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How Is Canola Oil Bad for You? Plus 4 Substitutes

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Canola oil - Dr. Axe

Is canola oil good or bad for you? When it comes to canola oil, some people view it as a healthy food while others avoid it at all costs. When there are two extremely passionate viewpoints, it can be very challenging to get to the bottom of it all.

On the one hand, detractors claim that canola oil is completely toxic, contains “the infamous chemical warfare agent mustard gas,” and causes conditions from mad cow disease to blindness. On the other hand, supporters believe that canola oil is one of the healthiest oils on the planet and offers canola oil benefits because it’s rich in omega-3s, low in saturated fats and is a good source of oleic acid. Granted, these properties are true on a surface level, but there is much more to the canola story.

Why is canola oil bad? A genetically modified product, canola oil is a Canadian invention that’s backed by Canada’s government, cheap to manufacture, and many packaged or processed foods contain it.

Canola oil was first created in the early 1970s as a natural oil, but in 1995, Monsanto created a genetically modified version of canola oil. As of 2005, 87 percent of canola grown in the U.S. was genetically modified, and by 2009, 90 percent of the Canadian crop was genetically engineered.

With so many oils on the market and so much talk about the different types of oil, it’s difficult to sift through what’s fact, what’s entirely fiction and most of all which is the healthiest oil to use. I want to explain all the reasons why canola oil is not what you want to add to your shopping cart from genetic modification to an overload of unhealthy fats — plus, better alternatives and resources to help you avoid GMOs across the board.


What Is Canola Oil?

Rapeseed oil is made from the rapeseed plant, specifically from the seeds of the rape or rapeseed plant, which is a member of the mustard (Brassicaceae) family. What is canola then? It was in the early 1970s that canola was first bred from rapeseed at the University of Manitoba in Canada by Keith Downey and Baldur R. Stefansson.

In 1998, “the most disease- and drought-resistant canola variety to date” was developed using genetic modification, and this is how the majority of recent varieties are produced. Is canola oil vegetable oil? Yes, it’s a type of vegetable oil so it’s also sometimes referred to as this as well.

What is canola oil made from? It comes from the canola plant. Wild rapeseed oil contains large amounts of erucic acid, which is known to cause health problems, so the canola plant was developed from rapeseed in order to use it to produce a food-grade canola oil with lower erucic acid levels.

The name of canola oil was originally LEAR (low erucic acid rapeseed) but for marketing purposes was changed to canola oil. This word was derived from the combination of “Canada” and “ola,” meaning oil. Canola oil is a much more appealing name than LEAR oil or rape oil, but should you use it in your foods?

Canola oil price is relatively cheap so it’s not surprising that there are many canola oil uses. The oil works well as an industrial oil and has been used in candles, soaps, lipsticks, lubricants, inks, biofuels and even insecticides. Once the powers that be figured out how to genetically modify rapeseed oil, it began being sold as an edible food product.

Hence, it’s been brought to market with the claim that it’s a wonder oil, low in saturated fats and a source of omega-3 fatty acids. But in its current hybridized and modified state, it can cause a large number of health issues that you will learn about shortly.

History and Interesting Facts

Canola oil was developed as the food industry began to search for healthy and cost-effective alternatives to saturated fats in oils. These saturated fats had come to the mainstream attention as a result of the American Heart Association and other United States government agencies spreading reports of saturated fats, often found in commonly used cooking oils, being bad for your heart health. Many of these reports were particularly aimed at corn oil and soybean oil.

As food manufacturers searched and experimented, they discovered rapeseed oil. Rapeseed oil is monounsaturated oil. The problem with this original type of rapeseed oil is that it was very high in erucic acid. Erucic acid is a fatty acid found in rapeseed and mustard oils that’s linked to heart damage, in particular Keshan disease, a disease characterized by fibrotic lesions of the heart.

Food manufacturers continued their journey into refining rapeseed and canola oils until they came up with a formula in the late 1970s to genetically manipulate the rapeseed plant by seed splitting. This seed split oil produced canola oil with less erucic acid and higher amounts of oleic acid. This was the oil referred to at the time as LEAR.

Although there are not the previously high levels of erucic acid in canola oil, there are still reasons for serious concern if you use canola oil.

How Is Canola Made?

