Authors Dr Guy-André Pelouze

My interview following Ségolène Royal’s comments

Following Ségolène Royal anti-palm oil statements, the newspaper Atlantico interviewed me about palm oil. Here are the main ideas that I have developed in this article titled “Nutella to the index: why this recurring resentment against palm oil? “.

The first question reflects the burden of the negative prejudice against palm oil “To what extent is it a bad oil in terms of health? ”

To lift all doubts, it was essential to remember what consumers ignore “red palm oil is a fat that comes from the press of the fruit of the oil palm. It was consumed for millennia. “Regarding the chemical composition of refined oil, I could also say that it is rich in palmitic acid (43.5%) and oleic acid (36.6%), making it a food among many other which provides calories in the form of fatty acids. Finally, something we haven’t dared say for years, “fat is necessary for our diet and it has been abundantly proved that eating light food products does not make you loose weight.” From this perspective, there is a fundamental teaching work to do in France. Indeed, it is often claimed that saturated fatty acids promote cardiovascular disease. But this is totally false. Cardiovascular disease is linked to many factors, and if one isolates the consumption of saturated fats in statistical correlation analyses, saturated fats appear neutral or favourable or unfavourable to cardiovascular risk. Palm oil has become a convenient scapegoat, in avoiding to talk about many other causes such as smoking, physical inactivity, overweight; obesity and type 2 diabetes are powerful risk factors for cardiovascular disease but palm oil is not.

Now with regard to the direct assertion of Royal Minister, “We must stop eating Nutella for instance, because it is palm oil. “Atlantico asked me about the possibility of replacing palm oil with another fat. After reminding that this substitution could not be explained by nutritional reasons, I explained that palm oil and its many properties has replaced trans fats, which are atherogenic and therefore dangerous to health. What about the substitution of other oils then?

If it is with vegetable oils rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids such as sunflower or corn, consumption of saturated fatty acids decreases but the omega 6 fatty acids increases, which in turn poses other problems and no evidence of a benefit. For oils rich in omega 3 such as rapeseed, substitution is favourable because our diet is generally unbalanced in favour of omega 6 but the characteristics of this oil are not suitable for cakes and it is too oxidized to frying. Overall the best alternative especially in pastry is butter. But the intake of saturated fatty acids is essentially the same. This is a matter of taste and cost but not health, because – and that’s OK to repeat it – saturated fatty acids are widely consumed in France and not associated with cardiovascular mortality.

Finally, I was able to return to the issue of trans fatty acids. Unlike the United States, Europe consumers are not informed of the presence of trans fatty acids in their diet. While many studies show that trans fats are dangerous for health, this is not the case for palm oil.

I am surprised “that some are picking on a fat which is neutral and that the same seem not to have a problem with the production, use and consumption of trans fats…

Why is palm oil, among associations and public authorities, still the object of a fantasy when that reality looks so different?”

Read full interview

By Dr Guy André Pelouze

Dr Guy-André Pelouze is a French cardio-thoracic surgeon, and a founder of the French think-tank and research group Institut de Recherche Clinique (Institute of Clinical Research). Dr Pelouze is a widely quoted writer and commentator on health and nutrition in France, and is the founder of the Food Facts Index, an independent website focusing on food-related issues in both French and English.