Canola is originated from Canada and it is the nation’s most valuable crop, with annual exports of canola seed, oil, and meal totaling over $3 billion.
Canola is also grown in the U.S., largely in North Dakota. Since the mid 90s, sales of canola oil have rocketed as it is increasingly being used in home and restaurant cooking and in many processed foods.
Canola has been promoted as “healthy” and marketed as:
- Cholesterol and transfat free.
- Lowest in saturated fat (7%) among all dietary fats.
- High in Omega-3 fat (11%), an essential fatty acid that is needed but not made by the body.
- Has a moderate level of Omega-6 fat (21%), also an essential fatty acid that is needed but not made by the body.
- Relatively high in monounsaturated fat (61%), though olive oil has the highest.
So is canola oil really as healthy as it claims to be?
The Origin Of Canola
For centuries, rapeseed oil has been very popular in India and China. Rapeseed belongs to the mustard family of plants. The characteristic rapeseed oil contains very high anti-nutritional substances like erucic acid (40-50%) and glucosinolates that are harmful to humans. Therefore, in the western world, rapeseed oil is seldom used as primary food oil.
Because rapeseed is very adaptable to genetic manipulation, in the 1970s, Canada’s research community began breeding a new variety from the rapeseed plant. This new variety of oilseed, which has less than 2% erucic acid and less than 30 umoles of glucosinolates, became known as canola, or Canadian oil, low acid.
Potential Problems With Canola
Although the canola industry markets it as “healthy”, there are certain aspects of canola oil that raises much concern.
Canola oil is not a natural food, it is a modified food. There is no natural oil/fat that has similar fatty acid composition as canola. Humans have never consumed such oil until the last few decades.
Genetically modified and herbicide-resistant
Roughly 90% of the canola crops in America are genetically modified (GM) so that they are resistant to herbicides like Monsanto’s Roundup or Bayer’s Liberty Link. That means these GM canola crops are doused in toxic herbicides.
What is the long-term effect of eating oil derived from GM canola crops that have been heavily sprayed with Roundup or Liberty Link?
The canola industry as well as the herbicide manufacturers touted its safety. However, various studies on rats and humans have challenged its alleged safety, with complaints ranging from hormonal disruption, impairment of liver and kidney function, to genetic damage.
The truth is, at present, we have not seen any long-term studies on the effects of such GM canola on human health.
Highly processed and refined
In contrast to extra virgin, cold-pressed olive oil which is made by merely squashing the olives, canola oil has to go through a great deal of processing.
First of all, the oil is obtained by mechanical pressing and solvent extraction. A toxic petroleum solvent called hexane is often used to extract the oil. Even after considerable refining, traces of the solvent still remain in the final product.
What’s more, the oil goes through high temperature processing, deodorization, and refining by steam distillation, resulting in the destruction of a substantial portion of its essential fatty acids. Omega-3 and Omerga-6 fats are very vulnerable to high heat, which makes them rancid and harmful to health. As a result, some of the essential fatty acids may be transformed into trans fat.
Depletion of Vitamin E
In animal studies, regular consumption of canola oil leads to the depletion of vitamin E, a key factor in cardiovascular health. Canola increases the rigidity of membranes, causes lesions in arteries, and increases the size of platelet cells – thus increasing the risk of stroke, heart attack, and much more.
Dangerous for babies
Canola is not totally void of erucic acid; it still contains about 1-2%. This is precisely why the U.S. Food and Drug Administration prohibits the use of canola in baby formula because it can cause a buildup of fatty deposits in the heart. If canola is not good for the babies, can it be that great for adults?
Canola oil also contains traces of some unique sulfur compounds. Baked goods made with canola develop molds rather quickly.
The Bottom Line
- As seen from above, despite all the hype about how good and healthy canola oil is, there are many potential health issues associated with it. Canola oil remains to be time-tested that it is truly safe for human consumption. In the meantime, it is not worthwhile to be a guinea pig.
- The best oils to use for cooking are unrefined coconut oil and saturated fats from organic, grass-fed animals. Yes, recent studies have shown that saturated fats do not cause heart disease; it is trans fat that is the culprit. Saturated fats are much more stable and do not go rancid as easily as the vegetable oils made from corn, cottonseed, safflower, soybean, and sunflower.
- Olive oil is great for salads and should only be used for low to moderate heat cooking.
- Peanut oil is a good cooking and frying oil because it is quite resistant to rancidity. However, since peanuts are often heavily sprayed with herbicides, it is best to use organic peanut oil.
- Sesame oil is also quite stable and not easily subject to rancidity.
- Be aware of processed foods that contain canola oil. Quite often, the front label will boast “Made With Olive Oil”, but when you read the ingredients on the back label, you may discover that canola is listed as a major ingredient!
- Be aware that many prepared foods use canola oil, including those found in Whole Foods. Restaurants have increasingly switched to using canola oil due to its cheaper cost and alleged health benefits. If you go to a particular restaurant on a regular basis, do ask what kind of oil is used in the cooking.