Canola oil, an unsaturated fat, has gotten a reputation for being healthful. In fact, it’s considered a preferable stand-in for oils like corn, soy, and others. But is it really a healthier choice?
The hype behind canola oil may be just another case of marketing over evidence, and today we’re going to look at the data and unmask five truths about this mysterious, misunderstood oil.
The History And Manufacture Of Canola Oil
Canola oil has an interesting history. It was born of the decades-long search by Canadian botanists to produce an oilseed that could grow prolifically on Canadian prairies. Starting with the rapeseed, an oilseed plant that’s related to mustard, turnips, cabbage, etc., plant breeders developed a unique form of this member of the Brassicaceae family.
After much genetic manipulation, they came up with a cultivar that the Rapeseed Association of Canada christened “canola” – a combination of “Canada” and “oil” – that seemed like the perfect oil. It is not the same as rapeseed oil, which is very high in erucic acid and was used strictly as a fuel in past centuries.
Canola oil has a low erucic acid content, and is resistant to drought and disease. In 1998, genetic engineering produced an exceptionally resistant plant that now makes up more than a quarter of canola crops. In the United States, almost 100% of canola crops are genetically modified (GM).
That’s the first red flag. Genetically modified crops are heavily sprayed with toxic pesticides and herbicides because they have been designed to resist high levels of these chemicals that would kill ordinary plants. This is one of various ways that GMOs harm your bones.
Now that we’ve looked at how the canola oil seed was developed, it’s time to take a look at its manufacturing process.
How Canola Oil Is Made
How does a cruciferous seed become a uniformly odorless, almost tasteless product? It starts with huge quantities of canola seeds, which are pressed by machine at extremely high pressure to extract the oil. “Canola cakes” are left behind as a byproduct, and are essentially made of protein; but there is a portion of oil left that cannot be extracted by pressing. So the cakes are immersed in a chemical solvent to separate the last bit of oil from the protein. The remaining protein, now free of oil, is sold to farmers as feed for animals (another reason to choose grass-fed, free-range meats!).
Next, the oil is “washed” or mixed with sodium hydroxide, also known as lye. If you’ve ever worked with or around lye, then you know how caustic this material is. The lye-oil mixture is spun in a centrifuge to separate the oil from “impurities.” What that means is removing anything that would give the oil flavor, color, or other properties of whole, natural foods.
The byproducts of the lye bath, not surprisingly, are sold to soap manufacturers.
The natural wax from the canola seeds still remains in the oil at this point, giving it a cloudy appearance. To remove this wax, the oil is chilled for the wax to separate out from the liquid oil and solidify. This wax is then sold to manufacturers of margarine, shortening, and other products that contain hydrogenated fats.
The final steps involve washing, filtering, and bleaching the oil via steam injection. This creates a highly-refined, odorless, tasteless oil that consumers use to fry foods and manufacturers use to create a plethora of boxed, packaged, processed “foods.”
Bearing this in mind, let’s look at what else the research says about this oil, and five evidence-backed reasons that canola oil is not the healthful alternative it’s touted to be.
Five Reasons Why Canola Oil Is Unhealthy And Bad For Your Bones
1. Canola Oil Is Not ‘Heart-Healthy’
The widespread claim that canola oil is heart-healthy is not backed by research. Instead, the claim is based on the outdated notion that saturated fat “clogs arteries” while unsaturated fat does not. But we’re finding that new light is being shed on the issue of heart health and saturated vs. unsaturated fats.
A comprehensive meta-analysis of 21 epidemiological studies, which included almost 350,000 participants and five to 23 years of follow-up concluded that:
“…there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD [coronary heart disease] or CVD [cardiovascular disease including stroke].”1
Another extensive study from Japan followed 58,453 men and women aged 40 to 79 for a little over 14 years. Remarkably, the researchers found that the participants’ intake of SFA, or saturated fatty acid, was “inversely associated with mortality from total stroke, including intraparenchymal hemorrhage and ischemic stroke subtypes.”2
Canola oil is a polyunsaturated fat, which is an Omega-6 fat. And that brings us to the next point about Omega-6 and Omega-3 ratios.
