What’s wrong with the palm oil?

If you check the ingredients list of any processed food in a supermarket, chances are high that the food item is prepared in palm oil. In fact palm oil is used in close to half of the products we buy including pizzas and biscuits. Palm oil is the most preferred edible oil in the food industry. Many countries have switched to palm oil as the cooking medium replacing the usage of hydrogenated vegetable fats because of the high trans-fat content of hydrogenated oils. This is definitely a healthier switch, but is it the best? Check it out below.
                                                                                                                                                                                   Richa Pande

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Let’s find out why the oil is popularly used in making foods. For the food manufacturers, palm oil has many advantages. It is a super-efficient crop. Agriculturally, palm oil needs lesser land for cultivation as compared to other edible oil crops such as sunflower, soybean or mustard for producing the same quantity of oil. Moreover, it is the highest vegetable oil yielding perennial crop. This makes its production cost-effective. Also, palm oil has a high smoke point i.e. temperature at which oil heats up and produces smoke. A higher smoke point allows the stability of the cooking oil properties even at high temperatures. Palm oil is solid at room temperature which is why it is a good substitute for butter and hydrogenated vegetable oils, making it an economic and suitable ingredient for a lot of food items including bakery products. The Indian government has introduced a number of schemes for its promotion such as National Mission on Oilseeds and Palm (NMOOP) program for boosting its cultivation and usage in the country. With the recent ban on import of palm oil in India, the market trends as well as the usage patterns of palm oil are likely to change in the near future.

USAGE TRENDS OF PALM OIL IN INDIA

Palm oil’s market share is the highest in the Indian food market. It is preferred by the food industry as well as the fast food chains, as well as the street vendors.
Figure- Market shares of major edible oils in India. Source-Production, Supply, and Distribution database, USDA.

Nutrient profiling of palm oil: Is it better or worse than other edible oils?

The figure below summarizes the fatty acid content of the mentioned edible oils. It could be clearly seen that the coconut oil and palm oil contain more amount of saturated fats compared to other edible oils. An oil is considered to be healthier when it has lesser amount of saturated fats.

Source- Canola Council of Canada based on Canadian Nutrient File & USFDA National Nutrient Database

Palm oil’s market share is the highest in the Indian food market. It is preferred by the food industry as well as the fast food chains, as well as the street vendors.

HOW MUCH OF SATURATED FATS COULD BE CONSUMED DAILY?

 According to WHO, the intake of saturated fats shouldn’t be more than 10 percent of the recommended energy intake i.e. about 2000 kcal/day. So, one shouldn’t be consuming more than 200 kcal derived from saturated fats i.e. 22g of saturated fats.

HEALTH CONCERNS ASSOCIATED WITH PALM OIL

The palm oil contains high amount of saturated fatty acids which contributes to a lot of health concerns. Compared to other oils, the palm oil has higher amounts of saturated fats. Consumption of saturated fat can cause cholesterol build up in the blood vessels. Saturated fats raise the level of LDL cholesterol, also known as bad cholesterol in the blood.  This is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Palm oil has lesser amounts of poly unsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) i.e. omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids which are associated with positive health benefits. Polyunsaturated fatty acids aids in increasing the levels of HDL cholesterol in blood which is also known as good cholesterol. This decreases the risk of occurrence of heart diseases and type 2 diabetes.

Although, unrefined palm oil contains Vitamin E, and unrefined red palm oil is rich in carotenes, the processed and refined white palm oil which is used in most of the ultra-processed packet foods.

ENVIRONMENT CONCERNS ASSOCITED WITH PALM OIL

Palm oil trees are cultivated in the tropical regions. Deforestation in these areas for palm cultivation leads to destruction of homes to some endangered species. Burning these forests for palm cultivation pollutes the environment negatively and is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

LIST OF FOOD ITEMS WITH PALM OIL

Here is a list of food items picked from the market that contains palm oil and derivatives. Also, we picked a few items which could be alternatives to these food items and enable consumers to make relatively healthier food choices.

    

The coffeestick pack  that has palm oil in it has 25 g of total fats/ 100g and lacks labelling on saturated fats.

                                                   A ready-to-eat upma pack had palmolein oil and palm kernel oil.

                                        

  A biscuit pack that contains palm oil.                     The corn snack has palm oil in it labelled as Palmolein oil.

It’s labelled as- Edible vegetable oil (PALM)

    

The diet snack that claims to be ‘lite’has  refined palm oil in it labelled as Palmoleinoil. It has 12 g of saturated fats in 100g of the food item.

THERE ARE HEALTHIER ALTERNATIVES IN THE MARKET.YOU JUST NEED TO FLIP THE FOOD PACK AND CHECK THE INGREDIENTS LIKE THE BELOW PACK:

The images of two food packs of snacks that claim to be healthier than other snacks.

On the ingredient list, you can find Rice Bran Oil as an ingredient.