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What is Palm Oil and why should you avoid it?

What is Palm Oil and why should you avoid it?

Did you know that palm oil is in many of the products you buy, not only food? You may have heard that palm oil is problematic… But do you know why? We’re here to break it down and help you make informed decisions when it comes to your grocery shopping.

What is Palm Oil?

Believe it or not, palm oil is the most commonly used vegetable oil in Western society. Its wide availability, relatively low cost and versatility means it is now in around 50% of the products that consumers buy and use on a daily basis. You’ll find it, or an ingredient derived from palm oil, in everything from pre-packaged food like margarine and biscuits to cleaning products, cosmetics, hair care and soap.

Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil that comes from the oil palm tree. Oil palm trees are highly productive, making it the cheapest vegetable oil available. 86% of the world’s palm oil is grown in Malaysia and Indonesia and is a significant source of income for many families in these countries.

So why is palm oil a problem?

There are several reasons. And they’re rather significant.

Firstly, palm oil plantations require a lot of land. Vast areas of rich, tropical rainforest have been cleared to make space for them. Many animal species have been affected, including rhinos, orangutans, elephants and tigers. Their habitats have been destroyed, leaving them nowhere to live.

The palm oil industry also affects humans. Indigenous communities are also affected by land clearing, losing their homes and being forced to move. Child labour and human rights issues have also been implicated.

Climate change is also on the list of problems. Clearing forests usually involves burning, which results in massive fires and huge pollution. Carbon is being released into the atmosphere, and what’s more, the rainforests are no longer there to pull it back down.

What can shoppers do?

The best thing we can do is inform ourselves! Be aware of the issues and the sneaky places palm oil is likely to show up, and be vigilant about avoiding it. Here's a few common ones:

20 Sneaky Names for Palm Oil 

Ideally, avoid buying products containing palm oil. By shopping at Santos, you can be assured we’ve done the hard work for you. Most of the products we sell contain NO palm oil. What’s more, - our few products that do contain palm oil or palm derived ingredients have been verified as 100% traceable palm oil.

What does this mean?

As opposed to “sustainable palm oil” (a problematic term that hides potential problems) “traceable palm oil” means the oil can be traced for the entirety of its production - from forest to mill to plant and into production. It means you can rest assured that the palm oil or palm derived ingredients in our products is 100% traceable and does not involve conflict, deforestation or habitat destruction.

How to find palm oil-free products

The easiest way to avoid palm oil is to use natural, organic and non-packaged goods such as fresh fruit, vegetables and legumes! Of course, this isn’t always practical so there are other options.

The next best is to look for products that don’t contain any of the sneaky names that palm oil may appear as. One of the easiest ways to shop is to look for stores and products that display one of these logos:

Stay aware of Palm Oil

In fact, in August 2019, Santos proudly announced our Accreditation with Palm Oil Investigations (POI). The extensive process involved reviewing every product on our shelves for palm oil, and removing and replacing anything that contained untraceable palm oil or palm derived ingredients. Most of our products are now 100% palm oil free, and the ones that remain contain palm oil that’s 100% traceable.

You can also check out this product guide from POI.


Shoppers who are ethically-minded face a huge range of challenges when looking for products that align with their values. Palm oil is just one of many considerations when you’re shopping.

When you shop at Santos, not only are you getting the best organic food and natural lifestyle products, but you’re skipping all the hard work in researching the products! Every single product on our shelves passes through our Santos Organics Care Check, which involves 5 key pillars.

Our POI Accreditation means we do not stock any products that contain unsustainable or untraceable palm oil.

We think that’s something to celebrate!

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