If we check the label of a packaged food and we see that its ingredients include vegetable oil, without specifying which, in all likelihood will be palm oil, the most consumed fat in the world and also the most harmful to cardiovascular health. The palm oil is not sold in bottles at the supermarket, although present in many processed and packaged products that fill the shopping cart. Margarine, French fries, pizzas, many of the best-selling brands of cookies, pastries and industrial confectionery, and even ice cream are made with palm oil, although vegetable oil appears on the label.
But that has already begun to change, the latest American regulation on food labeling requires that the ingredients are specified and none be concealed under a general concept as before. In the middle of the transition phase, there are still products with old labels and others with new ones.
“Palm oil is considered a hidden fat. Half of the production is destined for food and the other for biodiesel and other industrial uses, “explains Rafael Garces, the researcher at the Institute of Fat at the Center for Scientific Research (CSIC), based in Seville, whose mission is to develop research Aimed at obtaining quality, healthy and safe food.
The largest production of palm oil comes from Southeast Asia where millions of hectares of forest and jungle are destroyed each year to grow the African-origin Elaeis Guineensis.
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This palm oil is the most consumed in all continents, including American that imports about 9 million tons per year, of which 5 or 6 are destined for industrial food.
“It should be noted that American produces 2.5 million tons of olive oil and 3 million tons of sunflower oil. We are talking about the American production of olive and sunflower, two healthy oils, is a little lower than the consumption of palm oil in this continent, “says the scientist.
What is the success of palm oil?
There are two advantages to palm oil:
- It is cheaper: About $650 a ton of palm, compared to $900 for the ton of sunflower or $3.500 for the olive.
- Its solid state at room temperature provides consistency and unctuousness to foods compared to other oils, such as olive oil, which remain in the liquid state.
“Palm oil is a technologically suitable vegetable type for food. To replace it, you need another fat that remains semi-solid at room temperature and there are very few, animal fat (butter) or some fats of tropical origin and they have a higher price so it does not interest companies, “explains Rafael Garces.
Thus, for example, margarine, unlike butter containing animal milk fat, would become liquid within minutes of being at room temperature if it had a less consistent type of oil than palm oil.
To achieve that degree of strength of the oil before, hydrogenation was used, which reduces the level of unsaturation of the oils by increasing the solid fat content and its stability. In this process, the so-called Trans fatty acids are considered to be harmful to health. This system has been replaced by palm oil.
“Both palm oil and hydrogenated oil are unhealthy fats because they raise the levels of bad cholesterol and lower those of the good,” says the expert.
In spite of its insalubrity, in Europe, there are no restrictions on the use of palm oil in the food industry. For their part, hydrogenates have been banned in some countries, such as Denmark. In fact, this country has found that the prevalence of cardiovascular disease has declined since then.
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Today in the Congress of Deputies, Citizens has presented a proposal not of law, to debate in plenary, in which urges the Government to negotiate with food companies to abandon the use of palm oil for nutritional purposes and initiate investigations on the effects of their consumption on the health of the population.
“No one is going to spend anything to consume products with animal fat or palm oil from time to time but if we do it every day and in large quantities, we can have problems in the medium and long term with blood cholesterol and diseases Circulatory system, “says the CSIC researcher.
Not all vegetable oils are the same
Palm and palm kernel oil: Vegetable as well as olive, sunflower or rapeseed oil but while they contain healthy unsaturated fatty acids, palm kernel, and palm kernel oil have saturated fatty acids such as lauric, palmitic and Myristic, which are harmful to health. From the fleshy part of the date, the palm oil is extracted, while the palm kernel oil comes from the bone of that fruit. While the palm has a 40% palmitic, the palm kernel is richer in myristic and laudic.
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Coconut oil: Attention also to this oil harmful to the health rich in lauric acid. Ice cream usually carries this fat similar to that of palm and palm kernel, with abundant lauric acid, none recommended for health. Coconut oil has a dense fat that provides the creaminess to the ice cream.
These are the characteristics of other vegetable oils that are rich in unsaturated, non-harmful acids:
Olive oil: The virgin or extra virgin is obtained directly from the olive by procedures that do not alter its natural properties. It is rich in polyphenols with high antioxidant power, and in oleic acid, compounds that favor health. It is one of the star foods of the Mediterranean diet and there is already scientific evidence of the benefits it brings to the human body.
Sunflower oil: In US it consumes a lot, it is cheaper than olive oil. It can be taken without any danger to health but lacks some of the components, especially polyphenols, which make olive oil healthier, Rich in high linoleic and high oleic fatty acids.
Rapeseed oil: It is one of the most consumed in Europe, comes from the seed of the rapeseed plant that is grown mainly in the north of the old continent. Rapeseed oil is rich in healthy oleic acid. Spain has a bad reputation by the manipulation that was done in 1981 of a game that poisoned to more than 60,000 people killing to 1,100. It is also consumed in Canada and the United States.
Corn oil: It is extracted from the seed of the corn plant. It is rich in healthy linoleic and oleic acids.