Palm oil: myths, tales and fears

Palm oil is a never-ending controversy. As soon as we have ceased to be afraid that the “palm” gets stuck in the vessels and is not digested. Now a new scandal flares up: a dangerous substance was found in palm oil – glycidyl ethers! Are we still being bullied? I am Olga Kosnikova , food technologist, let’s deal with all this. 

Old stories about the main thing. About falsification.

Palm oil was disliked in our country. And this is understandable.

The fact is that palm oil is quite often substituted for milk fat in dairy products. And it’s one thing when a manufacturer honestly writes on the packaging “Product with milk fat substitute.” And it is completely different when unscrupulous manufacturers falsify the goods. And boldly put on the shelves “natural farm cottage cheese” with a price of 50 rubles per kilogram. (I would like to blame naive citizens who think that for 50 rubles you can buy a kilo of real cottage cheese. But today we are not talking about them).

Naturally, I am against falsification and deception. There is nothing even to discuss here. You can’t do that, and whoever does it on the quiet are evil gnomes themselves. And there is no Rospotreb on them.

What about fair substitution of vegetable fat for milk fat? The dairy industry in Russia is experiencing both a shortage of raw materials, personnel and equipment, and a shortage of public and private investments. And if the giants of the industry feel confident, there are, to put it mildly, difficulties with smaller domestic producers . Not to mention the state of farmers and private dairy farms.

We cannot discount our economic realities. You don’t have to go far for examples. Alas, from a third to a half of Russians save on food. [1] [2] Therefore, it is not entirely true to complain that “evil manufacturers” are making cheap products on a palm tree. The manufacturer always follows the buyer. As long as the buyer has a need for inexpensive dairy products, they will be produced and placed on shelves.

In the Technical Regulations of the Customs Union TR CU 024/2011 for fat and oil products, it is quite clearly stated what safety requirements exist for milk fat substitutes (abbreviated ZMZH). [3] And here we get to the fun part.

Milk fat substitutes are not what you think!

ZMZH is not always palm oil. But in the minds of many people, these are synonyms.

In fact, MMF can be made from any vegetable oil. Sunflower, rapeseed, coconut, and even olive! Indeed, for a couple of years on the market there was much more ZMZ on palm oil. But the popular outrage and the “timely” increase in the VAT rate on palm oil from 10% to 20% played a role.

It would seem what a good initiative! Less palm tree in food, class! But in fact, they began to make more ZZHM on liquid oils, which – like that bad luck – need to be hydrogenated – to make them solid. [5] And the by-product of this hydrogenation is trans fats, alas and ah.
Of course, their content is strictly controlled by the same TR CU 024/2011 (an interesting document, read at your leisure). This is no more than 2% of the total fat content. But what was then the point of trying to ban the palm tree and swear at it like that?

Now let’s remember the popular bikes of the 2000s. Even the former rector of MGUPP (my native food university) was not ashamed to carry them from the screen.

About carcinogenicity and vascular occlusion

“Palm oil is composed of trans fats. They clog blood vessels and are not digested in the stomach. It is also a strong carcinogen. Avoid palm oil! ”

Have you heard such warnings? And now I’ll tell you how it sounds for a chemist:

“In the Kulikovo battle, Chelubey attacked Russia. Vladimir Krasno Solnyshko chased him away. During the retreat, Chelubey fell through the ice. And Kutuzov gave the order to burn Moscow so that the French would not get it ”. It seems that all the facts are historical. But the result is rubbish.

Palm oil is a vegetable fat. Globally, nothing is better or worse than its counterparts – fashionable coconut, aristocratic olive and patriotic sunflower. Chemically, any fat is a mixture of triglycerides. That is, molecules that consist of ordinary glycerin and three fatty acids attached to it. [6] Oils differ in fatty acid content and ratio. We all remember saturated and unsaturated fats. An interesting nuance is associated with them, which we will talk about later.

Physiologically, our body calmly digests fats. It is one of the main nutrients for us along with proteins and carbohydrates. We cannot take and not digest fat. Here it asks for pictures with the meme “You can’t just take and …” It’s funny from the point of view of the body’s work. Whether you want it or not, the digestive system will digest the fat. It doesn’t matter if it’s derived from palm or avocado oil. It cost 80 rubles per liter or 500. In any case, the oil will not get stuck in a lump in the stomach or intestines. And it will not clog the arteries and blood vessels.

Also, no oil in itself is a carcinogen. This is a trite mixture of triglycerides, nothing new to our body. Various frying products can be carcinogenic and potentially dangerous for us . Because – whatever one may say – any frying in any oil (even in the “healing” ghee oil) will lead to the formation of a certain amount of carcinogens. For example, ida acrylics , which we hear. This is our reality, from which there is no escape. You can only blame the first person who decided to fry something at the stake. He didn’t think about descendants at all!

