The Big Fat Canola Oil Lie
Nutrition Real Food Recipes
I’m just going to cut to the chase here: canola oil is NOT healthy.
Yet it’s touted as one of the healthiest oils! Really, nothing makes me want to SCREAM like reading a “healthy” recipe that calls for canola oil. Nooooooooo! I instantly have to close the browser and walk away.
Canola oil has especially been lauded as heart-healthy since it’s very low in saturated fat, and saturated fat continues to be vilified despite its connection with heart disease being debunked time and time again. And though the majority of its fatty acid content is monounsaturated — the same as olive oil — there are a number of reasons why canola oil is absolutely, 100% NOT a healthy fat option.
Why canola oil is unhealthy:
Canola oil would never exist in nature
This is a big red flag upfront! Unlike coconut, olive, and avocado oils — which can be cold-pressed and easily extracted — canola oil extraction involves high heat, intense pressure, deodorization, and solvents (a process that also degrades the oil, as we’ll soon discuss).
Canola oil is extremely pro-inflammatory
Canola oil is very high in omega-6 essential fatty acids, which initiate the inflammatory process. This is a big problem considering the modern diet is devoid in omega-3 essential fatty acids, which initiate the anti-inflammatory process. While we ought to be consuming omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids in a 1:1 to 4:1 ratio, the average American consumes them in a 10:1 to 20:1 ratio! This means that we are over-inflaming without being able to properly anti-inflame. The systemic inflammation that results increases the risk of illness and chronic disease, from heart disease to arthritis.
Most canola oil is likely rancid before you even buy it
A large percentage of the fatty acids in canola oil are polyunsaturated, which are highly unstable and go rancid easily. Considering that most canola oil is extracted using high heat and sold in clear bottles (allowing light to oxidize the oil), most canola oil is likely rancid by the time it reaches store shelves. The rancidity of canola oil increases its pro-inflammatory effect.
Canola oil may contain hidden trans fats
The high heat and pressure necessary to extract canola oil from rape seeds transforms some of the omega-3 fats into trans fats. One study that analyzed canola and soybean oils from US grocery markets found that they contained 0.56%-4.2% trans fats. (Though of course, this is not reflected on the Nutrition Facts label.)
A short refresher on trans fats: trans fats are a byproduct of hydrogenation, the process that solidifies any oil that would otherwise be liquid at room temperature by forcing hydrogen atoms into the oil’s structure using a chemical catalyst. Once upon a time, they were called “plastic oils” by food chemists (yum). But these fake oils are extremely pro-inflammatory and also inhibit cells’ ability to carry out the most basic and vital reactions. Harvard reports that for every 2% increase in daily calories from trans fat, the risk of coronary heart disease increases by 23%. For these reasons, I believe trans fats are not safe to consume in any amount, no matter how seemingly small.
Over 90% of canola oil is genetically modified
Most non-organic canola oil is produced from GMO rape seed, designed be resistant to the herbicide RoundUp. Though a controversial and debated subject, the bottom line is that genetically modified seeds are not a product of nature but of a lab, and no long-term studies have been conducted on the safety of these man-made foods. According to the Center for Food Safety, research does point to a number of very serious health concerns as a result of consuming genetically modified foods:
- Allergic reactions
- Suppressed immunity
- Loss of nutrition
While there are organic canola oil options on the market (certified organic foods cannot be produced with genetically modified seed), it’s still an unhealthy choice for each of the other reasons discussed here.
Harsh solvents are used to extract canola oil
The canola oil extraction and refining process typically involves toxic petroleum solvents such as hexane, which is known to cause nerve-damage. There is some concern about trace amounts of these solvents in the final product.
So what are some healthier fat options to use instead of canola oil?
For all of the details, check out Which Fats are Healthy?
Coconut oil is undoubtedly one of the healthiest choices and my personal favorite. As a plant-based saturated fat, it is extremely stable and so a great option for cooking. Unrefined coconut oil is great for when you don’t mind a slight coconut taste, but refined coconut oil is virtually tasteless and so another great option to have on hand.
Avocado oil is also wonderful for cooking as it can withstand high temperatures. It’s packed with healthy monounsaturated fats and antioxidants.
Grass-fed, organic or raw butter is a fantastic source of healthy fat despite its bad reputation. Like saturated fat, the connection between dietary cholesterol and blood serum cholesterol levels has been debunked numerous times. More and more scientists and nutritionists are becoming aware that natural fats such as butter are actually much healthier (including for the heart!) than highly processed, cheap crop oils such as canola. Grass-fed butter is also a great source of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, and K2.
For lower-temperature cooking and dressings, olive oil is a wonderful choice. Just be sure you’re buying pure olive oil! See Is Your Olive Oil Real Or An Unhealthy Impostor? for more information.
We have a vendor at our local farmers market who makes fantastic hummus. But, we discovered it contained canola oil and asked him why he was using it. He said it was much cheaper than alternatives. He eventually bought out the owner of the business and switched to olive oil. This made my wife and I quite happy. It turns out he believed just as we did that canola oil is not good!