WHY WE DO NOT USE CANOLA OIL IN OUR FOOD.
Controversy has surrounded canola oil in recent years. Canola oil technically cannot be deemed a traditional oil since it is derived from hybridization and/or genetic modification of the rapeseed plant, and we have always been wary of it despite quite a lot of good press and its prolific and widely touted use by health food manufacturers, health-conscious restaurants and grocery stores marketed as selling healthy food.
The fact that it is not a traditional oil, while it has some common-sense appeal, in our opinion is not a good enough reason to voice our hesitance to use this oil or promote its use. Thus, we have spent a considerable amount of time researching the history of canola oil and scrutinizing the studies detailing its most obvious issues. This is what we found:
A BRIEF HISTORY OF CANOLA
As mentioned above, Canola oil is derived from hybridization and/or genetic modification of the rapeseed plant. This process is designed to make canola oil more palatable than traditional rapeseed oil which is very bitter. Unmodified rapeseed oil was used traditionally in China and a number of other parts of the world as an easily accessible cooking oil–apparently the oil is very easily extracted from the seed.
In addition to having an unpleasant taste, traditional rapeseed oil is high in a substance called Erucic acid which has been shown to induce heart lesions in laboratory studies(1). “Can. O., L-A.” (Canadian Oilseed, Low-Acid) oil, as originally identified by the Manitoba government during experimental stages, used a variety of rapeseed that lowered, but did not eliminate, Erucic acid, and made it possible to achieve an acceptable-tasting oil, albeit after significant processing.
Positive marketing has made somewhat dubious claims that canola is a heart-healthy oil. While canola oil contains Omega-3 fat, it does not actually contain the type of Omega-3 fat that has been linked to lowered cholesterol.(2) These claims, combined with the fact that canola oil is inexpensive to produce, has turned canola oil into a very successful cash crop.
CANOLA OIL CONTAINS TRANS-FATS:
All canola oil destined for human consumption must go through a process called “deodorization” because much of the Omega-3 fatty acids go rancid during the extraction process, producing a very unpleasant taste and odor. During this deodorization process the oil must be heated to high temperatures where the Omega-3 fats are converted to trans-fats via a natural reaction. Despite its bizarre “trans-fat free” claim to fame, the USDA food and nutrient database lists canola oil as having 0.4% trans-fats(3). An independent study of canola oils commercially available in the US found that canola oil contained anywhere between 0.56% and 4.2% trans-fat converted Omega-3 acids, all oils testing above the official USDA figure(4).
These studies report the amount of trans-fats in canola oil after commercial processing but, since the trans-fat content is increased by heating, if the oil is then further cooked during food preparation, these levels must further increase in an amount proportional to cooking time and temperature. This only leaves us with more questions about the final trans-fat content of the products after the widely publicized switch by food companies and restaurants to using canola oil to comply with the ban on trans-fats.
VAPORS FROM RAPESEED AND CANOLA OIL THOUGHT TO CAUSE LUNG CANCER:
The act of cooking with either rapeseed or canola oil is also thought to be health-hazardous. A study conducted in China that compared Chinese rapeseed oil, U.S. canola oil and Chinese peanut oil found that rapeseed oil and canola oil produced vapors thought to be the culprit in the high prevalence of non-smoke-induced lung cancer in Chinese women who spend substantial time cooking with these oils(5).
MOST CANOLA OIL IS GENETICALLY MODIFIED
It is currently estimated that at least 80% of the canola crop world-wide is genetically modified(6). Canola is a new product, with its roots in the early to mid-20th century. Widespread use of canola has only arisen in the last 20 years, and genetically modified varieties have just 15 years in the marketplace. In the U.S., the USDA has made it very difficult to distinguish between genetically modified and non-genetically modified products by not requiring labeling. Beyond this, there have been widely publicized recalls of genetically modified canola seed by its manufacturers after finding genetic modifications that had not been approved for human consumption.(7)
These are just a few of the issues we uncovered when researching canola oil. Based on our research, we will continue to avoid canola oil in our meal delivery service and recommend against its consumption.
The rapeseed plant from which canola is derived already presents health hazards with its Erucic acid content. Canola contains less of this substance at about 2%, but it still contains this potentially harmful substance and we don’t see the need to use canola oil on the all-too-common hypothesis that “a little won’t hurt”.
Both traditional rapeseed and modern canola have been shown to produce highly carcinogenic vapors during cooking and we value our cooks’ lungs as much as we hope you value your own.
Canola oil must necessarily contain at least a small amount of trans-fatty acids because of its industrial refining process. It again does not make sense to us that we should accept a food as health-promoting when we know it contains something thought to be harmful.
Genetic modification is a controversy and conversation unto itself. But the fact that it is difficult or impossible to know if the canola oil you buy is genetically modified only adds clout to the argument that, if our ancestors got by without it, why gorge ourselves on it? Looking to long-standing traditions to help make sense of scientific controversy has always been our anchor. There is no credible evidence that rapeseed was ever a good choice for human consumption and so we cannot even begin to make a case why we or you should trust its 50-years-young cousin somehow to maintain or improve our health.
BE AWARE: CANOLA IS EVERYWHERE
When we started our meal service, we never would have guessed all the things we now have learned are common practice in the food and restaurant industry. We would urge you to start to read the labels of the products you buy to see which ones contain canola oil. Also, when eating out, please be aware that almost every restaurant or food service operation that claims to use olive oil is actually using a blend of mostly canola oil with just enough olive oil to trick the palate–there are different varieties, with 10% olive oil and 35% olive oil being the most commonly used. With the industry ban on trans-fats having turned a blind eye to canola oil and instead having chosen it as its champion, canola oil has all to quickly become the oil of choice for even the “health conscious” portions of the food industry. Perhaps canola oil’s low cost has blinded the industry and no real questions seem to be asked about something that less than three decades ago almost nobody ate.*
1 NIH: Cardiac lesions in rats fed rapeseed oils: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1277456/
2 Brassica Napus, Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brassica_napus
3 USDA National Nutrient Database: http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/search/
4 Journal of Food Lipids, Vol 1, Issue 3: http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/119973548/abstract
5 NIH Study: Mutagens from heated Chinese and U.S. cooking oils. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7791233?dopt=Abstract
6 Canola Oil, Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canola
7 Monsanto Seeks to Avoid Massive Food Recall: http://www.biotech-info.net/avoid_food_recall.html