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The Inconvenient Truth About Canola Oil

The Inconvenient Truth About Canola Oil

According to the mainstream media, Canola oil is “heart healthy” and a good source of monounsaturated fats similar to olive oil. Unfortunately, much of what you hear in the mainstream media has been influenced by the heavy-handed marketing tactics of big food companies.

Canola oil is cheap to produce, so they’ve spent a lot of money trying to convince you to think Canola is a “health oil” so that consumers, restaurants, institutions, etc. will buy it up as their main oil of choice.

Here is the inconvenient truth about Canola oil. 

A Brief History of Canola

Canola oil is made from the seeds of a plant called rape, which is in the turnip family. Since the Industrial Revolution, rapeseed oil has been an important component of lubricants for ships and steam engines, because unlike most oils, it sticks to wet metal.

During World War II the U.S. built a lot of ships, and so needed lots of rapeseed oil, but couldn’t get it from traditional suppliers in Europe and Asia. The Canadian rapeseed industry, which had been relatively small, exploded to fill the gap, and played an important role in the allied naval effort, becoming rich and powerful in the process.

But rapeseed oil demand fell hard when the war was over, and so began an intensive program to breed a rapeseed edible to humans. Traditional rapeseed oil contains almost 60 percent monounsaturated fatty acids (compared to about 70 percent in olive oil). Unfortunately, about two-thirds of the monounsaturated fatty acids in rapeseed oil are erucic acid, a 22-carbon monounsaturated fatty acid that had been associated with Keshan’s disease, which causes fibrotic lesions on the heart.

But, in 1978, the word “Canola” was invented to describe a new type of oilseed that was selectively bred from the original rapeseed to have significantly less erucic acid. This new oil was first developed in Canada, and the name Canola actually comes from the term, Canadian oil, low acid. In nature, there is actually no such thing as a “Canola plant” that produces “Canola oil.”

The more interesting part of the history of Canola oil is how such an industrial oil became the most popular cooking oil used today…

In collusion with the American Heart Association, numerous government agencies and departments of nutrition at major universities, the food oil industry had been promoting polyunsaturated oils as a heart-healthy alternative to “artery-clogging” saturated fats.

But by the late 1970s, the cooking oil industry in North America realized it had a problem: It had become increasingly clear that consumption of industrial, polyunsaturated oils—particularly corn oil and soybean oil—was strongly associated with numerous inflammatory health problems, including heart disease and cancer.

The industry was in a bind. It could not continue using large amounts of liquid polyunsaturated oils and make health claims about them in the face of mounting evidence of their dangers. Nor could manufacturers return to using traditional healthy saturated fats—butter, lard, tallow, palm oil and coconut oil—without causing an uproar. Besides, these fats cost far too much for the huge profit margins in the industry.

According to “The Great Con-ola,” the solution was to embrace the use of monounsaturated oils, such as olive oil. Studies had shown that olive oil has a “better” effect than polyunsaturated oils on cholesterol levels and other blood parameters. Besides, Ancel Keys and other promoters of the now-debunked lipid hypothesis had popularized the notion that the Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil protected against heart disease and ensured a long and healthy life.

But, olives require special growing conditions that make it impossible for olive oil to be used widely, plus olive oil is costly, especially for commercial products like margarine, biscuits, salad dressings, etc.

In the 1980s, Canola oil began to be marketed in the United States. For that to happen, it had to be granted GRAS (generally regarded as safe) status by the Food and Drug Administration. GRAS status is typically awarded to foods and herbal products that have been traditionally used, for hundreds or even thousands of years, without known adverse effects.

Canola oil, however, was a new product without any track record. And it was developed from a banned product known to have toxic effects. So how did it obtain GRAS status? No one knows for sure, but it has been rumored that the Canadian government spent US$50 million to get it approved.

Genetic Engineering and Canola

While the original Canola was created through basic laboratory breeding and selection techniques, a major modification in 1995 introduced Canola that was genetically engineered to contain bacterial DNA to make it resistant to the toxic herbicide, Roundup.

Genetically modified crops are made in the lab from combining the DNA of two or more different species that cannot naturally reproduce together (like tuna and tomatoes). Such Franken-food could never occur in nature, even by random mutation. In fact, most Canola oil today comes from genetically engineered seed so far deviated from natural rapeseed that it can be patented.

