The Truth Behind the Popular Canola Oil
When it comes to cooking and using oils, there seems to be a lot of confusion and myths surrounding what substances are good and what substances are bad for certain types of use. Some oils are praised for being a healthier alternative to others, while at the same time being criticized for supposed disadvantages or harmful effects. It seems that nobody in today’s society can make up their minds about what popular cooking oils are actually good, so doing your own research is typically the best way to clear things up.
What Is Canola Oil?
Canola oil is technically derived from the rape plant, scientifically or botanically named Brassica napus. The name may sound rather unfortunate, but it actually comes from the Latin word rapum which is translated to mean “turnip.” The plant was named this due to its relation to turnips, as well as mustard and cabbage plants.
Rapeseed, the seed of the Brassica napus plant, has been harvested and cultivated for centuries upon centuries, originating in areas of India and Europe.
While rapeseed was commonly consumed during times of famine or used to create margarine during World War I and World War II in Germany, the seed actually contains a toxic substance called erucic acid.
Around the time of the 1960s and the 1970s, different German universities produced a version of rapeseed, through selective breeding, that contained a much lower concentration of this toxic acid. Soon after, Canada also produced a new version of the Brassica napus plant, which is the version that gained a significant amount of popularity around the world. Canada named this newly bred plant “Canola”, which stood for “Canada oil, low acid.”
Because of its origin, canola oil has received a lot of backlash from critics. People have often called this oil and new version of the Brassica napus plant a toxic “frankenplant” that has been genetically modified. In truth, this is one of the many myths that surround this oil. The processes Canada used to create canola oil are actually ancient and have been used for as long as human civilization has been around.
Other popular plants that have been the results of natural breeding and hybridization include wheat, corn, and rice.
With that said, while the original canola oil was not technically genetically modified, most versions of the oil that are sold in today’s markets have been modified to have a stronger resistance to pesticides.
The people who produce these modified canola plants claim that none of the altered parts of the plant are left once the seeds have been harvested for oil. Of course, some people may still be hesitant, which is why organic canola oil is often a much better choice to make sure the plant has never been modified inside of a lab like the others.
Nutritional Composition of Canola Oil
Despite the large amounts of criticism that canola oil is subject to, it actually does contain a lot of healthy nutrients. The most prominent nutrients found in the composition of canola oil include vitamin K, vitamin E, and various healthy fats, which include both Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids.
With that said, the concentration of Omega 6 present in the oil is approximately double the concentration of Omega 3, which could contribute to the deficiency of Omega 3 that many people suffer from nowadays. Of course, it is also accepted that the ideal Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio is 2:1, which is what canola oil contains.
Otherwise, canola oil is a fat, which means that it is high in energy. It provides a significantly large amount of calories, which makes it great for the purpose of producing energy for the body. The oil also contains a high ratio of monounsaturated fatty acids compared to saturated fatty acids, which makes it one of the more healthy options when it comes to oils made for consumption.
Health Benefits of Canola Oil
Contrary to popular belief, there are actually a lot of healthy things about canola oil, thanks to its many healthy compounds. Because the oil is a fat, these are where its primary benefits are provided.
The manufacturers of canola oil claim that it can help reduce cholesterol and therefore protect you from heart disease. Studies have revealed that people fed canola oil experienced a reduction in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels as well as a reduction in triglycerides.
Unfortunately, when it comes to HDL cholesterol – the bad type- it appears to have only a minimum effect. (1) (2) (3) Another concern is that most of the studies done so far have been quite a short duration and certainly not long enough to measure the effects of the oil on heart disease.
It is interesting that longer term studies show that while vegetable oils can help to reduce cholesterol levels in the short term, they may actually increase the risk of heart disease over a longer term. (4)
While canola oil does appear to reduce total cholesterol levels in the short term, this effect may not be enough to outweigh the potential longer term effects.
Canola oil has high concentrations of the good fats your body needs, since you can’t actually produce them on your own. These fats include alpha-linolenic acid and linoleic acid, which are Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids, respectively.
Alpha-linolenic acid helps lower bad cholesterol levels to prevent heart attacks and strokes, and linoleic acid helps promote better brain health and development in infants.
As mentioned, canola oil also contains a large amount of vitamin E. In fact, one serving of canola oil actually provides about a quarter of the recommended amount of vitamin E you need to intake in one day. This essential vitamin helps fight free radicals and could help prevent cancer, heart disease, and memory loss.
Canola oil also contains the highest amounts of plant sterols, including beta-sitosterol and campesterol, which have been noted by the FDA to help lower bad cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Another healthy benefit of canola oil is also the fact that it could help reduce inflammation, especially in the joints. Canola oil could be used to help relieve the symptoms experienced by people who suffer from chronic arthritis, asthma, or bowel disorders.
On top of that, the vitamins found in canola oil could also be used to help reduce the appearance of blemishes on the skin such as wrinkles, fine lines, or scars left behind by acne breakouts. It is commonly used as a base in skincare products and moisturizers to help soften the skin.
