poisonous canola oil
Some of you may remember, in the mid-1990s, when a new oil showed up on grocery store shelves and in the ingredient lists of many processed foods. It was called canola, and it was voraciously marketed as a healthy new oil, similar to olive oil in its fatty acid profile, yet cheaper. A public thoroughly brainwashed into the belief that saturated fats were killing us, having traded in their butter for vegetable oils, but already becoming leery of soy, corn and cottonseed, were quick to adopt a cheaper alternative to olive oil which had come to be viewed as basically the only "safe fat".

It seemed few were asking the right questions at the time; namely 'What the hell is this stuff?'

Canola is a Canadian invention, created by cross-breeding the rapeseed plant, the oil of which is toxic for human and animal consumption, so that it no longer produces (much) of the toxic constituent erucic acid. International regulations differentiate canola oil from rapeseed by checking the erucic acid levels - if it has less than 2% erucic acid, and less than 30 µmoles glucosinolates, it's canola (a trademarked term, by the way).

But all that is rather academic. It doesn't really matter where the stuff comes from - the question is; is it healthy?

To be frank, no, it's not. One of the main reasons for this is rather ironic. One of the purported benefits of canola oil is that it contains omega-3 and omega-6 fats. If you haven't heard of these, you've probably been living under a rock for the last two decades. In the simplistic health advice proliferated by the mainstream media, these fats are "essential" and we can never get enough of them. Well great! If canola oil has a lot of omega-3s I'll just load up on that stuff and not have to bother eating stinky fish!

The problem is that these fats, particularly omega-3s, are extremely delicate and highly susceptible to oxidation, i.e. going rancid. Pressing seeds for oil exposes them to all the things that will make a delicate fat go rancid - heat (through friction, if nothing else), oxygen and light. And even if you're an evil seed-oil-producing company and don't care if your oil is rancid, causing massive biological damage to your customer base, your customers will. You see, rancid omega-3s smell and taste "fishy", something most customers find distasteful, to say the least. Nobody is going to use your oil for anything if it gives your cooking creation a certain "essence of fishmarket".

So what's a canola producer to do? Why you just subject the oil to over a dozen chemical stages to stabilize it, of course! From Your Medical Advice:
So in order to make that bottle last on a shelf, plus be able to withstand high heat cooking, you need over a dozen chemical stages to process canola into an oil that will not go rancid. These processes include not only hydrogenation but deodorization of the omega-3. This process can form as much as 40% trans fatty acids in canola, even more than soybean oil.
That's right - trans fats. The health industry super-villain that completely messes up the biological systems of anyone who consumes them. The fats that kill an estimated 90,000 people per year in the US. The fats considered to be at least partially responsible for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, metabolic dysregulation, unchecked inflammation, endothelial dysfunction, cancer and probably a whole lot more.

And this doesn't even address the fact that almost all the canola on the market is genetically modified, with all the problems inherent to GMOs. Does canola still sound like a healthy oil? Again, from Your Medical Advice:
The following have been directly attributed to the canola con:
  • Canola depletes vitamin E which will impact chronic diseases like heart, cancer, Alzheimer's, and diabetes.
  • Canola increases the rigidity of membranes (which is a major aging factor and trigger for degenerative diseases like diabetes).
  • Canola has the potential to damage hearts creating fibrosis impairing the action of vitamin E (crucial in inflammation).
  • In human studies there was an increase in lung cancers as well as heart damage.
  • Canola has been found to shorten the lifespan of animals and in others it lowers the platelet count and increases the size of the platelet cells.
  • Daily canola oil raised the triglycerides a staggering 47%.
The thing is, this information isn't new. Hell, that Your Medical Advice article is four years old. Dr. Mary Enig wrote Know Your Fats in 2000. In fact, the FDA banned the use of canola oil in infant formulas back in 1985 because it retarded growth! And no one thought that maybe there might be other things negatively associated with consuming canola? 'It's just babies that have a problem with it? OK. I should be fine then...'

The fact that canola oil is still out there on the shelves, in the ingredients list of all your favourite processed foods and in the deep fryers and cooking oil bottles of your favourite restaurants (it's true; ask) is a travesty. It'll be interesting to see, when the FDA ban on trans fats takes effect in 2018, whether we'll still see canola oil in all its current applications. I'm betting things won't change a bit.