To use the trademarked “canola” name, canola oil ingredients include only one thing, canola oil, but that oil can’t contain more than 30 micromoles of glucosinolates and less than two percent erucic acid.

What is canola oil made of? It’s made of the oil that comes from crushing the seeds of the canola plant to express the seeds’ oil content. Each tiny contains about 42 to 43 percent oil. The leftover canola meal is commonly used as animal feed.

How is canola oil made? It’s one of several vegetable oils that go through the process of being refined, bleached and deodorized. A solvent called hexane is used to chemically extract the oil from the seeds.

Does canola oil go bad? An unopened bottle has a shelf life of about two years before it goes bad. Most sources say that an open bottle of oil will become rancid in a year or less.


Canola Oil Nutrition Facts

You’re probably wondering about canola oil nutrition. Is canola oil good for you? As is true with any food, the key to understanding the health qualities of canola is to look at the entire nutritional profile and not just one or two components.

One cup of canola oil contains about:

  • 1,927 calories
  • 218 grams fat
  • 16.1 grams saturated fat
  • 0.9 gram trans fat, yet other reports claim that it is much more
  • 155 micrograms vitamin K (194 percent DV)
  • 38.1 milligrams vitamin E (190 percent DV)

As you can see canola oil calories are not low. A study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association reports that a majority of canola oil used in processed food has been hardened through the hydrogenation process, which introduces levels of trans fatty acids into the final product as high as 40 percent.

Taking a closer look at canola oil nutrition facts, its full fatty acid profile looks something like this:

  • Saturated fat: 16.1 grams
  • Monosaturated fat: 138 grams
  • Polysaturated fat: 61.4 grams
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: 5,018 or 19,921 milligrams depending on the source
  • Omega-6 fatty acids: 40,646 milligrams

Is canola oil bad? One of the things I noticed while doing research is that most canola oil had a poor omega-3/6 ratio of 8:1 and loads of trans fats, with only one source showing it was closer to 2:1 (the first number being omega-6s and the second the omega-3s).

Many people tend to get too many omega 6s in their diet and not enough omega 3s. A high consumption of vegetable oils like canola can be one of the reasons for this.


Why Is Canola Oil Bad for You? Any Potential Benefits?

Originally, rapeseed oil may not have had so many negative health effects. Why is canola oil so bad for you? For three main reasons, most canola oil today can be very harmful to your body:

  1. Over 90 percent of canola oil is genetically modified.
  2. Canola oil is a refined oil that’s often partially hydrogenated to increase its stability, but this increases its negative health effects.
  3. Its been linked to increased inflammation in animal studies and chronic inflammation is believed to be at the root of most diseases. 

It’s for these two reasons that I recommend you switch to healthier oil alternatives that I list below.

What can it do to you? There have been NO long-term, viable studies done on GMO canola oil, but there are reports that it has caused many kidney, liver and neurological health issues. This makes sense since there are other reports that GMO products like corn and soy also can cause negative health effects. So if you’re comparing soy or corn oil vs canola oil, I would say avoid them all!

Is vegetable oil bad for you? According to the Weston A. Price Foundation and fat experts Sally Fallon and Mary Enig:

Like all modern vegetable oils, canola oil goes through the process of refining, bleaching and degumming — all of which involve high temperatures or chemicals of questionable safety. And because canola oil is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which easily become rancid and foul-smelling when subjected to oxygen and high temperatures, it must be deodorized. The standard deodorization process removes a large portion of the omega-3 fatty acids by turning them into trans fatty acids. Although the Canadian government lists the trans content of canola at a minimal 0.2 percent, research at the University of Florida at Gainesville, found trans levels as high as 4.6 percent in commercial liquid oil. The consumer has no clue about the presence of trans fatty acids in canola oil because they are not listed on the label.

Monsanto has been incorporating genetically modified organisms in its canola oil seeds, and now we know that Monsanto has also been selling GMO seeds for the following plants:

  • Canola
  • Alfalfa
  • Corn
  • Cotton
  • Soybeans
  • Sorghum
  • Sugar beets
  • Wheat

In 2016, some progress was made when it comes to food containing genetically modified ingredients. A bill was signed by the president amending the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946. So now companies are required by law to disclose the presence of GMO ingredients through text labels, symbols or digital links (like scannable QR codes).

