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What is canola oil? Why is it harmful?

What is Canola oil?

First, let me state what it is not. Canola oil is NOT a healthy cooking oil. It is an artificially created oil extracted from the seed of a genetically modified plant. And it causes a number of problems which I shall discuss here.

Let me begin by telling you a story. It is not scientific, but there is something to be learned here...

One of my friends, who did not really know what is canola oil, started to use it some years ago. Why? Because his wife at that time, who was in the business of selling health foods, said it was good. So did his sister, who heard it from friends. So did the lady at the supermarket.

Soon, however, my friend noticed something odd. He found that his pots and pans became very stickly and difficult to clean. When he switched back to peanut oil, which he was using before, the problem went away.

My friend figured that if canola oil was making his pots and pans sticky, it cannot be doing a lot of good to his body. When I explained to him what is canola oil and why it is harmful to health, he was so glad that his common sense and intuition told him to stop using it.

Canola propaganda

If you really know what is canola oil, you will not blindly accept what mainstream nutritionists, doctors and health authorities say about it being "the best" cooking oil. All this is advertising propaganda

The campaign to promote canola oil has been so successful that even many doctors and health "experts" got confused. They get confused by the fact that canola oil is rich in monounsaturated fats (about 60%), which are said to be good for health. It further contains significant amounts (about 10%) of Omega-3 fatty acids, which are also good for health.

Sounds convincing? Maybe. Canola oil is said to have the "ideal" fatty acid profile, containing the so-called "best" combination of saturated, monounsatured, polyunsatured fatty acids.

Wait! Is there such a thing as "best" in the first place? But you should ask yourself, is there such a thing as "the best" oil in the first place?
People are different. They are born differently, they live in different environment conditions, they face different health issues and so on. People also eat different foods. Some eat plenty of meat, others eat plenty of vegetables...

This means that different people have different needs. So the idea that there is one "best" oil for everybody is a wrong idea to begin with. This is just marketing propaganda.

History of Canola oil

The most important thing to know about what is Canola oil is this: In nature, that is no such thing as a "Canola plant" that produces "Canola oil". Canola oil is an artificially created, genetically modified food.

Now this should raise alarm bells. But as far as some scientific-minded people are concerned, there is nothing wrong with artificial foods. To them, artificial foods improve upon natural foods. I once met a nutritionist who said that canola oil is good because it is genetically modified. Well, people are different and they think differently.

A bit of history will help us better understand what is Canola oil. The word Canola was coined in 1978 to describe a new type of oil that was developed from genetic manipulation of rapeseed. This new oil was first developed in Canada and the name Canola was actually shortened from the fuller name Canadian oil, low acid.

Why was such an oil was developed in the first place? The answer has to do with business. In this case, a big, multi-billion dollar business.

Traditionally, people throughout the world cooked with either saturated fats (butter, lard, coconut oil, palm oil, etc) or with monounsaturated fats (olive oil, sesame oil, peanut oil, etc.) The North American cooking oil industry, however, had been telling people that such oils are harmful and it developed a very big business marketing polyunsaturated oils like corn oil and soybean oil.

By the late 1970s, however, more and more scientific evidence began to show that these polyunsaturated oils caused an increase in cancer. The industry needed a new product...

Olive oil was a natural choice. It is rich in monounsaturated fats, which have been widely recognised to be healthy. But... there was not enough olive oil for it to be used widely. Moreover, olive oil is costly to produce and not economical for commercial products like margarine, biscuits, salad dressings, etc. Most significantly, the Europeans were way ahead of the Americans in the production of olive oil.

The North American oil industry needed something different... Around this time, two Canadian plant breeders had been using a genetic manipulation technique to come up with a new hybrid of the rapeseed plant.

Rapeseed oil contains about 60 percent monounsaturated fatty acids. It had been traditionally used for cooking in Asia (in China, India and Japan) but it contains high levels of a toxic substance called Erucic acid. The new hybrid of rapeseed has low levels of Erucic Acid. (There is, however, dispute over whether rapeseed oil / erucic acid is actually toxic. Click here to learn more.)

It was originally called LEAR, which stands for Low Erucic Acid Rapeseed. However, the name Rape (which came from the Latin word, Rapum, meaning "turnip") was not suitable as it connotes sexual assault. Lear was not a nice-sounding name either. From a marketing standpoint, the new name, Canola, was great!

So now you know what is Canola oil... It is not only an artificially created food, it was created by the genetic manipulation of a toxic oil!

A successful campaign

In the 1980s, Canola oil began to be marketed in the US. By the early 1990s, the name Canola became widely known worldwide. The Canola oil propagnda has become one of the most successful international marketing campaigns of all time.

This was done, firstly, by avoiding the question of what is Canola oil and its history.

Secondly, a conscious effort was made to target the campaign at health professionals like nutritionists and doctors, as well as health-conscious comsumers. And so Canola oil was promoted mainly through scientific papers and conferences, as well as through health books.

One such book was written by Dr. Artemis Simopoulos, a researcher who did piioneering work on the benefits of Omega 3 fatty acids. In 1998, Dr. Artemis Simopoulos published The Omega Plan and in 1999, the book was re-issued as The Omega Diet. In her book, Dr. Artemis Simopoulos discussed the benefits of monounsaturated fatty acids and Omega 3 fatty acids, and many of her recipes mentioned Canola Oil.

Many cookbooks that appeared after the 1990s mentioned "Olive oil or Canola oil" in their recipes. Canola oil also began to be endorsed by prominent health writers like Dr Barry Sears, author of The Zone Diet and Dr Andrew Weil, who has written more than 10 books on natural health and integrative medicine - and who twiced appeared on the cover of Time Magazine, in 1997 and 2005.

I used to hold Dr Andrew Weil in high regard and had bought several of his books. But his endorsement of Canola oil tells me that he, too, was confused about what is Canola oil.

Interestingly, Dr Andrew Weil has since moderated his stance on Canola oil. On his website, I found someone asking him why he recommends Canola oil as an alternative to Olive oil and Dr Andrew Weil wrote hat he now considers Canola oil to be "a distant runner-up to Olive oil". He added that he now takes Canola oil only "in moderation".

So now we have another definition of what is Canola oil - it is "a distant runner-up to olive oil"!

Actually, it is highly misteading to compare Canola oil with olive oil, because the two are completely different. For one thing, olive oil is not known to have any harmful health effects. But as I reseached further the question of what is Canola oil, I discovered that Canola oil comes with some serious health issues. Among other things, it was found in animal experiments to retard the growth of young animals. For this reason, Canola oil is not allowed to be used in infant formula.

Another issue is that while Canola oil has a high content of beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids, that Omega-3 turns rancid easily. It is also easily converted into trans fats. So Canola oil is actually quite different from olive oil.

It just so happens that both are rich in monounsaturated fats, but that is all. Mentioning the two types of oil in the same breath is just part of the marketing propaganda.

Click here for Part II of this article on What is Canola Oil, which discusses more fully the dangers of Canola oil.

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Monounsaturated fats
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Saturated fats - why they are not harmful
Saturated fats - health benefits
Saturated fats and heart disease I
Saturated fats and heart disease II
What is canola oil
Canola oil dangers
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