The World Health Organization’s Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean published a nutrition advisory for adult consumers while the COVID-19 outbreak lasts, suggesting, among others, to consume olive, sunflower or canola oil instead of palm or coconut oil, a recommendation drawing criticism from Malaysia, Reuters reported.
The WHO office said those following a well-balanced diet including daily portions of fresh and unprocessed food “tend to be healthier with stronger immune systems and lower risk of chronic and infectious diseases.”
Consumers should also avoid saturated fats found in fatty meat, cream, butter and palm and coconut oils during the pandemic, the advisory noted, and instead opt for white meat and unsaturated fats found in fish, nuts, avocado, and olive, sunflower or canola oils.
Malaysia, the second-largest palm oil producer after Indonesia, accused the intergovernmental organization of promoting alternatives to palm oil and advocated its importance in some countries.
“With regards to dietary fats as a major source of calories, WHO through its most recent advisory has again fallen into the same previous well of promoting certain commodity oils while brushing aside palm oil,” Kalyana Sundram, CEO of the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC), said.
“In countries where fat consumption is below recommendations of the WHO, as is the case in large parts of Asia and Africa, health focus is different. The need to provide a reliable, sustainable and affordable source of calories to ward of undernutrition (and increased susceptibility of infection) is paramount.”
Sundram also stated that the WHO should focus on producing “radically different health management ideas” instead of repeating “antiquated messages,” Reuters said in its report.
Palm oil is widely used as an additive in many food products, but demand has fallen sharply after the restaurant closures due to the coronavirus lockdowns in many countries. Indonesia and Malaysia have also been targeted by environmentalists for replacing indigenous forests with palm tree plantations.