Ask Dave: Canola Oil

Posted on February 27, 2011 by

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Q:  Why does my coach tell me not to use Canola Oil? (Alan, New York)

A: Canola oil is highly processed on many levels starting with it’s name.  There is no ‘canola’ plant in the history books predating 1978.  Canola stands for ‘Canadian oil, low acid’ and was developed by genetic selection of the rapeseed.

Canola oil does boast an impressive nutritional breakdown in it’s raw state, before refinement.  Cold-pressed (raw) canola contains a high percentage of omega 3’s and is very low in saturated fat.  Perhaps due to these facts the FDA lists it as a heart healthy choice.  However, it is very rare to find raw canola!  Raw canola oil becomes rancid easily and has a sulfuric odor so refinement is necessary to improve shelf stability and overall desirability.  The refinement process involves several steps which expose the oil to caustic chemicals, high heat, and pressure.  Once it has been refined the omega 3’s are destroyed and converted to TRANS FATS, which the FDA does not approve!  These altered fats are a primary reason why this oil should be avoided – they have a highly inflammatory effect on the body.  The FDA and other accredited health organizations have determined that there is NO SAFE LEVEL of these fats.  In other words they are bad for you and your body will need to work harder to heal from their consumption.

A large percentage of all commercially grown canola is “Roundup Ready”, a genetic modification which increases herbicide resistance.  While organic canola is available there are concerns that the GMO (genetically modified organism) crops have widely influenced the purity of the non-modified plants.

To avoid canola one must vigilantly study all processed food labels and remember that most businesses will choose the cheapest option – when it comes to a cooking oil it is canola.  Restaurants will usually choose the cheapest oils for frying as it requires a lot of oil to fill a deep-fryer!  A hiding place for canola is the generic term ‘vegetable oil,‘ which only means that the oils are plant-based rather than animal or synthetic.

SAFE ALTERNATIVES:
Extra virgin coconut oil is stable at high temperature and is an all-around excellent food, it is also great for frying (see “Coconut oil – the healthiest oil on earth” November 2010.)  For salad dressings olive oil is unsurpassed.  For a potato chip binge there are olive oil fried chips – and they are awesome (er – not healthy, just awesome…)!  These oils are more expensive but when the alternative contains compounds with ‘no safe level’ of intake the choice is obvious.

Posted in: Ask Dave