To minimize combustion by-products when frying and to make the food safe, we refine oils. Refining is just cleaning. We remove everything unnecessary (proteins, aromatic molecules, coloring pigments, impurities) so that only the fat itself remains. Each fat has its own smoke point. This is the temperature at which the oil starts to burn. We don’t need the oil itself to burn and release carcinogenic products. Therefore, the higher the smoke point of the oil, the better.

It’s funny that palm oil has a fairly high smoke point of ~ 230 ° C. This is above the temperature we would normally heat a pan to. Therefore, professionals love to fry in palm oil. No carcinogens, no bad smell.

About trans fats

Now to the hot topic – trans fats. In what follows, we will call them TZ for short.

We already know that one of the ways of ingestion of tAs into the body is hydrogenation. That is, a chemical reaction during which we make solid fat from liquid fat. In production it is more convenient to work with solid fats. This is how all sorts of margarines and spreads appeared, which now have a bad reputation. Unfortunately, we learned about the harm of TJ relatively recently, in the 80s. But no one specifically poisoned anyone with them.

The second common way for harmful TFAs to enter the body is corny animal fats. Opponents of palm oil regularly “forget” about this inconvenient fact. Unfortunately, cows do not really think about our health when they synthesize a certain amount of TFA in their rumen. Therefore, dairy and meat products from ruminants may contain some amount of tAs.

And if in vegetable oils, margarines and spreads we strictly control the rate (no more than 2%), then in butter from a good cow we do not track TZ. And there may be 5 or 8% of the total fat. A lot, right? Fearing in this situation puffs on margarine or chocolates with palm oil seems ridiculous.

It’s not about giving up animal products or banning cows. After all, trans fats are found in breast milk too. [8] We’re not going to ban breastfeeding or the babies themselves? There is a strong trend to REDUCE industrial trans fats in food. Thus, the World Health Organization expects that by 2023 we will completely eliminate tAs in food. [9] It is not yet clear whether all countries in the world will be able to do this by 2023. But in 2023, the average person will clearly consume less TAs with food than in 2003.

We figured out how we can inadvertently get a portion of TZ with food. Let’s return now to our palm oil. Good news! Palm oil has a naturally semi-solid consistency. And by nature it does not contain tAs, since it is not a product of animal origin. A palm tree, unlike a cow, does not give us a pig.

Palm oil can be separated into a solid stearic fraction (named after saturated stearic acid) and liquid oleic (this is unsaturated oleic acid). In industry, the solid fraction of palm oil is used much more often. Buns, pastries, chocolates, mousses and everything that we call so harmful. Hard palm oil does not need to be hydrogenated. That is, we even exclude the possibility of the appearance of tAs in the palm.

Liquid oleic fraction is sometimes hydrogenated, it is a fact. But this oil is often used in cosmetics and household purposes. Therefore, to say that there are only trans fats in a palm tree is fundamentally wrong and illiterate.

Why, then, do humans have a strong palm oil = trans fats link? I believe that due to lack of knowledge, because of the illiterate media, repeating one after another like monkeys. Due to the fact that deputies and all and sundry, but not chemists, doctors and professionals, broadcast about palm oil. If you look at it, from the point of view of technology, there are no trans fats in the palm tree. And you shouldn’t be afraid of her at all.

About omegas and non-omegas

Back to the saturated fat issue.

The current trend for healthy eating is this: we are asked to ensure that there are enough unsaturated fats in the diet (and in the right ratio: more omega-3, less omega-6). At the same time, it is wise to reduce the amount of saturated fat in the diet.

For example, the WHO recommends that you consume no more than 10% of your daily intake of saturated fat. [10] Note that I am a food chemist, not a nutritionist or physician. I do not give individual nutritional advice, this is not in my competence. Here I propose to rely on common sense and global recommendations.

So, it is clear to us that we need less one (saturated fat), and more (unsaturated fat). But then there is confusion in the heads. The opinion that all vegetable fats contain “good” unsaturated acids, and all animal fats are “bad” saturated, is wrong! There is no such law of nature. You need to look at each specific oil.

Our hero palm oil contains ~ 38-43% palmitic acid. [11] It is a saturated fatty acid. And also from 36 to 44% oleic acid. It is an unsaturated fatty acid. But it would seem that vegetable oil “should be” unsaturated. Nothing like this. Butter proudly puts on his hat and says that it owes nothing to anyone. The much touted coconut oil also contains a lot of saturated fatty acids. [11] So the origin of the oil (vegetable / animal) does not correlate in any way with the saturation or unsaturation of the fats in it.

To be honest, another indicator is much more important to us. The so-called degree of unsaturation. That is, the ratio of the mass of unsaturated fatty acids to saturated ones. This is a more objective indicator. Shock again! For palm oil, this ratio is equal to one. Which is not bad. But butter (and with it ghee, which is in fact ghee), this figure is 0.5.

That is, you get more saturated fat with butter. And it turns out that from the point of view of healthy adequate nutrition, “harmful chemical” palm oil is even healthier than “natural natural” butter. This is confirmed by doctors.

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