Is Canola Oil ‘Healthy?’

flickr: paraflyer

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!

For further information check out:

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About Melanie
Melanie is a Registered Dietitian who started Dietriffic in March 2007. Her aim is to make good health attainable and sustainable, without guilt and torture, making her approach popular with those who desire a level-headed approach to good health. Have you got your copy of her free book yet?


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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Kim Knowlton November 1, 2008 at 1:53 am

Thank you so much for the research on this oil Melanie. I have been using canola oil for a number of years. I use it in salad dressings, deep frying, and in any receipe that calls for vegetable oil such as cake mixes etc… I find it’s light taste is great because unlike olive oil it does not stand out or leave a unwanted aftertaste.
I also decided to use it as I suffer from high cholesterol.

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Melanie November 1, 2008 at 7:55 am

Hi Kim,

Thank you for commenting! Yes, I find canola oil is one of the most versatile oils too. I’m glad the article was useful.

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Eb February 10, 2009 at 5:11 am

It doesnt matter how you put it, Canola oil is still extracted and produced from a toxic plant. Think about it, why would the FDA who is known for covering things up, say that there is any truth to these so called “far-fetched” claims. Another thing you have to think about is why is canola oil so cheap, at the quantities that are being produced. You need to do more research before you write an article, especially when some of your key points to help your argument are in turn hurting it.

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Melanie February 10, 2009 at 11:16 am

Eb,
Thank you for your comments.

In reality, canola oil has been extensively researched and no sound scientific study has been able to prove a connection between canola and disease.

Early studies did seem to suggest a possible link between canola oil and toxicity in rats. However, further research confirmed that rats do not metabolize any oil well, and therefore don’t make good lipid research subjects.

Unfortunately these flawed studies continue to be cited over and over again to this day in error.

While canola oil has been singled out as having toxic properties, in truth any edible oil can be transformed into poison, depending on the techniques used for processing.

Rapeseed oil is high in erucic acid, a chemical that can become toxic in large enough amounts. But, canola plants have been bred to produce very little erucic acid and is therefore one of the healthier oils.

As with anything, moderation is the key, and I certainly do not advocate a high intake of any type of oil.

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Heather March 19, 2010 at 3:36 am

Canola oil is healthy if you consider drinking liquid with a skull and crossbones symbol on them healthy. Canola is nothing more then mass marketed poison.

I don’t care what the “experts” say, because frankly they haven’t bothered to study it. I have had food poisoning before and I relive the horrible agony every time I eat anything with canola in it. Chills, shakes, sweats, vomiting and diarrhea. I am not the only one. Go do a search for “I am allergic to canola” and not only will you find a slew of sites of HUMAN BEINGS being plagued by everything from respritory issues to the same troubles I have.

I don’t care if the FDA approved it to eat, my body tells me not to.

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Melanie March 20, 2010 at 10:59 am

Hi Heather,
Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

You know what, since writing this article back in 2008, I’ve probably had a change of heart to some respects. I don’t like to vilify any food, personally I believe all things in moderation. But, I’m going to come back to this subject of oils soon.

Your symptoms sound terrible, do you find it difficult to avoid foods containing canola oil now?

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Heather March 21, 2010 at 1:21 am

Melanie,

I agree with your statement about not vilifying foods, however I don’t really consider canola to be a food. It is a weed that has to be genetically modified to be non toxic. That’s why it is popular to produce, from what I understand birds and insects will not eat it because in it’s natural state it is poisonous to them.

Yes it is getting harder all the time to find foods that don’t include it. Besides foods being fried in it, It is in most breads products now. Imagine if you couldn’t eat 90% of all types of bread. Even salad croutons, not that I can eat salad when I’m out anyway because it’s most likely in the dressing. It makes it hard to get your grain intake. It’s in most cakes or pies and “junk” foods, not that I am a big fan, but it looks rediculous when I can’t eat my own birthday cake. Even in products that I never imagined like peanut butter, pickles and salsa. I already don’t eat red meat because now people are using canola meal feed so I’m not willing to take the risk.

Basically fish and fruit and veggies and hopefully soon more GMO free foods as they cannot use any genetically modified ingredients in their products. Unfortunately right now the list is only about four pages long, for basically everything on the market.

I have found a website where people with my problem can get a general guideline of what not to eat where due to their previous problems. They do updates when restaurants change to or from canola as an ingredient, although it is usually changing to. It helps greatly in the event I venture out to eat.

One thing that makes it VERY difficult to avoid is the fact that some makers of vegetable oil are now making a blend of veg and canola to cut costs, so if I asked if in house bread is made with canola, they will say “no, it’s vegetable”.

