Is canola oil healthy? If you have not been living under a rock for the past few years, then chances are you have heard that saturated fats from grass-fed livestock or from plants and fruit like coconuts, is not bad to our health like we previously thought.
Think about it. People at the turn of the century were eating butter, eggs, and bacon for breakfast without the increasing rates of cardiovascular disease, obesity, or cancer we see today. When you look at the history of what types of oils and fats were used over this past century, you can further appreciate how the use of genetically modified oils have contributed to the demise of our health.
When some shady research came out that saturated fats cause heart disease in the early 1900’s, people stopped eating real food and switched to dangerous oils like corn and soy. As these oils were touted as healthy, people chose them over saturated fats and a very clear spike in heart disease and diabetes was observed. These cheap oils were even given to livestock as they were effective in making the animals gain weight.
Canola oil is no exception to these deleterious oils. It is genetically-modified and the processing it needs to go through to become an oil makes it unfit for human consumption.
What is Canola oil?
The food industry was looking for cheaper alternatives to saturated fats in foods. As a result, in the early 1970’s, canola was bred from rapeseed oil (which comes from the seeds of the rapeseed plant) in Canada. Over 90 percent of Canola oil is genetically-modified. Wild rapeseed is high in a substance called erucic acid, which is known to affect health negatively. Canola was formulated in order to create an oil with low erucic acid content. The name ‘canola’ was given from the words ‘canada’ and ‘ola’ (which means oil). 1
For a clearer picture about what happens during the processing of Canola oil, here is a description from a world-renowned lipids research specialist, Dr. Mary Enig:
Like all modern vegetable oils, canola oil goes through the process of refining, bleaching and degumming — all of which involve high temperatures or chemicals of questionable safety. And because canola oil is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which easily become rancid and foul-smelling when subjected to oxygen and high temperatures, it must be deodorized. The standard deodorization process removes a large portion of the omega-3 fatty acids by turning them into trans fatty acids. Although the Canadian government lists the trans content of canola at a minimal 0.2 percent, research at the University of Florida at Gainesville, found trans levels as high as 4.6 percent in commercial liquid oil. The consumer has no clue about the presence of trans fatty acids in canola oil because they are not listed on the label.” 2
It is amazing what the right marketing can do. Canola oil was advertised as being high in omega 3 fatty acids and low in saturated fat. What those clever marketers did not tell the public was that the omega-3 fatty acids were hydrogenated and turned into trans-fatty acids, which are known to cause inflammation and heart disease.
Is Canola oil Healthy?
Trans-fatty acids are well-documented for their contribution to inflammation and heart disease. As stated previously, canola oil is partially hydrogenated, largely contributing to its trans-fatty acid content.
The US Food and Drug Administration recently announced that partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, the primary source of industrial trans-fatty acids, will no longer be “generally recognized as safe” for use in food. 3 This was based on research that found that the consumption of trans-fatty acids was associated with adverse lipid effects, endothelial dysfunction, and pro-inflammatory responses. 4
If the FDA is warning us against the dangers of these processed oils, it is safe to say that there is enough research to implicate their danger.
In a large prospective study looking at 2,742 older adults aged 75 years old over a period of 18 years, trans-fatty acid levels were positively correlated with cardiovascular disease. 5 Further proof that trans-fatty acids found in the diet from processed oils are not a good idea.
So, is canola oil healthy? The short answer is a resounding NO.
What Can I Replace Canola oil with?
Instead of eating nutrient-devoid and dangerous fats from processed and refined oils, it is wiser to choose oils that can simply be cold-pressed without further processing or to choose saturated animals fats which stand up excellently to heat without oxidizing them! (YES! Animal fats can be healthy!)
Coconut oil is rich in medium-chain fatty acids. These types of saturated fats can go directly to the liver to be metabolized and therefore can be used as energy instead of be stored as fat. People with lower metabolisms such as those with hypothyroidism, can benefit from such oils.
Olive oil has been a very important part of the Mediterranean diet for years. It is rich in antioxidants and contributes to heart health.
Lard and butter from grass-fed animals also serve as a great source of fat within the diet as they are rich in nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins A, D, and E. It is important to note the animal studies over the past twenty years have found that oils like rapeseed oil used in diets without adequate amounts of saturated fats, imposed an even bigger deleterious effect on health. 6
The Bottom Line
You do not really need studies to convince you that such a processed and refined oil is not good for you. Common sense should prevail here. This is basic nutrition 101. Do not eat processed foods and choose whole, real foods to be the predominant part of your diet. Anything that requires so much processing should not even be considered for consumption. In fact, did you know that canola oil is used for products like candles, soaps, lipsticks, lubricants, inks, biofuels, and insecticides? More food for thought when you are at the supermarket and about to reach for that canola oil.
About Tina Christoudias of My Nutrilosophy
Tina Christoudias is a Harvard-trained registered dietitian with nearly 18 years of experience as a nutrition counselor. Having had personal experience with hypothyroidism, she specializes in diet protocols for Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and hypothyroidism and has recently finished her book, Tired of Feeling Tired, A Nutrition Solution To Treating Hypothyroid Symptoms. She is a strong advocate of the Paleo diet and is co-founder of My Nutrilosophy, a website dedicated to providing the latest science-based nutrition information on topics like hypothyroidism, infertility, cancer, gut health and general wellness.
- Department of Health and Human Services FDA.Tentative determination regarding partially hydrogenated oils; request for comments and for scientific data and information Available at: https://federalregister.gov/a/2013-26854.
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