Recently we discussed coconut oil, and concluded that overall, it does not seem to be a “superfood”, as many people claim. We mentioned canola oil as a possible alternative, and received some comments from readers that this oil is toxic. Today we look at that.
Coconut and canola oils are probably the two most controversial oils. Each has strong advocates, and on the other side, people who condemn.
These oils are almost opposite of the spectrum of fat composition. Canola oil has the lowest content of saturated fat (7%) of all oils, and coconut oil has the highest saturated fat content (91%). But this does not mean necessarily that canola oil is great and coconut oil is bad.
Here is a summary of canola based on two nutritional authorities: Harvard School of Public Health and the University of California (Berkeley) School of Public Health.
What is the history of canola oil?
The word “canola” comes from the joining of the words Canada and oil. It was developed in Canada in the 1970s by plant breeders looking for an alternative to rapeseed oil, which was plentiful, but commercially unsatisfactory.
Isn’t canola oil genetically modified?
In the 1970s, when this oil was developed, genetic engineering didn’t exist, and it was bred using traditional methods. Later, to make it resistant to herbicides, the canola (rapeseed) plant began to be genetically engineered. Now, most canola you buy is from genetically modified plants.
Why do some sources say it is dangerous?
Some people do not like any food that is genetically modified (though many top health experts claim this is not a health concern at all). Another issue is that this oil requires lots of processing before it is sold. It is one of the “RBD” oils—it requires refining, bleaching, and deodorizing before it is sold. Other oils—such as corn, soybean, and palm—are also RBD oils (olive oil does not require RBD processing).
The solvent used to extract canola oil, hexane, is toxic in significant quantities. However, the amount remaining after processing appears to be negligible. (Your daily intake of hexane from gasoline fumes is much higher). Canola oil also contains erucic acid, which, in higher quantities, damages the heart. But, the consensus of the authorities above and The US Food and Drug Administration is that the erucic acid content is negligible. Further, the US Environmental Protection Agency notes the level of toxins in canola oil is “similar to those of other vegetable oils”.
Why do some call it healthy?
All oils are a mix of saturated, monosaturated, and polysaturated fats, and the mix found in canola is the healthiest of all oils regarding heart health. It is also has higher quantities of some omega-3 fatty acids. Multiple studies have shown heart benefits. This oil also has a higher “smoke point” than some other oils (such as olive), making it better and safer for cooking.
Should I buy or ignore canola oil?
If genetically modified food bothers you, avoid canola oil, or buy it organic. If the idea of chemically processed oils concerns you, again, avoid it. Be aware though that other oils may be either chemically processed or contain genetically modified components.
I’m confused. What should I do?
Canola will probably always be controversial, and much of it depends on “who you believe”. If in doubt, buy virgin or extra-virgin olive oil. Almost every credible source finds olive oil to be an excellent health food (just don’t heat it up to smoke temperature; it has limited use in cooking).
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