Palm oil is amongst the healthier oils to cook with. Red palm oil in particular has been touted as a health food and even a valuable medicinal food. Prized by ancient Pharaohs, it was often tucked away in their tombs with them so they would have access to it in the afterlife. So, what’s the problem?
Things have changed, and now palm oil is one of the least sustainable foods on the planet. Good news? You can still use this incredible product if you know how to use it. First, let’s talk about why you might want to dish out a little extra dough for the good stuff.
Red palm oil benefits
Packed with plant power. Red palm oil is amongst the most nutrient-dense plant-based oils, containing substantial amounts of vitamin E and vitamin A.
Its red colour indicates carotenes. Like other red and orange fruits and veggies, this oil is packed with beta-carotene amongst others including lycopene (what you find in tomatoes). Carotenes are powerful antioxidants, and your body can even convert them into vitamin A. It actually has 15x the amount of provitamin A carotenes (easily converted by the body) than carrots. Pretty sweet, huh?
Can remove plaque buildup in the arteries. Although this oil is high in saturated fat, it’s actually protective against heart disease. In multiple studies, it has been proven efficient in removing buildup in the arteries, reversing the process of atherosclerosis. It can also improve cholesterol levels and maintain a healthy blood pressure making red palm oil a true superfood for the heart.
Antioxidant power. Antioxidants simply allow the body to detox naturally, and red palm oil is a fantastic addition to any healthy diet for this reason. It can help turn around the negative impact of oxidative stress causing neurological degeneration in addition to improving circulation which can be a factor of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease.
Just to name a few more selling points:
- Highly digestible
- It may help protect against cancer
- May offer immune boosting effects
- Packed with phytonutrients
Palm oil uses
- Cooking oil. Palm oil is closer to coconut oil and avocado oil in terms of smoke point which make it great for roasting at high temps and frying foods on high heat. Its high smoke point means that its nutrient profile won’t be compromised by cooking.
- Supplemental medicine. Like the ancient Pharaohs of Egypt who were known to drink an entire cup of the stuff to ward of illness, you can supplement (with a lesser amount, of course) like you would with coconut oil – it will provide a nice boost of healthy fats, vitamins, and antioxidants.
- Skin moisturiser. Like coconut oil, red palm oil can be used as a topical treatment for dry skin. Just mix some up with some shea butter and essential oils or use on its own.
- Sunscreen. Due to its carotene content, red palm oil provides approximately as much protection as sunblock with SPF15. Take the natural route!
The issue with palm oil
While palm oil is clearly superior to many refined oils and seed oils, sourcing sustainable palm oil can get a bit tricky.
If you look closely at many food labels, you’ll likely find palm oil and palm kernel oil (not the same!) in a lot of processed foods. That’s because the stuff is cheap and easy to inject into just about anything. Unfortunately, the widespread use of palm oil is doing a lot more damage than it is good. Deforestation is a huge issue impacted by harvesting palm oil which contributes to climate change due to carbon emissions and endangerment of animals, namely orangutans.
To make the issue worse, much of the palm oil we harvest is limited to tropical climates, so the food industry is affecting large areas of land at once. This impacts the environment big time and not just the animals. People in these areas are often subject to child labour while adults are often forced into plantation work under very poor conditions.
How to source sustainable palm oil
People are hard at work ensuring that we have access to sustainable palm oil, and there are now guidelines to follow that certify whether or not it meets the criteria. You can read more on the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil’s website about the steps manufacturers are taking to ensure that we have access to sustainable palm oil, and the criteria that reputable brands’ products meet. Assuming you’re not harvesting the stuff, here are some things you can look for whilst purchasing in the grocery store:
- Always look for red palm oil which is NOT the same as palm oil – oftentimes palm kernel oil. This stuff is akin to vegetable oil, and it doesn’t have the same nutrient profile by any means.
- Look for RSPO certified on the label if possible.
- Always opt for an organic product over a non-organic product.
- Brands like Alpha Health Products, Nutiva, and Okonatur are selling quality products if you’re looking to get your hands on some palm oil without all the guesswork.
Do you use red palm oil? Share your favorite brands or recipes with us below!
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