You have no doubt heard about palm oil and the controversy surrounding its use. It is in so many products and at times may seem virtually impossible to avoid. Just why is palm oil so bad and why at Beyond The Equator do we elect to avoid its use at all times?
What Products Typically Contain Palm Oil?
Not just present in food, palm oil can be found in products from nearly every room of your home. It is estimated that more than half of all packaged food sold in the USA alone contains palm oil. You may find palm oil in the ingredients listing of:
- Soap (both liquid and solid)
- Ice cream
- Spreads, including margarine and some peanut butters
- Dairy-free substitute products
- Some cooking oils
- Washing up detergents
Where Does Palm Oil Come From?
Palm oil is extracted from the fruit of the oil palm (Elaeis guineensis). The fruit yields both palm oil and palm kernel oil - only the former is edible. It is often added to products and listed under the guise of vegetable oil on ingredient labels.
Why Is Palm Oil Bad?
There are two parts to answering this. One is related to health and the other, our environment.
How can an edible oil be so damaging to the environment? After all, olive oil, sunflower oil, and other vegetable oils don’t have such a poor reputation, right? Palm oil differs in a major way as the oil palm from which it is derived, only grows in the humid and warm climates usually inhabited by rainforests.
“Palm oil has been and continues to be a major driver of deforestation of some of the world's most biodiverse forests, destroying the habitat of already endangered species like the Orangutan, pygmy elephant and Sumatran rhino.”
Across the globe, thousands of these endangered animals are killed annually in order to produce palm oil. This is why environmentalists everywhere encourage both companies and individuals to stop using palm oil or buying products that contain palm oil. There are many viable and sustainable alternatives such as coconut, shea, jojoba or babassu oil that could be successfully used in place of palm oil.
In creating palm oil plantations, air pollution is increased through burning huge swathes of rainforest for clearing. Clearing of these rainforests also leads to soil erosion, increased salinity of soil and pollution of waterways from soil run-off.
If the death of essential rainforest environments and their inhabitants doesn’t tug on your heartstrings and make you reconsider its use, then the impact of palm oil on your heart just might.
Palm oil is high in saturated fat which has been linked to poor cardiovascular health when consumed regularly. Palm oil in small amounts on its own is unlikely to have any long-lasting health impacts. However, given palm oil is in so many everyday products (and often those also high in sugar) it can be hard to determine what is an acceptable amount. This is especially true when it is being consumed alongside other saturated fats in the rest of our diet.
Excessive saturated fat can lead to heart attacks, stroke, heart disease and a host of other health concerns.
Why Is Palm Oil Popular?
Taking all this into consideration you may be wondering why palm oil is so popular. What makes manufacturers love it so much? Why do they persist in using it when there are more sustainable choices out there?
For starters, palm oil is one of the most affordable oils in the world. This is due to it being a super high yield vegetable oil crop that requires around half the land size of other crops such as soybean, sunflower or rapeseed. This makes it an efficient and high-earning crop.
Additionally, in countries where it is produced on a large scale including Nigeria, Malaysia, Thailand, Colombia, Ecuador, Papua New Guinea, the Ivory Coast, and Brazil it has created jobs and helped to reduce poverty. This boost to the economy spurs further economic growth and makes it harder to rationalise its reduction for the protection of the environment.
Though, according to China Dialogue, this cash boost comes at a high social cost:
“Palm oil production has been associated with corruption, forced evictions and land-grabbing. It has sparked conflict with local communities, including indigenous peoples. There have also been serious concerns about forced labour, child labour and violations of worker rights on some plantations.”
Secondly, palm oil, as we have seen, is versatile. It has numerous applications from making your detergent sudsier, your biscuits crisper and your chocolate smoother. With profit margins being the aim of the game for most large-scale companies, if the desired results can be achieved for less expenditure, what motivation do they have to seek alternatives?
Keeping A Social Conscience - Beyond The Equator
While the eradication of palm oil entirely isn’t the answer and would devastate the infrastructure of many communities, it is important to reduce its use. When developing our 5 Seed Butters we elected to forgo the addition of any added oils and in particular palm oil.
The goal of our nut butter substitutes and nut and wheat-free flours is to not only offer healthy alternatives but sustainable ones. We won’t compromise on our mission to offer allergy-free, healthy food alternatives or to be more sustainable. Whether this is eschewing crops that use vast amounts of water (such as almonds) or selecting our ingredients carefully with social and environmental impacts in mind, we want you to enjoy our products with a clear conscience.
With Beyond The Equator, we truly look beyond just our food and into the future, we want for ourselves and the world we live in. Make the switch today and enjoy clean, great-tasting nutritionally dense foods.