- Today, the production of canola oil has drawn some serious concerns about GMOs and pesticides, the use of chemical solvents, and the inclusion of trans fats.
- Canola oil production processes are tied to health concerns such as heart disease, inflammation, cellulite, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, and asthma.
- Check out these delicious and versatile canola oil alternatives.
Is canola oil good for you? It’s a question nutritionists and food industrialists have been debating for decades. The controversy dates back to the 1970s, when it became a replacement for rapeseed oil, which was found to have negative health effects. Before we go too deep on that, let’s dive into what canola oil is, how it’s produced and how those production processes impact your health.
What is Canola oil?
Scientists created the canola plant in the 1970s in response to a ban on rapeseed oil. In 1976, the EU ruled that high amounts of erucic acid in rapeseed made it unsuitable for human consumption. Erucic acid was linked to heart muscle damage. Additionally, the EU determined that high levels of glucosinolates, anti-nutrients in the Brassica family of plants that prevent iodine absorption, even made rapeseed unsafe for animal consumption.
Canadian researchers saw the problem approaching. In response, they developed through plant cross-breeding a new variety of rapeseed with lower levels of glucosinolates and erucic acid. Their success came in the form of a new product, LEAR (low-erucic-acid rapeseed) oil, which was trademarked with a name to honor the country where it originated — canola.
Why Canola Oil got a healthy reputation?
Canadian researchers saw the problem approaching. In response, they developed through plant cross-breeding a new variety of rapeseed with lower levels of glucosinolates and erucic acid. Their success came in the form of a new product, LEAR (low-erucic-acid rapeseed) oil, which was trademarked with a name to honor the country where it originated — Canola.
Meanwhile, the war on saturated fats had just begun.
The sugar industry began paying scientists for studies that linked fat intake with heart disease. As part of that effort, saturated fats became enemy No. 1, giving way to the glorification of low-saturated-fat seed oils like canola that boasted seemingly healthy dietary stats.
All of this led to one thing: an increased demand for canola oil.
Is Canola Oil Good For you?
There is controversy surrounding the science being used to grow and manufacture canola oil, and whether the results can be harmful to our health. Here are the concerns:GMOS AND PESTICIDES
As the production of canola exponentially grew, growers needed a way to protect their crops. In 1995, agricultural giant Monsanto developed Roundup-Ready canola (Brassica napus) plants that were bio-engineered to survive glyphosate, the active ingredient in the weedkiller Roundup. This allowed farmers to douse their canola crops in glyphosate to kill off weeds without harming their crops.
Studies link high levels of glyphosate exposure to numerous health risks in people, including celiac disease, hormone disruption, and even cancer.CHEMICAL SOLVENTS
Most commercially available canola oil is extracted through a process called hexane solvent extraction.
Hexane solvent extraction is by far the cheapest and most efficient way to extract canola oil. After grinding the seed to a paste, hexane is used to extract the oil, which is heated to 212 degrees Fahrenheit and then bleached to create a lighter-colored final product. These manufacturing processes leave the oils damaged, creating higher levels of oxidation and trans fat content. All refined vegetable oils go through a process called deodorization, which creates trans fats.TRANS FATS
Hydrogenated trans fats, like what you’ll find in canola oil and ultra-processed foods, aren’t good for you. They’re associated with heart disease, obesity, and even memory loss. A recent test of canola and soybean oils on grocery store shelves found trans fat content levels between 0.56% and 4.2% of total fatty acid content.
In 2003, the FDA ruled that the amount of trans fat in a food item must be stated on the label. Research showed that the fatty acids in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils raise “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and lower “good” cholesterol (HDL). The FDA also allowed food manufacturers to label food as 0% trans fat if it contains less than 0.5g/serving. This is misleading if you’re consuming more than the serving size — a single tablespoon.
More recently, food companies started blending fully hydrogenated oils with liquid vegetable oils in a process called interesterification. This process makes the interesterified oil behave like a partially hydrogenated oil without any of the trans fat. On paper, this sounds great, but there haven’t been any studies on the effects of these newly constructed fats on the human body.
The bottom line: The scientific and health communities are concerned about the ways canola is now farmed, processed, and used in food production. Today’s production practices may be delivering health risks that outweigh the health benefits first discovered in canola.