Palm oil: What stakes (part 2)


It is a well-known fact that palm oil is currently at the heart of the debate. Opinions on the use of this one differ depending on the point of view. Some focus on its benefits and others its misdeeds. It is important to know what are the real impacts of palm oil consumption.

Following the first part of this article concerning the environmental impacts of the use of palm oil, this second part examines the impacts of palm oil on health.

Impacts related to production

Negative impacts of the current agricultural production model are no longer to be proven. Deforestation and the burning technique contribute to CO2 emissions. Consequent respiratory diseases caused by air pollution have been confirmed, not only in Indonesia but also in neighbouring countries. Moreover, the intensive production politics of Indonesia and Malaysia is considered detrimental to the land quality and environment. As a result, insects and bacteria, dangerous for human health and flora, may grow. Some diseases such as malaria, that were supposed to be under governmental control, could re-emerge and spread worldwide.

Impacts related to consumption

Advantages of palm oil usage

There have been several methods of using palm oil tree and extracted oil in Africa for a long time. Palms can be used to treat infected wounds, and roots decoction can calm bronchitis and gonorrhoea. Virgin palm oil can relieve some pain or rheumatism. Due to its fatty acid composition similar to lipid in breast milk, it could also be given to newborns whose mothers died in childbirth. Palm kernel oil might curve young children’s constipation.

Palm oil nutrition, being moderate and well-balanced, is good for the health. Palm oil, rich in saturated fatty acids, is less fat than other fats (50% of fat compared to 67% in normal butter, for example). High carotenoid in unrefined and untreated palm oil increases vitamin A in blood.

However, benefits of palm oil tend to reduce after it is refined, heated or even cooked, the majority of dishes prepared with palm oil are cooked. Regular or excessive consumption of palm oil also leads to problems.

Risks resulting from its regular consumption

Palm oil is composed mainly of saturated fatty acids (50% in relation to 15% of fatty acids in olive oil), called “long chain”, like palmitic acid (about 45%).

These saturated fatty acids may cause risks, such as cardiovascular disorders, especially when palm oil is cooked. In fact, palmitic acid is suspected of maximizing fatty deposits on the cell walls and clogging the arteries. Moreover, consumption of palm oil might also increase the risks of Alzheimer’s disease, breast cancer, obesity, diabetes, cholesterol and others.

In general, there are three types of oil processing: virgin, refined or hydrogenated. The use of hydrogenated oil, refined and chemically treated oil, is extremely controversial. Extraction and cooking process of hydrogenated oil lead to the production of very hazardous trans fatty acids.

Trans fatty acids’ overconsumption is also associated with increased cardiovascular risks. It might unbalance “good” and “bad” cholesterol in blood. These acids are also considered as carcinogenic in excessive consumption.

However, hydrogenated oil is still most frequently used by food industries for making food firmer, less exposed to oxidation and extending its storage time.

What is the effect of palm oil consumption on human health?

The tag line “For your health, avoid eating too much fat, too sweet, too salty food” perfectly relates to palm oil. However, it appears that limited consumption of that oil coupled with a healthy diet could reduce above-mentioned risks to human health.

Besides, using palm oil in relation to conventional oils would not entail any significant change in human health, particularly at the cardiovascular level. Palm oil, unlike partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, seems to be a good alternative from the nutritional point of view. However, the useful properties of that oil are much less compared to vegetable oil with unsaturated fatty acids, such as rapeseed oil.

Moreover, palmitic acid can be produced from carbohydrates during metabolism process in human body, therefore replacement of palm oil with carbohydrates would not be a great idea.

Furthermore, palm oil is mostly used in ultra-processed foods, containing salt, preservatives and others influencing human health.

Therefore, it is especially important to limit its consumption, for example, to reduce the intake of pastries or processed products. It is also better to consume products whose composition is similar to homemade recipes.

However, palm oil should not be excluded from our diet because it reduces the use of partial hydrogenation of vegetable fats and therefore the appearance of trans fatty acids.

The main thing is to consume it correctly. For instance, we can get red palm oil in health food stores and use it as fat in our different dishes.

To sum up, impact of palm oil consumption on human health still remains ambiguous.

A propos de Manuella DEBAIZE

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