Main menu


What do you know about palm oil?

 Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil that comes from the fruit grown on the African oil palm tree. Its trees, previously found only in Africa, are now cultivated in Asia, North America and South America in conjunction with the growing demand for the versatile oil.

Although there are some benefits to it when it comes to cooking oils, palm oil is usually the most controversial option, both for health and environmental reasons.

This article takes a detailed look at palm oil and its effects on health, the environment, and sustainability.

What is palm oil?

Palm oil comes   from the fruits of the oil palm. Unrefined palm oil is sometimes referred to as red palm oil because of its reddish-orange colour.

The main source of palm oil is the  Elaeis guineensis tree , which is native to West and Southwest Africa and its use in this region dates back over 5,000 years.

A similar oil palm known as Elaeis oleifera is found in South America, but it is rarely grown commercially. However, a hybrid of the two plants is sometimes used in palm oil production.

In recent years, oil palm growth has expanded to Southeast Asia, including Malaysia and Indonesia. These two countries currently produce more than  80%  of the world's palm oil supply.

Palm oil is one of the least expensive and most popular oils worldwide, accounting for a third of global vegetable oil production.

It is important to note that palm oil should not be confused with palm kernel oil. While both come from the same plant, palm kernel oil is extracted from the seeds of the  fruit and provides various health benefits.

Where is palm oil used?

Because it's free of trans fats, the oil is often found in products like bread, ice cream, and other processed foods, as are some cosmetics  like  makeup and soap.

This oil is also an essential ingredient in West African and tropical cuisine, and is particularly suitable for curries and other spicy dishes.

It is often used for frying because it has a high smoke point of up to 450°F ( 232  °C) and remains stable under high heat.

Palm oil is sometimes added to peanut and other nut butters as a stabilizer to prevent the oil from separating and settling at the top of the jar.

In addition to nut butter, palm oil can be found in many other foods, including:


Baked goods such as bread, cookies, and cake

Protein bars   and diet bars


coffee creamers 


There is debate about whether consuming palm oil is associated with health risks or benefits, even though it is free of trans fats.

Nutritional value 

Here are the nutritional content of 1 tablespoon (14 grams) of palm oil (4):

Calories : 114

Fat: 14 grams

Saturated fat: 7 grams

Monounsaturated fat: 5 grams

Polyunsaturated fat: 1.5 grams

Vitamin E: 11% of the daily requirement

All calories in palm oil come from fat. The fatty acid fraction consists of 50% saturated fatty acids, 40% monounsaturated fatty acids, and 10% polyunsaturated fatty acids.

The main type of saturated fat found in palm oil is palmitic acid, which contributes 44% of its calories. It also contains high amounts of oleic acid and lower amounts of linoleic acid, a stearic acid.

Potential benefits of palm oil

Palm oil is high in saturated fat, which can be harmful to cardiovascular health. However, one  study found  that when consumed as part of a balanced diet, "palm oil does not have an increased risk of  cardiovascular disease ."

Vegetable oil is also a great source of tocotrienols, a form of vitamin E — "an antioxidant that provides protection for your cells and can reduce your risk of certain health problems like heart disease and cancer," according to  .

Palm oil has been linked to protecting  brain function and improving vitamin A  status   in the body.

Despite the aforementioned benefits, it is recommended to use other oils in cooking, such as  olive oil,  on a daily basis in foods, due to the presence of real damage when used in large quantities.

Palm oil manufacturing harms tropical forests

The main problem with palm oil is its extremely harmful effect on the planet. To produce palm oil, the fruits are collected from trees that can live an average of 28 to 30 years.

However, once the trees grow too tall, making it difficult to access the fruit, they are cut down to make way for new trees, which contributes to tropical deforestation; This also leads to the loss of many endangered animal species to their homes.

In the past 16 years, the search for palm oil has led to an estimated 100,000 animals dying in the forest, according to research . Other animals such as elephants, rhinos, and tigers are also endangered due to deforestation. 

A recent analysis found   that 45% of the land in Southeast Asia currently used for palm oil production was forest in 1990, including more than half of the palm oil plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia.

There have also been  reports  of human rights violations by palm oil companies, such as clearing farmland and forests without permission, paying low wages, providing unsafe working conditions, and significantly reducing the quality of life.

Potential health risks

Although most studies have found palm oil to have a protective effect on heart health, others have reported conflicting results.

A study was conducted on women with high  cholesterol  .  

It showed that levels of small, dense LDL (sdLDL) — the type of cholesterol linked to heart disease — increased with palm oil but decreased with other oils. However, a mixture of palm oil and rice bran oil reduced levels.

Another study found   that sdLDL did not change in the palm oil group, while LDL macromolecules increased. Large LDL particles are less likely to cause heart attacks than small, dense LDL particles.

Other studies have reported   an increase in LDL cholesterol levels in response to palm oil consumption.

It is important to note that these are only possible risk factors and not evidence that palm oil can actually cause heart disease.

However, one animal study suggests that consuming oil that has been reheated frequently may cause plaque to be deposited in the arteries due to the oil's decreased antioxidant activity.

When  mice  ate food containing palm oil that had been reheated 10 times, they developed large arterial plaques and other signs of heart disease over the course of six months, while mice fed fresh palm oil did not.

Impact of palm oil processing on climate

Converting rainforests into palm plantations also contributes to climate change, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature ( WWF ), as the process releases large amounts of carbon emissions into the air.

Is there a way to avoid harmful palm oil use?

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to avoid using products that contain palm oil as it is now very popular around the world.

To minimize impact, looking for products that contain only sustainable palm oil is a good start.

 A 2015 analysis found that limiting the expansion of new palm oil plantations to areas free of forests and planting only in areas with low carbon stocks could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 60 % . 

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil ( RSPO ) is an organization committed to making oil production as environmentally friendly and sustainable as possible.

They only award an RSPO certification to producers who adhere to their standards by following certain guidelines, including:

Not clearing forests or areas containing endangered species, fragile ecosystems, or areas critical to meeting the basic or traditional needs of society.

Significant reduction in the use of pesticides and fires.

Fair treatment of workers in accordance with local and international labor rights standards.

Inform and consult local communities before developing new oil palm plantations on their land.