What about Canola?

For once and for all let’s get the facts on Canola oil and uncover the myths.  The number of half-truths and nonsense floating around the internet about this oil are outrageous.  

Myth number one: All Canola oil is genetically modified. Not a fact.

Myth number two: Rape seed is related to mustard gas. Not a fact.

Myth number three: Erucic acid is toxic. Not a fact.

Myth number four: The European Union has banned canola oil. Not a fact.

Myth number five: It is better to use other vegetable oils than canola oil for cooking. Not a fact.

Myth Number 1:  All Canola Oil is Genetically Modified

Let’s rephrase that. All mass produced canola plants in North America are genetically modified. That’s true. Organically grown canola is not.

This is recent news and big news.  In fact, large corporations are being sued for their ardent pursuit of the very act of altering the natural state of our food supply.

Unfortunately, for the canola plants, insects really like them. One of the reasons the canola plants thrive better in northern climates is because the insects all die or go dormant all winter and they take awhile to get up and eating in the spring giving the young plants time to gain some strength and resistance against the insect population.

The corporate run scientific community within the food industry, however, in its all knowing and all controlling way decided along with mass producers of canola plants that they needed to do even better so they doused the plants with herbicide to kill the insects.

The problem with the herbicides is that increasing amounts of product had to be used to control the insects. Health regulatory agencies were worried, and rightly so, about the health effects on the consumers.

Ah yes, thought the insecticide producers, we’ll change the plant DNA so the insects will die when they bite into the plant. This, of course, has led to all sorts of problems that are surfacing in reports from the media.

Yes, that is how canola plants came to be genetically modified.

Does this genetic modification affect the oil. The mass producers of canola say no. It is a protein that has been genetically modified so the oil is unaffected. Well, we’ll see. Time will tell or has it already.

US government researchers have uncovered evidence that some popular weedkilling products, like Monsanto’s widely-used Roundup, are potentially more toxic to human cells than their active ingredient is by itself.

These “formulated” weedkillers are commonly used in agriculture, leaving residues in food and water, as well as public spaces such as golf courses, parks and children’s playgrounds.

The real problem is not what’s in the canola oil, except, of course, for that herbicide that surely must have been absorbed by the plant.  The real problem is the way in which so much of it is processed for human consumption.

This link on youtube is a basic ‘how it’s made video’ that you might like to take a look at. The process starts out nicely but the last part is slightly revolting – to me anyway.

The non-organic producers seem to leave out a lot of pertinent information. Information such as the petroleum product called hexane being used to extract oil from the canola seed. Yes, this chemical does evaporate but what residues are left behind? Hexane is also very harmful to the environment. The reason it is used is because it extracts from 50 – 70% of the oil while expeller pressing (mechanical and chemical free extracting) extracts less than 50% making the latter more expensive to produce.

Non-organic mass producers also add man-made designer chemicals such as BHT, BHA and TBHQ to preserve the shelf life of the oil. They bleach and further process the oil to remove or alter organic substances and the structure of the fatty acids that are of value to our bodies. This processing allows the oils to be heated at a higher level.

Organic canola oil, on the other hand, is made by crushing and expeller pressing the oil from the seed at very low heat levels or no heat at all. The seeds are organically grown with no genetic engineering of any kind.

Myth Number 2: Rape Seed is Related to Mustard Gas

Rapeseed or brassica nappas in botanical terms is a member of the brassica family. This is the same family of plants that mustard plants and cabbage belong to. Turnip also belongs to this family and in fact, rāppa or rāppum is the latin word for turnip. Rapeseed (rāppaseed or turnip seed) has nothing to do with mustard gas which is a poisonous gas named for its mustard colour and smell and not for any relationship to plant life.

Hundreds of years ago rapeseed oil was used throughout Europe and Asia to light lanterns and later as the industrial age rolled in, was used for lubricating steam engines and for other industrial uses. During the first and second world wars the demand for rapeseed was high and Canada, in particular, increased its crops exponentially. After the war, the demand decreased dramatically.

What to do? What to do? All this rapeseed and no one to use it. The cows won’t eat it and people won’t either. It was just too bitter. Why?

It was bitter because of compounds called glucosinolates. Glucosinolates are found in all plant seeds in the turnip family. Glucosinolates are the nutrients that are now being extolled as potent cancer fighters. Unfortunately though they make rapeseed oil taste very bitter.

Their sulphur nitrogen composition makes glucosinolates taste bitter and the plants they inhabit also have a slightly bitter taste to them. So the process of hybridization began to try to get the bitter taste removed from the rapeseed. Let me say that again, the process of ‘hybridization’, that’s ‘hybridization’ not ‘genetic engineering’. This was a totally natural process of using rapeseed plants with naturally occurring low levels of glucosinolates such as those grown in Sweden and cross-pollinating them to produce lower and lower levels of the bitter tasting compound. The final result was a revised plant which was renamed the Canola plant. Canola is an acronym for Canada/oil/low/acid. The seeds from this new plant produced a much more palatable oil without the bitterness. Unfortunately, along with the glucosinolates, most of the erucic acids were removed.

