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Canola Oil – Leave it on the Shelf

by drgangemi on July 10, 2011

Canola oil is a staple in most homes, especially in North America. The fatty acid make-up of the oil appear to make it ideal for cooking and is said to have health benefits due to its high level of monounsaturated fats (61%) and low level of saturated fats (7%). Even Whole Foods Market uses canola oil in just about everything they make, and a lot of what they sell. But they also use a lot of agave (which should be avoided), and most of their products now contain added sugar and wheat ingredients, which should be limited in every healthy diet whether you’re allergic or not. The Canola Council wants you to believe that you shouldn’t be without a bottle of canola oil close by; and they’ve even created a website for it to convince you so, just like the Corn Refiners Association has done for high fructose corn syrup, as I discuss here. But before you believe all the hype about how great canola oil is, take a step back and look at the history and production of canola oil and why it may not be ideal, or even recommended for human consumption. 

Canola oil is made from the hybridization of rape seed. The rape plant (Brassica rapa or Brassica campestris) is a close relative of broccoli, cabbage, mustard greens, and kale. In its original form, rape plants produce a seed oil that contains high levels (20-50%) of a 22-carbon monounsaturated fat called erucic acid that has been shown to cause a wide variety of pathological changes in laboratory animals. In the early 1970’s plant breeders from Canada developed a strain of rape plant that produced a seed with less than 2% of the harmful erucic acid, “safe” for human consumption.  Since rapeseed oil is not something that most would want to buy due to its name, they called it LEAR oil, for Low Erucic Acid Rapeseed. Eventually, after realizing that LEAR oil wasn’t selling well, they changed the name again to the now familiar canola oil – CANadian Oil Low Acid – since most of the rapeseed plant at the time was grown in Canada.

Initially, the Canola Council of Canada had problems getting GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) status by the US Food and Drug Administration in order to market their oil in the US but it was finally granted in 1985. It is rumored that the Canadian government spent $50 million to obtain it. Even though canola oil now has GRAS status, no long-term studies on humans have been done, yet supporters state, “There is no credible scientific evidence showing that canola oil is harmful to humans.”

Since canola oil mimics healthy properties of other oils, including omega-3 fats (as found in fish & flax), and monounsaturated fats (as found in olive oil), proponents feel as though they had made a dream-come-true product. Canola oil eventually began to appear in the recipes of health books such as those by Andrew Weil and Barry Sears. The popularity of the Mediterranean diet and olive oil at the time was spreading and many were beginning to substitute their olive oil for canola oil. It was rumored that most major publishers would not accept cookbooks unless they included canola in the recipes.

But here’s the main problem with canola oil, and why you should think twice before using it – canola oil is highly refined. Like high fructose corn syrup that is not “corn sugar” once it is extracted and processed, canola oil also has to go through a similar regimen. The oil is removed by a combination of high temperature mechanical pressing and solvent extraction. Traces of the solvent (usually hexane) remain in the oil, even after considerable refining. Canola oil goes through the process of caustic refining, bleaching and degumming – all of which involve high temperatures or chemicals of questionable safety. And because itis high in omega-3 and 6 fatty acids, (11% and 21% respectively) which easily become rancid and foul-smelling when subjected to oxygen and high temperatures, it must be deodorized. The standard deodorization process removes a large portion of the omega-3 fatty acids by turning them into trans fatty acids. The Canadian government lists the trans content of canola at a minimal 0.2 percent, but it is speculated that they are actually much higher due to the processing. This processing is much different from that of olive oil, which most often is first cold pressed to reduce the oxidation of the oil. Harmful chemicals and fatty acid-altering processing means do not occur with olive oil as they do with canola oil.

Another major problem with canola oil is that 80% of the acres sown are genetically modified canola, and it’s not the GMO type of product that has been developed for the benefit of the species of plant, but for the benefit of the herbicide. First introduced to Canada in 1995, genetically modified canola has become a point of controversy and contentious legal battles as Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready” herbicide allows farmers to drench both their crops and crop land with the herbicide so as to be able to kill nearby weeds (and any other green thing the herbicide touches) without killing their crop. The effects of this herbicide on the environment as well as the health of individuals who consume the products have been questioned. (Read more on pesticides and herbicides here.) Superweeds have begun to develop, and much like the overuse of antibiotics, eventually a resistance to the chemical builds up, and a more powerful one must be used. Monsanto is already working on a stronger herbicide (called SmartStax) which they hope to debut soon.

So should you be using canola oil? I say, definitely not. Doing so is risky because you’re consuming a product which is highly refined during the processing to obtain the end result (even more so than agave syrup because oils are so much more sensitive than sugars). It’s loaded with herbicides (unless you buy one that is organic), and possibly hydrogenated fats (definitely refined fats). Either way, remember that all oils high in polyunsaturated fats (those are the omega 3 & 6 fats) are very sensitive to light and heat, and therefore can’t be heated too much, even though it is what most people do with them – cooking. The reason canola oil’s smoke point is so high (over 400 degrees F) is because it is so refined. You can’t heat a healthy unrefined oil/fat very high without denaturing it.

There is no reason to have canola oil in your house. Unfortunately you’re probably going to get more than you should be consuming just by eating at restaurants, boxed goods (even “healthy” organic varieties) and shopping at places like Whole Foods, who sadly support the canola oil movement. Obtain your healthy monounsaturated fats from organic extra virgin olive oil and use organic butter and coconut oil for stir/pan frying. As discussed in previous posts, too many omega 6 fats, in the form of corn, soy, safflower, canola oil, and others result in excess inflammation in your body, not a reduction of. So reduce or eliminate those oils high in polyunsaturated fats – the blue bars in the graph below.

