Palm oil boosts blood cholesterol and increases the risk of heart disease.
And it's increasingly worming itself into the food supply because it can often replace partially hydrogenated oil, the major source of trans fat. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans says to consume as little trans as possible, and the Food and Drug Administration is requiring that food labels list trans fat beginning next January.
With all the (justifiable) pressure to get rid of partially hydrogenated oil, some companies are turning to palm oil as an often-less-damaging alternative in cookies, pies, crackers, microwave popcorn, and other foods that need an oil that stays more solid at room temperature. Palm oil salespeople are knocking on food manufacturers' doors, and palm oil imports, mostly from Malaysia, are increasing sharply.
While palm oil appears to increase the risk of heart disease almost as much as butter, there's another less-publicized problem. Most oil palm trees are grown on sprawling plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia. To make room for them, land owners sometimes clear forests (and reap a nice profit from selling the logs). In Malaysia, oil palms now occupy 10 percent of the land area. Indonesia, too, is leveling its forests at an alarming rate. And when the forests go, so goes the habitat for magnificent wildlife.
A new report by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, publisher of Nutrition Action, details the devastation caused by the oil palm industry. Sumatran tigers, one of five remaining subspecies, are down to only a few hundred animals on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. The Sumatran rhinoceros will soon be extinct if it continues to lose its habitat at the current pace. Orangutans on Sumatra and Borneo will disappear in the wild if oil palm plantations expand at the forecasted rate. Some species of birds, monkeys, and other animals will share the same fate.
Indonesia is planning to replace 26,000 square miles of rainforest with oil palm plantations and Malaysia several thousand more.
Palm oil is too important a commodity--and a source of revenues and jobs--to disappear from the marketplace. But oil processors and food manufacturers could insist on buying palm oil only from certified growers who produce it in an environmentally sound way. And agencies like the World Bank and the Agency for International Development, which provide financial assistance to developing nations, could insist that those countries start new oil palm plantations only on idle land previously used for agriculture, and that they restore rainforest in areas that could be home to endangered wildlife.
And we can all vote with our pocketbooks and simply avoid foods that contain either palm oil or partially hydrogenated oil.
Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D.
Center for Science in the Public Interest
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|Title Annotation:||MEMO FROM MFJ; palm oil increases risk of heart disease|
|Author:||Jacobson, Michael F.|
|Publication:||Nutrition Action Healthletter|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2005|
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