Sounds great, but the problem is that it’s left up to the secretary of agriculture to decide what amounts of GMO ingredients need to be present in a food product in order for the GMO labeling law to be a requirement.


Top 6 Dangers

1. Kidney and Liver Problems

The majority of canola oil produced today is genetically modified. The side effects of GMOs in general cannot be overstated.

In a 2011 review published in Environmental Sciences Europe, 19 studies of mammals fed GMO soybeans and corn were evaluated. The 90-day trials indicated liver and kidney problems as a result of GMO foods. The kidney and liver findings actually were differentiated by sex with the kidneys being disrupted by 43.5 percent in male mammals and the liver being disrupted in female mammals by 30.8 percent.

The kidneys and the liver are absolutely vital to our existence so ingesting a genetically modified food like canola oil is really not something to take lightly.

2. Life-Threatening Heart Trouble

As a monounsaturated oil, rapeseed oil has high levels of erucic acid. Erucic acid is a fatty acid that’s associated with heart damage, specifically Keshan disease, a disease that manifests itself with fibrotic lesions of the heart. Research has shown that in areas where people are prone to Keshan, not only are selenium levels lower, but eurucic acid levels are higher.

Partially hydrogenated vegetable oils like canola are also known for causing inflammation and calcification of arteries, which are well-established risk factors for coronary heart disease.

3. Hypertension and Strokes

Previous studies have shown that the consumption of rapeseed oil and some other types of vegetable oils shortens the life span of stroke-prone and hypertensive animal subjects. Specifically, research carried out at the Nutrition and Toxicology Research Divisions of Ottawa discovered that rats bred to have high blood pressure and proneness to stroke died sooner when fed canola oil as the sole source of fat. Additionally, the rats fed the non-canola oil-based diets lived longer than the rats fed canola oil.

Another study published in 2000 in Toxicology Letters specifically looked at the effects of canola oil on blood coagulation time or how long it takes blood to clot in stroke-prone animal subjects. The study found that there was a “canola oil-induced shortening of blood coagulation time and increased fragility in [red blood cell membranes],” which may promote the occurrence of strokes in animal subjects that are stroke-prone.

Canola oil dangers - Dr. Axe

4. May Retard Normal Growth

Up until recently, it was not legal to use canola oil in infant formulate. There have been what I think are valid concerns about canola oil retarding growth in children. Specifically, the euroric acid in canola oil is harmful to infants due to an inability to properly break it down. The FDA previously made the use of canola oil illegal in baby formula. However, as of  a few years ago, canola oil made it to the generally recognized as safe list.

Not only is it highly concerning to feed developing infants a GMO oil, but it’s also highly questionable to give them unhealthy fats. Proponents brag about canola’s overall healthy fat profile, but I don’t buy it. Now it’s being sold in the form of a baby’s first meal. Of course, I highly encourage skipping commercial formulas and opting for breastfeeding if you can.

5. Increases Intake of Unhealthy Trans Fats

According to a study published in the Journal of Food Lipids, when soybean and canola oils purchased in the U.S. were evaluated, “The trans contents were between 0.56% and 4.2% of the total fatty acids.”

When canola oil undergoes hydrogenation, which it often does to become a partially hydrogenated oil, this increases its level of trans fats. These are a group of fats you want to avoid as much as possible since they’re scientifically known to increase LDL cholesterol and lower HDL cholesterol.

Research has also related trans fats to weight gain. In an animal study, trans fats lead to weight gain even when compared to the same caloric intake. Keeping this in mind with the obesity epidemic we’re facing, it’s a sign to reconsider these oils in an effort to help restore healthy weight and metabolic functioning, although — of course — only part of the problem of the growing problem.

When you read “partially hydrogenated oil” on any food label, that guarantees there is some amount of trans fat present. This is true even when the label tells you that there is zero trans fat. How can that be? Well, if a serving contains less than 0.5 grams, the company is allowed to indicate there are no trans fats. Frustrating, I know.

Trans fatty acids are hazardous byproducts of food processing and are truly health destroyers. In fact, if you decide to get rid of your canola oil, I would also stop cooking with these oils as well: corn oil, safflower oil, soy oil and vegetable oil.

