We should talk... about palm oil

We should talk... about palm oil

As you may have noticed, there has been increasing awareness around palm oil recently. So what is palm oil and how can we avoid it?

What is palm oil?

Palm oil is a type of vegetable oil that is harvested from the fruit of the African oil palm Elaeis guineensis.

So, why is palm oil so bad?

Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil with a relatively high saturated fat content.

What does this mean? Basically, that it has a broad range of uses. Palm oil can be used in cooking as a trans-fat or butter replacement, a biofuel or in the manufacturing of soaps and other cleaning products.

So, why is it so bad? Because it has such a wide range of uses, demand worldwide has increased drastically within the last century. As well as this, the oil palm can only be grown within a specific climate in peat swamp soil. This high demand coupled with a limited growing climate means that much of the planet’s rainforests are now at risk of deforestation for palm oil production.

What is palm oil in?

Almost everything! As stated before, palm oil has a wide range of uses which make it attractive for use in many different industries.

In fact, it is estimated that up to 50% of the products on supermarket shelves contain palm oil. Food products like baked goods, margarine and ice-cream are all likely to contain palm oil. It is also prevalent in products like soaps, cosmetics and cleaning supplies.

How can we avoid it!

Most products will not state that they contain palm oil and, in most countries, there is no legislation making this compulsory.

So how can we avoid buying palm oil? Always read the labels. If a food product states that it contains vegetable oil but does not specify what type, it likely contains palm oil.

Unfortunately, ingredient lists for soaps, cosmetics and cleaning supplies are much trickier to decipher. Common ingredients like Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulphates, cetyl alcohols and vegetable glycerins are often (although, not always) derived from palm oil. In fact, Palm oil investigations lists over 200 ingredients that can all be derived from palm oil.      

The best way to avoid products with palm oil is to buy products that are certified palm oil free. These products have passed extensive review by third party certification programs to ensure they are absolutely palm oil free.

What else can we do?

The best thing we, as consumers, can do is to let companies know that we want to buy products that are palm oil free. The movement for palm oil free products is growing and businesses will change if there is pressure on them to do so. So, email, tweet or write to the companies you would like to see go palm oil free and let them know.

Change can start with you!