Knowledge for better food systems

Showing results for: Oils and fats

Along with carbohydrate and protein, fat is one of the three main macronutrients. In common use, ‘oil’ refers to a fat with short or unsaturated fatty acid chains that is liquid at room temperature. ‘Fat’ refers to those which are solid at room temperature. Some specific types of fatty acids such as alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid) and linoleic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid) are called ‘essential’ because they cannot be synthesised in the body from simpler components but must be obtained from specific foods. The health profile of fats differs; omega 3s (found in oily fish) are beneficial, but saturated fats (found in animal products and palm oil) are associated with heart disease. Fat production is often a cause of environmental concern. For example, butter production, as an animal product, is GHG intensive while plant-based palm oil has driven tropical deforestation, forest fires and CO2 release (e.g. in Indonesia and Malaysia). Soy production (to produce both oil and animal feed) is also associated with deforestation and attendant harms as well as with livestock-related impacts. Oils are increasingly produced for the biofuel sector.

Image: Alex Dunkel, Ring-tailed Lemur (Lemur catta) at Berenty Private Reserve in Madagascar, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported
29 October 2018

This paper searched for areas of land in Africa where palm oil could be cultivated productively with minimal impact on primate populations. The results showed that such areas are rare: the areas that are suitable for growing palm oil also tend to be areas where primates are highly vulnerable.

Image: sarangib, Oil Palm Tree, Pixabay, CC0 Creative Commons
17 July 2018

A recent paper assesses the carbon implications of converting Indonesian rainforests to oil palm monocultures, rubber monocultures or rubber agroforestry systems (known as “jungle rubber”). It finds that carbon losses are greatest from oil palm plantations and lowest from jungle rubber systems, in all cases being mainly from loss of aboveground carbon stocks. The paper points out that, “Thorough assessments of land-use impacts on resources such as biodiversity, nutrients, and water must complement this synthesis on C but are still not available.”

Image: Biswarup Ganguly, Frying Samosas (bn: Singara) in deep oil at Morabad, Ranchi, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported
21 May 2018

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has set out a strategy for removing industrially-produced trans-fatty acids from the global food supply. WHO estimates that half a million people die each year because of cardiovascular disease caused by trans fat consumption. Artificial trans fat are found in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (a process that gives liquid vegetable oils a higher melting point), while some natural trans fats are found in meat and dairy.

Image: Craig, Oil palms in Malaysia, Wikimedia Commons, Public domain
21 May 2018

This paper outlines the difficulties of governing the complex global palm oil supply chain, examines the narratives around the environmental and social sustainability of palm oil and analyses how power dynamics create a fragmented governance structure for palm oil. The author concludes that the palm oil industry has created a narrative in which only “unsustainable” palm oil production is to blame for negative environmental and social effects, and in which “sustainable” palm oil - and an increase in its production - is presented as being beneficial for conservation and local communities.​

Image: Adcro, The exterior of an Iceland supermarket in Horwich, Bolton, Greater Manchester, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International
24 April 2018

Frozen food supermarket Iceland has pledged to remove palm oil from all of its own-brand lines by the end of 2018, citing concerns over collapsing orangutan populations and deforestation. The initiative - the first of its kind among major UK supermarkets - should reduce demand for palm oil by over 500 tonnes a year.

Image: Alistair Kitchen, Orangutan Baby, Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic
23 April 2018

A study shows that 100,000 orangutans in Borneo have been lost between 1999 and 2015 - around half of the population. The results show that this precipitous decrease is not just due to deforestation, since numbers of orangutans also declined in selectively logged and intact forests.

Photo credit: Taryn, Flickr, Creative Commons License 2.0
19 December 2016

This randomized controlled study looked at how obese Norwegian men were affected by a diet very high in the intake of total and saturated fat, as compared to one high in carbohydrates, while controlling for intake of energy, protein, and polyunsaturated fats and food types. 

Photo credit: Scion_cho, Junked, Flickr, Creative Commons licence 2.0
24 October 2016

A key ingredient in junk food is vegetable oil. 60% of this oil is from oil palm and soybean, production of which has been expanding in Southeast Asia and South America, resulting in widespread deforestation and biodiversity loss. In this article, the authors calculate the amount of current deforestation due to vegetable oil consumption (through junk food) and extrapolate vegetable oil demand to predict the deforestation future consumption patterns would cause by 2050.

3 February 2016

This ScienceDaily article describes how researchers at Wageningen University and Research Centre have shown that insect oils – currently extracted from insects alongside the desired edible proteins but discarded as a waste product – contain omega-3 fatty acids.

30 October 2015

In a joint project researchers from the University Halle-Wittenberg (Germany) looked at the direct medical treatment costs of nutrition-associated diseases related to the overconsumption of sugars, salt and saturated fatty acids. In all, the team identified 22 clinical endpoints with 48 risk-outcome pairs.

19 April 2015

This paper finds that consumption of high-fat yoghurt and cheese are linked to reduced risks of developing type 2 diabetes – reducing these risks by as much as a fifth. High meat consumption, on the other hand, is linked to a higher risk, regardless of the fat content of the meat. These results are in line with previous studies of eating habits that indicated a link between high consumption of dairy products and a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.

15 October 2014

Although there is no absolute consensus on the recommendation for total fat and dietary fat and saturated fat (SFA) intake between governing bodies and health organizations, there is a general sense of convergence. All guidelines currently suggest that total fat should not exceed 35% of daily calories. Although most guidelines propose a target for dietary SFA, there is no consensus on the value to aim for.

5 September 2014

Food taxes & subsidies are effective at improving diets, according to a systematic review carried out by Australian researchers and published in the journal Nutrition Reviews. The systematic review analyses evidence from research published between January 2009 and March 2012 looking at the effectiveness of food taxes and subsidies on consumption. Included in the review were only papers assessing a specific food tax and those which directly and prospectively observed consumer responses to a fiscal policy intervention.