Is canola oil healthy or harmful?
Canola oil was once viewed as very healthy because of its desirable mix of unsaturated fats. More recently, it’s come under attack for its refined nature (most canola oil is highly refined). In reality, the health news on this canola is mixed.
What is it?
Canola oil was created in the 1970s (in Canada) by selectively breeding rape plants, an unfortunately named type of mustard (genus Brassica, like kale and broccoli). It was designed to dial down in a big way two undesirable aspects of rapeseed oil: glucosinolates and erucic acid.
Good news first
It’s budget-friendly, neutral tasting, and has a high smoke point. This makes it a safe choice for high heat cooking and baking.
The mix of fats in canola oil is generally favourable:
Low in saturated fats
Rich in omega-3 fatty acids (second to flax oil)
Solid ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids (about 2:1)
Now the bad news
Lacking in other nutrients (versus seeds and nuts)
Contains small amounts of trans fats -WHEN REFINED. Say what?! Keep reading…the dose makes the poison!
Levels of trans fats in refined canola oil (and other refined oils) are in the same league as the ruminant trans fats found in beef and dairy – around 2-3% of total fats. The WHO suggests under 2 grams of trans fats per day – lower is better. This means above 5 Tbsp of canola oil (or butter) daily could mean trouble. Benefits of zero versus very low intake are unclear.
Canola haters have other health concerns that are not so valid, in my scientific opinion.
- Fear of GMOs. Eating plants with altered DNA is not harmful to your health. Period. GMOs can have ecosystem implications but that is a different topic.
- Fear of pesticides. GMO canola oil does contain higher levels of glyphosate than non-GMO. However, even the “higher” doses are so low that you would have to chug canola oil daily for this to register in your body.
- Fear of hexane (from chemical extraction). There is no evidence to substantiate any risk to consumer health when foods contain trace residual concentrations of hexane (0.8 parts per million).
- Fear of euric acid. Levels of max 2% (average 0.6%) are so low that there is no plausible risk.
My bottom line: I view canola oil as healthy choice, in moderation. I use it for high-heat cooking and baking. I tend to use other unrefined oils for low heat cooking and salads.