2. Canola Oil Is Mostly Omega-6, And Is Not A Source Of Omega-3s
The initial oil that is pressed out of the seeds does contain some Omega-3 fatty acids, but by the time the extensive processing takes place, any Omega-3 still present is rancid and is actually transformed into a trans-fat. That leaves canola oil with no usable Omega-3s and plenty of Omega-6 fatty acids.
This is important, because the ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 is unhealthily skewed in the diets of industrialized nations. The widespread consumption of canola oil only adds to the problem.
We’re learning more and more about the necessity of consuming Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids in a ratio ranging from 4:1 to 1:4, with the ideal being 1:1. The average industrialized diet is around 16:1. That’s far too much Omega-6, and research tells us that this promotes “the pathogenesis of many diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.”3
On the other hand, this same study shows that:
“…increased levels of omega-3 PUFA (a low omega-6/omega-3 ratio) exert suppressive effects.”3 (PUFA stands for polyunsaturated fatty acid.)
So basically, more Omega-3s and fewer Omega-6s suppress inflammation and its associated diseases. In addition, Omega-3 fatty acids help to relieve depression and other psychological and emotional disorders.4
Rather than taking an Omega-3 supplement in an attempt to balance the excessive Omega-6 consumption, it’s best to balance your overall intake of these two types of fats. This is best done by including Omega-3-rich foods in your diet, which is what the Osteoporosis Reversal Program recommends:
“The highest food sources of omega-3s are salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring, trout, and snapper, all of which are acidifying, so make sure you have them in the right proportion with alkalizing foods.”
Here are some other foods that are rich in Omega-3s, in descending order:
- Flax Seeds* (alkalizing)
- Walnuts* (acidifying)
- Grass-fed beef* (acidifying)
- Shrimp (acidifying)
- Brussels Sprouts* (alkalizing)
- Cauliflower* (alkalizing)
3. Canola Is Not Heat-Stable
Because canola oil contains approximately 7% saturated fat, 63% monounsaturated fat, and 28% polyunsaturated fat, it is not stable at high heat. It contains few hydrogen atoms, and thus is susceptible to oxidation when exposed to heat. Oils like coconut oil are saturated with hydrogen atoms, so they resist oxidation when heated. Two other healthful choices of heat-stable, monounsaturated, hydrogen-rich oils are olive oil and avocado oil. (Contrary to popular belief, olive oil is stable when heated, with a smoke point between 360 and 460 degrees F.)
4. Canola Oil May Lower Cholesterol, But That Does Not Make It Healthy
It’s true that some research shows a cholesterol-lowering effect from canola oil. I’d like to point out that statin drugs also lower cholesterol, and they are anything but healthy! Statins work by activating the same biological pathway as bisphosphonates, making them detrimental to your bones. Besides, low cholesterol is not the “gold standard” in cardiovascular health as the Establishment would have you believe.
Omega-6 fatty acids are similarly disguised as healthy, cholesterol-lowering substances that actually cause harm. Their cholesterol-lowering effects are short-term; in the long term, Omega-6 fatty acids do more harm to the heart than good, as we’ve seen. A 2012 study published in the prestigious BMJ states their findings in unflinching terms:
“…substituting dietary linoleic acid [polyunsaturated Omega-6] in place of saturated fats increased the rates of death from all causes, coronary heart disease, and cardiovascular disease.”5
This is likely due to the biological means by which Omega-6 fatty acids lower serum cholesterol. These polyunsaturated fats become part of the cell membranes, and in the presence of excess quantities, the cell membranes weaken because the Omega-6 fats have replaced the stronger Omega-3s. To compensate for this cellular weakness, the body sequesters cholesterol from the blood in an attempt to “stiffen up” the cell membranes. Of course this results in lower serum cholesterol readings, but the process by which this happens is anything but healthy.
When it comes to heart health and cholesterol levels, canola oil is definitely a wolf in sheep’s clothing!
5. Canola Oil Is An Unnatural, Processed Product
The manufacturing process makes this clear: canola oil is the result of extensive genetic modification and processing, in essence, making it an artificial substance. It’s certainly not a whole, natural food by any means.
Ironically, canola oil is often found in foods claiming to be “natural.” From mayonnaise to granola bars, canola oil is popping up in many foods because it is cheap and abundant, and this includes foods marketed as healthier than conventional versions.