Today, about 82 percent of the world’s Canola crop is genetically engineered to resist Roundup. The Roundup-Ready Canola seed is patented by Monsanto, and farmers can be sued for saving the seed or for having “unauthorized” Canola plants on their fields.

Since pollen drift is impossible to stop, it is almost impossible for organic Canola farmers to keep these patented contaminants out of their crops. It is also next to impossible for farmers (organic or otherwise) to combat the Superweeds that are evolving in response to constant, massive doses of Roundup.

There are numerous concerns about genetically engineered (GM) crops that should make anyone cautious (at best) about their consumption. But the simple fact that Roundup-Ready Canola is doused repeatedly throughout the season with an extremely toxic herbicide that is known to harm both people and planet, is reason enough to stay far away from it.

Bogus Health Claims for Canola

It is true that Canola oil is high in monounsaturates, but Canola oil is anything but “healthy.” Canola oil typically ranges between 55-65% monounsaturated fat and between 28-35% polyunsaturated fat, with just a small amount of saturated fat.

While we’ve been led to believe that high monounsaturated fat oils are good for us (which they are in the case of extra virgin olive oil or from unprocessed nuts or seeds), the fact is that Canola oil has more detriments than it does benefits.

One of the biggest problems with highly processed, industrial oils such as corn oil, soybean oil and Canola oil, is that the polyunsaturated component of the oil is highly unstable under heat, light, and pressure, which heavily oxidize the polyunsaturates, increasing free radicals in your body.

The end result of all of this refining and processing are oils that are highly inflammatory in your body when you ingest them, potentially contributing to heart disease, cancer, weight gain, and other degenerative diseases.

Related: See The Skinny on Fat, Part 1  for more information on processed oils and disease.

The reason that extra virgin olive oil is good for you is that it is usually cold pressed without the use of heat and solvents to aid extraction. Canola oil, on the other hand, is typically extracted and refined using high heat, pressure, and toxic petroleum solvents such as hexane, which is known to cause nerve damage in humans. Almost all Canola oil undergoes a process of caustic refining, degumming, bleaching, and deodorization, all using high heat and questionable chemicals.

(If your food requires hexane, degumming solvents, bleaching and chemical deodorization, should you be eating it?)

Even worse, all of the high-heat, high-pressure processing with solvents actually forces some of the omega-3 content of Canola oil to be transformed into trans fats! According to Dr. Mary Enig, Nutritional Biochemist, “Although the Canadian government lists the trans fat content of Canola at a minimal 0.2 percent, research at the University of Florida at Gainesville, found trans fat levels as high as 4.6 percent in commercial liquid Canola oil.”

And this is the crap that they are marketing to you as a “heart-healthy” oil!

Possibly the greatest danger of Canola oil is that even though it now has Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status, no long-term studies on humans have ever been done. Animal studies on Low Erucic Acid Rapeseed oil were performed when the oil was first developed and have continued to the present. The results challenge not only the health claims made for Canola oil, but also the theoretical underpinnings of the lipid hypothesis.

In 1996, Japanese scientists announced a study wherein a special Canola oil diet had actually killed laboratory animals. Reacting to this unpublished, but verified and startling information, a duplicate study was conducted by Canadian scientists, using piglets and a Canola oil-based milk-replacer diet. In this second study, published in Nutrition Research, 1997, the researchers verified that Canola oil somehow depleted the piglets of vitamin E to a dangerously low level.

Any “food” substance that depletes vitamin E rapidly is extremely dangerous. Vitamin E is absolutely essential to human health. It is critically necessary in the body when processed fats are eaten because Vitamin E controls the lipid peroxidation that results in dangerous free-radical activity, which in turn causes lesions in your arteries and other problems.

Canola oil now has been shown to be a very heavy abuser of Vitamin E, with the potential for rapidly depleting the body of this important vitamin.

Research also shows that canola oil causes detrimental changes to blood platelets, and it shortens the life span in rats that are prone to stroke if it is the only oil in the diet.  It also appears to impede growth which may explain why it is not allowed in infant formula.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that Canola is an inflammatory oil in your body that contains foreign, genetically engineered DNA, trans fats, and toxic chemical residues. It is also an environmental scourge and a threat to organic farming, and it should be avoided at all costs.

