Canola Oil
Chester J. Zelasko, Ph.D. | February 20, 2001

We created the Newsletters to inform you about current health issues. Those issues can be real or imagined.

Recently, many people have called Better Life Unlimited to ask about the hazards of canola and rapeseed oil. They received an email with numerous opinions about the development of canola oil and various health problems attributed to it. Unfortunately, the email is mostly false—the person(s) responsible for the email has taken a single shred of truth and woven a tail of despair. We'll address just a few of the errors because space prohibits addressing each item point by point.

Canola oil comes from the canola seed of the canola plant. It is true that it was developed from the rapeseed plant, but not from irradiation or genetic engineering as stated in the email. Rather the canola plant was developed using traditional plant-breeding methods to remove the undesirable qualities in rapeseed, primarily erucic acid—it's the reason rapeseed oil was banned by the FDA for human consumption. Canola oil has been developed to have very low levels of erucic acid and is safe for human consumption.

Another point in the email states that canola oil is used for industrial purposes as a lubricating and penetrating oil. That's true, but so are many types of vegetable oils including peanut and soybean oils. It's not unusual to use plant products for things other than food. In fact, if you fill your gasoline tank in the Midwest, chances are the gas will contain 10% ethanol from another plant source—corn. The point is that the oil you eat is not the same chemical composition as the oil used by industry.

The email indicates that rapeseed oil was responsible for scrapie in sheep and implies that it was also responsible for mad cow disease in bovines. Both of these diseases are a type of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, but the cause of the disease is not rapeseed oil, it's a virus. It is true that rapeseed oil is just as toxic to animals as it is to humans—but again, canola oil is not rapeseed oil.

Canola oil has a very healthy distribution of fatty acids. It contains about 60% monounsaturated fat, 30% polyunsaturated fat (linoleic acid and the omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid). Most importantly, it contains less than 7% saturated fat. In a Medline review of the health effects of using canola oil, we found that it may reduce serum lipids and increase the production of docosahexaenoic acid in infants (1-2). When used as part of a diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grain breads and cereals, and lean meat and fish, canola oil is as healthy, safe, and effective to use as olive oil or safflower oil.

Which brings us back to the email on canola oil and rapeseed. Why would people spread such mistruth and innuendo? That's human nature and the source of urban legends. Regard any such correspondence with suspicion, especially if it's "something the government or agricultural producers don't want you to know!" Think about it logically: why would the food producers want to kill their customers? Who would be left to buy their products? It makes about as much sense as that email did. By the way, any email that tells you to forward it to everyone you know may be illegal under the United States Postal Service laws regarding chain letters.

There is always one simple thing you can do. If after you read everything, you really don't want to eat canola oil, don't eat it. It's your choice and it's as simple as that.

References:

  1. Nydahl M, Gustafsson IB, Ohrvall M, Vessby B Similar effects of rapeseed oil (canola oil) and olive oil in a lipid-lowering diet for patients with hyperlipoproteinemia. J Am Coll Nutr 1995 14(6):643-5.
  2. Makrides M, Neumann MA, Jeffrey B, Lien EL, Gibson RA. A randomized trial of different ratios of linoleic to alpha-linolenic acid in the diet of term infants: effects on visual function and growth. Am J Clin Nutr 2000 71(1):120-9.
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