From Margarine To Lipstick: How Palm Oil Ended Up Everywhere

Health 2023

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From Margarine To Lipstick: How Palm Oil Ended Up Everywhere
From Margarine To Lipstick: How Palm Oil Ended Up Everywhere
Video: From Margarine To Lipstick: How Palm Oil Ended Up Everywhere
Video: Why Palm Oil Is So Cheap 2023, February

Of all vegetable oils, palm, probably the most unlucky with reputation. You've probably heard that the use of palm oil is almost the main cause of cardiovascular diseases, malignant tumors, as well as the basis of "slags and toxins" in the body and a real "poison" for children. As usual, the horrors are exaggerated, although palm oil should not be made the basis of the diet. Let's figure out what kind of product it is.

Text: Masha Budryte


Where did it come from

Palm oil is made from the fruit of the oil palm, which grows in regions with humid tropical climates. The tree bears fruit four times a year, fruits the size of a plum are collected in bunches - one can contain up to eight hundred pieces. They contain fatty oil - just what is called palm oil. Thanks to such a large and frequent harvest, palm oil can be extracted in huge quantities - 73.5 million tons were obtained in 2018.

This oil was actively traded in the 19th century, this was due to the industrial revolution in Europe: due to its cheapness and suitable consistency, the product was used for lubricants and for the production of candles. Gradually, the industry expanded and penetrated into various aspects of life, including food production. The leaders among suppliers today are Malaysia and Indonesia.

Why is it everywhere

In the 1960s, nutritionists declared animal fat the number one enemy. The food industry followed the trend and began replacing animal fats in convenience foods and ready-to-eat foods with margarine, which is made from liquid vegetable oils. As science advances, it has been discovered that the process by which liquid vegetable oils turn into solid ones also leads to negative health effects - because trans fats are also formed at the same time.

Trans fats, a byproduct of margarine production, contributes to the development of cardiovascular disease and other vascular problems. In this regard, the World Health Organization has recommended limiting trans fats in the diet for many years, and in 2018 proposed eliminating them completely from the human diet. As people have become more aware, palm oil has replaced liquid vegetable oils in margarine and spreads - it is solid at room temperature, relatively cheap to manufacture and does not lead to the formation of trans fats. Thanks to its good mixing with various fats, palm oil has become a popular ingredient in baked goods and works as a natural preservative. Palm oil is even added to ice cream so that it does not melt so quickly.

Of course, it's not only found in food. Palm oil and its derivatives are used in the cosmetic industry - for the production of soaps, shampoos, creams, lipsticks, and so on. This is due to the fact that it does not have its own taste and smell, and with the physical properties of the oil: for example, palm oil soap foams better, and lipstick is applied more evenly. An important role is played by the low cost of production, and the general trend towards the use of herbal ingredients in cosmetics, and the fashion for "all natural". In addition to food and cosmetics, where 72% and 18% of the world's total palm oil go respectively, it is now beginning to be used for fuel production and as an adhesive for fibreboard.


Is it harmful to health

Palm oil differs in composition from olive or sunflower oil, primarily in that it contains more saturated fat. This is usually the case with animal fats - for this reason, butter hardens at room temperature, while olive oil does not. Palm oil is similar in physical and chemical characteristics to coconut oil - and this is due to saturated fatty acids.

Fatty acids are long chains of carbon atoms, each of which can be chemically bonded to one or two hydrogen atoms. Saturated fatty acids are those where each carbon atom is bonded to two hydrogen atoms, and unsaturated fatty acids are those where at least one carbon atom is bonded to only one hydrogen atom. The presence of unsaturated chemical bonds bends the hydrocarbon chain within the fat molecule, increasing the distance between the molecules. The further the molecules are from each other, the more liquid the substance is.

The body of humans and animals uses saturated fats for energy storage and can produce them on their own. Unsaturated fats, primarily linoleic (one of the omega-3 acids) and alpha-linoleic (omega-6) fatty acids are essential for the diet - both are found in most vegetable oils. Palm and coconut oils, on the other hand, contain less unsaturated fatty acids and are therefore less beneficial. The main saturated acid in palm oil is palmitic acid. Scientists have not yet come to a consensus about its effect on human health when taken with food, but as part of a shampoo or cream, it certainly will not harm, according to the Expert Committee on the Evaluation of Ingredients of Cosmetic Products.

According to the World Health Organization, palmitic fatty acid increases low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as "bad cholesterol". High levels of LDL in the blood are one of the risk factors for cardiovascular disease. On the other hand, research shows that completely eliminating fat (both saturated and unsaturated) from the diet does not reduce the overall risk of heart and vascular disease. Apparently, it is the ratio of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids in general that is most important - the latter reduce the level of LDL in the blood.

Palm oil contains about 50% saturated fat - less than 85% coconut or butter. According to Harvard Medical School experts, palm oil may be a healthier choice than butter - but it shouldn't be the mainstay of the diet. Preference should be given to liquid vegetable oils, especially olive. Considering that palm oil is mainly contained in ready-made or semi-finished products, it is worth remembering the general recommendations of nutritionists: cook more often at home and less often eat ready-made food from packages. This will help reduce the intake of trans fats (in countries where they are not banned), sugar and salt, and the amount of saturated fat in the diet will not be too high. One study concluded that palm oil does not increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, but under an important condition - when ingested as part of a balanced and varied diet.

Those looking to cut back on palm oil in their diet should pay attention to labels. It can be hidden under various names, most often containing the root "palm" - for example, sodium palmitate. A full list of synonymous palm oil names and examples of companies that do not use it in their products can be found on the WWF website.

Does it harm the environment

As the demand for palm oil grows every year, tropical rainforests are constantly being cut down to create new plantations. According to Greenpeace, an area of ​​forest the size of a football field is destroyed every twenty-five seconds. The rainforest is home to many unique animals, plants and insects, and palm oil production directly threatens their survival. The rainforest inhabitants of Indonesia, one of the world's leaders in palm oil production, are hardest hit. According to Greenpeace, this country has the most endangered or endangered species, and this is due precisely to oil palm plantations.

One of the main victims of the palm oil industry is the orangutans.From 1999 to 2015, more than 150 thousand monkeys of this species became extinct. In 2018, Greenpeace released a social cartoon about the friendship between an orangutan cub and a little girl, voiced by British actress Emma Thompson. The video has been translated into various languages, including Russian. According to experts, by 2022, 98% of tropical forests may be destroyed, and orangutans will not remain outside the reserves by 2020.

It turns out that the main disadvantage of palm oil is not harm to health, but a colossal impact on the environment. At the same time, simply replacing it with other vegetable oils will not be the best solution: olives or sunflowers bring a smaller yield and the area for cultivation will require even more. Palm oil production is one of the foundations of the economies of Malaysia, Indonesia and some other countries, so a complete rejection of the product will lead to severe economic consequences.

Many people thought about the problem: farms, manufacturers of cosmetics and food, retailers and organizations such as WWF and Oxfam. Principles are being developed to help produce palm oil with less environmental impact; RSPO (Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil Production) established. She formulated the criteria, following which companies receive the CSPO (Certified Sustainable Palm Oil) certification. Among them - a ban on deforestation or the clearing of areas with significant biodiversity, the destruction of fragile ecosystems and areas necessary for the basic or traditional cultural needs of the local population. Some companies have already switched to using only CSPO-certified oil - among them the British Boots and Marks & Spencer chains, the American Colgate-Palmolive, Estée Lauder, Mars, PepsiCo and even McDonald’s.

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