You’re probably familiar with palm oil. It’s in all sorts of processed foods–you know, the ones hogging the central aisles of most supermarkets. It’s also a major cause of rainforest destruction. Is red palm oil any more sustainable than other types of palm oil?
MOST PALM OIL IS REALLY TERRIBLE FOR THE ENVIRONMENT.
Most palm oil is super unsustainable. Palm oil production is a major cause of rainforest deforestation and tropical habitat loss.
The demand for more palm oil plantations has put orangutans on the brink of extinction and destroyed millions of acres of virgin forest. It’s pretty devastating. But because it is so cheap and has such a desirable texture, manufacturers use it in everything.
Even if you don’t buy processed foods that contain palm oil (like most peanut butters) it can be found in plenty of surprising everyday products. From natural toothpastes to soaps, from cosmetics to cleaning supplies, palm oil is everywhere, meaning you might be supporting the destructive palm industry without even realizing it.
MOST PALM OILS LACK NUTRITION AND ARE HUGELY UNSUSTAINABLE.
There are two popular types of palm oil that perpetuate environmentally harmful practices: refined palm oil and palm kernel oil.
Palm kernel oil is made from the seed rather than the fruit and is often used in cosmetics and chocolates. Rainforests are deliberately burned or cleared to make way for these plantations where the seeds of the palm fruit are pressed and refined to meet demand. The resulting oil completely lacks nutrition and its production endangers hundreds of unique animal species.
Refined palm oil is made by pressing the red palm fruit and processing it until it becomes pure white and shelf-stable. This processing also destroys all of the fruit’s inherent vitamin and nutrients, and, overall, it is no less damaging to the environment. This oil is then used in everything from cookies, pies, and crackers to bars of soap.
If it is non-hydrogenated, it is a much healthier alternative to trans fat-laden Crisco or factory-farmed lard, which is why it became so popular when trans fats got vilified a couple decades ago. But it is definitely not a superfood, and is almost always not so eco. Most refined palm oil comes from Southeast Asia, where palm plantations are infamous for endangering orangutans, destroying habitat, and violating human rights.
However, Spectrum Organics is one of the very few companies doing palm oil right, in terms of producing Rainforest Alliance-certified palm oil. You can probably find a tub of their palm oil at your local health food store to use in your next vegan pie crust.
RED PALM OIL IS A VERITABLE SUPERFOOD.
Red palm oil is a different beast altogether.
Made by pressing the fruit, this vivid red oil is the purest, least refined way to consume palm oil. In fact, if you couldn’t guess by its natural red color, it is loaded with vitamins and antioxidants. We’re talking anti-aging powerhouses like vitamin E, coQ10, and more beta-carotene than carrots. It contains 240 percent of your recommended allowance of vitamin A per tablespoon!
Red palm oil can help reduce cholesterol levels, improve skin and hair health, support brain health, slow heart disease progression, and promote anti-inflammatory action within the body. It’s pretty super, and a lot of its manufacturers are, too.
RED PALM OIL CAN BE SOURCED SUSTAINABLY.
Many companies producing red palm oil source from long-running organic farms that have to adhere to higher standards to protect the surrounding environment.
A big purveyor of sustainable red palm oil, Nutiva, also sources from farms in Ecuador, where palm-drived deforestation, orangutan-extinction, and human rights violations aren’t an issue. Another great company working to provide clean red palm oil is Laird Superfoods, who has partnered with Palm Done Right to ensure that their red palm oil supports the environment rather than depletes it.
Red palm has a lot to offer your diet, but it is paramount that you buy a product that is environmentally supportive.
As a general rule of thumb, when buying red palm oil, look for products that are RSPO-certified to ensure that they adhere to the highest sustainability standards. Be a conscious consumer and let your wallet do the talking.