Are Your Favourite Products Palm Oil Free?

I’m not sure what it’s like now but 2 years ago, palm oil in products was not something of concern in South Africa. The first time I ever flew into Kuala Lumpur, I looked down when we came into land and saw the hills covered in palms. I thought it looked so tropical and beautiful. That was April 2018, I had still never heard about palm oil. I couldn’t have been more wrong to think those plantations were beautiful. 

Having lived in Malaysia, the world’s 2nd largest producer of palm oil, for over a year now, the subject is top of mind. If we drive in any direction out of Kuala Lumpur we see rolling hill after rolling hill covered in Oil Palm trees (Elaeis guineensis). These hills should be filled with natural, ancient jungles home to orangutans, elephants and other species. After seeing orangutans in the wild on the Kinabatangan river during our Borneo trip last year, I feel so much closer to this cause. In places, their natural habitat has been reduced to 5m of forest flanking the river bank. If you look past the thin line of natural forest, the palm oil plantations begin and continue for miles and miles. It’s very sad, these majestic animals are confined to this tiny area and can’t roam much further than up and down the river. 

The destruction of natural forests not only leads to habitat destruction but the slash and burn method to clear the land causes major air pollution. Last year, Kuala Lumpur was covered in smoke for 2 weeks. Smoke, that had blown across the ocean, all the way from Borneo. According to National Geographic, “Nearly half of Indonesia’s greenhouse gas emissions come from cutting or burning forests, including those on carbon-rich peatlands.”

Oil Palm is not native to Indonesia and Malaysia, although the 2 nations account for around 85% of the world’s production of palm oil. The tree is actually native to West and Central Africa. Tropical regions in Africa are also at risk of deforestation as the demand for palm oil increases. 

The problem with palm oil is that the labelling of it is very ambiguous. Most environmentalists say that it’s not sustainable to completely boycott palm oil as alternative oil crops could be even worse for the environment as they need even more land and would, therefore, cause even more loss of natural forests. So what can we do? 

Eat a Whole Foods Diet

Whole foods are naturally palm oil-free. We should be eating a whole foods diet anyway as it’s good for our health. A whole foods diet consists of fresh produce in its most natural form, not to be confused with a raw diet. By natural form, I mean buying a potato, cooking it and mashing it rather than buying Smash. Essentially a whole foods diet avoids any processed foods that have added sugar and chemical preservatives. Crackers, cookies and cereals are not whole foods, nor are ready-made frozen meals and pretty much anything containing a chemical ingredient that is hard to pronounce.

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Read Labels & Reduce Consumption

Palm oil is labelled under a multitude of names. If you want to reduce your consumption of palm oil, start reading labels to avoid products that contain the ingredient. There is an extensive list of palm oil derivatives and legislation on the labelling is not well regulated. Check out this page for a full list of alternative palm oil names. These are some of the more common names:

  • Vegetable Oil

  • Vegetable Fat

  • Palm Kernel

  • Palm Kernel Oil

  • Palm Fruit Oil

  • Palmate

  • Palmitate

  • Palmolein

  • Fatty alcohol sulphates

  • Emulsifiers

  • Glyceryl

  • Glycerin

  • Isostearic acid

  • Stearate

  • Stearic Acid

  • Elaeis Guineensis

  • Palmitic Acid

  • Palm Stearine

  • Palmitoyl Oxostearamide

  • Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-3

  • Sodium Laureth Sulfate

  • Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

  • Sodium Kernelate

  • Sodium Palm Kernelate

  • Hyrated Palm Glycerides

  • Etyl Palmitate

  • Octyl Palmitate

  • Palmityl Alcohol

Don’t Be Fooled by BioFuel 

You’d be on the same page as me if you thought BioFuel was a renewable energy source. While researching this post, I learned that many forms of BioFuel are produced from palm oil. In 2019 the EU banned palm oil-based BioFuel from being eligible to count toward EU renewable transport targets for national governments due to the excessive deforestation that palm oil causes. BioFuel is not eco-friendly and not a sustainable energy source when produced from palm oil. 

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