palm oil

Why I hate palm oil

The road to tropical rain forest ruin is paved with good intentions. Consider the time line of our obsession with heart healthy diets:

  1. Back in the mid-20th Century, health experts told us that saturated fat was the cause of heart attacks –>>
    • Solution: avoid eating high saturated fat foods. Like butter; half the fat in butter is saturated.
  2. If we can’t eat butter what will we spread on our toast? –>>
    • Solution: use margarine, made with vegetable oil.
  3. But vegetable oil is liquid. It doesn’t hold its shape, and goes rancid more quickly. –>>
    • Solution: hydrogenate the vegetable oil, which makes the oil solid like butter and less likely to go rancid.
  4. Hydrogenation of vegetable oil creates trans fats.
  5. Oops! Health experts belatedly realize that those trans fats are strongly linked to heart disease. –>>
    • Solution: Switch to palm oil, a vegetable fat that doesn’t need to be hydrogenated.
  6. Yay! Food manufacturers have a “heart healthy” fat to use. Now we need lots of palm oil to make processed food. –>>
    • Solution: grow more oil-producing palms
  7. Where can we grow lots of palm oil trees? On ginormous plantations in the tropics. –>>
    • Solution: burn down the tropical rain forest and plow it under to make way for vast monoculture palm oil plantations.
  8. Result: deforestation of millions of acres of tropical rain forest, decimation of the environmental diversity found in those rain forests and dangerously high levels of smoke and ash spreading across vast swaths of Southeast Asia, set in motion decades ago by well-meaning health experts with good intentions.

Now our processed food supply is dependent on palm oil. According to an article in The Times of London, half the products in your average grocery store contain palm oil, including non-food items like cosmetics. In “Burning Down the House“, Greenpeace pins the blame for massive fires in Indonesia on our demand for palm oil.

Many palm oil producers slap the health halo label of “sustainability” on their products. Sustainable according to whom? Not according to the tropical rain forest that’s been permanently destroyed. Not to the trees, vines, flowering plants, grasses, mosses and shrubs that used to live there. Not to the birds, mammals, fish, amphibians, insects and reptiles that used to live there. In their place: a palm tree monoculture and a smokey haze.

“I don’t use palm oil” you might protest! “I just eat natural foods.” Think again. For example, fresh ground peanut butter separates; the oil rises to the top. You have to mix it all back together before using. Too much trouble for some people. So decades ago, this annoying problem was solved by mixing hydrogenated vegetable fat with the peanut butter. No more oil separation.

But thanks to trans fat phobia, companies needed an alternative to hydrogenated vegetable fat. Palm oil to the rescue! When peanut butter is mixed with palm oil, the marketing department can slap a “natural” label on the jar, because palm oil isn’t a hydrogenated fat. So if your “natural” peanut butter doesn’t separate into a layer of oil on top, you might check the ingredients list. It’s probably mixed with palm oil.

And it’s not just palm oil All that popular coconut fat, coconut water and coconut “flour” used in vegan foods and “Paleo” snacks comes from the tropics, too. The supreme irony is the coconut fat added to plant burgers, to give fake meat the same high fat taste and texture as real meat. Plant burger devotees believe they’re saving the planet. Where do they think those coconuts are grown?

Is it any wonder why I detest palm oil and everything it represents? Palm oil is the poster child for a highly processed food supply, the polar opposite of the whole foods diet I advocate.

Oh by the way, half of the fat in palm oil is saturated. Same as butter. Back to the drawing board Health Experts!

Copyright: All content © 2020 Nutrition Strategy Advisors LLC. Photographs © Donna P Feldman, unless otherwise attributed. Reproduction or use without permission is prohibited.