How am I supposed to feel about tropical oils? They’re cropping up in all sorts of products, but there is so much conflicting information out there.
I remember hearing a year or so ago that you should avoid palm fruit oil. Manufacturers started relying on this oil in many processed foods when they received pressure to remove partially hydrogenated oils from their ingredient lists. But the information I heard said palm oil wasn’t very good for you — and it contributed to deforestation of the rainforests!! So, yeah, I tried to skip that whenever possible.
More recently coconut oil has become one of the oils to most recently make headlines. (Rodale — which publishes Prevention, Men’s Health and Women’s Health, among other health-related magazines and books — even included coconut oil in a recent article about new healthy fats.) “Yes, it has saturated fat, but it has health benefits, too,” proponents said. “Saturated fat of any kind should be avoided,” opponents said. Oh, well, I thought. I don’t cook with coconut oil anyway.
But then I heard about new dairy-free spreads that were also soy-free — because they were made with tropical oils. First, I heard Earth Balance had developed a soy-free variety of their vegan spread, but like so many of their products, it uses palm oil. So I wrote to Earth Balance to thank them for recognizing the need for dairy-free and soy-free spreads, and I voiced my concerns about palm oil.
And Earth Balance wrote back! Here’s part of the email:
We at Earth Balance are committed to ensuring the palm fruit oil used in our products comes from environmentally and socially responsible sources. All of our suppliers are members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, which is the leading organization developing and implementing global standards for sustainable palm oil production. Additionally, Earth Balance has purchased Green Palm Certificates for July – December 2011 production to fund the growth and expansion of sustainable palm, and it is our intention to do the same in 2012 and going forward.
We recognize this effort takes time, and we are committed to working with the industry and with organizations to develop long-term sustainable solutions. You can visit our website http://www.earthbalancenatural.com for more information.
Earth Balance’s FAQ section of their website does address the health questions about palm oil, saying they use palm fruit oil instead of palm kernel oil. The FAQ answer says oil from the fruit has less “bad” fatty acids and is 45 percent saturated fat, while the kernel oil is 90 percent saturated fat. And a Google search turned up information about the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil and certified sustainable palm oil.
So I thought it would be worth trying the Earth Balance soy-free spread. But before I could go to Whole Foods to find it, I came across Olivio’s coconut spread at Meijer. This product listed “sustainable palm oil” in its oil blend. And when I did get to Whole Foods, I found yet another new product from Earth Balance — coconut spread.
Having tried all three spreads, I found I like the coconut spreads a lot. They taste like butter with a strong coconut fragrance — but some people might be turned off by that coconut-iness. The Earth Balance soy-free spread had a more traditional margarine flavor, which I like, but it was too salty for my taste. I’ve never tried other Earth Balance products before, but I have used Smart Balance, and I think this soy-free spread was much saltier than Smart Balance. However, the sodium content was only 110 mg per serving, which doesn’t seem too high compared to 90 mg for the Olivio coconut spread and 70 mg for the Earth Balance coconut spread.
Of course, these spreads are not low-cal or low-fat, either. The two Earth Balance spreads each have 100 calories and 11 grams of total fat per serving. (The serving size for all three spreads is 1 Tablespoon.) There’s 5 grams of saturated fat in the coconut spread and 2.5 grams in the soy-free spread. There’s only 50 calories and 7 grams of total fat in the Olivio coconut spread, but there’s 5.5 grams of saturated fat.
So while I’m still torn on the health aspects and environmental aspects of tropical oils, it’s nice that manufacturers are looking for options for people who can’t have dairy or soy. Of course, the best option is to try to live without butter substitutes altogether. 🙂