9 Reasons to Throw Out Your Canola Oil and What to Use Instead
By: Brent Totty
January 29, 2020
- When rapeseed oil was found to cause serious health issues, canola oil was developed as an alternative.
- Today, the production of canola oil has drawn some serious concerns about GMOs and pesticides, the use of chemical solvents and the inclusion of trans fats.
- Canola oil production processes are tied to health concerns such as heart disease, inflammation, cellulite, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease and asthma.
- Check out these delicious and versatile canola oil alternatives.
Is canola oil good for you? It’s a question nutritionists and food industrialists have been debating for decades. The controversy dates back to the 1970s, when it became a replacement for rapeseed oil, which was found to have negative health effects. Before we go too deep on that, let’s dive into what canola oil is, how it’s produced and how those production processes impact your health.
Read up on why this “healthy” oil doesn't live up to the hype.
What is canola oil?
Scientists created the canola plant in the 1970s in response to a ban on rapeseed oil. In 1976, the EU ruled that high amounts of erucic acid in rapeseed made it unsuitable for human consumption. Erucic acid was linked to heart muscle damage. Additionally, the EU determined that high levels of glucosinolates, anti-nutrients in the Brassica family of plants that prevent iodine absorption, even made rapeseed unsafe for animal consumption.
Canadian researchers saw the problem approaching. In response, they developed through plant cross-breeding a new variety of rapeseed with lower levels of glucosinolates and erucic acid. Their success came in the form of a new product, LEAR (low-erucic-acid rapeseed) oil, which was trademarked with a name to honor the country where it originated — canola.
How canola oil got its “healthy” reputation
Meanwhile, the war on saturated fats had just begun.
The sugar industry began paying scientists for studies that linked fat intake with heart disease. As part of that effort, saturated fats became enemy No. 1, giving way to the glorification of low-saturated-fat seed oils like canola that boasted seemingly healthy dietary stats.
All of this led to one thing: an increased demand for canola oil.
Is canola oil good for you?
There is controversy surrounding the science being used to grow and manufacture canola oil, and whether the results can be harmful to our health. Here are the concerns:
GMOs and pesticides
As production of canola exponentially grew, growers needed a way to protect their crops. In 1995, agricultural giant Monsanto developed Roundup-Ready canola (Brassica napus) plants that were bio-engineered to survive glyphosate, the active ingredient in the weedkiller Roundup. This allowed farmers to douse their canola crops in glyphosate to kill off weeds without harming their crops.
Most commercially available canola oil is extracted through a process called hexane solvent extraction.
Hexane solvent extraction is by far the cheapest and most efficient way to extract canola oil. After grinding the seed to a paste, hexane is used to extract the oil, which is heated to 212 degrees Fahrenheit and then bleached to create a lighter-colored final product. These manufacturing processes leave the oils damaged, creating higher levels of oxidation and trans fat content. All refined vegetable oils go through a process called deodorization, which creates trans fats.
Hydrogenated trans fats, like what you’ll find in canola oil and ultra-processed foods, aren’t good for you. They’re associated with heart disease, obesity and even memory los.   A recent test of canola and soybean oils on grocery store shelves found trans fat content levels between 0.56% and 4.2% of total fatty acid content.
In 2003, the FDA ruled that the amount of trans fat in a food item must be stated on the label. Research showed that the fatty acids in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils raise “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and lower “good” cholesterol (HDL). The FDA also allowed food manufacturers to label food as 0% trans fat if it contains less than 0.5g/serving. This is misleading if you’re consuming more than the serving size — a single tablespoon.
More recently, food companies started blending fully hydrogenated oils with liquid vegetable oils in a process called interesterification. This process makes the interesterified oil behave like a partially hydrogenated oil without any of the trans fat. On paper, this sounds great, but there haven’t been any studies on the effects of these newly constructed fats on the human body.
The bottom line: The scientific and health communities are concerned about the ways canola is now farmed, processed and used in food production. Today’s production practices may be delivering health risks that outweigh the health benefits first discovered in canola.
Canola oil and its health risks
Most canola oil is partially hydrogenated, which yields trans fat in the final oil product. The FDA allows canola oil to be claimed as “trans-fat free” if its trans fat levels are below 0.5g/serving, but even the smallest amounts of trans fat raise “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and lower “good” cholesterol (HDL).
Studies have identified that the trans-fatty acids created in the hydrogenation process cause inflammation and the calcification of arterial cells. Elevated LDL, lowered HDL, inflammation and calcification of arterial cells are all known to increase the likelihood of coronary heart disease.
The bottom line: The canola oil sold today contains a percentage of hydrogenated oil, which means it includes trans fats which are associated with heart disease. This contradicts the “heart-healthy” reputation of vegetable oils.
Canola oil looks like an optimal vegetable-based oil, with a healthy 2:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. Research has shown that consuming this ratio of fatty acids contributes to reduced inflammation. Ideally, you want all of the foods you consume to have an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio in the neighborhood of 4:1. To learn more, check out this article about omega fatty acids.
