Unearthing The Truth About Palm Oil (Part I)

‘Unhealthy’, and ‘Inedible’ is how palm oil has been described in mainstream media for years. This may not be said or written in literal terms but pieces of evidence and articles all depict this. The idea that palm oil is unhealthy is misinformation shared for a very long time which is deeply rooted in white supremacy, colonialism, and slavery.

The heinous publicized narrative about the red palm oil from West Africa didn’t start today nor did it start yesterday. It remains disingenuous to hear or read. Palm oil is used by many people in West Africa many grew up eating and using it in preparing indigenous rich meals and soups. Unrefined palm oil is used in the production of many other household items which will be elaborated on later in the article.

The main source of palm oil is the Elaeis guineensis tree, which is native to West and Southwest Africa. Its use in this region dates back more than 5,000 years. A similar oil palm known as Elaeis oleifera is found in South America, but it’s rarely grown commercially. However, a hybrid of the two plants is sometimes used in palm oil production.

The analogy of it being unhealthy and inedible is one that leaves you dumbfounded and shocked. Especially when this isn’t backed by any fact or extensive research. What you may not know is that the conversation or debate has transcended many generations before ours. Many renowned food bloggers and enthusiasts have debunked reports about this in times past either through videos or articles calling out this white supremacist notion highly rooted in ethnocentrism.

In this two parted article, In part I, I will shed more light on the sentiments, politics, power play and everything in between that makes some see palm oil as unhealthy and inedible. In part II, I will be bringing to your knowledge an investigation carried out in 2018. The research has to do with Okitipupa Oil Palm Company (OOPC) a moribund palm oil factory located in Okitipupa, Ondo State.

Are there plans to revive it? How has the government been able to revive this factory? Was it even revived at all? How plausible is the revival of this palm oil company? All these and more you’ll be finding out in part II of the article.

The degrading of palm oil by mainstream media has been done in so many ways in an article by Easy Food titled “Should I cook with palm oil?” what Easy Food successfully did with this article or let’s put it differently the aim was to highlight reasons why you shouldn’t eat or cook with palm oil or anything that contains palm oil.

Easy Food states,
“Aside from the environmental impact, palm oil is extremely high in saturated fat — over 1.5 times the content of butter — and may increase cholesterol.”

They went further to say “While it does appear to have a few health benefits, you can reap similar advantages from other foods.”

Easy Food not only ridiculed palm oil but also wrote saying it had “few health benefits”. When it has been scientifically proven to be of great benefits. One other ridiculous thing about those who authored this article is that they used what we will call groundnut/peanut oil with a wrapper with the inscription “palm oil” as the featured photograph.

Should we say it’s as well giving another narrative? A narrative that the palm oil that is being talked about isn’t worthy of being portrayed? Not even as a featured photo for the public to see? It is important that we tell stories objectively and understand the constituents of palm oil.

Most journals and articles lay emphasis on issues surrounding its extraction process, and the cholesterol level. What is the cholesterol level of palm oil? why is the extraction process seen as an issue we have to contend with?

Issues on Cholesterol & Saturated fat

Usually when a conversation about palm oil being unhealthy arises the concern is about the calorie and saturated fat content. As WebMD opined, “Regularly eating meals containing palm oil can increase levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol. This might be a problem for people who already have high cholesterol.”

WHAT IS THE NUTRITIONAL VALUE OR COMPOSITION OF PALM OIL?

Nutritionally, one tablespoon (15 grams) of palm oil contains:

Calories: 120
Fat: 14 grams
Saturated fat: 7 grams
Monounsaturated fat: 5 grams
Polyunsaturated fat: 1.5 grams
Vitamin E: 11% of the RDI

If the calorie content of palm oil is compared to olive oil considered often times to be “hygienic or healthy” is this so? No, it is not. As research shows that 1 tablespoon of palm oil contains 120 calories and 14g of fat which is similar to Olive oil (and many other cooking oils) the two entities contain the same calorie content and fat.

According to Health Line, Palm oil is 100% fat, half of which is saturated. It also contains vitamin E and red palm oil contains antioxidants called carotenoids, which the body can convert into vitamin A.

Health line claims “half of” palm oil “is saturated” which has over time considered to be the cause of heart-related diseases which is highly debatable as this has such debates have continued for years. As studies have also shown that other forms of oils contain 100% fat and can equally result in all palm oil has been accused of. Some other studies have shown that palm oil isn’t responsible for cardiovascular disease. According to another study, “Palm oil does not have incremental risk for cardiovascular disease.”

