The “Verdict” of this story on red palm oil may not be what marketers want to read, but this overview story packs a delicious and nutritious serving of information for consumers trying to see through swirling health claims. The story covers a lot of ground, even addressing environmental and human rights concerns, so it is understandable that not every detail made it into the final edition. But there are enough specifics, a good sample of expert opinions, and an overall impression that a lot of homework went into providing readers with a clear summary of the evidence.
Like a solid review article that provides clinicians with an overview of the body of evidence about a condition or treatment, a well done consumer advice article such as this one helps busy readers get the big picture quickly. With a broad scope, the story is understandably short on some details, but it gives readers a clear message, and the feeling that the reporter and editors were thorough in their research and objective in their summary. Most people in developed countries – so most people who read the Wall Street Journal – don’t need additional vitamin E or A. They do need more stories like this in their news diet.
The story mentions some specific brands and prices.
Although lots of suggested benefits are mentioned and not quantified, we will still give this story a passing mark, because the “Verdict” is that there isn’t enough evidence to prove red palm oil provides any specific health benefits. To put it another way, readers are given a clear message that while there are many claims and hints bouncing around, the documented health benefit of red palm oil is zero… and that is a hard number.
As with benefits, the potential harms of red palm oil are just generally summarized. Still, the story points out that this oil and others like it can produce harm (and clearly contain plenty of calories). A nice touch is that the potential harms addressed by the story include environmental damage caused by poor agricultural practices, as well as potential exploitation of workers in developing nations. While those domains are typically outside our scope, they are clearly relevant to consumers looking to make informed purchases.
The satisfactory rating here is based mostly on the general impression that the reporter and editors of the story were thorough in their research on the topic. That said, when the story mentions specific studies, it would have been nice to see some reference to the limitations of those studies, which include small numbers of patients, as well as measurements that may not actually indicate real health effects.
The story is careful and measured in both specifics and overall tone.
A strength of the story is that there are quotes from several sources. It’s nice to see that in a story that offers a broad overview of a topic, valuable space is still given to conflicts; in this case, pointing out that the studies hinting at some potential health benefits were funded by industry groups and that the lead author is a paid consultant to a manufacturer.
Although the story does not provide detailed comparisons of red palm oil to other oils… or other ways of getting health benefits for the heart or other organs… there are some specifics about how various processing methods affect the oil and some brief references to other types of cooking oils. And again, the overall message is that there is not enough evidence to support claims that red palm oil has any special health benefits, which implies that it is not better than alternatives.
As noted above, the story mentions some specific brands. It also provides some details about the differences between varieties of red palm oil.
There is no claim of novelty.
The story includes multiple sources. It is clearly not based on a news release.