The dangers of canola oil make its use unjustifiable. Healthier, traditional alternatives include:

  • Extra virgin olive oil – for low temperature cooking or as a healthy salad dressing oil. Do not heat olive oil!
  • Virgin coconut oil - great for all temperatures of cooking due to it’s high stability under heat. A great source of healthy saturated fats in the form of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), one of which is Lauric Acid, which helps support the immune system and is lacking in most western diets. (where to find coconut oil online)
  • Organic grass-fed butter or ghee - a great source of Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA), which has even been shown in studies to help prevent cancer, and help muscle building and fat burning. Ghee is better at high temperatures than even coconut oil.
  • Lard, tallow and other animal fats from grass-fed, pasture-raised animals – also a source of CLA, Vitamin D, and saturated fats that help with hormone balance, brain function and vitamin absorption.

PAID ENDORSEMENT DISCLOSURE: I may receive monetary compensation or other types of remuneration for my recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog, including Amazon.com links. These small earnings make it possible for me to continue writing this blog for you. That said, I only recommend products I genuinely love, and that I believe would be of value to my readers.
Thank you for your support!

MEDICAL DISCLOSURE: Your health is between you and your health care practitioner. Nothing in this blog is intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations is at the choice and risk of the reader.





30 Comments

  1. I’ve heard this about canola before, but it’s great to have all the facts you’ve outlined here. We’ve stopped using canola and use mostly EVOO and Coconut Oil. The problem though is my son is atopic (allergies, eczema) and can’t consume coconut or dairy products without breaking out in eczema. How high can we heat EVOO so that it’s still safe?  Is there another alternative to the lard/animal fat products? What about unrefined sunflower or grapeseed, etc? 

    Thanks so much for sharing this valuable information. I hope people take it to heart. It’s hard to make a change and face the truth. Not everyone is willing, but I hope you can  help spark change.

    Jennifer

  2. This is very informative! Thank you for sharing with Healthy 2Day Wednesday; come back next week to see if you were featured!

  3. Great advice, we stopped cooking with Sunflower oil this year when I found out about the dangers of polyunsaturated oils! Although rapeseed oil has been available in the UK it’s not as heavily marketed as it is in the US! Thank you for the in depth explanation! 

  4. This great post is featured at Sunday Snippets this week! Thanks for sharing! Come
    and check it out!

    http://realfoodforager.com/sunday-snippets-january-29-2012/

    • Awesome! Wow, I’m honored :) Thanks!

  5. I was not sleeping well a while back. I took that canola our of my diet (along with aspartame) and I was sleeping like a rock. I thought I was the only person who knew  that stuff was poison.

  6. I have heard some rumblings about the ill effects of Canola oil, thanks for the research you did in this article.  I would love to read a similar article about Safflower oil, though I’m not sure I want to hear the results…my favorite mayonnaise is made with safflower.

  7. Well done! Sadly I didn’t learn this stuff until I went to school to become a Nutritional Therapist Practitioner. If it’s alright with you I would like to share your excellent post on my little cooking blog in hopes that my family and friends will read it!

    • Thank you! Feel free to share this post widely; all I ask is that you link back to my original article. Best to you!

  8. I think canola oil is just getting a bad rap because of articles like these. I read an article that it is used as a insect repellant because it suffocates insects. Like c’mon! if you were a small insect and someone poured oil on you, you’d be helpless! Any oil can be used as an insect exterminator. If it says low saturated fat and high good fats. That’s it. No more conspiracy theories etc. Anything can be made dangerous. You can kill someone with water. Remember the Dihydrogen monoxide scare? This only shows how gullible people are when it comes to “dangerous stuff” research. Search about the dangers of dihydrogen monoxide, AKA water!

    • I think the many published scientists who found that GE canola was detrimental to health and the environment would disagree.

      Thanks for the comment!

  9. I have written several posts on my own blog which concern Roundup and Monsanto. I am particularly incensed with their recent production of ‘kill seeds’ that will not re-germinate

    I am astonished at what we are allowing Monsanto to get away with. Their motto of “No Food Shall Be Grown That We Do Not Own” is about to become our reality.

