Almost every packaged food you buy has oil in it. And if you look at the list of ingredients, you’ll find one common oil in most of them – palm oil. This edible oil, derived from fruits and seeds of palm trees, is used in medicines, retail foods, and even cosmetics. But is palm oil gluten free and safe for such widespread usage?
Palm oil is an inherently gluten free edible oil. It comes from a non-gluten plant. So it is safe for people with gluten intolerance and celiac disease. But palm oil comes in modified forms that may have gluten. Plus, there is a chance of cross-contamination.
Gluten may not be a reason for concern for palm oil, but there are other health concerns. Plus, this oil is always under the scanner for its effects on the environment. So let’s take a look!
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Is Palm Oil Gluten Free?
If you have gluten intolerance or celiac disease, you may have asked yourself, “Is palm oil gluten free?” It’s often quite painful to stay away from all foods with possible gluten content in them. Surely, it becomes more challenging when the cooking oil also needs to be checked.
Palm oil, being a commonly used oil, also needs scrutiny. Since palm trees are not related to gluten grains like wheat, barley, and rye, no part of the tree contains gluten. Hence, oil derived from both its fruits and seeds are inherently gluten free.
However, the same cannot be said about modified or fractionated palm oil. It is not always naturally gluten free. Modified palm is only safe for you if it is explicitly mentioned to be gluten free. Cross-contamination may be an issue in palm oil, just like in any other product, though it is rare.
While shopping for palm oil for your kitchen, check the label carefully to see if the brand mentions anything about the possibility of cross-contamination or if it is a modified oil variant. It might be a challenge to find certified palm oil, and your only source of information is the ingredients list.
Palm oil is predominantly present in medicines, fried snacks, packaged food, etc. Whether it is gluten free or not can be understood from the statement made by the organization or the restaurant. Steer clear of modified palm oil – and you should be safe that way.
You can, however, take an extra step towards safety by consuming any food, drink, or medicine with any form of palm oil in it in extremely small amounts. You can monitor how your body reacts to it and accordingly decide whether you wish to continue having it in the future. This method is obviously not recommended if you’re severely allergic.
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What Exactly is Palm Oil?
Palm oil is a widely used edible fat. It is used in restaurants, by packaged food companies, and even individuals. Currently, the majority of palm oil comes from Malaysia, Kenya, Ghana, Columbia, and Benin. One of the reasons behind its popularity is its widespread production and unique taste profile.
It is used as cooking oil for frying and salad dressing base. It is also a common ingredient in sauces, margarine, spreads, desserts, etc. Sometimes, it is also used in medicines and other ingredients, but we don’t need to worry about them as they are hardly edible – except for small amounts of lip balms and lipsticks that may end up going into the mouth.
While palm oil has many great health benefits and quick availability, it has earned itself a bad reputation. That’s because of some of the negative impacts of this fat on our health – as well as the environment. Many steps are being taken to solve these problems.
Types of Gluten Free Palm Oil
There are two varieties of palm oil. The regular palm oil we use comes from the palm fruit’s flesh. The other variety is derived from the kernels inside the sides. Both can be used as edible oil, but palm fruit has less trans fat content than palm kernel oil.
Plus, it is naturally free from trans fat. So palm fruit oil is healthier. Besides, it remains in a semi-solid state due to lower saturated fat content. You’ll find it easy to cook with – and because it doesn’t oxidize, it has a long shelf life.
Plus, because of the higher saturated fat content in palm kernel oil, palm kernel oil is more solid at room temperature. Thus, it is harder to cook with. On the other hand, it is more useful in cosmetics and other personal care products. The oil acts as a moisturizing and texturizing agent in them.
It is free from allergens, including gluten. Plus, its semi-solid texture at room temperature makes it ideal for use as a cooking fat. Its flavor and texture make it perfect for exposure to heat, as well as other food items like candy bars, salad dressings, creamers, etc.
Palm Oil Health Benefits and Risks
Palm oil is loaded with many vitamins, minerals, carotenes, and other nutrients. It also contains healthy unsaturated fatty acids. These components are considered helpful for health, especially the heart, along with a number of other benefits.
It is a good addition to the diets of children and pregnant women who often suffer from the deficiency of this nutrient. Proponents suggest that because of the components present in it, this oil is effective in malaria, cyanide poisoning, and other conditions.
But, due to the lack of scientific proof to back such claims, it is not a good idea to follow these claims blindly. Otherwise, you may end up having other health complications. That’s because it has some negative impacts, as well.
That is why it has earned a bad reputation recently. The saturated fat content in it can counter its beneficial effect and cause heart issues. It can also lead to cholesterol, insulin resistance, inflammation, obesity, etc.
