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How to Avoid Palm Oil (and should you?)

My kids have been learning at school about the deforestation in Indonesia (you can watch a lovely kid-friendly animated film about it here) which is threatening the already endangered Orangutan.

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Forests are slashed and burned, at a rate of an area the size of 300 football fields an hour, to make way for palm oil plantations and this is causing habitat loss for numerous species.

The kids were all deeply affected by this and asked me to try and reduce palm oil use in our house so I decided to do some research and create a guide on:

Practical ways to use Less Palm Oil

First of all I needed to find out…

what is palm oil and why do we use it?

Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil that comes from the African oil palm tree.

This oil is cheap to produce and so is used instead of animal fats in numerous products from toothpaste to biscuits.

Currently about 80 per cent of palm oil is grown in Indonesia and Malaysia where the deforestation is not controlled.

This means that an abundance of virgin rain forest has been cut down to make way for palm oil trees, ruining the habitat of numerous birds, insects and mammals and threatening the biodiversity of the region.

Palm oil is not only bad for the environment it is also very high in saturated fat making it super unhealthy too.

But palm oil has a very long shelf life and a low melting point making it very cheap and easy for companies to use.

This means palm oil is found in thousands of products and because labelling is not always consistent and easy to read it can be really difficult to spot it and banish it from your shopping basket.

Orangutan in forest

How to Avoid Palm Oil

Chose sustainability

Palm oil is in so many products it can seem almost impossible to avoid it completely.

One way to lessen the damage is to look out for companies who have tightened up their policies in regards to palm oil and now use sustainable suppliers (which means palm oil from sources that are farmed in areas that do not slash and burn forest, endangering animals).

Companies with good sustainable policies include:

  • Nestlé
  • Unilever
  • Ferrero
  • Marks and Spencer
  • Waitrose
  • Boots

Also look out for logos such as RSPO (showing the palm oil is from a sustainable source) or the Green Palm logo (which shows the growers are supportive of certified palm oil — meaning they can prove the palm oil they do use comes from sustainable sources).

Know the lingo

Manufacturers use over 170 terms to describe palm oil so it can be fiendishly difficult to detect on labels.

Some commonly-used names for palm oil include:

  • Etyl palmitate
  • Hydrated Palm Glycerides
  • PKO (palm kernel oil)
  • PHPKO (partially hydrogenated Palm Oil)
  • Palmitate

There is a handy list of many of the terms used here.

Which type of products use palm oil?

With all those caveats in place about the names used — here are some of the products which, typically, contain palm oil.

When you’re shopping for these items, and you’re keen to reduce the amount of palm oil you use, do double-check the ingredients:

Foods that use palm oil

  • margarines
  • ice cream
  • bread
  • instant noodles
  • some chocolate bars
  • pizza
  • biscuits.

Toiletries

  • shampoo
  • lipstick
  • body cream
  • soap.

Rows and rows of food in a supermarket

What can I do?

It might be impossible to completely avoid palm oil as it is so ubiquitous but it is possible to make sure you only buy goods that use palm oil from 100% sustainable sources.

The following brands use palm oil from 100% sustainable sources

(This list comes via Act For Wildlife, download the full list of foods made from sustainable palm oil)

Biscuits: Fox’s, Jammie Dodgers, Lotus, Maryland Cookies, Lyons, Wagon Wheels.

Bread: Hovis, Warburton’s.

Cakes and treats: Mr Kipling, Bird’s Custard, Krispy Kreme, Soreen, Haribo, Mars, Skittles, Bear Yo-Yos, Malteasers.

The following brands contain no palm oil

(This list comes from The Ethical Consumer check out their full list of palm oil free foods).

Biscuits: All Walker’s shortbread, Traidcraft Shortbread Rounds, Choco Leibniz Milk, Waitrose Belgian Double Chocolate Cookies (Waitrose rates as one of the best supermarkets for stocking products with no palm oil or that use sustainable palm oil), M & S White Chocolate & Sicilian Lemon Cookies.

Bread: Warburton’s Danish White, all Weight Watchers bread, Waitrose Essential Wholemeal medium sliced.

Chocolate: Divine – all chocolate, Moo-free – all chocolate, Montezuma – all gift chocolate

Butter and spreads: Yeo Valley.

The Orangutan Land Trust also pointed us towards these terrific palm oil info resources compiled by the team at Chester Zoo, including a downloadable ‘shopping list’.

They also told us about the brilliant GikiBadges app – which is free to download – and can help you shop for more sustainable products. You can scan the barcodes whilst your shop to get more info about that product’s additives, organic credentials, animal welfare and – notably – if it uses sustainable palm oil.

We love this idea, so a big thanks to the Orangutan Land Trust for sharing these gems!

Conclusion

It is fiendishly difficult to avoid all palm oil so where it is not possible to completely cut it out, look out for certified products that only use palm oil from sustainable sources.

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