One of the things I have noticed since starting this blog is that canola oil is one of the top oils that people tell me they have a problem with. Wondering why, I did some research into it. This post is by no means as thorough as it could be and I urge anyone who is interested to read the articles I link to at the end of the post and read further about canola.
Canola oil is not exactly the same as rapeseed oil. The canola plant while in the same family as rapeseed is actually genetically modified, twice. The first time was in the 80’s when Canadian scientists used regular breeding methods to made the seeds lower in erucic acid and glucosinolates which makes rape seed oil taste bitter. In the early 1980’s people in Spain were coming down with a mysterious illness that caused nausea, vomiting, and a steadily increasing trouble taking a breath. Over six hundred people died and more became ill. It was eventually traced back to olive oil that had been deliberately cut with non food grade chemically contaminated rapeseed oil. This scandal actually made a lot of people think that the new canola oil itself was responsible for the illness. This misunderstanding worked in favor of the canola industry making people who raised concerns about the safety of industrial canola oil seem like idiot quacks.
The second genetic modification came later in 1995 when Monsanto got its hands on canola and made a seed that is resistant to its herbicide RoundUp. Today about 90% of the worlds canola crop is genetically modified in this fashion.
Through an interesting article on the Weston A Price website (see references) I learned that rapeseed oil was made and used throughout Asia and India in traditional diets. There were many traveling peddlers that first cooked the rapeseeds and then used small stone presses to extract oil and sell it fresh to homes. It was a living and was a good way for home cooks to get fresh oil. I was surprised to read that as long as the people eating traditional rapeseed oil have enough saturated fats in their diet (i.e are not starving or impoverished and don’t eat rapeseed oil as their main source of fat) rapeseed oil seems to have had some beneficial effects. Like all food too much of a good thing can be a bad thing and rape seed oil in high amounts without saturated fat can cause heart problems and other health problems that are even now being witnessed in rat studies when rats are fed diets high in canola or rapeseed oil.
So although traditional rapeseed oil might have been a safe oil, because it was processed locally and sold and used within hours of extraction, what is now sold as rapeseed oil or canola oil is a different beast entirely. Not only has the seed itself been changed on a genetic DNA level, the oils that are made from canola are highly processed with both heat and chemicals.
I find the process by which modern canola oil is made, very disturbing. Here is a video about it.
If you would rather not watch the video, here is a quote from the Weston A Price article I reference below about how canola is made.
“The oil is removed by a combination of high temperature mechanical pressing and solvent extraction. Traces of the solvent (usually hexane) remain in the oil, even after considerable refining. 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. Although the Canadian government lists the trans content of canola at a minimal 0.2 percent, research at the University of Florida at Gainesville, found trans levels as high as 4.6 percent in commercial liquid oil. The consumer has no clue about the presence of trans fatty acids in canola oil because they are not listed on the label.”
So to sum up I believe there are multiple reasons that canola oil is causing more issues than other oils. First, the seed that the oil comes from, needs to be eaten in moderation and with a good ratio of saturated fat. Otherwise heart issues develop and the human body has trouble producing or using vitamin E. Second the genetic modification of the plants is probably also an issue. Genetically modified corn crops have been shown to cause bowel irritation and sometimes death in cattle and humans that consume it. Thirdly the genetic manipulation was done to allow for chemicals to be used on fields and unfortunately GM crops often use as much as 40 times the amount of RoundUp as non GM seeds. More chemicals on fields leaves more chemical traces on the subsequent seeds. Lastly the processing of the oils is exactly like the processing of other seed oils and because of canola oils high monounsaturated fat content that makes for high amounts of rancidity and trans fats after processing.
The US Canola Association website talking about the difference between canola and rapeseed.
The canola info.org website talking about the history of canola. It shows how recently the plant was invented and supports the point that rapeseed and canola are very different in chemical makeup.
This is the EPA canola oil fact sheet. Anyone with a problem with the oil may want to take a look as canola oil is used on a number of different crops as an insecticide.
This is an article about the rapeseed scandal in Spain in the early 1980’s.
This is an pdf about the possible reasons behind the oil scandal in 1981. It’s a little dense.
The article which I reference most in this post
Link to an online version of the book Stolen Harvest, written by Indian author Vandana Shiva. The Weston A Price article above references this book. The part I found talks about the conspiracy of the oil manufactures in India to remove traditional oil production from India and replace it with soybean oil. But the book seems to have no references to rapeseed oils at all only to mustard seed oil.
A rather nice little piece that I have read several times.