Does Palm Oil Cause Allergic Reactions?

It is one of the most common questions we have received at Best Food Facts: Does palm oil cause allergic reactions?

Dr. Steve Taylor is the founder of the Food Allergy Research and Resource Program at the University of Nebraska and has provided his expertise to answer these questions.

If you believe you have an allergy, Dr. Taylor said it is very important to visit your doctor or an allergist because it could be a serious health issue. Palm oil is not considered to be a likely cause of allergic reaction.

“In my opinion, palm oil would be rather unlikely to be the cause of a food allergy,” he said, then explained why. “Food allergies are caused by proteins, and oils typically contain very low levels of protein. The likelihood of allergic sensitization to these proteins seems very low to non-existent, in my opinion.”

“If consumers believe they are adversely affected by ingestion of palm oil, then they can avoid eating it,” Dr. Taylor advised.

That will not be easy. Palm oil is one of the most commonly used vegetable oils in the world. The World Wildlife Fund offers an interactive chart that shows products that contain palm oil and why. It is used in foods such as bread, instant noodles, cookies and chocolate, as well as other products including lipstick and detergent. Even though the oil is common, that is the only part of the palm plant that is consumed.

We don’t typically eat other foods derived from palm species, so sensitization by that route also seems unlikely. Coconut is a product of palm trees but coconut oil and palm oil are derived from different species of palm,” Dr. Taylor said.

In another Best Food Facts post Palm Oil, Refined Oil and Allergies Dr. Taylor provided insight into how refined oils are processed and why they are unlikely to cause a reaction, “The allergens in soybean are found in the protein fraction of the soybean seed. The proteins are removed during the refining process. That is why highly refined soybean oil is safe. Palm and palm kernel oil should contain no soy protein. Palm and palm kernel oils should also not contain any soy oil. Thus these oils should present no risk to soy-allergic consumers,” he said.

One of our readers asked whether there have been scientific studies on palm oil allergies.

“No, palm oil allergy has not been described in clinical literature. That said, coconut allergy is described in clinical literature, but it’s not common, and it is the only allergy to a food from the palm family. Coconut oil is not known to be allergenic, even in those with coconut allergy, because of its very low protein content,” he said.

Dr. Taylor suggested that because palm oil is not eaten alone, but rather as an ingredient, there might be allergic reactions to another ingredient in the food.

Some food companies and retailers have recently made the decision to produce or sell products that are free of palm oil. This move was prompted by concerns about the sustainability of palm oil production, not because of allergy risks.

Palm oil is a common ingredient used in many foods. Palm oil is generally not considered a cause of allergic reactions. If you are experiencing problems you think are associated with palm oil or allergies, please visit your physician or allergist.

Originally published July 7, 2013

Flowering Palm, Torquay” by Torquay Palms is licensed under CC BY SA.