What Exactly is Canola Oil?
The story of how Canola oil came to be known as one of the healthiest oils of our time starts not all that long ago. In the 1980s, big agriculture and processed food companies were looking for a profitable solution to the growing research showing polyunsaturated oils were cancer-causing. They couldn’t very well go back to traditional saturated fats, which had already been demonized, and its expense would cut into their profits. So they embraced monounsaturated fat, the main component of the Mediterranean diet’s poster child, olive oil. Unfortunately for them, imported olive oil was also too expensive to use in all those processed foods.
“Let’s just invent our own version of olive oil!”
Historically, pungent-tasting rapeseed oil from China and India was used as lamp fuel and later as lubricant in steam engines - not a main source of food. Even though it consisted of 60% monounsaturated fatty acids (olive oil has 70%), most of it was erucic acid, which is associated with causing heart lesions in humans. Through a laboratory process of seed-splitting, Canadian plant breeders altered the rapeseed plant to contain lower levels of erucic acid, and in 1985, it was deemed edible for human consumption.
As if it couldn’t get any worse, it was introduced and marketed as a healthy product, a “hero” to the villified animal fats everybody had learned - through big business, government and the media - to hate. This brand new industrial oil product was lauded for being similar to the beloved olive oil, yet lower in saturated fat, plus some Omega 3s. Yet we were only told one side of the Canola story. We need to ask the question: how can a genetically-modified, highly-processed “food” actually be good for us?
“These rapeseeds are delicious,” said nobody ever
How could a business expect to sell anything with the word “rape” in the name? They initially called it LEAR Oil (standing for Low Erucic Acid Rapeseed) but that wasn’t snappy enough, so they renamed it Canola - short for CANadian Oil Low Acid.
Whereas olive oil has been made for centuries with minimal processing, Canola oil has to go through a long series of transformations to make it edible. Here’s how they stack up against each other:
If you want to see the slightly disturbing video for yourself, go for it. The most disturbing part is that after a chemical solvent wash and sodium hydroxide wash, they cut to one final shot of barrels and the narrator says:
"Meanwhile, back in the factory, after washing and filtering the oil, they bleach it to lighten the color, then use a steam injection heating process to remove the canola odor. The oil is now fully refined and ready for bottling."
Bleach? Canola Odor? Sick. Not to mention that this heavy processing is done at very high temperatures, which basically oxidizes the oil, turning it rancid. Also, the Omega-3s, which are touted as healthful by Canola producers, are partially hydrogenated in the deoderization process, removing much of the Omega-3s and resulting in trans fats.
Yes, Trans Fats.
The FDA actually allows food packaging to say 0 when trans fat is 0.5 or less. They get tricky by making the serving size 1 tablespoon and saying "0g trans fat per serving." There is trans fat in there, it's just lower than 0.5g.
So, which oils should I use?
Olive oil & coconut oil For oils derived from plants, one of the most abundant is extra virgin olive oil, however, though some cookbooks call for cooking with olive oil, it is prone to oxidation when heated, and should be used predominantly on low heat or cold, like in salad dressings. Some other natural plant-based oils include coconut oil, avocado oil and macadamia oil, which have higher smoke points and are good for cooking at medium heat.
Animal Fats & Butter For thousands of years, people have been eating and cooking with animal fats like lard (pig fat), tallow (cow fat), and chicken fat. These are all great choices for modern kitchens too, though you may have to render your own from pasture-raised animals. The easiest and most widely-available option is butter from grass-fed cows, which is not only delicious, it’s nutritious. If you avoid dairy, you could instead use clarified butter (ghee), which has a higher smoke point than butter.
Canola is an inflammatory oil with genetically-engineered DNA, trans fats, and toxic chemical residues. Best to stay away completely. When in doubt, choose fats that occur naturally and are minimally processed.