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Answering the Controversial Canola Oil Questions

The last few weeks we’ve posted some articles about a sometimes controversial dietary fat — canola oil  And we got some feedback both through the blog, on Facebook and twitter — with some concerns about our canola oil recommendation.  We wanted to answer a few of those concerns to put the myths to rest.
 
There’s certainly a lot of confusion about dietary fat.  Not long ago fat free was all the rage.  Now people are adding coconut oil to everything, embracing bacon, and suggesting whole milk is the best option. 

And the other day during a talk, someone in the audience asked specifically about canola oil after I gave the message of swapping solid fats with liquid ones. 

“I thought canola oil is bad” she said.  “It’s poisonous, has a toxin and is too refined.”
 
Canola oil certainly has gotten a bad wrap in many circles.  But for no good reason.

Here’s the truth to it.  Canola oil is a healthy oil — it has the lowest saturated fat of any edible oil and is a good source of monounsaturated fat.  And there are certainly lots of data showing monounsaturated fat is healthy.
 
But that doesn’t answer the rumors of canola oil being “poisonous.” 

Here’s the problem — though the internet is a great tool, a little bit of misinformation can spread too quickly.
 
I had the great opportunity last year to head up to Saskatoon Canada to actually tour the canola fields, where the majority of the world’s canola oil is grown.  Here is a picture of a canola plant that I took when I was in Canada.  Yes, canola oil comes from the crushed seeds of canola plants prior to being on your shelf.
 
In fact, I also had the chance to not just see the canola fields, but feel the canola seeds, crush them to extract the oil, and see where some of our food really comes from.  Very cool — it’s cool actually seeing where our food comes from.  It’s why we love farmers markets so much; you have the chance to actually talk to the farmers growing your food.  And I did just that in Canada, where we had the chance to talk with some of the canola farmers.
 
So here’s a quick snapshot of how oils are processed.  In the processing of all refined vegetable oils, after manual extraction from pressing, a chemical is used to extract more of the oil from seeds.  It allows a significant more amount of oil to be extracted, which is very good news for the farmers who, fortunately for us, are providing us with food.
 
As the oil continues to be extracted from the seeds and processed for us to eat, however, there are no detectable traces of this at all.  We’re not eating it.
 
OK, so right now I know you’re thinking — that’s gross, why should my food be treated with chemicals?

Here’s an even lesser known fact – refined (pommace) olive oil uses the same exact chemical to get more oil from the olives

So in one case you’re pressing seeds from the canola plant to get oil and in the other you’re pressing olives to get the oil. 
 
Interesting, right?
 
The other concern that’s often raised about canola oil is that it is genetically modified (GM).  And, that can be true — speaking with one of the farmers, this fact alone has saved his farm because he has a more disease-resistant crop.
 
Canola was developed by traditional plant breeding in the 1960s. Modern crop biotechnology ("genetic modification") wasn’t even invented at that time. Unwanted traits (erucic acid and glucosinolates) in rapeseed were bred out to produce canola, a unique plant species.

Today, some varieties of canola are genetically modified to be tolerant to select herbicides. Using these herbicides has improved crop production and quality so when talking with the farmers, it’s literally saved their livelihood.  And, luckily for us, farmers are around so we have the abundance of food and produce that we all love.  
 
The genetically modified portion of the canola plant isn’t actually where the oil comes from, but if you’re still not loving that … buy organic canola oil.  Organic canola oil is not genetically modified.  Simple solution. 
 
At the end of the day, canola oil is a healthy oil.  Like I said, they do make organic canola oil that is not genetically modified.  Outside of some of the health benefits of canola oil, here are some practical tips too:

It’s virtually flavor free, so can work with any food where you don’t want a ton of added flavors.
 
It’s less expensive than olive oil.
 
It has the lowest amount of saturated fat among any edible oil available.
 
Here’s an easy recipe I found on the CanolaInfo.org website to try.

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Sweet Potato Fries with Cajun Dipping Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 lb/750 g sweet potatoes, peeled, cut in half crosswise, then cut into 1/2-inch (1.25 cm) slices and finally into 1/2-inch (1.25 cm) strips (to resemble fries)
  • 2 Tbsp canola oil 30 mL
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika 5 mL
  • 1/2 tsp coarsely ground black pepper 2 mL
  • 1/4 tsp salt 1 mL

Cajun Dipping Sauce

  • 3/4 cup fat-free sour cream 175 mL
  • 1 Tbsp Louisiana hot sauce 15 mL
  • 1 medium garlic clove, minced

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 450 °F (230 C). Line large baking sheet with aluminum foil.
  2. Place potatoes in large bowl. Drizzle canola oil over potatoes and toss gently, yet thoroughly to coat. Sprinkle with paprika and black pepper and toss gently.
  3. Arrange potatoes in single layer on baking sheet. Bake 30-35 minutes, stirring after 20 minutes or until beginning to richly brown.
  4. Remove from oven and sprinkle evenly with salt. Serve immediately for peak flavor and texture.

Yield: 6 servings. Serving size: ½ cup (125 mL) fries, 2 Tbsp (30 mL) sauce.

 

3 Responses to Answering the Controversial Canola Oil Questions

  1. Mark February 3, 2012 at 9:47 am #

    Seems you’re harping on saturated fat a bit, when there’s no need. How does canola oil compare to safflower oils and the like as far as inflammation? I chalked canola oil up to being rather inflammatory, but seems it’s not. Is this correct?

    • Chris and Kara Mohr February 6, 2012 at 11:44 am #

      I didn’t mean to harp — just focusing on some other oils at this point. Canola is not a high inflammatory oil like sun or safflower oil. Pretty solid ratio of 6 and 3

  2. VN DALMIA February 4, 2012 at 1:49 am #

    Excellent article that displays a deep understanding of the issue. In fact, all seed oils are solvent extracted. So, if you’re talking about sunflower, corn, ground-nut, soya, they are ALL extracted using chemicals in exactly the same way as canola and olive pomace. The difference between other seed oils and canola or olive pomace is that the latter are both high in mono-unsaturated fat.

    Thank you Mohrs for bothering to understand the issue and tell it like it is.

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