6. Numerous Potential GMO Health Side Effects

I already mentioned the link between GMOs and negative liver and kidney implications, but it doesn’t stop there. According to the Center for Food Safety site, there are several new and very serious health concerns and unexpected effects of genetic engineering unearthed by scientific research:

  • Toxicity
  • Allergic reactions
  • Immuno-suppression
  • Cancer
  • Loss of nutrition

What to Substitute for Canola Oil

There are much healthier choices than “vegetable” oils, which sound healthy, but are far from it. Most vegetable oils (canola, corn, peanut, safflower, etc.) are sourced from GMO crops and/or are highly refined.

So, what are the best oils for cooking? Here are the top oils I personally use as a substitute for canola oil:

1. Coconut Oil

Is coconut oil bad for you? The refined variety is chemically bleached and deodorized and is not the type you want if you’re looking for a healthier alternative to canola oil.

Coconut oil is best when it’s cold-pressed and virgin. Your coconut oil should smell like you’re on a beach in the Caribbean. It contains medium-chain fatty acids that can support both fat loss and your nervous system.

Looking for the best oil for frying? People often say that the best frying oil is a vegetable oil like canola (canola oil smoke point is about 400 degrees F). Canola is certainly not the healthiest oil for frying. Rather than using canola oil for frying, I recommend coconut oil. With a smoke point of about 350 degrees F, coconut oil is a good mid-temperature frying oil.

2. Olive Oil

Which is better olive oil or canola oil? People often compare canola oil vs olive oil. If there’s a contest between olive oil vs canola oil, olive oil wins every day of the week!

Olive oil has been shown to be one of the top healthy oils. Olive oil benefits are tremendous and at the heart of the Mediterranean diet. Look for an organic extra-virgin or cold-pressed olive oil that’s available in a darkly colored glass container. Many inferior, fake olive oils are mixed with cheaper, GMO vegetables oils so make sure it’s GMO-free.

It’s important to know that olive oil shouldn’t be cooked at high heat and its health benefits are best obtained when you used it uncooked. Olive oil is great in homemade salad dressings and for drizzling on finished products like cooked vegetables.

3. Ghee or Organic, Pasture-Raised Butter

High-quality butter or ghee both make a great canola oil substitute. Both butter and ghee benefits come from alpha lipoic acid and conjugated linoleic acid, which can promote weight loss. Also, they contain healthy short chain fatty acids and have a higher heat threshold. When buying butter, stick with organic grass-fed varieties. Remember, too, there’s a difference between butter and margarine. Stick with butter, as margarine often contains vegetable oils.

4. Red Palm Oil

Red palm oil is made from the palm fruit instead of the palm kernel, and in its unrefined state, it’s high in vitamin E and beta-carotene. It’s also stable under high heat and great for cooking. Make sure when buying palm oil that it’s certified sustainable.

If for some reason you must buy canola oil, make sure that it’s organic canola oil because then it at least can’t be from genetically modified plants. It’s still illegal to use genetic engineering or modification in certified organic products.

5. Avocado Oil

Avocado oil is one of my favorite cooking oils, as it has a high smoke point and mild flavor that goes with any dish you could imagine. Avocado oil, along with olive oil, is a good source of monounsaturated fat, a beneficial dietary fat. It’s so healthy, in fact, if you visit France, it’s actually received prescription drug status there for its effects against arthritis.


Final Thoughts

  • Whether the canola oil you’ve been using is genetically modified or not, you really can’t afford to keep using it for the sake of your health.
  • It can be confusing to know which are the best oils to choose to cook with and use at home. But one thing you can bet on is that canola oil is simply not the safe, healthy alternative that the mainstream media would have you believe.
  • Canola oil has become so popular it’s found in many foods, including ones you may think are “healthy” food choices.
  • In fact, canola oil is marketed to the health-conscious industry rather than the junk food industry.
  • However, you must beware and read labels diligently in order to protect your health and the health of your loved ones from the dangers of this popular cooking oil.
  • Now that you’re armed with the facts, use them to guard your health! I truly hope you will steer clear of canola oil and all GMO foods.
  • Look for foods with the non-GMO label. Find more info here: nongmoproject.org. I also suggest checking out the Non-GMO Shopping Guide.

Read Next: Grapeseed Oil: Is It Healthy or Not?


Josh Axe

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