Myth Number 3:  Erucic Acid is Toxic

If you have followed the canola debate at all you may be asking yourself, “Why is getting rid of erucic acid a bad thing?” “Isn’t erucic acid toxic?”

Actually, after much research, the answer is no. In small amounts, it is not toxic. It is actually beneficial to our cardiovascular system.

What is this erucic acid? Erucic acid is a monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acid. It is present in many green plants and occurs in particularly high levels in members of the brassica family, mustard seeds in particular. In small amounts when freshly expelled it can be beneficial to the cardiovascular system but if taken in large amounts it decreases the number of blood platelets in our bloodstream, a condition known as thrombocytopenia.

Well, now we have an oil, canola oil, that has low levels of erucic acid, high levels of monounsaturated fatty acids, low levels of saturated fat and an excellent balance of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. All of these characteristics are considered to be good and healthy attributes according to today’s nutrition standards.

Still there seems to be a problem!

Now, what?

Myth Number 4:  The European Union has Banned Canola Oil

The European Union has banned all genetically modified foods. Genetically modified canola oil is one of them. In Europe, they still call the hybrid that we call canola by its original name, rapeseed oil. The word does not hold the same negative connotations in languages other than English. The European Union does however still use and promote the non-genetically modified but hybridized rapeseed (canola) oil and has banned genetically modified oil from use in the Union.

Myth Number 5:  It is Better to Use Other Vegetable Oils than Canola Oil

When all is said and done it is not a particular oil that is the problem but the way the oil is grown and processed that seems to be the major area of concern. Good fresh oils are and have been, for centuries, a valuable and highly sought after addition to our meals and ultimately to our bodies. It is only in the last century that large corporations looking to increase their profit margins decided to use science to ‘improve’ oils so they could be mass produced, hold a vastly longer shelf life and have a prolific usage in all areas of fast food and home cuisine.

Good oils are naturally pressed using a large expeller press which grinds the seeds and releases the oil without excessive heat or any heat (cold pressing) or chemicals. The result is a beautiful, healthy and very delicious oil.

A short look at oils, cooking and shelf life versus nutrition will give us further insight into, why, not only canola oil but all oils should never be either genetically modified or highly processed.

Fats fall into 3 main categories: saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.

The stability of the fat during the storage process and the cooking process depends on the number of hydrogen atoms in the bonds holding the molecules together. The more hydrogen atoms the more stable the fat.

Saturated fats are ‘saturated’ with hydrogen atoms and can be heated to fairly high levels.

Monounsaturated fats only have one (mono) double bond per molecule and the rest are single bonds allowing room for hydrogen atoms. This makes them relatively stable thus making them a good alternative to saturated fats for cooking at lower heat levels.

rganic canola oil is made up primarily of monounsaturated fat and can be used in cooking as long as the temperature is kept at a reasonably low temperature; perfect for sauteing meat and/or vegetables but not good for deep frying. If in doubt, spritz the pan with water as people in Asia do.

Polyunsaturates have all double bonds and no hydrogen atoms making them very unstable and subject to rancidity and smoking at low heat levels thus giving way to cancer causing chemicals. Oils with large amounts of polyunsaturates should be used for salad dressing and other unheated uses such as infused chili oils, etc. They should also be stored in cold dark places like the refrigerator.

When any of these oils, including saturates, are used in their natural state in moderation they are beneficial to our health in many, many ways.

The problems with oils began when producers needed to extend the shelf life so that the mass produced oils could be shipped across the world and not go rancid for at least a year. The chemists altered the structure of the oils so that rancidity was avoided and in doing so removed any real health benefits from them and, as we are beginning to realize, created some health problems in the process.

Chemists figured out how to make oil into a solid by transfusing it with hydrogen molecules and the now infamous trans fats were created. The process resulted in increased plaque buildup on artery walls. It took half a century and many determined ‘health nuts’ to correct this malevolent error.

Trans fats have since been removed or at least partially removed from solidified oils. No matter what the process all solidified oil products or margarine, as they are called, are made with processed oils. They are not made with first pressed, cold pressed or expeller pressed organic oils.

One of the best advantages of using organic canola oil is the omega 3 to omega 6 fat ratio. The ratio is one to six omega 3 to omega 6. This is a highly favourable ratio and very beneficial to our health.

Conclusion

Now that the myths have been addressed, in the final analysis, the answer is: Yes. Canola oil, like all other edible oils, is both good and bad. Good when it is produced organically and bad if it is altered for mass consumption.

And that’s a fact!

You choose. It’s your body.

IMPORTANT: The information on this site should never be used to self medicate or to self diagnose. Always contact your health care provider before using any kind of supplementation or making any extreme change in diet.

REFERENCES

This is where I got the information. I didn’t make this stuff up, really. Check it out.

http://www.canolacouncil.org/canola_oil_the_truth.aspx http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omjWmLG0EAshttp://www.spectrumorganics.com/?id=240 hhttp://www.westonaprice.org/know-your-fats/trans-fatty-acids-are-not-formed-by-heating-vegetable-oils http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erucic_acid