Studies show that palm oil can increase dense LDL, a type of cholesterol, particularly in women. It also raises triglyceride levels in the heart. It is also unhealthy to consume reheated palm oil multiple times. Doing so can lead to plaque deposits in the arteries.
Palm oil may also lead to blood clotting. So, if you are already taking medicines that slow down blood clotting, consuming palm oil, especially as a medicine, can decrease the effectiveness of such a medication. Aspirin, ibuprofen, heparin, etc., are some of the most common medicines of this kind.
Usage of Gluten Free Palm Oil
You may have understood that palm oil, in its gluten free state, has a wide range of usage in various industries. It is used as an edible fat in ready-to-eat food items. The WWF says that around 50% of packaged foods contain this oil.
From pizza dough to doughnuts, from chocolates to energy bars – everything has this oil. Interestingly, it is also present in many other edible fats like nut butter or margarine. It is considered an excellent stabilizer that prevents fats from separating.
It is present in all segments of the food industry – bakery, confectionery, chocolate, beverage, breakfast cereals, health supplements, etc. It is also used as the staple cooking oil in homes in many regions of the world. It’s particularly appropriate for spicy foods.
Palm oil has a high smoke point – which is why it remains stable when exposed to high temperatures. That is why it is a popular choice for frying and sauteing. It’s an excellent cooking oil when you want to achieve a crunchy or crispy texture.
The version used in such food items comes from the fruit flesh. On the other hand, palm oil that comes from the seeds is also a part of non-food items, such as cosmetics, toothpaste, soaps, body lotions, etc. Many places around the world use this oil as biofuel.
Impact on the Environment – and Current Changes
Palm oil has landed in the middle of several controversies – not only because of the health problems it likely creates but also because of the environmental issues. Its massive production to cater to substantial global demands has affected the forests and wildlife in Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia.
Peatlands and tropical forests have been replaced with plantations to produce palm trees. According to reports, nearly half of the land holding palm plantations used to be occupied by forests before the 90s in Southeast Asia. This deforestation has majorly affected Indonesia and Malaysia.
It can cause global warming, greenhouse gas reduction, carbon dioxide absorption, and other devastating impacts on the environment. It destroys native landscapes, jeopardizes the ecosystem, and threatens natural wildlife.
One of the creatures prominently facing such threats due to palm trees is the Bornean orangutan. It is an endangered species that is already on the verge of extinction – and is now losing its natural home.
Further, several human rights violations in the hands of palm oil corporations have been reported. Allegedly, they acquire farmers’ land without permission and offer below-par wages and dangerous working conditions. All these contribute to the workers’ poor quality of life.
However, sustainable and ethical farming methods are being adopted nowadays. One of the significant ways to reduce deforestation is by expanding plantations only in non-forested lands. Doing so not only protects existing forests but also provides more greenery.
These plants can reduce the emission of greenhouse gasses. Currently, the leading organization that ensures eco-friendly and sustainable palm oil production is the RSPO. It sets standards for corporations to follow.
These standards take care of the needs of people working on the farms or belonging to the communities around these farmlands. Organic farming, implementation of labor rights, animal care and protection, etc., are enhanced by these standards in Asian countries, as well as in Africa and Brazil.
Companies around the world, too, have dedicated themselves to the cause and want to use only mindfully sourced palm oil. So, while purchasing products with palm oil, you should look for the RSPO certification along with the gluten free label.
Gluten Free Palm Oil Alternatives
Healthy and eco-friendly palm oil has become more accessible now. That’s because it’s not always possible to avoid this oil. You can choose a gluten free palm oil brand like Spectrum Naturals‘ shortenings. It is naturally gluten free and also comes with an RSPO certification logo.
But if you want to minimize the usage of this oil, you can shift to common alternatives for everyday cooking while keeping aside palm oil for deep frying. Some of the popular alternatives to palm oil are –
- Avocado Oil
- Black Seed Oil
- Canola Oil
- Coconut Oil
- Corn Oil
- Grapeseed Oil
- Olive Oil
- Peanut Oil
- Rice Bran Oil
- Safflower Oil
- Sesame Oil
- Soybean Oil
- Sunflower Oil
- Vegetable Oil
- Walnut Oil
These oil variants are inherently gluten free because their sources are not related to gluten grains. But make sure to find out if cross-contamination is a possibility in the facilities. Also, check the labels for the additives in the item or any gluten-related statement.
Palm oil is a popularly used oil in many industries. But is palm oil gluten free? The non–modified variant of this oil is free from gluten. Even then, you may want to reconsider its usage because of the health problems and environmental issues. There are plenty of alternatives that you can use in its place.