this is a rebooted repost from july, 2010 about the evils of canola oil…
as someone who tries to eat at least somewhat healthfully (as we all should), one major question me and mine have run across is which cooking oil is best to use. olive oil has been used for thousands of years, but it is difficult to use for stir fries and the like because of its distinct taste and low smoke point.
so, i decided to conduct some research and find out which oils are the best, and, the worst. upon beginning said research, i was overwhelmed with information on canola. i was already aware of some of the negatives in this widely used product, but i discovered some even more disturbing information.
so brave reader, behold… The Truth About canola…
all oils are made of pure fat, but not all fats are created equal. in this day and age i’d hope that everyone knows that monounsatrated fats are the best for us, these are found in oils such as olive oil. they are heart healthy, and do not contribute to high, or “bad” cholesterol. also well known is the fact that trans fats are bad. these can be carcinogenic (cancer causing), and contribute to heart problems.
there are a few ways to get oil from seeds, beans, olives, etc. the cold press method is just that, a giant press that squeezes the oil from the product. no heat is applied in this method, so none of the oil molecules are damaged or transformed. olives are easy to obtain oil from, and is an example of a cold pressed oil, so are walnut and avocado oils. items more difficult to press, sunflowers for example, are processed in giant cranks that chew up the product until the oil is released. This is the expeller method, and it also requires no heat. Finally there are refined oils. items like soybeans and rapeseeds (which become canola oil) are so difficult to extract oil from must be chemically changed. high heat is involved, and then various chemical solvents are added to remove the oil from the seed. the oil becomes instantly rancid because of the exposure to high heat, so deodorizers are added to mask the smell. the oils are also bleached and have anti-foaming agents added in. by the end of the process, these oils are pale, clear, have no smell or flavor, have no health benefits, and may actually be dangerous. because they are so processed, they have very high smoke point, and are therefore popular in the restaurant and fast food industries for frying.
But now onto canola.
First off, there is no canola plant. canola oil is derived from a genetically manipulated rapeseed. The rapeseed is actually a toxic member of the mustard family. mustard gas, used during WWI was made from the rapeseed plant. in order to make this toxic plant edible it must be genetically modified. The levels of erucic acid must be reduced. one way to accomplish this is through irradiation, another is to genetically implant another plant’s genes into the rapeseed plant. either way, the canola plant does not exist in nature.
in addition to genetic modification, saturated fats must be added to the rapeseed oil. the end result is 60% monounsaturated fat and 10% Omega 3 fatty acids, which on the surface seems good.
throughout North America in the 1970’s, polyunsaturated fats were being promoted, despite the fact that more and more scientific evidence was pointed towards the fats being linked with increasing cancer rates. ideally, the push should have been toward known healthy monounsaturated fats, like those in olive oil, however, supplies were limited, and it would have been very costly for wide manufacturing into salad dressings and (ewww) margarine.
instead of pushing healthy oils or focusing on a way to lessen use of herbicides and lowering fuel costs, research was done to transform the toxic rapeseed into a marketable oil. because of it’s toxic nature, insects naturally avoid the rapeseed plant. farmers found this wonderful. Baldu Stefanson of the University of Manitoba is given credit as the first to successfully engineer the plant that would become canola oil.
the oil resulting from the modified rapeseed plant was originally called LEAR (Low Erucic Acid Rapeseed). marketing a product containing the words Rape and LEAR proved difficult, and the name was changed to Canola (CANadian Oil, Low Acid), the term was coined in 1978. Today canola is Canada’s largest export.
canola was further genetically modified to increase the content of the monounsaturated Oleic acid, which is naturally and abundantly found in olive oil.
In 1995 the infamous Monsanto (don’t know about Monsanto? Watch “Food Inc.” and you’ll never look at corn or soy the same way again….. seriously, watch it!) got involved and created a strain of rapeseed/canola that is resistant to RoundUp (also created by Monsanto). Today over 82% of canola crops are genetically modified by Monsanto.
In April of 1997 Monsanto was forced to recall over 60,000 bags of genetically modified canola seeds. an unapproved gene had slipped into the seeds by mistake, one that was not approved for human consumption. i find it terrifying that these extra genes are just lying around, and are able to be engineered into foodstuffs. the seeds in the recall were enough to plant over 700,000 acres of crops.
