ASK THE EXPERT
QI keep hearing bad things about palm oil, and have noticed it as an ingredient in many foods. Is it something I need to worry about? Julie S, via email
You’re right, it’s estimated that half the packaged items in supermarkets contain palm oil, which includes treats like chocolate, biscuits, ice cream and bakery items, as well as cleaning and beauty products.
Palm oil is a vegetable fat produced from the African oil palm tree’s fruit. It’s very high in saturated fat, the type which can raise your ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol and worsen insulin resistance, a precursor to type 2 diabetes. This explains in part why the current dietary guidelines recommend you limit your intake of treat foods.
While paying attention to the nutrition information panel can help you identify foods high in saturated fat, it’s not always obvious when products contain palm oil: many manufacturers often list it simply as ‘vegetable oil’ or ‘vegetable fat’. So you don’t get palmed off, other names to look for are: palm kern oil, ‘palmate’, ‘palmitate’, and emulsifiers 422, 430–436, 465–467, 470–478, 481–83, 493–495 and 570. Driven by the growing health and environmental concerns around Australia about unclear labelling, it’s about to become easier to spot palm oil-free products in this country. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has approved the Palm Oil Free Certification Trademark, as part of the International Palm Oil Free Certification Accreditation Programme — so expect to see the new logo popping up soon.