This is yet another argument for getting the majority of your nutrients from whole unprocessed foods. You won’t find canola oil in a potato, for instance, but you are very likely to find it in frozen hash browns and in potato chips.
Canola oil’s ubiquitous nature contributes heavily to the skewed Omega-6:Omega-3 ratio so prevalent in the Western diet. Balancing that ratio is important both for your bones and your overall health.
The Osteoporosis Fresh Start Cleanse provides you with an easy way to balance this and more. It’s soundly based in the proven concepts of clinical nutrition, and it includes specific, cleansing foods that rapidly remove toxins (including osteoporosis drugs) from your system.
Many cleanses also demand you take massive amounts of capsules and other supplements; but the Osteoporosis Fresh Start Cleanse recommends only two during that week: Vitamin C and Omega-3 fatty acid. As you’re bringing your body into a state of equilibrium and begin to eat a more balanced diet, taking Omega-3 supplements short-term makes sense, to help you jump-start the process. And that’s just one aspect of this comprehensive, week-long cleanse, because it also helps your liver and your kidneys function to full capacity, accelerating your bone-building endeavors.
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Till next time,
1 Siri-Tarino, Patty W., et al. “Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease.” Am J Clin Nutr. 2009. 27725. (2010). Web. October 15, 2016. https://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/early/2010/01/13/ajcn.2009.27725.abstract
2 Yamagishi, K., et al. “Dietary intake of saturated fatty acids and mortality from cardiovascular disease in Japanese: the Japan Collaborative Cohort Study for Evaluation of Cancer Risk (JACC) Study.” Am J Clin Nutr. 92. 4. (2010): 759-65. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20685950?dopt=AbstractPlus
3 Simopoulos, AP. “The importance of the ration of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids.” Biomed Pharmacother. 56. 8. (2002): 365-79. Web. October 15, 2006. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12442909
4 Kiecolt-Glaser, Janice K., PhD., et al. “Depressive Symptoms, omega-6:omega-3 Fatty Acids, and Inflammation in Older Adults.” Psychosomatic Medicine. 69. 3. https://journals.lww.com/psychosomaticmedicine/Abstract/2007/04000/Depressive_Symptoms,_omega_6_omega_3_Fatty_Acids,.1.aspx
5 Ramsden, Christopher E., clinical investigator, et al. “Use of dietary linoleic acid for secondary prevention of coronary heart disease and death: evaluation of recovered data from the Sydney Diet Heart Study and updated meta-analysis.” BMJ. 346. (2013): 346-e8707. Web. October 15, 2016. https://www.bmj.com/content/346/bmj.e8707
I am always amazed when supposedly healthy recipes call for canola oil. Thanks for a great article
The information on canola was very useful but I live in the UK where rapeseed oil is now in everything.
only use olive oil at home but it’s hard to avoid rapeseed and I have a feeling it’s not healthy. Could you tell us about this Vivienne?
Its odd, but I get nasty head or stomach aches after eating many healthy oils and foods like olive oil, coconut oil or salmon, and most grains bother me to some extent too. I haven’t tried avocado oil as yet, so I’ll give that a try. If not, it’s back to the canola oil, as most of the others upset me.
For the past 8 weeks, I have been in the Dr. Dean Ornish Heart Reversal Program and canola oil, unrefined, is an acceptable oil when used in foods. When sautéing food, no oil is used as most oils have saturated fats, whether considered good or bad, and all may help plaque buildup in your arteries. Canola is an I saturated fat oil.
This is good, scientific sensible information. With only this one can see the commercial path is not the healthy or commonsense path.
Olives grow on trees, coconuts grow on trees, God or Nature knows more about food than lab techs, though they are wily.
A good rule might be: eat from a tree, everything else does.
Ed (on the 80/20 plan: 80 years old, 20 +left.)
I use coconut oil, EVOO and avacado oil; however, I have been using canola oil when I bake sourdough bread. What kind of oil should I use for baking bread?
I grew up on a farm in Germany – during and after WWII.
‘We’ grew rape -seed, pressed the oil for own consumption, fed the ‘cake’ to cattle and pigs.
I remember the oil being very flavorful, had it for dinner with boiled potatoes a lot. Not much more to eat during
that time – all was rationed, even the farmers own products. I just bought coconut oil. My mother used only
coconut oil for frying all her life – she passed away when she was 93 years old. Maybe the oil and real butter helped.
