Why is palm oil harmful?
LLUÍS SERRA answers:
Palm oil is a plant oil consisting on saturated fats, which increase cholesterol and cardiovascular risks. But its nutritional composition is not the only problem with this oil, but also its process of extraction. In order to avoid the taste and reddish colour it has after being extracted from the palm fruit, it is refined at 200 ºC and filtered with sand. When it is heated, some esters are produced which can increase the risk of cancer in high doses. So the problem is both nutritional and toxicological.
The usual oil in the Mediterranean diet is olive oil, but ultraprocessed food – pastries, cookies, creams… – contains high doses of palm oil. The risk is high enough, so all the products that contain this oil have to indicate it. Since 2014, food laws make it necessary to specify the type of oil used, hidden for decades behind the name «vegetable oil», although some companies still do not do it.
The massive use of palm oil is also an environmental problem, because it leads to the destruction of large tropical forest areas in order to start palm monocultures. This affects the survival of some animal and plant species. Considering the health of the consumers and our planets, palm could could be perfectly substituted with rapeseed oil, which has low environmental impact.
Lluís Serra. PhD in Nutrition, specialising in preventive medicine and public health.