Palm Oil Benefits + Side Effects

By Adriane Marie •  Updated: 03/03/22 •  12 min read
palm oil benefits and side effects

HEALTH

Energy: palm oil is good for / helps possible brain health

Longevity: palm oil is good for / helps heart health | palm oil is bad for / increases the risk of certain heart disease risk factors in some people, heart and artery damage, inflammation, LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, stroke

Appearance: palm oil is bad for / increases the risk of obesity and weight gain

Palm oil is…

a kids book about plant based eating
Teach Kids Where Our Food Comes From. Look Inside!

ENVIRONMENT

Water footprint: moderate, 4,971 liters of water used to produce 1 kilogram of refined palm oil / 596 gallons of water used to produce 1 pound of refined palm oil

Carbon footprint: high, 3.3 kg CO2e to produce 1 kilogram or 2.2 pounds of palm oil, a car driving equivalent of 7.75 miles or 12.5 kilometers

Destruction: high, palm oil production is relatively destructive, mass deforestation, large-scale devastation of tropical forests, widespread habitat loss for endangered species

Palm oil is…

ANIMALS

Kills: none, palm oil production does not require any animals

Harms: none, palm oil production does not require any animals

Indirectly kills or harms: wildlife and ecosystems, through severe deforestation, animals such as orangoutangs, tigers, elephants, rhinoceros and other rainforest creatures’ lives are directly threatened, as their habitats are consequently destroyed, in the past 16 years, an estimated 100,000 orangutans have died as a result of palm oil production

Palm oil is…

LABORERS

Health and safety: varies, overall, agriculture continues to be one of the most dangerous industries, farmworkers may be subject to dehydration, heat stroke, unprotected exposure to harmful, toxic chemicals and pesticides, unsafe machinery and clean drinking water may not always accessible

Living conditions: varies, laborers are often exploited, they may face tough working conditions including long hours in the sun and heat performing physically exhausting tasks, labor laws and rights may or may not be in place, even if worker protection exists, employer violations may go unreported, refugees and migrant workers are especially vulnerable to abuse and mistreatment, fearing consequences of job loss or deportation

Wages: varies, generally farmworkers earn meager wages, there are many cases of underpaid agricultural workers, wage theft and no overtime payment or benefits

Palm oil…

Where does most palm oil come from?

Indonesia is the largest producer of palm oil, followed by Malaysia. Both countries account for 84% of the worlds palm production, with China also being a major producer. The world’s top palm oil exporting country is Indonesia, followed by Malaysia, Netherlands, Germany, Estonia, Denmark, USA, Papua New Guinea, Italy, Honduras.

Is palm oil nutritious?

Palm oil is high in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat (the good kind) but is extremely high in saturated fat (the bad kind).

palm oil is acidic.

acidic foods and alkaline diet to improve ph levels

Is palm oil alkaline or acidic? Palm oil is acidic. What is the pH level of palm oil? Palm oil has a 3.5 pH level once digested.

When you eat food, it breaks down to an ash residue that can be neutral, acidic or alkaline. Minerals such as potassium, calcium, magnesium, sodium, zinc, silver, copper and iron produce an alkaline ash; whereas sulfur, phosphorus, chlorine and iodine, which are in meat, coffee, dairy and alcohol, leave an acid ash.

Going alkaline easier than ever with this: Acidic and Alkaline Foods List

palm oil is gluten free.

gluten free foods and what to eat on a gluten free diet

Is palm oil gluten free? Yes, palm oil is gluten free. Palm oil does not contain gluten. Palm oil is a type of oil, therefore making it a gluten free food. 

While celiac disease may not be as rampant as many marketing trends lead us to believe, you may have a gluten sensitivity…

Celiac and gluten sensitivity symptoms are similar and may include:

There are hundreds of potential symptoms, many of which are also symptoms of other conditions.

Going gluten free easier than ever with this: Gluten and Gluten Free Foods List

palm oil is not a common food allergen.

the most common food allergens include milk, wheat, soy, fish, tree nuts, peanuts, eggs and crustaceans

Is palm oil a common food allergen? No, palm oil is not a common food allergen. Some people may experience allergic reactions to palm oil but it is relatively rare by comparison.

A group of the eight major allergenic foods, AKA the Big-8, include:

These foods account for about 90% of all food allergies in the United States.

Severe food allergies can be life threatening. Following ingestion of a food allergen, a person with food allergies can experience a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. 

Persons may still be allergic to and have serious reactions to foods other than the eight foods identified by the law.

Be aware of common dietary restrictions and food allergens with this: The Big 8 Most Common Food Allergens List

palm oil has a moderate water footprint.

water footprints of food and products

Does palm oil have a high or low water footprint? Palm oil has a relatively moderate water footprint.

What is the water footprint of palm oil? It takes 4,971 liters of water to produce 1 kilogram of refined palm oil / 596 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of refined palm oil.

Did you know that water is a finite, non-renewable resource?

