Criticizing WHO Publications that “Mislead” about Palm Oil
Palm oil has been transformed into a useful food for all humans all around the world. The application of palm oil into food products is not only in the form of palm cooking oil, but there are many variations such as margarine, shortening, chocolate, biscuits, ice cream, instant noodles, creamer, yoghurt, breast milk substitution until vitamins. Processed food consumption of palm oil which has become a daily basis is also not only enjoyed by people in Indonesia, Malaysia, Asia, but throughout the world community. Even people in West Africa have been consuming palm oil since 5000 years ago.
However, behind the large contribution of palm oil that is able to provide food that is nutritious, healthy, cheap and affordable to all people in the world, black campaigns and hoax that says palm oil is harmful to human health are still occured since the 1970s until now.
Recently, we were surprised by the statement of the World Health Organization (WHO) East Mediterranean region to publish a news article and flyer entitled “Nutrition Advice for Adults during Covid-19“. The news article contains recommendations to “consume foods containing unsaturated fats (e.g found in fish, avocados, nuts, olive oil, rapeseed oil, sunflower oil and corn oil), rather than saturated fats (e.g found in meat fat, palm oil, coconut oil, cream, cheese, ghee and lard)”.
Meanwhile, the European regional WHO also published an article entitled “Food and Nutrition Tips During Self Quarantine“. In the article there are also recommendations for “reducing foods such as red and fatty meat, butter and full-fat dairy products, palm oil, coconut oil, solid shortening and lard.
The recommendations made by the WHO Eastern Mediterranean and European region aim to providing information to the public regarding the importance of consuming nutritious and healthy food products both during the Covid-19 pandemic and in the long term. However, by singling out palm oil as an example of fats to be avoided is a form of information that misleads the public and does not even correlate with the Covid-19 outbreak that is currently happening in the world.
This information is not in accordance with the results of scientific studies that have been conducted by academics and nutritionists around the world, where the experts have a relatively similar conclusion that palm oil is a healthy vegetable oil and not harmful to health. The content of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids that are relatively balanced is needed by the human body. Suggestion of omitting saturated fats from our diet could adversely deteriorate human health. Consumption in some degree of saturated fats needed for human metabolism.
The high content of vitamins A and E makes the consumption of palm oil can help boost immunity to against the Corona virus especially during the current pandemic. The research by Prof. Sri Raharjo from UGM also mentioned that Virgin Red Palm Oil (VRO) contains palmitic acid (saturated fat), which has plays an important role in providing protection against healthy lungs.
Palmitic acid is the main component about 60% phospholipid compound that lines the inner walls of the alveoi of the lungs. This phospholipid acts as a surfactant that can help facilitate the exchange of gases (oxygen and carbon dioxide) from the alveoli cavity to blood vessels or vice versa. This components is very needed in the body to fight Covid-19 which attacks the lungs.
Palm oil also does not contain trans fats which are harmful to health, so it is suitable to substitute other vegetable oils such as soybean oil. Ironically, some vegetable oils promoted by WHO in its publication such as soybean oil, rapeseed oil and sunflower oil, actually contain trans fats because the processing requires a partial hydogenation process. Campaigns or promotions conducted by WHO by recommending foods that contain trans fats can actually cause health problems such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
WHO publications that discredit palm oil have also received responses and protests from palm oil producing countries. The Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has sent an official objection letter to WHO representatives in Jakarta. Separately, the Indonesian Palm Oil Board (DMSI) and the Indonesian Palm Oil Society (MAKSI) along with the SEAFAST and IAFT-PATPI institutions also sent objections to the publication that published by WHO which were sent directly to Dr. Tedris Adhanom as WHO Director in Geneva.
In general, the protest points raised by various institution were that WHO was asked to improve the content of publication by providing information with a balanced perspective on the health benefits of palm oil based on the result from independent and valid research. This must be done immediately because the misleading information provided by WHO will affect the image of palm oil and have a large and longlasting negative impact involving the entire supply chain and all global business actors, including oil palm farmers.
Thus, it is hoped that no more parties will spread hoax news and black campaigns about palm oil. Instead information is needed on the benefits of palm oil as a food source that is beneficial to health at a price that is relatively affordable and easily accessible to people around the world in a lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic.
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