now I don’t want you to be eating a lot of processed foods, but when you do it is better that they contain palm oil rather than other vegetables oils which are inflammatory, can be hydrogenated (transfats) or rancid (cell damage and cancer).

This is NOT what Canada’s Food Guide is telling you to do even though studies have shown that palm oil removes plaque build up in in our arteries AND lowers total cholesterol.  It is heart healthy!  It isn’t surprising that cultures that traditionally use palm oil in their cooking have lower incidences of heart disease and stroke compared to North America.

Palm oil for cooking is harder to find in North America but it is available in some health food stores and online.

Don’t confuse palm oil with palm kernel oil.  Palm kernel oil is found in the nut of the fruit and not in the fruit itself.  It is also however very beneficial as the medium chain fatty acids found in palm kernel oil can be used by the body for energy, and it has anti-microbial properties.  It is also more stable than the unsaturated fats that have come to replace it in our food supply.

Once word of caution with palm oil, as its demand increases more and more acres of tropical rainforest are being cut down for palm plantations (85% of palm oil comes from Indonesia and Malaysia).  One of the species at risk which is continually being threatened by this environmental tragedy is the orangutan.  Other species are also at risk and plantations can also cause air, soil, water pollution and climate change.

When purchasing products with palm oil (cosmetics too) please look for the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil trademark (RSPO), an international group of small growers, big businesses and non-profits working to define and promote better, more sustainable practices.  To date RSPO has certified more than 10% of palm oil worldwide as sustainable.