 

 

  • Use organic butter and coconut oil, not margarine
  • Use honey, not agave
  • Use organic extra virgin olive oil, and unrefined sesame seed oil

 

25 Comments

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  1. Interesting post!

    What about grapeseed oil?

    • Grapeseed oil is 72% polyunsaturated omega-6, so it should not be used either. Get your omega-6 fats from nuts, seeds, and vegetables, not from oils. The ONLY polyunsaturated oil I recommend is sesame seed oil, because of two naturally-occurring preservatives, sesamol and sesamin, it contains. These help prevent the omega-6 fats from converting to pro-inflammatory compounds, which occurs most often in the presence of insulin, from the polyunsaturates being combined with high carbohydrate foods. Organic, unrefined sesame seed oil should not be heated or toasted, but added directly to your food, such as a salad.

  2. Carol Sylvain permalink

    I took safflower oil to help reduce belly fat and my Triglycerides went over 300 in just a few months. I thought safflower oil was good for you?

  3. Sean de Waal permalink

    You mention using butter and coconut oil for frying. But in your graph, both are extremely high in saturated fat. Surely this isn’t healthy?

  4. Chris permalink

    Where would organic lard rank here? I have a farm and raise most of my food. When we slaughter a pig we render all the lard for use in various cooking, soap and lubrication elements. It must be heated to be rendered but that is the only “processing” it goes through.

    • Yes organic lard is great to eat especially if it’s right from your farm. It’s high in monounsaturated fats (more than butter) and low in the polyunsaturates (less than olive oil).

  5. Scot permalink

    Dr. G:

    I see in this article and others you recommend unrefined sesame seed oil. In one of the articles you mention not to heat the oil. Can you advise why. Plus, since I’m particularly a good cook, can you give some advice on how to use and incorporate sesame oil in foods in a way you recommend. Currently, I mix in the oil in a smoothie, but that’s about it since you recommend not to heat. Thanks

    Scot

  6. Colin permalink

    I am a reasonably intelligent guy but for the life of me am having a tough time determining the pros/cons of canola oil. I checked the facts in your article and they are verifiable, but what I am not clear about is the processing, because my understanding is that you can buy no-GMO, organic canola oil. Would this eliminate your concerns about it?
    Thanks, Colin

    • It would remove some but not all of them. Olive oil still a better choice in my opinion in you’re looking for a similar fat & for cooking coconut oil & butter are best.

  7. Dave permalink

    Are GMO vegetable oils truly different than non-GMO types, or is that just urban myth and innuendo?

  8. Amber Wagley permalink

    Thank you for sharing this information. I’ve been on the fence concerning Canola for a while, but you’ve tipped my opinion toward removing Canola oil from my families diet.

  9. Jim permalink

    My recent blood test shows LDL 168, Tryglicerides 219, HDL 35. Uric Acid 7. I am supposed to follow a low fat diet. Do you recommend using coconut oil?

    • Check out the cholesterol article on this site (use the search); it will answer your questions.

  10. Amy permalink

    Trader Joe’s just started selling a rice bran oil which says “very high heat oil, 8,000 PPM Orzanol.” Product of Thailand, and per Tbsp 6 gm monounsaturated, 4.5 polyunsaturated, saturated 3.5. Given that coconut oil can give a “coconutty” taste, would this be a good one for infrequent higher heat frying?

    • Hmmm…really not sure but most rice is loaded with pesticides and a lot today is also GMO, so I’d beware. Plus to get to a high heat most oils are refined. I’ll stick with coconut. You get used to the taste and eventually don’t even notice the coconutty flavor – if you do, try another brand.

  11. Owie permalink

    Thanks for the information. I now proved that it is not healthy. My family used palm oil for cooking, but then we shift to canola oil sometime ago as we heard it is a healthier option. I began to doubt about canola oil as I used it in making mayonnaise, it has a rubbery smell. Then i also noticed that deep-fry cooking took more time than usual, therefore the food absorbs more of the oil. I already shift back to palm oil. And you are right about the heating temperature of canola is very high, and thus it loose its good components.

  12. Carolyn permalink

    I’ve long since gotten rid of canola. I am already a fan of EVOO (in fact, other sources have convinced me to get only California EVOO in dark bottles), but my research says it, as well as coconut oil [especially virgin coconut oil] do not have high smoke points (I like to stir-fry at times, but even other cooking is often too much for EVOO). I’ve read a lot of websites about the pluses and minuses of various other oils, and it seems avocado oil didn’t have any (or at least many) negatives and also had a higher smoke point. (I see your thoughts on rice bran oil above. I have some now but will avoid it in the future if I can find an acceptable high smoke point oil.) Your thoughts on avocado oil? Thank you.

    • Sure I think avocado oil is a great oil to use too. You can heat it a bit as with olive oil, but ideally these are best to use unheated. I stick with butter and coconut oil for cooking/frying most of the time. Lard is great too – just make sure it’s from free ranging pasture pigs.

  13. Dustin Heath permalink

    This topic interests me a great deal. I have a question about cold pressed vegetable oils. A friend of mine is in the process of building the largest cold press canola oil plant in the US. He will be supplying whole foods with 4 million gallons a year. We have spoke at lengths about cold press vs hydrogenation oils.
    I do not know enough about vegetable/seed oils to refute his health claims. Surely cold press is better than hexane extracted, but are cold press oils actually healthful? Or is the omega 6 still too high? Any studies, or articles that you know of that I couldn’t find?

    And as far as I can understand. All canola is gmo, as you stated in the article it’s made from the rapeseed plant, so to me that is genetically modifying.

    When my buddy gets up and running, all whole foods deli’s will begin cooking everything in this cold press oil, and will remove all non cold press oils from their shelves.

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