What Is Palm Oil & Why Should We Avoid It

Did you know that you’re consuming palm oil and not even know it?  You’ll find palm oil in products like cereal, ice cream, cheese and chocolate, to soap, shampoo and lipstick.  Palm oil is cheap to produce making it the most widely consumed vegetable oil in the world.   

Why is palm oil considered bad?

Approximately 85% of the world’s palm oil is produced in Indonesia and Malaysia on a few islands which contain some of the greatest biodiversity on Earth.  Vast areas of lush rainforest have been cleared to meet the worldwide demand for palm oil.  Unfortunately, the clearing of these rainforests has destroyed the homes of indigenous peoples as well as elephants, orangutans, rhinos and tigers.  It is believed that palm oil plantations are the most rapidly expanding agricultural commodity.  Asia, Africa and Latin America are all clearing native lands to make way for palm oil plantations. 

The increase in worldwide production of palm oil is also contributing to climate change via air, soil and water pollution and soil erosion.  This is due to excessive use of pesticides and fertilisers; effluent from palm oil mills polluting freshwater sources; and smoke affecting air quality from the burning forest fires to clear land for palm oil plantation.

Beware! The other names of palm oil

As always, manufacturers are sneaky with their labeling!  Palm oil isn’t always listed as palm oil.  Look out for these ingredients listed below which are palm oil derived.  A good rule of thumb is if a name ends with ‘palmitate’, the ingredient is usually derived from palm oil.  Unfortunately palm oil can also be called vegetable oil on labels so if you truly want to ensure you are purchasing palm oil free products, head to the brands website and ask for more information.

  • PKO – Palm Kernel Oil
  • PKO fractionations: Palm Kernel Stearin (PKs); Palm Kernel Olein (PKOo)
  • PHPKO – Partially hydrogenated Palm Oil
  • FP(K)O – Fractionated Palm Oil
  • OPKO – Organic Palm Kernel Oil
  • Palmitate
  • Palmate
  • Sodium dodecyl Sulphate (SDS or NaDS)
  • Elaeis Guineensis
  • Glyceryl Stearate
  • Stearic Acid
  • Chemicals which contain palm oil
  • Steareth -2
  • Steareth -20
  • Sodium lauryl sulfoacetate (coconut and/or palm)
  • Hydrated palm glycerides
  • Sodium isostearoyl lactylaye (derived from vegetable stearic acid)
  • Cetyl palmitate and octyl palmitate

What’s the difference between sustainable and unsustainable palm oil?

And here in lies the big question!  CAN palm oil production be truly sustainable?  In 2004 the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) created the RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) as a voluntary association to promote the use of sustainable palm oil.  The membership is made up of manufacturers, retailers, banks, investors and palm oil producers.  However, according to a Greenpeace report, RSPO current standards are still destroying forests and contributing to climate change under the banner of ‘sustainability’.  Whilst RPSO studies have shown that the organisation has helped to reduce forest loss by 33% and fire pollution by 75% between 2001 and 2015 in certified plantations , research by the University of Queensland published in 2018 stated that there appeared to be no significant evidence to suggest RSPO palm oil plantations were better than non-certified plantations.  Sadly, they also found that there was no halt in the decline of orangutan populations.

How to shop ethically with palm oil

Always read the ingredients lists and choose products without palm oil or that contain sustainable sources of palm oil with certification of this on the label.

Adopt an orangutan whose habitat has been lost due to palm oil production. Studies have shown that approximately 100, 000 orangutans died in Borneo between 1999 and 2015 due to hunting and habitat clearing for palm oil production.   (https://donate.wwf.org.au/adopt/orangutan#gs.sdrgvp)

Support companies and brands that make a strong commitment towards no palm oil or sustainable palm oil production. (Check out our ‘Palm Oil Free’ tags on our products instore and online at Mojo’s Health & Wholefoods).

Boycott big named brands and companies such as Colgate-Palmolive, Pepsi Co, Johnson & Johnson, Heinz-Kraft and Proctor & Gamble who are some of the biggest users of palm oil until they confirm their products contain certified sustainable palm oil.


Words by: Sonya Todd-Jones, Dip Health Sciences (Pathology), Dip Practice Management, Dip RM, Owner & Manager, Mojo’s Health & Wholefoods

Photo credit: Earth Network.news