The Lowdown on Canola Oil


I received an e-mail last week from Dr Allan Spreen who suggested I read an article titled The Great Con-ola – an in-depth piece that could be subtitled Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Canola Oil (but Were Afraid to Ask).

What? You thought canola oil was the safe, all natural oil? Or had you read that it was pure poison? There are a lot of wild tales about canola oil out there. With Dr. Spreen’s help well sort out the strange from the true.

Internet extremes

You can easily find a number of web sites filled with dire warnings about canola oil. Heres a quote from one site called The Dangers of Canola Oil: Some typical and possible side effects include loss of vision, disruption of the central nervous system, respiratory illness, anaemia, constipation, increased incidence of heart disease and cancer, low birth weights in infants and irritability.

If it was typical for even one per cent of canola oil users to become blind, anaemic, constipated, cancerous and (understandably) irritable, its hard to imagine that the cooking oil shelves at your local supermarket would still be stocked with brands of canola oil. But there is at least a seed of truth in this sky is falling claim, and that will provide us with a good place to start: the rapeseed.

Whats in a name?
Rapeseed has been around for thousands of years, primarily cultivated in Asia and Europe. But rapeseed oil is loaded with erucic acid, which has been shown to cause lesions of the heart – not a good side effect. So a little genetic manipulation by some plant breeders in Canada created a variety of rapeseed that produced an oil low in erucic acid. They called it LEAR oil, an acronym for Low Erucic Acid Rapeseed.

Meanwhile, the US food industry in the mid-1980s was looking for a new, inexpensive oil to increase production of processed foods. At the time, monosaturated oils, such as olive oil, were being touted as the healthy alternative to saturated and polyunsaturated oils. But olive oil couldn’t be produced in the quantities needed for mass production, so LEAR oil was settled on as the practical choice. But it needed a new, more commercial name. They settled on canola – for Canadian oil. And the marketing push was on.

In previous e-alerts I have told you about the importance of omega-3 fatty acids and their benefits to both the immune system and the cardiovascular system. Canola oil contains approximately 10 per cent omega-3, giving it an obvious appeal to consumers who, by the mid-80s, were pursuing healthy diets as never before. A marketing strategy was developed to sell the nutritional benefits of canola alongside olive oil and the Mediterranean diet, already branded in the public consciousness as the gold standard of healthy diets.

And the strategy worked. By the mid-90s, canola was considered the healthy choice for cooking and processing. But was it really as healthy as nearly everyone in the food industry establishment claimed?

The zero factor

Canola oil is not a poisonous industrial oil, it doesn’t cause mad cow disease, and it doesn’t contain chemical warfare mustard gas. These are just three of the most extreme and completely unfounded claims about the horrors of canola.

But canola is not perfect. So far, no studies have been conducted to test the effect of canola oil on humans. But quite a few animal tests have been conducted, and the results are not promising. For instance, there are indications that canola is not healthy for the cardiovascular system, having caused lesions of the heart and vitamin E deficiency in rats. And ironically, one of the primary virtues that makes canola so appealing – the omega-3 fatty acid content – may in fact be the source of a primary problem.

Omega-3 fatty acids become rancid during the heat-intensive processing of canola oil, creating an unpleasant odour (in my mind, the smell is less of a concern than the rancidity, but I digress). The deodorisation process turns a large amount of canola’s omega-3 into trans fatty acids.

The Canadian government says the trans content of canola is 0.2 per cent, but a University of Florida (US) study in the found trans contents as high as 4.6 per cent. This problem is even greater in processed foods where the hydrogenation process sends the trans fat content soaring to as much as 40 per cent.

We’ve all heard the increasing debate over the dangers of trans fatty acids. A US panel of the National Academy of Sciences submitted a report on their attempt to set a safe intake level for trans fat. The panel reported that trans fat intake creates a serious risk of heart disease, just as saturated fat does. The report concluded with a recommendation that has no grey areas: the only safe intake of trans fatty acids is zero.

Doctor, doctor…

Drs. Sally Fallon and Mary G. Enig, the authors of the con-ola article, provide an exhaustive and comprehensive look at all the issues surrounding canola oil. But they stop short at making recommendations as to how much canola oil is too much, or if we should be avoiding it at all costs. When I put this question to Dr. Spreen, this was his response:

I don’t trust canola at all, for just the reason that there haven’t been anywhere near enough long-term observations. However, the chemical manipulations involved and the fact that its all being done due to being cheap stuff scares me. I’d say intake should be kept to a minimum (you cant avoid it completely…it really is everywhere).

