Tips and Tricks to Avoid Palm Oil

orangutanPalm Oil is a topic that cropping up more and more. People want to know what it is, why they are hearing about it and why it’s such an urgent and important issue. And let me be clear; it IS an important issue. How can oil that comes from a fruit be wiping out Sumatran Tigers and Orangutans?I’ve discussed, in detail, the effects of palm oil production and consumption in a previous article, but in summary: the production of Palm oil is leading to mass clearing of important South-East Asian rainforests (homes and habitats) and astronomical carbon emissions, all for a product that is unhealthy for humans anyway. I think it is safe to say that those are three damn ugly side-effects for a product that can easily be replaced with more nutritious, delicious and earth-friendly substitutes.

The Problems With Our Labels

As Australian consumers we trust that, when looking at product ingredient lists, what we see is what we get – but this is currently not the case. In 2008 FSANZ (Food Standards Australia New Zealand) rejected an application for the compulsory labelling of Palm Oil.

This means that the only edible oils that need be declared are soybean, sesame and peanut oil (due to allergies). It is perfectly acceptable to label all other plant based oils (including palm) simply as ‘vegetable oil’ (even though it is, in fact, a fruit).

We have a right to know exactly what we are consuming, and consuming it we certainly are: the average Australian ingests or applies 10 kilograms of palm oil every year!


Basically the best way to avoid palm oil in your food is to avoid any packaged food. A huge percentage of packaged goods contain palm oil.

However if you choose to consume them please make sure you check the label. In this case the first hurdle is to identify whether Palm Oil is even being using in the product because as I mentioned above, they don’t need to even tell you if it’s in there! Nope, it aint as cut and dry as identifying, say… nuts, gluten or dairy. It seems that companies are only willing to be transparent when there is risk of allergies in their buyers.

An easy example of labeled palm oil will list it as Palm Oil or Palmolein. However with the more vague products however, you will have to dig deeper (I will go into that further down).



Strangely enough, the requirements for labeling palm oil in the cosmetics industry are far stricter than those that apply to our food industry. In cosmetics, palm oil must be listed as an ingredient without exception. However, as Juliet asked Romeo, what’s in a name? Here is a list of all the names used for Palm Oil (or chemicals containing it);

  • Sodium Laureth Sulphate
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulphates
  • Elaeis Guineensis
  • Glyceryl Stearate
  • Stearic Acid
  • Sodium dodecyl Sulphate (SDS or NaDS)
  • Palmate
  • Palm Oil Kernal
  • Palmitate
  • Steareth -2
  • Steareth -20
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulphate
  • Sodium lauryl sulfoacetate
  • Hydrated palm glycerides
  • Sodium isostearoyl lactylaye
  • Cetyl palmitate and octyl palmitate
  • Anything with palmitate at the end

It is a hell of a lot to remember. Zoos Victoria have been major drivers in enforcing correct labelling and have this cute little print out card that you can keep in your wallet to pull out before you buy your shampoos and conditioners.

A solution that I have found very effective is buying certified organic shampoos and conditioners or brands that proudly display the No Palm Oil label.

Still check the label – I have been caught out before – but most products like Sukin list the scientific name for each ingredient and in brackets next to it the common name i.e. Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Oil

Know your companies and products

While it sounds like it is a massive undertaking to eliminate palm oil from your basket it gets easier every week.

You will start to recognise the brands and products that do use them and the companies you want to support because they don’t. Since I decided to eliminate palm oil from my home I have noticed a very welcome side-effect: I am no longer buying unhealthy packaged foods!

It has forced me to be a lot more creative with my decisions which often leads to healthier options. Before when friends came over I would dish out a bowl of greasy potato chips, but since the switch they have been welcomed into my home by the smell of toasting flat breads or healthy crudites. It has been a really positive change in my home.

Spread the word

Knowledge is power and no more so than when we are referring to Palm Oil. Something that is so far-reaching, that all of us have the potential to be contributing too needs to have more light shone on it. Chat with your friends and family about it, forward them this article to them if need be or you could even send them this letter thanks to the amazing folk at Planet Ark.

I hope this has provided you with a few options when considering how you can cut down or even eliminate palm oil from your life.

If we react to palm oil by voting with our wallets, then companies will be forced to find sustainable alternatives in order to meet consumer demand.

As a consumer I demand that some of the most diverse rainforest on our planet are preserved.

I demand that we stop killing (on average) 50 Orangutans every week.

I demand that we allow local people the right to their land, and I demand that we stop depriving future generations of some of our world’s greatest wonders.

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