Corn oil comes from corn: sunflower oil from sunflowers, sesame oil from sesame seeds, peanut oil from peanuts, olive oil from olives, Canola oil from…Canolas? What is a Canola? And why is the word “Canola” capitalized?
Canola is an engineered plant developed in Canada. The oil is derived from the rapeseed plant (an excellent insect repellent, by the way.) The rapeseed is a member of the mustard family. Rapeseed oil has been used extensively in many parts of the world, namely India, Japan, and China. Before the rapeseed was genetically engineered, about two-thirds of the monounsaturated fatty acids were erucic acid. Erucic acid was associated with Keshan’s disease, a condition which is characterized by fibrous lesions of the heart. In the late 1970s, Canadian plant breeders were able to create a variety of rapeseed which produced a monounsaturated oil which was much lower in erucic acid. This “new” oil was originally called LEAR oil (Low Erucic Acid Rapeseed.) Neither “rape” nor “lear” created an appealing image: hence, Canola …(“Canada” and “oil.”)
Canola oil is marketed as an oil very low in saturated fat and high in monounsaturated fat. Diets high in saturated fats have been blamed for the incidence of higher levels of heart disease (although recent research is supporting the value of select saturated fats such as grass-fed beef and organic butter.) Studies involving a traditional Mediterranean diet which is naturally high in monounsaturated fats are pointing to lower rates of both cancer and heart disease.
Canola oil also possesses a beneficial omega-3 fatty acid profile. Recent research touts the myriad benefits of omega-3’s.
Polyunsaturated oils have recently come under increased scrutiny. Yet, studies involving olive oil, a monounsaturated oil, point to positive health benefits and disease prevention. Being that Canola oil is a monounsaturated oil, this may make Canola oil superior to other polyunsaturated oils such as sunflower, corn, and safflower oil.
Canola oil is, for the most part, tasteless, — making it a good choice for baked goods.
Canola oil took the market by storm, as it is relatively inexpensive to produce, especially compared to olive oil. Olive oil has a long history of scientifically documented health benefits. The problem with olive oil is that there is not enough olive oil in the world to meet the industry’s needs. In addition, olive oil is too expensive to use in most processed foods. Canola oil has filled this need for a mass-produced, publicly acceptable form of a monounsaturated oil.
Olive oil is the gold standard, documented with extensive research. Quality olive oil (Extra Virgin, Cold-pressed) is manufactured by this simple process: The olives are pressed, the oil collected. The food oil industry is promoting Canola oil as an equally healthy twin to olive oil. This is deceptive, as there are few studies involving Canola oil and human health. (Numerous animal studies point to serious and deleterious effects of canola oil on rats and pigs.)
In addition to the genetic modification, the process of making Canola oil is troubling. The procedure involves a combination of high-temperature mechanical pressing and solvent extract, usually using hexane. Hexane! Even after considerable refining, traces of the solvent remain. Like most vegetable oils, Canola oil also goes through the process of bleaching, degumming, deodorizing, and caustic refining, at very high temperatures. This process can alter the omega-3 content in the oil, and in certain conditions bring the trans fat level as high as 40 percent.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to find products that do not contain Canola oil. A popular “crafty” mayonnaise brand boasts the phrase “With Olive Oil,” along with a picture of an olive and olive leaves on the front label. Upon reading the fine print in the ingredients on the back label, you discover that Canola oil is listed at the top of the long paragraph, olive oil near the end. Even worse are products promoting that they are made with olive oil, yet listed in the ingredients, the manufacturers state: “May include olive, Canola, or sunflower oil.” The consumer thinks they are buying salad dressing made with olive oil, yet it could be Canola or sunflower oil. This is insulting to the health conscious population.
Canola oil is victim to both hype and hoax. To view both the hype and the hoax, visit Snopes.com and type in: “Canola Oil.”
The only way to prove either hype or hoax is to do more human studies evaluating the safety of this mass-produced and consumed human-engineered oil. The FDA claims that genetically altered/engineered foods are perfectly safe. (They made this same claim with Thalidomide and Vioxx.)
At least the FDA has taken a stance to protect babies from the unknown risks of Canola oil. The FDA prohibits Canola oil from being used in infant formula. Shouldn’t we know why?
Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (2009, February 13)
MG Enig, Trans Fatty Acids in the Food Supply: A Comprehensive Report Covering 60 Years of Research, 2nd Edition, Enig Associates, Inc., Silver Spring, MD, 1995
Wall Street Journal, June 7, 1995, p. B6
About the author
Cindie Leonard has a Master’s degree in Psychology and specializes in research (namely psychoneuroimmunology), enjoys savoring time with family and friends, spoiling her pets, travel, beaches, cavorting around San Diego, volunteering at Torrey Pines State Reserve, and working on perfecting the art of “il dolce far niente.” http://www.cindieleonard.com
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