So whats the alternative? What oil should we be cooking with? Olive Oil?

Extra virgin olive oils wonderful, but it does have a unique taste. I’m for real butter, palm kernel oil, coconut oil or even lard first, but the negative PR on saturated fat has pretty much killed the use of the last three. Fresh flax oil would be my next choice. (And did you know that the director of the Framingham heart study stated the exact opposite of what we’ve been told was the result of that study, specifically that the more saturated fat used, the better heart health people seemed to have?)

For now, it would seem that the search will have to go on for a magic oil that we can use for processing and cooking with no adverse side effects. There have been polyunsaturated pretenders, there have been monosaturated contenders, but so far there is no king.

Disclaimer: This article is part of the Daily Health's extensive research archive. The research and information contained in this article was accurate at the the time of publication but may have been updated since the date of publication. Consult our most recent articles for the latest research on alternative health and natural breakthroughs.

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  • Funny how Canola oil was so “healthy” a few years ago and now it’s not. Things do change… Wonder what’s next? Olive oil is bad for your heart?

  • Yes to all of these symptoms. Had them, along with excess hair-loss which isn’t mentioned, until removing Canola from my diet. Once observed, I now try and get people off it. When successful, they no longer have the symptoms, but then become (as I have), very sensitive to even small quantities being re-introduced into their diets. I preach about it to whoever will listen. Food package labeling that it contains GMO Canola Oil should be the law. Monsanto doesn’t want to feed the world: they want to control the food supply. Big difference.

  • Ugh I’ve been doing tests for almost 2 years now n when I fry chicken with canola, my stomach goes crazy – very gurggley n I’m running for the bathroom.

  • I traced the IBS-like symptoms I started developing about ten years ago to Canola oil, around the point when it started becoming more common in fast foot restaurants and processed foods. The symptoms were severe abdominal pain, and frequent (every 2-4 hours) “frothy” stools. Oddly, I developed other “flu-like” symptoms within a year or two, including joint pain (shoulders mostly), headache, and blurry vision. I am extrememely careful about what I eat, but still wind up being dosed every few months by people who don’t think PAM spray is oil, or thing Canola is “vegetable” oil. The blurred vision now hits me within a few seconds of ingestion, and the abdominal and joint pains crescendo for 24-48 hours and then plateau. I’m usually incapacitated with flu-like lethargy and body aches for a day or two. Pepto Bismol is large doses used to help but no longer does. Eating large quantities of rice (2-3 cups 3 times/day) helps sooth the abdominal pain, but even that treatment has become less effective over the past couple of years. Total recovery time before my belly shrinks back to normal size is now a month or more. The abdominal distension is worst in the morning but tends to get worse whenever my stomach is empty. This problem has had a major impact on my life, to the point where I skip any business travel I can, and avoid going out to eat

  • I get severe diarrhea whenever i ingest anything with canola oil (even a few croutons). I avoid it and any foods containing it at all costs….

  • My daughter is seven and always develops extreme congestion with a terrible cough whenever she eats anything with canola. I avoid it at all costs!

  • My husband’s Mother uses canola oil in just about everything she cooks, she grew up in the south where EVERYTHING has to have grease in it! So she finally switched from fatback grease to canola oil. The problem with that is every time my husband eats with mom he gets a terribly upset stomach, (cramps, diarrhea). He is allergic to ragweed and I read somewhere ragweed and rapeseed are in the same family. So couldn’t this be an allgeric reaction?

  • I have been told nobody can be allergic to something without a protein, but trust me, my stomach reacts. WHY might this be? Would love to hear your toughts! Eating out is just a no-no these days.

  • Why are people touting grapeseed oil. It is definitely not a healthy oil. It’s full of INFLAMMATORY Omega-6 oils which means it is not the healthiest oil for consumption.

  • I just started using canola oil and my 1 1/2 year old boy has gotten sick from it. Bad Diarrhea and stomach ache. I threw the bottle in the trash!

  • Vegetable oils in general, except for minimal occasional use, as shown by my body’s response indicators, are not good for me. My body’s responses are rashes and zits to isolated vegetable oils used in foods. Animal fats my body handles well, usually.