However, canola oil has one serious catch: Though the omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio of 2:1 looks incredible on paper, the type of Omega-3 fatty acids found in plant-based sources come in the form of short-chain alpha linoleic acid (ALA). To use short-chain ALA fatty acids, the human body must first convert ALA to the long-chain fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) before it can be used.
Unfortunately, ALA converts to EPA at a rate of about 5%, and converts to DHA at a rate of less than 1%. What this means is that the 2:1 ratio isn’t accurate. Less than 6% of the omega-3s can be used by the body, making the ratio closer to 8:1.
The bottom line: On paper, canola oil looks to have the ideal combination of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. But less than 6% of the omega-3s in plant-based sources can be used by the body. Thanks for nothing.
On a Bulletproof Radio podcast episode (iTunes), board-certified family physician Cate Shanahan, MD, author of Deep Nutrition, says, “somewhere between 30% and 50%, maybe 60% even, of the average American’s diet is composed of [soy and canola] vegetable oils. We have far more now in our diet than ever before in history.” Because of this, “the average American now is composed of far more polyunsaturated fat than ever before. Now, what does that mean? It means that when you biopsy human fat tissue, it’s composed of a more liquid kind of fat that is more prone to degradation and inflammation than 50 years ago,” she explains.
According to Shanahan, consuming too much canola oil and other refined vegetable oils results in cellulite. “We can actually see what happens when our fat is more liquid and more inflammatory. That inflammation is breaking down the supporting collagen structure. That cellulite fat, instead of having three layers of collagen support, has only two layers of collagen support … It’s much more flimsy, and that’s why it dimples. That flimsiness is a direct reflection of how the inflammation erodes away the collagen,” says Shanahan.
The bottom line: Your body stores fat from your diet. When the fat in your diet mostly comes from vegetable oils, the fat is stored in a form that has less structural support and is more prone to inflammation. Less structure means dimply fat — and that means hello, cellulite.
A 2011 study fed stroke-prone, hypertensive mice canola oil for a period of 25 days to see how it affected their health. Canola oil reduced their antioxidant status, lowered glutathione production (the body’s master antioxidant that flushes toxins from the body) and increased plasma lipid levels, all of which are gateways to cardiovascular disease.
When paired with high salt intake, canola oil causes lipid peroxidation. Lipid peroxidation is the process in which electrons are removed from fats by free radicals, causing cell damage.
The bottom line: In a rodent study, mice with hypertension developed health problems after eating canola oil. These problems could lead to cardiovascular disease. Mice aren’t tiny humans, but this is an important consideration, especially if you want to make swaps in your diet to support heart-health.
Alzheimer’s and memory
Canola oil might alter the capacity of your working memory. A recent study tested groups of canola-fed mice and their ability to perform in a memory-based maze test. Mice fed a diet high in canola oil displayed a reduction of postsynaptic density protein-95, which is an indicator of decreased synaptic integrity.
Translation: The communication hubs in their neurons started to break down.
Amyloids are complex combinations of proteins that have the potential to become pathogenic, which can lead to a variety of diseases in the human body. Amyloid-beta proteins 40 and 42 have been directly linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Canola oil has a direct effect on the ratio between beta amyloids 40 and 42, which ultimately results in neuron damage, memory degradation and the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
The bottom line: A rodent study found canola oil caused brain synapses to break down. These same synapses degrade to cause Alzheimer’s disease in humans.
Asthma and lung inflammation
Vitamin E has two forms: alpha tocopherol (AT) and gamma tocopherol (GT). AT tends to be found in sunflower and olive oil. GT is found mostly in canola oil. In a study to test the effects of oil consumption on lung inflammation, researchers found a direct correlation between high levels of GT and a 10-17% reduction in lung function due to inflammation. A 10% reduction in the lung function of a healthy individual is pretty much like giving them asthma. For those with asthma, reducing lung function has drastic implications on their ability to get proper levels of oxygen in to the body.
On a side note, people in olive-oil consuming countries have the lowest rates of asthma. Either it’s time to move to Italy, or change your cooking oil.
The bottom line: The type of vitamin E found in canola oil, when taken in large doses, was linked to reduced lung capacity due to inflammation.
Best canola oil substitutes
Here’s a guide on what type of oil to use when cooking.
For cooking with medium to high heat, like roasting or saut?ing:
- Grass-Fed Ghee
- Grass-fed beef tallow
- Avocado oil
Learn more about the best high-heat cooking oils.
Good for low to medium heat, like baking or slow-cooking:
- Grass-fed butter
- Coconut oil
- Olive oil (not extra-virgin olive oil)
Not for cooking: Use these oils when you aren’t dealing with high heat — think salad dressings or finishing oils.
- MCT oils like Brain Octane and XCT oil
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Nut oils like pumpkin seed and walnut oil
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