What is palm oil and why should we stop using it?

Palm oil is the most commonly produced vegetable oil, but it’s doing more harm than good, here’s why.

Press Association
Last updated:02 March 2018 - 07.40pm

Such a simple ingredient, but we all have our favourite oils to cook with. Whether it’s extra virgin olive oil, peanut, corn or rapeseed, they all have their special flavour profiles.

Some are good for frying, others make great vinaigrettes, but the one oil that’s not worth savouring is arguably palm oil.

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What is palm oil?

While you may be tempted to choose palm oil over other oils such as vegetable oil, it’s been linked to many environmental, animal and even human rights violations.

Palm oil is a saturated fat made from the fruit of a palm tree (not to be confused with palm kernel oil, which comes from the seeds of the same plant), and while it may fry those potatoes to perfection, it’s also high in saturated fats.


Midweek vibes demonstrated perfectly by this young orangutan at @sepilokrehabilitationcentre. —————————— Took this photo during my travels to the Malaysian part of Borneo back in 2015. This juvenile ape, like many others, is the innocent face of deforestation. —————————— Baby orangutans are often caught during the logging process, with poachers often slaughtering the adult ape to reach the child — it’s important to understand that just like humans, orangutans are very attached to their mother, and stay with them for 6–8 years, or until they learn how to survive in the forest. —————————— @sepilokrehabilitationcentre is doing some amazing things to help orphaned, confiscated and threatened orangutans, with over 43 sq km of protected land, in which apes can freely and safely roam. —————————— The rehabilitation site also provides much-needed medical assistance to unwell orangutans and equally threatened sun bears, Sumatran rhinos and elephants. —————————— #orangutan #photojournalism #photodocumentary #Sabah #Borneo #conservation #palmoil #wildlifephotography #greatapes #wildlifeconservation #sepilokrehabilitationcentre

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Chips made with palm oil contain 75% more saturated fat than chips made with sunflower or canola oil (similar to vegetable oil in flavour, it can also be drizzled over salads). The NHS warns that eating lots of saturated fat can raise your cholesterol and increase your risk of heart disease.

What else is palm oil used for?

The bad news is, that along with processed food, frozen pizzas, biscuits and margarine, palm oil is so versatile it also lends itself to body creams, soaps, make-up, candles and even detergents, so it’s hard to avoid in our everyday lives.

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What impact is palm oil having on the environment?

Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of palm oil and huge tracts of rainforest in Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa are being cleared to make room for palm plantations.

Along with the effect on the climate, endangered species such as the orangutan, Borneo elephant and Sumatran tiger are being pushed further to extinction as their forest habitat is cleared.

Palm oil plantations, Thailand

How can you avoid palm oil and make a difference?

Read the label. EU labelling regulations require food products to clearly indicate if they contain palm oil. However, you may have to do a little more research when it comes to non-food items such as cosmetics and cleaning products. A little bit of googling should reward you with palm oil-free alternatives.

Change your cooking habits too. Try to use fresh ingredients and avoid processed foods. Oils such as sunflower, olive, rapeseed (which has the lowest saturated fat of any culinary oil, and less than half of olive oil) or flaxseed are perfect for cooking, baking and making a healthy lifestyle choice for yourself, and the environment.