The vitamins found in canola oil also provide many other skincare benefits, such as their ability to help fight premature signs of aging. They can also help treat and prevent acne breakouts. People with dry skin can also benefit from using canola oil, which can be combined with an essential oil like rose or lavender to provide added benefits and a pleasant aroma.
Like many plant oils, canola oil can be used on your hair for a variety of reasons. It can also help moisturize your hair, repair any damage, prevent hair loss, and reduce or eliminate the presence of dandruff.
Using Canola Oil for Topical Applications
While canola oil is most commonly praised for its uses in cooking and other methods of consumption, it is also significantly beneficial when used in topical applications. If you do plan on using canola oil topically, you should make sure to purchase organic oil, as this is guaranteed to be free of any genetic modification that may have made the plant resistant to pesticides.
As the oil is typically cold-pressed today, it is best stored in a cool and dark place; avoid storing the oil in an area that may often be exposed to light, as this could increase its oxidation and cause it to go bad sooner. If your oil has changed color or has developed a foul odor, you should throw it away immediately as it has gone rancid and could have negative effects on your skin and body.
Opinions on canola oil are decidedly mixed. Although some studies suggest that it is better for you than regular vegetable oil, there are plenty of experts that urge caution. Indeed some studies indicate that canola oil could be dangerous and may lead to disease. According to research, here are the main risks of using canola oil.
High Blood Pressure and Strokes
Studies done on animals indicate that consuming canola oil and certain other vegetable oils may reduce the life span of hypertensive and stroke-prone animals. Research conducted in Canada specifically looked at the effects of canola oil on rats bred to be prone to stroke and high blood pressure. they found that the animals fed canola oil died sooner than rats given a diet without canola. (5)
Another study from the year 200 looked at the effects of the oil on blood coagulation in animals. They found that rats fed canola had a shorter blood coagulation time as well as greater fragility in the membranes of red blood cell. The researchers believe these factors could lead to stroke. (6)
When canola goes through the process of hydrogenation, it increases the level of trans fats contained in the oil. Trans fats are known that to increase cholesterol levels which increase the risk of heart disease.
A study published in evaluated canola oil and soybean oil bought in the USA and found the trans fat content of the oils varied from 0.56% to 4.2% of the oil’s total fatty acid. (7)
Erucic Acid and Heart Health Concerns
Because it is a monounsaturated fat, canola oil contains erucic acid. This is a type of fatty acid which has been linked to heart conditions. It has specifically been linked to a disease called Keshan disease which is characterized by fibrotic lesions in the heart. Research has demonstrated that in certain areas where people are more prone to Keshan disease, selenium levels tend to be lower while levels of erucic acid are higher. (8)
Frequently Asked Questions
Is canola oil good or bad for you?
Although canola oil contains omega 3 and 6 fatty acids and is marketed as a healthy oil, the truth is more complicated. No oils can be truly good for you since they are essentially fats. While canola is a monounsaturated fat, it does contain unhealthy trans fats so you should only consume it in moderation.
Is canola oil toxic to humans?
Canola oil contains low levels of a compound called erucic acid. Studies have linked erucic acid to heart disease but most experts agree that erucic acid in the levels present in canola oil is unlikely to be harmful.
Which is better for you canola or vegetable oil?
Canola oil has a better balance of healthy fats than the vast majority of vegetable oils. While no fats can be considered totally health, canola is a much better option than most.
Overall, it seems that canola oil deserves far more positive attention than it currently gets. Many people incorrectly consider it to be a toxic, modified oil that is nothing but harmful to your body.
When you look at its history and nutritional composition, however, it’s easy to debunk the many myths that surround this popular oil. Canola oil, generally speaking, is a much better alternative to many of the other vegetable oils available on the market. It can be used for many things, including topical applications, hair treatments, and cooking recipes, including salad dressings or marinades.
With that said, a large majority of the canola oil that is sold in today’s mainstream markets is actually modified, unlike the plant that was naturally bred and hybridized in Canada back in the 1960s and 1970s.
Since the late 1990s, manufacturers have been genetically modifying the new plant to make it resistant to pesticides, like the commonly used and toxic Round-Up. Luckily, there is a way for you to avoid this modification and support an environmentally friendly production process. By making sure to only ever purchase cold-pressed, organic canola oil, you can avoid the genetic modifications and extra chemicals that may be used in harmful processing methods such as hexane processing.
It is also important to note that you should always speak with your doctor before attempting to use any natural substance as a treatment for a serious health condition. If you are already taking a prescribed medication, certain substances may interfere with that medication or increase the benefits so much to the point where the results could be dangerous.
A holistic healthcare practitioner may also be able to help you determine the best ways to use a natural substance, either in topical applications or for consumption. By seeking help from a professional, you guarantee that you will experience all of the benefits of the healthy, natural substance without having to waste time figuring out how to use it.