I use olive oil but other oils off and on. I’m going to stick with Olive and coconut oil from now on. Thanks for the info. Didn’t know about canola oil.
Thank you for this valuable, detailed information about canola oil!
I had never heard of canola oil. In Greece, where I live, olive oil is a dietary staple. However, sunflower and corn oil are often used for frying, being cheaper, and I am curious to know how they stand under your scrutiny.
Thank you so much for your website and information.
btw canola , i thought: can [for canada] o [for oil] la [for low acid] just in case you go on Jeopardy. Grown in unaltered state is high acid. I like Olive and Coconut.
I always use first cold pressed olive oil. Slightly more expensive than the other olive oils, but don’t deep fry anyway. Thank you for your welcome email Vivian.
Thank you for this article. I have been using organic Canola oil, thinking it was okay, but no more. Keep educating us, we have much to learn.
I have switched to coconut oil since I have been watching your program. Have been warning my family about margarine, too. Not everybody has time to watch these health emails like I do. So near the end of life (I’m 88) one has more time to learn and think about healthy alternatives. Thank you.
What about using Rice bran oil?
At first glance I thought this article was going pro canola and I was not going to read any further. I am glad I did though, because it tells the truth about Canola. It is pure garbage. It was GM’d from an strictly industrial oil and it is heated to the point of rancidity and is NOT fit for human consumption. There are many other much more healthy oils (if you want to call any oils “healthy” which they are not), but when it comes to the best possible oils or oil you can use, my favorite has to be Peanut oil, or second to that is Olive oil. One must be careful with Olive oil, because it can be “blended” with inferior oils like Canola and even the big name brand ones are guilty of this. Up to 75% of Olive oils are blended with non Olive oil. Be extra careful of “Extra” Virgin olive oil because it is particularily guilty of this. There is no such thing as extra virgin oil. A sure sign it is blended. Peanut oil is a great oil because it is stable under high heat and it is the only truly good oil that can stand up to the temps you would use in say a deep fryer. If you don’t deep fry often, then put it in a container in the fridge to prevent rancidity, because Peanut oil is more expensive than any other oil. It is however, the best you can get. For lower heat then Olive is decent and so is flax oil, but flax oil cannot handle heat well at all. It is best for making salad dressings or cold things. It goes rancid to easily when heat is applied. Peanut is the best “all around” oil for health and high heat.
Is there any kind of test for the purity of olive oil or some reliable brands? I’m in China so most is imported. I use peanut oil, but can’t find coconut oil (except online) here.
Avocado oil is the healthiest for high heat however, it is expensive but worth it!
Thank you so so much for writing about this. For years I’ve been trying to tell friends and family about canola oil, but I always get the response like “but it’s in everything that whole foods makes!” Yes, I wrote a letter to them too and got no reply. This horrible oil will not disappear until leaders like you write more articles like this. Thank you!!!
I often use canola oil. From now on I will not touch it. I also use EVOO and sesame oil, for sauté and stir fry. Thanks for the info.
October 17, 2016.
the article is very informative Vivian, thank you… however, you have not given advice on what kind of oil would be the alternative?
So what oil do you recommend instead of Canola oil?
So what oil beside EVOO should one use?
I have been staying away from all oils except EEOV and grapeseed oil and coconut oil. I have a question about things that are NON GMO. Sometimes I see products that have canola oil as an ingredient but it says “organic canola oil” or NON-GMO Canola Oil” I’m assuming they are not safe also?
Thank you for sharing
the scientific facts about Canola.
About 15 years ago I tried Canola oil and got horrible headaches. That is when I searched the internet and found the scientific facts myself. Several years later I found it was long since buried in all the praises of the manufacturer hype articles.
I have been sharing with Whole Foods and sprouts and other stores and people all those years but on such a small scale. Yet instead of responding they seemed to use it more.
It truly is just a profit motive product.
Many people think it is made from a Canola bean or vegetable and are surprised to find it is a weed.
I am appalled to see the new labeling that declare organic Canola oil. What can that mean considering what it is made from???
Anyway thank you for sharing this through your Save our bones site.
Now I have a way to continue my sharing with the backup of a woman I highly respect.