The Truth on Palm Oil

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Liron Brunner, Staff Writer


Nutella, lipstick, shampoo, bread, cookies, ice cream, soap, and peanut butter. What do these all have in common? They all contain the ingredient palm oil, and whether we digest it through food or scrub it into our hair, very few people know the true story behind the ingredient. Palm oil has been around for hundreds of years, and its popularity continues to grow to this day. It is time to uncover and expose the truth of this oil.


As palm oil is, well, an oil, it has a high-fat content, and though this isn’t always negative, in this case, it is. Lipids, like butter and olive oil, are natural fats, and thus, in small amounts, benefit you. Palm oil, on the other hand, contains an extremely harmful fat called saturated fat. It is not a naturally occurring fat, so when the body digests it, it is extremely harmful. It raises a type of cholesterol known as LDL Cholesterol, or “Bad Cholesterol”. Unlike the cholesterol you would find in egg yolks, this one can disrupt the innate routine of the body.


If palm oil has such a negative impact on the body, why do companies put it in their products rather than other natural fats? The main reason is that palm oil increases shelf life drastically, benefiting companies and their revenue patterns. It is resistant to oxidation and doesn’t contain the acid that makes other fats more unstable.


Palm oil also has an extremely large, negative environmental impact. Large areas of tropical forest have been cleared in order to make room for palm fields, which not only destabilizes the absorption of CO2 but forces animals to live in closer quarters to people. As explained by the organization Worldwide Wildlife, “Oil palm production also leads to an increase in human-wildlife conflict as populations of large animals are squeezed into increasingly isolated fragments of natural habitat. The habitats destroyed frequently contain rare and endangered species or serve as wildlife corridors between areas of genetic diversity”. As palm oil is frequently grown in Africa, the devastation of the environment is something that cannot be piled on to the fragile infrastructure.


I am not declaring that the world should boycott palm oil, as it has many benefits as well, but we have to be careful or find a more sustainable way to farm the oil. While I will not stop eating Nutella altogether, I might consider eating less of it in the future while also double-checking the percent of palm oil in the product. In moderation, palm oil is perfectly okay to eat, but we have to find an ideal compromise where people and the environment aren’t hurt.


Despite the negative environmental impacts, the palm oil industry has significantly aided the economies of Indonesia and Malaysia. “The palm oil industry has helped lift millions of people out of poverty in Indonesia and Malaysia, which together account for around 85 percent of global production. Oil palm plantations have created millions of well-paying jobs, and enabled tens of thousands of smallholder farmers to own their own land.” The palm oil industry also benefits the GDP of Indonesia because it increases imports and exports.


Palm oil is equivalent to a scale balance: you put too much on one side, and it could tip. We have to be careful with the amount we use because it hurts our health and our environment, but it is helping people economically in countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia. It is a tricky balancing act, but it is one we can master. If we do, we can enjoy Nutella on our pancakes, help the economy, and save our environment.