    To make matters worse, our own FDA is just a revolving door for the people like Michael Taylor and Donald Rumsfeld, who influence federal policy and return to work for Monsanto after they leave public office.

    For a complete overview of what Monsanto is up to, you must watch the DVD, “The World According To Monsanto” . http://www.health.6millionrich.com.

    I have taken the time to break the dvd up into 10 – 10 minute segments. You will never look at food production the same way again.

    Thank you, Dawn, for allowing me to expose as many people as possible to the threat that Monsanto poses to the health of our children. For Ross, the video has plenty of documentation.

  10. Thank you everyone for your comments, and for making healthier choices for yourself and your families. I had no idea this issue would strike such a chord with so many people.

    Traditional, real food is very important to me (and to us all) for both health and environmental reasons, so I hope you’ll read some of my other food-related posts in the archives, as well as come back to visit again.

    Best,
    Dawn @ Smallfootprintfamily

  11. so your primary source is a newsletter put out by a SDA ministry…i wish you’d cite all the resources you (and he) used to come up with these claims…

    by the way, the genetic manipulation you refer to that produced the original canola oil was CROSS-BREEDING.

    • Thank you for your comment. My primary sources, if you read the whole article, are Dr. Mary Enig and the work of Dr. Weston A. Price and the Weston Price Foundation, for which there are additional links within the post.

      The genetic manipulation that made traditional rapeseed into Canola oil is called seed splitting, a highly technical hybridization process that can only be done in a lab. This allowed plant scientists to analyze the half-seed using Gas-Liquid Chromotograpy (GLC) and then select from the remaining partitioned seed only those showing desirable traits for the next generation. Seed splitting is not conventional plant cross-breeding, which has been done for thousands of years through carefully selecting and cross-pollinating species over time.

      However, today, Canola oil has been genetically engineered by inserting the DNA of bacteria to bring forth qualities that would never be natural to a plant through any breeding technique. This engineering renders the rapeseed plant relatively immune to toxic Roundup, and enables the creator (Monsanto) to patent the seed, preventing farmers from saving the seed. One of the problems with this is that canola is wind pollinated, and pollen from the genetically engineered variety easily drifts and contaminates the fields of farmers who are trying to grow organic Canola oil. This has resulted in lawsuits and great loss of livelihood for many farmers whose crops were accidentally contaminated.

      There is also substantial evidence that the Roundup Ready gene has drifted to related weed species, creating a new generation of “super-weeds” that are Roundup resistant as well, leading to even heavier usage of the toxic chemical or even stronger, more dangerous herbicides.

      • There is NO SUCH THING as ORGANIC CANOLA OIL. Its not a natural plant, its genetically modified. How can this be organic? Monsanto is allowed to do what they do because they have so many of their cronies in the District of Columbia that do their bidding. Just take a look at a few of our current Justices, Clarence Thomas, former cousel for monsanto, Stephen Breyer, whos younger brother is a lower court judge involved in a major decision regarding monsanto and GM Alfalfa, let alone our newest member Kagan, who filed suit on behalf on Monsanto when California wanted to push a ban on releasing the untested, unstudied genetic monstrosity. This is called hedging your bets, and you can take your money to the bank on Monsanto getting its products to the market someday soon. Now, for all of you people that still think this is a Democrat/Liberal Rupublican/Conservative issue realize that Thomas was nominated by a Republican Conservative in office an Kagan was nomiated by the most liberal Democrat who’s ever set foot in Washington. Isn’t that funny that two, supposed polar opposite political viewpoints would both put PRO-Monsanto bench reps? If you can’t see that our gov is bought, paid and controlled for by someone else behind the scenes that pushes THIER buttons and controls their agenda, but keeps every one else looking at these puppets as their blame targets, then this is going to keep getting worse, and worse and worse. Those in DC ALL work for the SAME people. Until we as Americans wake up and see this and do something to change it, we will be the fatest, most sick, most unhealthy people eating GM chemicals and popping killer pharma drugs in the world. HMMMMM, oh, this is what we are now… but don’t turn that channel on my DWTS… and don’t touch the remote on my 3D television, let alone touch my Prada bag or even look at my Gucchi watch.

        The really sad thing is, most Americans actually go to the polls to elect people to supposedly represent them and never take any time to look at thier past voting record, their current political financiers or even what they vote for once they are in office.