The thing that scares me about all this is that if you look at the FDA’s statement you have posted here, it says that 19 grams SHOULD be fine, but if you look at the product labels on foods today, they don’t even tell you HOW MUCH is in the food, so people could be eating two or three times that much daily and not even know it. Back then it was only even considered when frying foods, not when adding it to 70% of most food stuffs. Also according to the FDA’s website, the 8 “testing” groups they had only ate it for on average four weeks, and only via “food logs” which they presume people to be honest about. The longest group ate it in various foods for six months, but again only via food logs, so if they had any type of discomfort…. would they really truly know why?

I spent five years of my life trying to figure out what was causing me so much pain. Others I have read about spent ten or more years in similar situations, and were given various diagnoses ranging from IBS to Chron’s disease and various other “gastrointestinal disorders”. It makes me wonder what digestive people’s health will be like ten years from now.

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Wayne December 16, 2010 at 4:49 am

Hi Melanie,

This is my first time on your website. You have a very nice smile, I must say. My main concern lies in the patterns that seem to be developing in the edorsements of products such as cooking oils by gov agencies, western health practitioners, etc. and the naturopathic ideologies coming to surface in rescent times. In ther words, the FDA vs Grandma, so to speak.

This whole debacle is in no way limited to oils, nevertheless, the confusion over whom to trust is overwhelming. But it does get easier to make descisions as the gov shoots themselves in the foot by telling me I need a flu vaccine ( yikes! have you heard the latest! ) Body scanning is harmless (Los Alamos studies are wrong when it leaked that back scatter rays rip apart DNA at the derma level?) The plume of smoke over So Cal was an airliner (Now they must think I’m really stupid. I’m a commercial pilot and I know what kind of smoke I leave behind.)

The lies are piling up on one side and the positive proof is surfacing on the other. I think Grandma will win this one unless BIG GOV slams and locks the door in her face. As for me, back to the fatty oils, such as coconut, almond, olive, and yes,even lard. Goodbye to canola and I’ll observe my health for a while. Much Love Melanie, Wayne

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Eric Musselman January 31, 2012 at 3:39 am

I was given a copy of an e-mail several years ago about a elderly woman who had used canola oil for several years,Her daugter was joking with her and playfully smacked her mothers arm with a table knife and they claim that because she used canola oil that is why her arm burst open.I find this very hard to believe

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Melanie January 31, 2012 at 12:51 pm

Me, too :-/

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sac September 19, 2012 at 2:47 pm

never use this oil it is bad for you

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Melanie September 19, 2012 at 5:52 pm

I need to update this article, Sac, as I have come to agree with your opinion on it. This article was written a long time back in 2007.

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Jason July 6, 2013 at 6:43 pm

I eat only vegan, mostly organic and almost exclusively raw. I LOVE Canola oil, it feel great ever time I eat it; same with soy oil. I look fantastic as well. I’m proper weight to height ratio because I watch portion control emphatically, which I find to be the best guide to overall health; i.e., proper weight and body mass, something I see few people do anymore. Regardless of what you eat, if you eat too much of it you will not be as healthy as if you watched your overall intake and portion sizes. The next most important thing is activity, HEALTHY activity. I walk about 10 miles a day. When I’m not walking I’m biking or jogging. I do this because I like to see what I look in the mirror and I like to have a physique that gets multiple page views from women of the under thirty-something crowd. I’m going to be 50 in a couple months and most people guess my age at mid 30′s so eat my a$$ (it’ll likely taste better than most people’s cooking anyway.) You’re all a bunch of fanatics which spend far too much time on the internet arguing, trying to be right, when you could be off your rear end moving around. I’m going out for a jog. CYA,

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Wayne Rivali December 13, 2013 at 9:49 am

WHAT! Are you joking? Canola stands for Canadian Oil, and is 100% GMO. Two of the references you provide are from pro canola entities. And Wikipedia? Ha!
Sweden became the first Western country to change it’s demonizing tune about saturated fats. Trans fats are not great, but they’re not anywhere near as bad as heated PUFAs and MUFAs, with which canola is very well loaded.
Much better options are coconut and pure olive oils. They are more expensive, of course, but the idea is to pay the grocer now, or the hospital later.

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Melanie December 13, 2013 at 11:52 am

Wayne, you are completely right, this article is pretty old, and needs to be re-written ASAP. In recent days I’ve written quite a bit about oils and fats that are much healthier.

See here http://www.dietriffic.com/2012/07/26/is-coconut-oil-healthy/ and here http://www.dietriffic.com/2012/05/16/saturated-fat-good-or-bad/

Thanks for you comment, I will definitely re-do this one ASAP.

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Wayne Rivali December 15, 2013 at 8:06 am

Melanie, in retrospect, I came across in a manner of slightly unprofessional ridicule in response to your article, and my apologies are in order. I believe I am suffering from fatigue of companies singing a healthy tune to unsuspecting consumers who are trying to improve their diet by ignorantly falling for despicable marketing strategies that deliberately deceive in the name of health. I feel compelled to correct as I see fit, and my opinions on these subjects are gladly yours if you will have them. Wayne

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