So what’s the deal? Why is there some confusion about this often-used cooking oil? Let’s take a look at the history behind canola oil and some interesting facts.
What’s in a Name?
This may surprise you. Unlike olive oil, coconut oil or grape seed oil, canola oil is not exactly named for its plant source. Its name comes from a combination of “Canada” and “oil” and it’s actually derived from the controversial rapeseed plant.
In the 1970s, Canadian plant breeders created a hybrid of the rapeseed plant which eventually was named the “Canola plant.” The name “Canola” started out as a trademark in 1986 and eventually transitioned into a generic term for oil produced from this rapeseed hybrid.
The Rapeseed Controvers
Rapeseed has a bad rap and was even banned by the FDA in 1956 due to its high levels of erucic acid—which has been linked to an increased likelihood of heart disease in animals. The hybrid source of canola oil contains considerably less erucic acid (hence the name “low acid”), around 2 percent.
In the past few years, rapeseed production has started to take an upswing in Britain and China—and people are beginning to buy this olive oil alternative—but this doesn’t necessarily mean it is safe in the long-term. Remember margarine?
If you have canola oil in your pantry, it’s probably genetically modified. Often GMOs are bred to be more resistant to pesticides, this way the crops can be heavily sprayed with pesticides without killing the plant. In fact, as of 2010, 93 percent of canola oil sold in the United States is made from a GMO plant and is one of the top genetically modified crops in the country.
What Does ‘Healthy’ Mean?
You’ll find many articles claiming canola oil is “healthy” or “good for you” because it contains monounsaturated fats, Omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E. There are many problems with this. First, you’d have to eat loads of canola oil to fulfill your Omega-3 and vitamin E daily quota. And higher quantities of monounsaturated fats in the diet have been shown to increase the risk of breast cancer. Additionally, canola oil goes through heavy processing and refinement including high heat, chemicals and deodorizers which can transform the Omega-3 fatty acids into trans fatty acids.
We recommend you reduce your use of canola oil and eliminate it if possible, but we always encourage you to do some independent research as well. In the meanwhile, stick with the oils known as safe and healthy alternatives, such as organic extra-virgin olive oil and organic coconut oil.