Figuring out the “rules” of healthy eating can be downright confusing – and nothing more so than the conflicting misinformation about fats. In this post, Erin reveals the shocking truth about the world's “healthiest cooking oil” – canola. Even if you've long given up this golden liquid, you're not going to want to miss the video below. Start at about 1:30 for the good – or shall I say extra repulsive – stuff. ~Emily
For the past few decades, canola oil has been touted as the healthiest cooking oil. It has been given the Generally Recognized as Safe label by the FDA, and manufacturers have tried their best to have this oil considered a health food.
From the FDA’s website:
“Canola oil… may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease due to its unsaturated fat content.”
Another study, conducted in 1989, deduced that canola oil is the only cooking oil that meets the proper ratios of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats.
Pretty cut and dried, right?
Not so fast – let’s investigate.
Where does canola oil come from?
Canola oil is derived from rapeseed, which has high levels of erucic acid which has been associated with causing heart issues. Plant-breeders were able to make a hybridized version of rapeseed called LEAR oil (Low Erucic Acid Rapeseed). “Rape oil” or “LEAR oil” isn't a very good name for marketing, and since Canada was one of the main suppliers of rapeseed oil at the time, the name canola, from “Canadian oil,” was born.
In the mid 80's, saturated fats were getting (and still are getting) a bad reputation for clogging your arteries, and PUFAs (Poly Unsaturated Fats) had growing evidence of causing cancer. All that was left for the food companies to make were monounsaturated fats, which is when olive oil became popular.
Food companies needed a cheaper monounsaturated fat to increase profits. Cue canola oil. It's cheap, full of monounsaturated fats, omega 3s and 6s, and low in saturated fat. Canola oil seemed to be the perfect answer.
However, canola oil still smelled awful, looked dirty, and tasted worse. But why would that stop an enterprising food manufacturer? Apparently anything can be turned into food.
How canola oil is made
The process of making canola oil palatable and marketable is a lengthy one involving many questionable chemicals – seen here in this video… even this video showing the rotten refining process still dubs it one of the healthiest cooking oils.
Like all modern vegetable oils, canola oil goes through the process of caustic refining, bleaching and degumming — all of which involve high temperatures or chemicals of questionable safety. And because canola oil is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which easily become rancid and foul-smelling when subjected to oxygen and high temperatures, it must be deodorized. The standard deodorization process removes a large portion of the omega-3 fatty acids by turning them into trans fatty acids. (source)
Why canola oil is the single worst food development
- Bleach and lye (sodium hydroxide) are used in the refining process. A steam injection heating process is also used, which further breaks down any nutrients.
- Canola oil is claimed to be heart-healthy because of its low saturated fat, high monounsaturated fat, and good ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. However, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are fragile and easily become oxidized and rancid. (source)
- No long-term study has shown the effects of erucic acid or glucosinolates on humans. However, studies have shown that animals fed canola oil developed lesions on their hearts, vitamin E deficiency, bad platelet changes, and growth retardation. Saturated fat mitigated these effects. (source)
In fact, many of the studies from the past several decades that “prove” fat causes heart attacks are from analyzing cultures that consume high amounts of canola oil and other highly manufactured vegetable oils, which are denatured, chemical filled, and oxidized.
What about organic and expeller-pressed canola oil?
Expeller-pressed means the food manufacturer uses powerful machines to press the seeds until the oil comes out. It’s a better process than normal canola oil because it doesn’t use chemical solvents during extraction. However, the U.S. does not regulate how hot the oil can be during this process even (if it's labeled cold pressed).
Organic means the plant hasn’t been genetically modified and no pesticides were used in the process. Clearly that’s a good thing, but is the canola oil healthy now?
Despite being organic and expeller-pressed, canola oil is still unpalatable and has to go through the refining process explained above. In the end, it's really not that much better than regular ol' canola oil.
So what IS the healthiest cooking oil?
The simplest rule of thumb is to choose an oil that doesn’t require heavy processing to extract.
Here is a good list of other available healthy cooking oils out there:
Coconut oil – Our favorite option and one of the best sources of natural saturated fat out there. Coconut oil is considered by many to be a superfood. It's perfect for deep frying and is often used externally in just about any use you can think of.
Palm oil – Similar to coconut oil, palm oil has a high smoke point and lots of saturated fats. Use for all types of frying. Unfortunately, most companies that produce palm oil do so through major deforestation – be sure to grab a brand that's found on RSPO's (Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil) website or has their trademark on the product.
Butter – A natural source of fat that provides high amounts of vitamins A, D, and K2, especially when it comes from grass-fed cows. Use butter for pan frying but not for deep frying.
Ghee – This is butter, but with the solids cooked out of it, making it an alternative for deep frying.
Tallow/Lard – Tallow comes from beef fat and lard comes from pig fat, making them great natural sources of fat. They can be used for any type of frying, but beware the beef/pork flavor – in other words, don't add it to your brownies in place of canola oil or butter.
Olive oil – Low in PUFAs and helpful in fighting inflammation, good quality olive oil is a smart alternative to canola because the processing is natural and simple. Avoid cooking with it – use it on salads or for dipping your bread in.
Avocado oil – You've probably sensing a theme. If it comes from a natural source and didn't require chemical processing, the oil is probably healthy for you! With a high smoke point and a mild flavor, you can use this stuff for anything from salad dressing to deep frying.
Do you think organic, expeller-pressed canola oil is healthy? Would you try it out, or stay away?
Erin and Cameron Smith, teach people how to adopt a healthy lifestyle that includes eating real food, eliminating toxins, and overcoming chronic illness. The secret for them has been to cook homemade substitutes of foods they like – but with healthy ingredients. Read more at Eat Real Stay Sane.