Palm oil: demon lurking or natural component for our diet? Palm oil is a fat of vegetable origin comparable, due to its characteristics, to butter. Being an oil tasteless, odorless, difficult to rancidity, resistant to temperatures and very economical has found wide use in food supply chains, even in those for neonatal foods.
Being a product rich in saturated fats (45-50%), it is looked upon with suspicion. In reality it has less saturated fat than butter, margarine and lard. So we can say that there are better alternative products but also definitely more harmful, especially if consumed in excess.
The Higher Institute of Health suggests inserting a maximum of 10% of saturated fats into our diet, both in their animal and vegetable versions, by recommending extra virgin olive oil.
In many supply chains there are now baked products where palm oil is replaced with other vegetable fats: sunflower oil, peanut oil or extra virgin olive oil (hence free palm oil). This specific indication is found on the label, so these are products, for those who prefer to use them easily recognizable.
The massive use of palm oil food producers puts us at the potential risk of abusing the consumption of this product without realizing it. It is clear that saturated fats increase the risk of formation of arteriosclerotic plaques and excess cholesterol and therefore the risk of the onset of cardiovascular diseases as well as increase the risk of obesity and, not least, can alter the satiety mechanisms. Despite being of vegetable origin, palm oil contains fatty acids such as butter, thus replacing it in industrial products, which is impossible with other vegetable oils (olive, sunflower, etc.), which, when cooked, generate toxic peroxides. Compared to butter, lard and margarine, however, it has less saturated fat and less polyunsaturated fat than olive oil or sunflower oil, being more atherogenic. It hurts? It depends on how much we take it, the better it is to limit consumption. However, not all the items agree on these positions. Some studies document beneficial effects of palm oil on health related to the presence of tocotrienols, the antitumor function. Others come to the conclusion that palm oil protects against the formation of atherosclerotic plaques thanks to the antioxidant power of vitamin A and C contained in it.
There are three types of palm oil: red (virgin), yellow (refined) and palmisto (extracted from palm seeds), three products that are substantially very different from each other.
Red raw palm oil has many beneficial properties but is rarely used in confectionery production. For him, for economic and commercial reasons, it is unfortunately preferred the refined one or the palmisto, much richer (over 80%) of harmful saturated fats.
Fundamental to our health, nowadays, before buying food carefully read the instructions written on the label: if there are unknown substances, if there is excess of ingredients, if the origin and the processing site are not certificates … do not buy them. In our case, if you find the word “palm fat”, it is probably palm kernel. Better to put it on the shelf not so much for its inherent excess fat, as for the amount of fat that we would add to what we already assume. Also because palm oil is not only common in the food but also in the cosmetic (creams, detergents and soaps) that, spreading on us, we unknowingly assume. But health-related factors are not the only ones to put this ingredient in question. The cultivation of oil palm, more and more massively applied due to the greater demands of the industrial world, is opposed by environmental associations due to the serious damage caused to the ecosystem. The cultivation of palm trees is subtracting land from priceless forests, especially for the ecosystems of many plant and animal species and especially for those of indigenous peoples who live there and protect them.
Sustainable alternatives to palm oil are being developed in the laboratory that no longer endanger forests and their ecosystems. The prerogatives required to palm oil do not stop at its economic status, but above all at its being colorless, odorless, tasteless and stable over time, to the full advantage of the expiry dates on the packaging.
The new oil produced in the laboratory would start from a yeast (Metschnikowia pulcherrima) grown with the use of some agricultural by-products (wheat and canola pulp) to arrive at an alternative oil with the same interesting characteristics and the same density of the oil Palm tree.
It will no longer be necessary to break down and burn forests of old trees and the animals that live there will be saved.