Issues with its extraction process

Issues of climate change in relation to sustainable cooking and the idea to protect the climate have been on the rise in recent times the refining process of palm oil has been questioned. Even with all this evidence, Health Line made it known that

“palm oil has been reported to be beneficial to human health and also detrimental to both human health and the environment”

If the issue is the extracting process how differently are other plant sources of oil cultivated and extracted? what makes red palm oil different? and what makes it a topic of discussion whenever issues on climate change and global warming arise. As Nigerians will say the math is really not matching.

Another article titled, THE REASONS WHY PALM OIL IS SO CONTROVERSIAL published in the Independent poses a question in the latter part of the article, “Is there a way to avoid using harmful palm oil?”

this question is hazardous because I don’t think something that studies show to be beneficial can be harmful in the way the author puts it.

The author further answered the question by saying,

“Unfortunately, it can be difficult to avoid using products with palm oil as its use is now so common across the world.
To lessen the impact, looking for products that only contain sustainable palm oil is a good start.
If you aren’t sure whether a company uses palm oil as an ingredient, the WWF has a rating tool for brands that shows if they are using sustainable palm oil.”

Honestly, speaking the fight for sustainability of our planet is a joint course but this shouldn’t be used to bring down beneficial plant produce like palm oil. How can one identify a sustainable palm oil product? How will you use the word ‘harmful’ in this context?
Lastly, palm oil is not “controversial” there is nothing controversial about it you are just not acquainted with its use.

Away from the negatives, the significance and importance of palm oil are quite enormous and unquantifiable. Yemisi Aribisala in her cookbook (Longthroat Memoirs: Soups, Sex, and the Nigerian Taste Buds) states,

that palm oil “is regarded as ‘ero’ – a red elixir and powerful remedy for poisoning, and even more significantly as a remedy for malevolence.”

Similarly, American Author and Food Historian, Jessica B. Harris gave illustrations in her cookbook (High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America ) of how palm oil was used by the slaves. She noted,

“Once in port, rations improved, and the enslaved were given food to bulk them up and give them an appearance of health. They were bathed, shaved, and covered with palm oil to disguise any skin ailments.”

The cosmetic or skincare industry thrives on the use of palm oil extract in producing cosmetic products. It is used because it contains vitamin E and because of its moisturizing and texturizing properties. This revelation shows that the knowledge and idea of the use and importance of palm oil didn’t start today. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Nigeria is the fifth-largest palm oil-producing country, with 1.5% or 1.03 million metric tonnes of the world’s total output.

On a lighter note, songwriter and singer, Veno Marioghae in her song “Nigeria Go Survive” a song released in 1984 highlights the situation of the country as at then the song lyrics gave a beacon of light and hope to those who chose to remain in the country when people saw the need to seek greener pastures elsewhere. Even though, that still is the reality for many Nigerians in this present day and age.
In the lyrics, the second verse to be precise Veno highlighted the cash crops various regions in the country produce:

“Cocoa dey for West Ooo, rubber boku for Bendel Ooo
Nigeria Go Survive
Palm Oily dey for East Ooo, timber they for Sepele oooo
Nigeria Go Survive”

Even with the negativity and lousy PR palm oil has gotten over time the importance of palm oil can’t be overlooked and every basis of argument shouldn’t be placed solely on the negative. I mean the negative that are debatable and have been propagated over time without facts and evidence. You might be curious about why much emphasis is being placed on these negatives. It’s simple, for the white supremacists and the agenda against anything non-white to not gain the recognition it truly deserves.

The unearthing can’t be done solely in a blog article it requires individual and collective effort that we as people unashamedly put the goodness embedded in palm oil on the world map. It requires a sheer amount of understanding and knowledge into educating the world on what palm oil is and what it is used for and what it truly means and represents to those who appreciate and value it continues to buy and use the great unrefined, and unadulterated palm oil.

It is important that the positives of palm oil are continued to be expressed through various mediums on blogs, in our engagement on social media, and through other channels of communication.
It usually would feature in cookbooks and recipes, but for a reference to be made in song lyrics as earlier established tell how important it is to human sustenance.

One thing about unearthing the truth about palm oil is that it has been brought to light that critics like Easy Foods, failed to realize that palm oil is rich in vitamins and minerals, they also failed to realize that palm oil is used in cosmetics and skincare products. They failed to realize that palm oil is the pride of many places across the world beneficial for its use in cooking rich soups and sauces and also provides job opportunities and a means to generate revenue.
They failed to realize that palm oil is and will continue to be like a relic that continues to shine and speak the language food lovers across the continent understand.

Published by Temitopedancer

My name is ÌyanuOlúwa Fágbiyè Tèmítọ́pẹ́ (Pen name: temitopedancer) I am the founder and team lead at My Cookery Zone. I'm an Anthropologist, multimedia Journalist / broadcaster, food blo gger, and food writer.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: