People have heard different stories about canola oil. Some say it’s the healthiest oil but some others say it’s genetically modified and not safe. Here are some of the myths surrounding it.
Myth: Canola oil is made from all rapeseeds.
Fact: Canola oil is made from one particular rapeseed — canola. Originally, rapeseeds were high in erucic acid, which in animal studies has shown to be harmful to the heart. In 1976, Canadian scientists bred rapeseed oil to be low in erucic acid (less than 2 percent), so it could be used for human consumption. Its name derives from the beginning letters of “Canada oil, low acid.”
Myth: Canola oil is a genetically modified organism and isn’t safe.
Fact: Scientists used traditional plant-breeding techniques to get rid of the undesirable erucic acid in rapeseed and developed canola. Therefore, canola isn’t developed using genetic engineering techniques; however, most of the canola plants grown in Canada have now been modified using biotechnology to make it tolerant to herbicides. The modified gene encodes a protein. When making canola oil from canola plant, processing removes all proteins from canola oil. Therefore, canola oil from the herbicide-tolerant, genetically modified plant is the same safe and healthy oil as canola oil from conventional plants.
Myth: Canola oil has no health benefit.
Fact: Canola oil-based diets have shown many health benefits. Canola oil is a fat high in MUFAs or monounsaturated fatty acids (61 percent oleic acid), relatively high in polyunsaturated fatty acids (32 percent, 1:2: omega-3: omega-6 fatty acids) and low in saturated fat (less than 7 percent). A scientific review found a diet high in MUFAs to promote healthy blood lipids, improve insulin sensitivity and mediate blood pressure. Moreover, canola oil was found to decrease an individual’s abdominal fat mass, blood pressure and triglycerides the most compared to other oils like corn and flax oil. Canola oil is also a good source of vitamin E and phytosterols, which serve as antioxidants. Regardless, you want to watch your daily total consumption of oil. The recommended oil consumption for an adult is 25 to 30 grams per day, which is 2 to 2.2 Tablespoons per day.
Myth: Canola oil contains toxic extraction-solvent residue and is harmful.
Fact: Canola oil is typically processed first by crushing the rapeseed to exude 40 percent of the oil. The non-oil part, the meal, is then placed in a solvent (usually hexane) to extract the remainder of the oil. The hexane is then filtered out. Some people argue the hexane is still left in the canola oil and is toxic, but, it’s estimated only 0.8 milligrams of hexane exists in 1 kilogram of canola oil. Additionally, hexane has very low toxicity, and there’s no evidence to substantiate any danger when consuming trace amount of hexane. Still, if this is a concern, one may purchase cold-pressed canola oil as this avoids the solvent-extraction step. One thing to note, though, is cold-pressed canola oil has higher amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, but lower amounts of the phytosterols compared to the solvent-extracted canola oil.
Canola oil can be incorporated into cooking in many ways:
• It may be used in cold recipes, such as salad dressings and marinades.
• Vinaigrettes with canola oil: use a ratio of 2 parts oil, 1 part vinegar or lemon juice and add spices, like salt, pepper, garlic, ginger, rosemary and mustard.
Zhiping Yu is assistant professor in the Nutrition and Dietetics Flagship Program at the University of North Florida. The Goods is a monthly column about food myths and facts by faculty members in the program.