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The Skinny on Canola Oil

By David Grotto, RD, LDNJuly 16, 2012
From the WebMD Archives

I recently made a trip to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada to visit canola fields and learn more about the third most consumed oil in the world. I had many questions and was determined to bust or affirm several canola myths that I’ve heard over the years and share the answers I discovered with you. But first, here’s a little canola primer:

Canola 101

The word Canola is a made-up name derived from “can” – meaning Canada, and “ola” – meaning oil. Canola is a vibrant yellow plant that is a member of the Brassica family, which includes kale, broccoli, and mustard seeds. In fact, the part of the plant that canola is most revered for is its seeds, which produce an oil rich in monounsaturated fats but containing the least amount of saturated fat of any cooking oil. Saturated fat consumed in excess is thought to contribute to heart disease.

You can find canola growing mainly in the prairies of Canada, Australia, and some parts of the United States – canola prefers to grow in climates that feature brisk evening temperatures.

Myth or Truth?

#1. Canola is Rapeseed.

Not quite. Though related to the rapeseed plant, canola was specifically designed back in the 1970s, through traditional plant breeding, to greatly reduce the unpleasant components of rapeseed: namely erucic acid and glucosinolates. High intake of erucic acid has been linked to heart problems in rats but to date the effects of erucic acid in human health is less clear. Nonetheless, canola hardly contains any. Glucosinolates, on the other hand, are thought to have health benefits and protect against certain types of cancers. However, they also impart an unpleasant taste and smell in oil and so are considered to be less desirable. Look to get your glucosinolates from other members of the Brassica family!

#2. Canola was created through biotechnology.

Not quite. As mentioned above, the creation of the canola plant is the result of traditional plant breeding methods.Biotechnology as we know it did not exist back in the 1970s. However, biotechnology is used in today’s canola plant breeding and includes herbicide-resistant varieties. There are also organic sources of canola oil available that do not involve biotechnology.

#3. Canola is unhealthy

False! Canola oil is on the Food and Drug Administration’s “Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS) list and also bears an approved heart health claim. I was unable to find any studies showing harm when canola oil was consumed in moderation as part of the human diet. In fact, there are several studies that show a health benefit, including the promotion of normal growth and development of infants when used in infant formula.

In general, all forms of canola oil are healthy, though their nutrient profiles can vary.

Types of Canola Oil

Classic – is the variety of canola oil most often used by consumers. It is virtually tasteless, low in odor and boasts a high smoke point, which makes it an ideal cooking oil. Classic also contains omega 3 fats in the form of alpha linoleic acid and you’ll find it a good source of important nutrients such as vitamin E, K, and plant sterols.

Hi Oleic – canola oil is used by many quick-serve restaurants like McDonalds, according to the Canola Council of Canada, due to its ultra high smoke point and longer shelf life. What is traded off for longer shelf life and higher smoke point is reduced omega 3 fat and other nutrients. The hi-oleic is designed for frying only so it is unlikely that you will find it at your local grocery store.

Cold (expeller) pressed – is canola oil that has been pressed to release its oil and processed at lower temperatures. Some cold-pressed oils are further refined while others possess a golden yellow color from naturally occurring beta carotene. They all have the benefits of classic canola but because it is first pressed and contains more solids, it has a lower smoke point. Unlike classic and hi-oleic varieties, cold pressed has a more distinctive buttery flavor. Depending on how sensitive your taste buds are, some say that they can taste a slight fishy flavor attributed to the higher content of omega 3 fats. Chefs and moms alike use it to make salad dressings, as dipping oil for bread, or for use in lower temperature sautéing due to its lower smoke point.

Smoke Points of Common Oils*

Oil Smoke   Point (°F)
Canola   (classic) 468
Canola   High Oleic 475
Canola   Organic Expeller Press 464
Corn 453
Grapeseed 435
Olive   Processed 428
Extra   Virgin Olive 331
Peanut 471
Safflower 446
Safflower   High Oleic 468
Safflower   Cold Press 334
Soybean 453
Sunflower 464
Sunflower   High Oleic 478
Sunflower   High Oleic Cold Press 388

Source: canolainfo.org

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