  • I discovered an intolerance to canola oil many years ago, when such a thing was unheard of. My doctor could not find through any tests what was wrong and as a last resort, had me write down everything I ate. It took a month to figure out the cause, and even my doctor was skeptical, until she saw the positive results when I quit using canola. For years I have been struggling with eating both at home and in restaurants due to the inadequate labelling of food products when it comes to oils. I have to avoid anything that does not specify the exact oil. A food intolerance can be dangerous, as those with gluten intolerances have discovered. Food intolerance reactions are no different than allergic reactions in that each exposure produces a more violent reaction.

  • Canola oil seems to be a cause of great stomach distress to my son. Since he could talk he’d been complaining of stomach pains, and doctors couldn’t figure out the cause.
    We eliminated foods from his diet seeking out the sensitivity (canola oil really is everywhere 🙁 ), tried GFCF (he’s autistic), eventually gave up looking for the elusive cause. We eat whole foods generally but my son could have General Mills Honey Nut Cheerios for breakfast (all things in moderation). When I quietly switched to the Malt-O-Meal version for cost effectiveness, his complaining stopped after a couple weeks. Checked the ingredient list and the only difference is canola oil in the GM version. Quietly switched back and the complaints of pain returned. Switched back to the MOM version, and his pain seemed to stop again. This is the only source of canola oil in his diet, but it’s enough to harm him.

  • When I was about 10-14 i lived with Migraine headaches, at times when they were really bad vommiting also. I went to eye doctors, chrioprators, ect. Nothing worked, We thought maybe it was a food, but it seemed like it was all foods, not just one. Finally my sister heard it might be Canola Oil, I went off of it for 30 days, Headache free! After 30 days I had something with Canola oil in it and got a pounding headache.
    Now, I have to read all labels on everything I eat…If i don’t and there was Canola oil in it then I get a migraine lasting for 12 to 24 hours and sometimes vomit. I also get really hot when having these attacks.

  • Canola Oil is a poison! My first canola attack was two years ago when I had to go to the emergency room. I have to look at ingredients in everything to make sure there is NO canola. A couple of months ago I was violently ill and I knew right away that I ate something with canola in it. I ate about 8 cashews, not thinking I should look at the ingredients, wish I had. Who would have thought that certain brands of nuts contain canola oil?!

  • I don’t care what any “expert” says. It has taken me 20 years to figure out why eating certain foods caused me EXCRUCIATING stomach pains and always sent me running to the bathroom. Sometimes stuck their for hours.

    Thanks Canola! But I see how little people matter when making money is your motive. See how many sites pop up when you search for “I think I’m allergic to canola oil”

    I am not the only person that has this problem, but now it is to late for us since it is in everything. We are truely a dying breed.

  • Hi,
    You have provided an excellent riposte to the ridiculous assertions made by others as to the evils of canola oil.

  • I have a courgette cake recipe which includes canola oil, we have never heard of it in Devon. England.
    Where do I get it?

  • The method of removal of the bitter taste/aroma (causing overheating?) may cause a problem in creating trans fats, but with the lower erucic acid levels in Canola varieties the bitterness is lower so there is less heat needed, surely? Can the taste of cold pressed Canola be tolerated, or are we obliged to eat only the highly processed version (I assume processing does harm omega 3’s in any oil)? Interestingly erucic acid (seemingly the villan in this debate) was one of the two ingredients in Lorenzo’s oil.

    But I admit the controversy around Canola is off-putting, and due to the doubt it all causes I would prefer Linseed or Hempseed oil at the moment. But cost also is a problem for a lot of people. You gotta eat!

  • Hi

    I am also a lover of grapeseed oil, to me this oil is light, non greasy no awful EVO smell.

    Just love it.

  • Have you heard of or used Grapeseed Oil? High in Mono and Poly unsaturated fats, low on sat fat, no trans fat – source of Omega 6, linoleic acids, vitamin e – Superhigh flash point, makes it wonderful for cooking. You use less than other oils to get the same effect! Fabulous, healthy oil alternative!

  • your article was informative, but I have found that for me I have allergic reactions to Canola Oil. For 3 years no one could find out why my nose stayed congested. it was about the same time I started using the oil. I went from doctor to doctor & no one could figure it out. Until I fasted for 40 days with oils, not congestion nothing. The first time I went back to the canola oil my nose was INSTANTLY congested. So there are some bad effects or am I the only one?

Comments are closed.

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