        Most Americans couldn’t be pulled away from their TV’s long enough to know that their country and freedoms are being dimantled right under their very own noses; and by the very same people they voted to put in office.

  12. Indeed, his is a VERY interesting post, but is it credible? I have absolutely NO WAY of knowing? I love a good conspiracy theory as much as the next guy, but with out data to back it up, it’s just that–a theory. Not a fact. If the author turned this paper in to his/her professor at school, it would summarily be returned with an “F” at the top and the comment: “No references sited; quote your sources.” Any undergrad can tell you the first rule of decent research is to find peer-reviewed literature that supports your hypothesis and use that to bolster your argument. WHERE’S THE EVIDENCE??? Subsequently, this is all OPINION.

    • Ross, Thanks for your comment. Indeed this is a blog post, not a research paper intended for a grade at school. Blog posts are typically easy-to-read summaries of information that reflect the concerns of the author and the theme of the blog. They also often contain links to more information for readers like yourself who want more detail. As such, if you click on any of the links within this post, you will find ample peer-reviewed science with tons of footnotes, especially within “The Great Con-ola,” which goes into far more detail about the history and harm of Canola oil than I do.

      Best,
      Dawn @ SmallFootprintFamily

      • Thanks, Dawn, for your feedback. I definitely understand the difference, and concur that each writing style has its place; however, the sampling of comments which follow this post are what trouble me. Emily feels a need to “re-read parts of it so i can better explain to friends and family (sic),” so how “easy-to-read” the summary is in-and-of-itself might be called into question. Food Renegade lauds it as a “well-researched post,” but as you pointed out the “research” was done by Fallon and Enig. To my reading it was NOT peer-reviewed, but rather conducted by a private, not-for-profit foundation and published on-line by the same organization, rather than in a refereed, peer-reviewed journal, which calls its credibility into question somewhat. That’s not to say it isn’t completely true and that your post isn’t entirely accurate. The point is. I HAVE NO WAY OF KNOWING THAT.

  13. An eye opener, thank you for spelling out the truth behind Canola oil. Hardly use it today, but I can remember when dietitians were pushing this stuff on us for our “heart healthy” menus and modified recipes when I was in the health care industry.

    Regards,
    CCR =:~)

  14. Great post! I knew most of this, but the “Round Up resistance” was new to me. Yikes!

  15. Who knew Canola was a made-up word for a genetically hybridized plant? For this reason alone, I will avoid it as the plague. Thank you for the information.

  16. Great post! So glad to finally read a comprehensive info on Canola. I’ve always wondered how this oil is made.

  17. I had no idea. I always thought canola oil was the healthiest oil (after olive oil) to cook with. What’s your take on regular vegetable oil?

    • My research has shown me that all industrial yellow seed oils (corn, soybean, canola, etc.) are harmful. They are new products to the human diet (less than 100 years old) that must be industrially produced. They are now also genetically engineered foods that are heavily treated with toxic pesticides or contain pesticides in their very cells. These polyunsaturated yellow oils have been linked to cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity, and they disrupt the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in our diet. Their farming and manufacture is very harmful to the environment as well.

      I write more about this in The Skinny on Fat, Part 1.

      Thanks for your comment!

  18. You know I actually have a tub of substitute butter at home that has “Non-GMO” on the label, and the main ingredient is canola oil? Ugh. I was trying to use it up so I can replace it with something else, but I think it’s just going to go in the trash now.

    Anyway, this advice is backed up in the footnotes of this post:
    http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/2009/06/06/saturated-fat/
    by Dr. Michael Eades and Dr. Mary Dan Eades.

    • Thanks Marcie! I love the 7 Reasons to Eat More Saturated Fat article.

      Just let that Canola go!! :D

      -Dawn

  19. Excellent post! I think canola is one of the greatest cons pulled on consumers. Everyone seems convinced that canola is the epitome of a healthy oil, and that’s ill-conceived at best.

  20. Truly informative and well-researched post! What a great contribution to today’s Fight Back Friday carnival.

    Thanks!
    ~KristenM
    (AKA FoodRenegade)

  21. awesome info, i need to re-read parts of it so i can better explain to friends and family WHY canola oil isnot so great.

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