Canola Oil: What is it anyway?

LAST WEEK CTF READER NICK SENT me an email asking

I was wondering what you guys think of Canola Oil.  From what I’ve read, it is a genetically engineered oil that comes from the rapeseed. If by canola is by definition genetically engineered, how can some products claim to have “organic canola oil”? Do you guys think Canola oil is really healthy?

I have to admit I was stumped. I only use olive oil (and occasionally sesame oil) — mostly out of sheer laziness, but also because it’s what I know about and so I’m comfortable with it.

But I was also curious. Whole Foods sells canola oil and uses it for a lot of prepared foods. This is a subtle, but maybe not accurate, nod of approval in a way. I thought I should find out a little more.

The first thing I found out is that canola oil doesn’t come from “canola”. Instead, canola oil is an oil made from a cultivar of rapeseed. Rapeseed oil was used in cooking hundreds of years ago in Asia and Europe, but didn’t catch on in more modern times because of its high erucic acid content. In 1968, selective breeding produced a variety low in erucic acid. This happened in Canada, hence, the name “Canola” — Canadian oil, low acid.

Erucic acid is a known toxin. Canola oil has less than 2% erucic acid and is considered by the FDA to be safe for human consumption.

CTF friend and food scientist, Corey, shared with me that only about 80% of rapeseed is genetically modified, so it is possible to have organic canola oil. If avoiding GMOs is important to you, stick with organic.

(As a side note, the rapeseed blossom is a major nectar source for honeybees. I wonder if the GMO nectar of the GMO plants is different or has any effect on the bees?)

Fooducate also has a very informative post about canola oil which points out “With only 7% saturated fat and omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in a ratio of 2:1, canola is considered a heart healthy oil.”

The Bottom Line: As with anything, moderation is key. Too much of any oil isn’t healthy. Canola is probably better than some oils and worse than others. We all have to decide what’s important to us — is it organic, GMOs, price, taste, fat content? — then make an informed choice.

2 comments for “Canola Oil: What is it anyway?

  1. Priya
    May 22, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    I was just at the Whole Foods last week. I noticed that most of the prepared foods are indeed made with the canola oil. I spoke with the chef and he said that the canola oil is what they are required to use per hq. I asked him it was organic and he looked and found out that it wasn’t. I requested that he address this at their monthly meeting.

  2. Diana
    December 11, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    You should look into Mary Enig’s research because it looks like canola can be more harmful than healthy.
    http://www.hbci.com/~wenonah/new/canola.htm

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