The Dangers of Canola Oil

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Marketed as a wonder oil for preparing heart-healthy recipes, canola oil has come under attack since at least the 1980s. The origin of canola, the plant engineering behind it, and everything from its mysterious approval by the Food and Drug Administration as a GRAS (generally recognized as safe) food in 1985 to its trans fat content has come under scrutiny. According to the Optimal Breathing website, the Canadian government was rumored to have paid the FDA $50 million for the GRAS approval rating.

Field of Plants for Canola oil
Field of Plants for Canola oil (Image: Hemera Technologies/Photos.com/Getty Images)

What is Canola?

Canola is an acronym for Canada oil, low acid, and was contrived by the Canadian oil industry in 1978. Canadian scientists genetically modified the rapeseed plants for the express purpose of processing the oil for human consumption. It was cheap and easy to grow. In the 1970s, the food super-companies were looking for substitutes for saturated fats, which were being blamed for heart and other health diseases, and Canada was set to fill the need with canola.

Natural rapeseed oil is poisonous to humans and animals. It contains high levels of erucic acid, which causes heart lesions and other problems. Reasons for the need to change the name for marketing purposes are obvious. Rapeseed has been used as a source of oil for thousands of years in Asia and Europe, but it was unprocessed cold-pressed oil.

Close up of rapeseed plant
Close up of rapeseed plant (Image: BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images)

Processing and Marketing

Rape oil, like most vegetable oils, goes rancid very quickly after it is pressed. Traditional Asian and Indian processing used cooked seeds and a small press to cold-press the fresh oil from the seeds.

Canola oil is processed by using solvents (hexane) and chemicals to strip oils from the seeds and using high heat, which turns the omega-3s rancid and very smelly. Further processing to remove the odor of the rancid omega-3s turns them into trans-fatty acids. Canola is hydrogenated to solidify it, and in this form it may contain as much as 40 percent trans fats.

Oil in jar
Oil in jar (Image: Medioimages/Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Genetics

Canadian plant geneticists worked to eliminate glycosides, which interfere with thyroid function, and to remove erucic acid by first developing low erucic acid rapeseed (LEAR). Early LEAR oil studies at Unilever in Netherlands indicated that it caused heart lesions. New generations of genetically modified rapeseed plants are constantly being developed, so long-term effects are not available.

Canola seeds are transgenic, which is laboratory genetic manipulation that combines genes from different species of plants. Rapeseed is wind pollinated, and the GM varieties have crossed uncontrolled into other crops.

Laboratory
Laboratory (Image: Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Other Problems

Claims of several human health side effects from canola oil are loss of vision, disruption of the central nervous system, respiratory illness, anemia, constipation, increased incidence of heart disease and cancer, low birth weights in infants and irritability. Many of these have not appeared in medical journals, and long-term research has not been done to substiantiate or refute the claims

As an industrial oil, it is used as a lubricant, as biodiesel fuel, in soap, in colored printing processes, and to make synthetic rubber. Before canola, Canadian rapeseed was mainly grown to produce lubricating products for ships. All vegetable oils can be used for these purposes.

Man touching eyes
Man touching eyes (Image: Polka Dot Images/Polka Dot/Getty Images)

Vitamin E Depletion

Studies have conclusively shown that canola depletes vitamin E, which is necessary for life. The most well-known studies were done by Canadian researchers in 1997 and involved piglets fed milk replacer containing canola and fortified with vitamin E. Their vitamin E levels dropped dangerously low. Part of the test included piglets on milk replacer with soy oil and fortified with vitamin E, and their levels did not drop.

In 1998, the same research group reported problems in platelet count and platelet size in piglets on canola-based feed.

Vitamin e capsules
Vitamin e capsules (Image: Visage/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Cancer

Rapeseed oil used in China for stir-frying produced highly carcinogenic smoke. According to The Wall Street Journal on June 7, 1995, an increased incidence of lung cancer occurs in people who breathe the smoke.

Stirfry
Stirfry (Image: Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Animal Feed

From 1986 until 1991, rapeseed was used in animal feed in England and Europe; its use was halted in 1991 when studies indicated health problems directly related to it. Problems subsided when it was no longer used.

Man feeding cows on farm
Man feeding cows on farm (Image: Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images)

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