Canada began marketing canola to the U.S. in the 1980’s. In order to be sold in stores, canola had to be granted GRAS (generally regarded as safe) status from the FDA. Food and herb products labeled GRAS are generally products that have been used for hundreds of years with no adverse side effects reported. Canola, however, was a brand new product, that did not exist naturally, and that was made from a plant known to be toxic. How was canola granted GRAS status so quickly? No one knows for sure, but it is widely rumored that the Canadian government spent $50 million US on its canola campaign. once in the US market, Canola spread to world wide use by the 1990’s.
Canada’s publicity campaign did not target the general public, but selectively advertised to the science and health care industries. Due to it’s high monounsaturated fat and omega 3 content, nutritionists began suggesting it to their patients. books like The Omega Plan and the zone diet pushed the use of canola. Even Andrew Weil was tricked by the canola propaganda for a while.
In my mind, in addition to the problems i have with ALL genetically modified foods, there are 3 major problems with canola oil. These are the traditional uses for rapeseed oil, the changes that take place in the oil during the refining process, and the negative effects that have appeared in experiments with canola oil.
rapeseed oil was originally used as a lubricant in the shipping industry. rapeseed/canola oils are also (still) used as lubricants, fuels, soap, synthetic rubber bases, and the slick finish on magazine pages. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems creepy to eat something that is was originally used to lubricate ship parts.
the oil refining process described here is not exclusive to canola oil. It is used for many, including safflower and soy. These are generally sold as “vegetable oil.” most oil is refined with strong acids, and with the same base used in products to unclog drains. the oil is heated to a very high temperature, which cause the omega 3 fatty acids present to be either destroyed or mutated into trans fats. the oil then enters a bleaching process which, according to Udo Erasmus, “removes every essential nutrient except fatty acids.” because the oil has been turned rancid by the heat applied earlier, it undergoes a deodorization process to mask the rancid smell. This is done through steam distillation, and the heat applied here transforms even more fatty acids into trans-fatty acids, which interfere with any beneficial ingredients that might still be around. lastly, when the finished oil is used for cooking, either at home or in a restaurant setting, even more trans fats may be created if the oil is heated to its smoking point.
the crux of this matter is that canola oil is advertised as the “best oil” to use because of its high percentage of monounsaturated fats and omega 3’s. in fact, the vast majority of these ingredients are destroyed during the refining process, AND, many of those once healthy ingredients are transformed into cancer causing agents.
canola has only existed for 30 years, nothing is yet known about the long term effects this man-made product has on us, as humans. no human trials were conducted before canola oil was released for sale. the animal trials i will discuss were conducted after the oil’s release, and are still being done (my personal views against animal testing notwithstanding, some pretty terrible things have happened in the name of canola oil).
soon after the creation of canola, a study showed that rats developed more heart lesions when being fed canola and flaxseed oils than on olive and sunflower oils. once the rats were no longer forced to eat the canola the lesions went away, but severe scarring remained.
in 1997 a study involving piglets (poor baby pigs) resulted in the piglets developing severe vitamin E deficiencies when fed food with canola in it, despite the fact that the piglets were given an adequate amount of vitamin E. the study continued into 1998 as the same piglets suffered decreased platelet counts and increased platelet size. When cut (again, animal testing is BAD), the piglets bled longer than they should have.
as for humans, canola consumption has been linked to vitamin E deficiency and growth retardation. for this reason the FDA has banned canola us in infant formula. canola can also cause a latex-like substance that have caused red blood corpuscles to clump together. canola can also deteriorate mylien sheaths (the coating around nerve cells) possibly leading to nervous disorders such as Alzheimer’s Disease and Multiple Sclerosis.
so, overall, canola would seem to be a bad thing. i stopped using canola a while ago, and i didn’t even know a lot of these things.
so which oil is best to fry or saute with? you can actually fry with olive oil, just watch the temperature of the oil. if you really need a high smoke point, i usually go for sunflower or grapeseed oil.
As always, thanks for stopping by.
sources used in this blog:
Carol Clark Keppler
Udo Erasmus (his 1988 pamphlet “Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill”)
Dr. Mary Enig (her cleverly titled article “The Great Con-ola”