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Authors Dr Guy-André Pelouze

The Anti-Palm Oil Campaign with No Basis in Science

In November 2012, palm oil definitively entered the French media landscape during parliamentary discussions on what was at the time christened as the so-called ‘Nutella Amendment’ or ‘Nutella Tax’. A prodigious number of articles were published at that time. And, stemming from its omnipresence in the media, palm oil then became a major topic of public debate.

What fertile ground for a smear campaign! Palm oil was accused of everything – and especially of being bad for health – and in the news media, this health issue became a national concern.

Yet, science does not provide any reason for these fears. For palm oil as for other subjects, the failure to promote the correct information meant that public opinion was mainly distinguished by its tendency to exaggerate. The advertising posters that we have seen recently in France about palm oil being linked to the Loch Ness monster or the Titanic are ultimately not very far from the truth of the scare campaign.

We have repeatedly tried to show that there was no real reason for such media activity: in November 2013 initially, and then in June 2014, we held two conferences in Paris and Brussels with renowned experts. Together, we clarified the state of the scientific evidence, and the many studies over the years have proved, unmistakably, that saturated fats in general and especially palm oil are undoubtedly not hazardous to health.

Today, just as it was possible to say in the past, palm oil is not a concern from a scientific point of view. It is clear that public opinion is on the wrong track.

However, we were not wrong. Eighteen months after the peak of interest, the debate is folding in on itself.

Since the first major wars over ideological health issues, people quickly realised that it didn’t have any basis in science. More serious topics such as the enduring use of trans fats or the worrying levels of sugar consumption could surface.

After only a few months the rationale of the anti-palm oil campaign fell apart. A lot of noise for nothing.

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Authors Dr Guy-André Pelouze

Misconceptions about Cholesterol and Palm Oil

A classic misconception found with patients with cardiovascular disease, is to eat little cholesterol and little fat. While it has been taboo for many years, this is increasingly discussed, even to the point of being questioned.

Until now, there has been enough interest in cholesterol foods to let the unverified hypothesis grow that “by eating less food with cholesterol, we will end up with less cholesterol in atheroma plaque.”

In fact, this simply isn’t true. We realize now that the cholesterol we eat has little impact. Our body is not a reservoir. It is a metabolic machine. When cholesterol plaques will form in the liver, they will be recombined.

Cholesterol intake and presence of cholesterol in the body are not necessarily related, it may well be produced by the liver. The best example being a vegetarian can have cholesterol in their blood but have not eaten foods actually that contain any.

For a long time it was considered that the body as a silo; if cholesterol we ingest goes in the liver, it makes a recombination of the lipid particles.

Among the primary risk factors, we find LDL particles. However, these may be present in the body, whether we ingested foods with cholesterol or not. However, they are more atherogenic when we eat sugars.

Therefore, it is inappropriate to be mostly concerned about the cholesterol content in foods, for two reasons:

  • We will deprive ourselves of natural foods (eg whole eggs contain cholesterol but do not bear a risk)
  • When trying to avoid it, we will systematically replace them with white bread, jam … in short, the risk is an increased consumption of foods containing sugars and thus the increased risk of CVD.

Patients spontaneously look for foods that will indicate the presence of a low cholesterol. In doing so, they will rush on “food with labels”, that are generally processed foods. But most of the time in these food products, carbohydrates replaced cholesterols.

Therefore it is essential to dispose of the idea that absolutely need to consume less than 300 grams of cholesterol per day. This “obsession” turns out, as we have shown, to be misleading. Further, it may induce inappropriate behaviours which consequences could be downright opposed to the expected positive effect.

Palm oil, which has a good balance between saturated and unsaturated fats, is also a victim of these prejudices. The misconception on cholesterol and saturated fatty acids could get manufacturers in that biased thinking we have just denounced: the eviction of foods containing cholesterol led to replace them. Yet, manufacturers have replaced fats with sugar, which has led to opposite consequences.

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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