The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) issued a statement, that palm oil generated more of a potentially carcinogenic contaminant (glycidyl fatty esters - GE) than other vegetable oils when refined at temperatures above 200 degrees Celsius.
Previous studies have shown that GE can cause tumors in rats and mice, leading EFSA to characterize it as a “potential health risk” for children and anyone who consumes it in high amounts.
It's important to know that the EFSA statement was based on the existence of contaminants in palm oil, not the properties of palm oil itself.
Ferrero, the maker of Nutella, is the only big European food company to mount such a public defense of the use of the ingredient in its products following the EFSA opinion, after its sales dipped.
Ferrero said that it refines its palm oil at just under 200 degrees Celsius, using a low-pressure process that minimizes GE levels. "The health and safety of consumers is an absolute and first priority for Ferrero and we confirm that Ferrero products are safe", the company said.
Ferrero is by no means the only big European food firm that uses palm oil in its products. The likes of Unilever and Nestle use it in their products too. And processed palm oil is found in chocolate bars, ice cream, snacks, sandwich spreads, infant formulas and thousands of other products manufactured worldwide.
So, is palm oil good or bad for you?
Palm oil consists of 50 percent saturated fats. Saturated fats have important metabolic functions, but are not required in the diet.
According to the American Heart Association, saturated fats increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. Saturated fat consumption should not exceed 10 to 12 percent of the overall daily energy intake.
The ranking of palm oils healthiest to least, goes like this:
- Palm oil: It can also be extracted gently by pressing the pulpy fruit and has high antioxidant activity from the content of natural vitamin E, and beta- and alpha-carotene.
- Palm kernel oil: It can’t be obtained organically. Instead, the oil must be extracted from the pit with a gasoline-like hydrocarbon solvent. In short, palm kernel oil is a cheap & unhealthy oil.
- Fractionated palm oil of either variety: Fractionation is a further phase of palm oil processing and has higher concentration of saturated fats. The oil is divided into liquid palm olein and solid palm stearin components. It is used for the convenience of manufacturers who like its stability and high melting characteristics. Since it’s more resistant to melting, fractionated palm oil coats many chocolate products and other food items to maintain consistency that could be compromised due to heat.
Note: Fractionated palm oil should not be confused with hydrogenated oils. The fractioning process only increases the percentage of saturated fat. In contrast, hydrogenation actually hardens the oil and soft fats, destroying healthy unsaturated fats and forming unhealthy trans fats.
The bottom line is that of all these oils, organic, minimally processed palm oil is the best, followed by conventionally processed palm oil. Palm kernel oil is less healthy still, and fractionated palm oil is the least desirable.