Note: You might be interested in my series on Cooking Oils which looks at olive oil, coconut oil, rice bran oil, and others.
A few people I’ve talked with recently have raised their concerns about the use of canola oil in cooking. Essentially, they’re asking “Is canola oil healthy?”
However, the use of this oil is widely supported by many health care professionals, who consider it to be safe and healthy for human consumption.
A simple search on the internet displays some very disturbing, and sometimes far fetched, claims about canola oil. These are just a few:
- Canola was produced via genetic modification from the rapeseed plant.
- Rape is the most toxic of all food plants.
- Canola oil contains large amounts of isothiocynates that contain cyanide.
- It was used to make mustard gas – the poison gas that was used during WW1.
- It inhibits the enzyme acetylcholinesterase, an enzyme critical for transmission of nerve signals in the body.
- Canola is an industrial oil, which doesn’t belong in the human body.
- It causes mad cow disease.
In reality, I couldn’t find any reliable evidence to support such claims.
Much of what I read at the beginning of my search appears to have been regurgitated over and over again, as I visited a number of different sites. Therefore, I feel that some of these claims are another example of the misguided, incorrect and unscientific information, which is unfortunately so prevalent.
This reminds me of a saying, “Tell a lie loud enough, and long enough, and people will believe you!” I think this is very true of much of what we hear in the media, and read on the internet today (okay okay, so you’re reading this on the internet, too…but at least I’m qualified ;) )
To clarify things further, lets take a look at how canola oil is produced.
Where does canola oil come from?
Canola oil comes from the rape seed, which is part of the mustard family of plants. Before 1971, oil prepared from rapeseed contained erucic acid in the range of 30 to 60%. In animal studies, these high levels had been associated with cardiac lesions. For this reason rapeseed oil was considered unhealthy for human consumption.
As a result, rapeseed varieties were bred using traditional, natural plant breeding techniques. Today canola oil has a low erucic acid content (less than 2%, with an average of 0.6%), while still maintaining high levels of the healthier monounsaturated fats.
For this reason, canola oil is now considered safe for human consumption. It is also important to note that this breeding technique is not Genetic Modification.
What are the benefits of using canola oil?
The FDA state that:
“Limited and not conclusive scientific evidence suggests that eating about 1 1/2 tablespoons (19 grams) of canola oil daily may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, due to the unsaturated fat content in canola oil. To achieve this possible benefit, canola oil is to replace a similar amount of saturated fat, and not increase the total number of calories you eat in a day.”
In addition to the above, canola oil is:
- High in unsaturated fats (93%).
- Free of cholesterol and trans fat.
- Lowest in saturated fat (7%) of the common oils.
- Good source of omega 3 fatty acids – 1 tablespoon provides 1.3g n-3 fatty acid.
- Has a high smoke point (220 C), meaning it can be heated to a higher temperature, without its antioxidants, colour and flavour spoiling.
- Neutral taste and light texture, making it a multi-purpose cooking oil.
As with olive oil, the “cold press” version offers the purest flavour and greatest nutrient content. In cold pressing, chemical solvents are not used, and the oil isn’t heated above 150 C. However, if you do opt for the cold pressed oil, unfortunately you’ll have to pay a premium price.
I can’t see anything wrong with using canola oil in cooking at this stage, if this is your preference. However, like many foods, it should be used in moderation, as it has a high calorie content.
Personally, I’m going to continue to use olive oil, where possible, but have no concerns about using canola oil as a reserve oil.
Do you use canola oil in cooking? What are your thoughts on this article? I’d love to hear from you!
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