It’s time to stop smearing canola oil’s reputation

Photo courtesy the Canola Council

Everywhere we turn these days we hear about so-called fake news. Well, food myths are certainly no exception.  One example that abounds are those dealing with canola oil. Questions about its safety stream in on a regular basis from my readers. The rumours simply won’t go away.

It’s high time to restore the reputation of canola oil. Considering all of the science behind this oil, there should be no question about it safety as well as its health benefits.

Some of the misinformation stems from rapeseed, canola’s cousin or ancestor, so to speak. Rapeseed oil contains high amounts of erucic acid, an oil which is potentially toxic when consumed in large amounts.

The canola plant was specifically developed to slash the amounts of erucic acid contained in the plant’s oil. For those of you who don’t know the origins of the name, canola stands for Canadian oil.

Much of the canola on the market is a genetically engineered product and that is enough, without the facts, to frighten some people away from using this oil.

Food product labels tout that they’re GMO-free, despite an overwhelming amount of research demonstrating we shouldn’t fear these foods. But for those who still want to avoid genetically modified foods, organic canola is available which is GMO-free.

In Tufts University Nutrition Letter Special Report, entitled “The Facts about Plants”, when asked about GM oils, Timothy Griffin, PhD, an associate professor and director of the Agriculture, Food and Environment program at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy points out that these altered genes are not going to show up in your oil. He states, “Oils are fats. There are no proteins or genetic material in oil.”

The larger issue, according to Griffin, is the question of safety of GM foods for both humans and the environment.

It should be noted that Griffin was part of a study committee that spent two years preparing a 585-page report on genetically engineered crops. While he says that no apparent environmental risks have been founds, he does emphasize that we should continue to be vigilant. As for human health, he points to a positive impact as there has been a large reduction in the amounts of pesticides being used to control insects.

As for canola’s health benefits, its advantages for heart health have been extensively studied. The most recent research is a review or meta-analysis which included 27 randomized controlled trials, which included more than 1300 participants, showed that canola oil significantly reduced both triglyceride and artery-clogging LDL-cholesterol readings which may decrease the risk for heart disease and stroke. (Keep in mind that randomized controlled studies are those where one group is given the test product while the other is not to see the effects. I bring this up because of those observational studies where the authors recently concluded we can eat more meat.)

In another study, researchers found that canola and olive oils reduced measures of inflammation in women with type 2 diabetes in a randomized and controlled trial. The subjects were divided into two groups with one consuming either canola or olive oil while the other group consumed sunflower oil. Inflammation is thought to be a key contributor to the development of many illnesses including heart disease and stroke, diabetes and certain cancers.

(For more on canola oil’s health benefits, such as its omega-3 content, read some of my previous posts.)

What’s the oil of choice for food prep?
While canola is definitely a healthy choice (especially as it’s a Canadian product and supports Canadian farmers), regular canola is refined. One of its benefits in cooking is that the oil is tasteless making it a super choice for baking and in certain cuisines.

Cold-pressed canola, like extra virgin olive oil, offers an assortment of polyphenols (antioxidants and such) can be used when the taste will enhance, rather than compete, with the taste or flavours of a dish.

For some dishes, combinations of oil can work well. For example, I use canola and dark sesame oil in Asian dishes.

But whatever your choice of oils, go for those that match your food styles and offers advantages to your health and don’t mistakenly base your selection on fear.

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Categories: Research Roundup, Tips and Tricks, Your Questions Answered

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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