We must do what we can to conserve fresh water and a major way to reduce needless water consumption is to change the way we eat. That’s not to say we need to reduce our water intake….quite the opposite. It’s important for our health to drink lots of water and eat foods that hydrate. The kind of water conservation we’re talking about here is behind the scenes.

How much water does it take to produce an apple? A serving of rice? A steak dinner?

Find out how much water your food consumes with this: Water Footprints of Foods and Ingredients List

palm oil has a high carbon footprint.

carbon footprints of food and food emissions

Does palm oil have a high or low carbon footprint? Palm oil has a relatively low carbon footprint.

What is the carbon footprint of palm oil? It takes around 3.3 kg CO2e to produce 1 kilogram or 2.2 pounds of palm oil, a car driving equivalent of 7.75 miles or 12.5 kilometers.

Food not only has a water footprint but also a carbon footprint, known as CO2e, which stands for carbon dioxide equivalent. Since carbon measurements are a bit more difficult to comprehend, it is common to equate CO2e to the distance which a car drives in miles or kilometers.

When calculating carbon emissions, some factors may include…

There are a number of steps we can take to reduce energy output. According to Oxford Martin School researchers, if the world went vegan, eliminating animal-derived products, it could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by two thirds and avoid climate damages of $1.5 trillion.

But that’s not all!

It’s best to keep the following in mind when grocery shopping:

Find out how much carbon your food emits with this: Carbon Footprints of Foods and Ingredients List

palm oil is unsustainable.

sustainable shopping, for eco friendly brands and products good for the environment

Overall, is palm oil eco friendly? Is palm oil sustainable?

Palm oil production is relatively destructive and unsustainable, there is significant damage to air, water, land, soil, forests, etc. Palm oil production means mass deforestation, large-scale devastation of tropical forests and widespread habitat loss for endangered species.

A 2018 Oxford University study – which is the most comprehensive analysis to date of the damage farming does to the planet – found that ‘avoiding meat and dairy is the single biggest way to reduce your impact on Earth’ as animal farming provides just 18% of calories but takes up 83% of our farmland.

Consuming animal products and byproducts is not environmentally friendly and is one of the worst things for the Earth. Not only is meat production wasteful, it causes enormous amounts of pollution. The industry is one of the biggest causes of climate change.

A 2010 United Nations report said that a global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to save the world the worst impacts of climate change.

palm oil is vegan but devastating to animal habitats.

palm oil effects orangutan habitats

Is palm oil vegan? Yes, palm oil is vegan. Palm oil is a vegetable oil from the fruit of an oil palm and not an animal product or byproduct, therefore making it a vegan food. However, palm oil is devastating to wildlife habitats, specifically jungle animals in Indonesia whose homes are deforested for palm oil production.

Even claims of ‘sustainable palm oil’ are problematic. Purchasing palm oil of any sort is simply demanding more palm oil. ‘Sustainable’ palm oil groups have developed negative reputations for having relaxed requirements and not following through with checks and regulations. Don’t buy ‘sustainable palm oil’ which is yet another marketing term similar to ‘cage free’, ‘grass fed’, ‘free range’ and the like, as they attempt to ease the instinctual and accurate guilt of consumers. It’s best to err on the side of caution and avoid palm oil and palm products entirely, as palm oil is not even an essential ingredient! In fact, there are many substitutes for palm oil like coconut oil, sunflower oil, rapeseed oil and more.

Go vegan for animals!

It’s the best way to help animals and it’s not as difficult as you may think. Speak for animals with your actions, for they cannot speak at all.

Going vegan is easier than ever, at a glance with this: Vegan and Non Vegan Foods List

palm oil is a product with known labor issues.

labor rights, human rights and workers rights issues

Palm oil is bad for laborers. “Many [palm oil laborers] are children who work in unsafe conditions for far below the minimum wage. Others have been deceived by laborer brokers into being caught in debt-bondage like situations, and are trapped in remote areas with no ability to pay for a passage home.” according to the International Labor Rights Forum.

Did you know the single largest employer in the world is agriculture? The labor involved behind each and every product cannot go unrecognized. 

Such mistreatment is like modern day slavery. Workers are often afraid to report issues because they fear it will result in losing their jobs or deportation. 

Fair trade organizations fight to ensure better social, environmental and economic standards. 

We can improve people’s lives with foods we eat every day simply by buying products that are certified fair trade. 

Notes on palm oil:

Foods That Often Contain Palm Oil:

Household Products That Often Contain Palm Oil:

Brands That Add Palm Oil:

Other Names For Palm Oil + Derivatives:

Sources:

BBC: How do we go palm oil free?

The dangerous ingredient you’re eating—and don’t even know it

Global Demand for Natural Resources Eliminated More Than 100,000 Bornean Orangutans

Adriane Marie

As an educator, author and conscious consumer advocate, I study and organize ethical info for you to quickly see how our purchases impact animals, people and the planet. I hope you find this HEALabel knowledge useful and can apply it to your life for personal and societal improvement and empowerment.