Should You Avoid Canola Oil?
I had to run to the grocery store the other day to pick up a few staples. When I stopped in one aisle to grab coconut oil, I saw a woman standing there with a confused, almost defeated look on her face. And it’s no surprise why. Of all the conflicts and considerations about what food to buy, the biggest challenge may just be figuring out what to cook them in. Vegetable, sunflower, olive and peanut oil line the shelves, each making competing health claims. The oil most people go for—and are the most confused by—is canola oil. So what’s the story? Is canola oil bad for you, or has it been unfairly maligned?
According to canola oil supporters, canola oil:
- Is low in saturated ("bad") and high in unsaturated ("good") fats
- May help lower your LDL (actually bad) cholesterol while raising your good cholesterol
- Is high in the omega-3 fatty acids that may improve heart health and prevent heart attacks
Still, in spite of any positive health claims canola oil makes—and ignoring entirely the continued belief that saturated fat is always bad. There are several excellent reasons to avoid canola oil entirely, especially while cooking.
When answering the question "is canola oil bad for you," most people have focused on the fact that canola oil was, originally, a derivative of rapeseed oil. Rapeseed oil, beyond having the kind of name that makes you want to stay away, contains high levels of erucic acid, which is associated with heart disease. In the past several decades, farmers and researchers selectively bred rapeseed in order to lower the amount of erucic acid found in the oils.
But even if you don’t have to worry that you’re cooking your heart healthy meals in an oil that may cause heart disease, the larger—and unavoidable—problem with canola oil cannot be ignored.
- Most seeds used to make canola oil in the United States are genetically modified: Canola seeds are planted in massive fields, and nearly 80% of those seeds have been genetically modified so farmers can spray their fields with weed killers without also killing the crops. So using canola oil means putting something in your body that has been modified to withstand industrial pesticides.
- Canola oil is heavily processed: After being extracted from the seeds, canola oil is chemically refined, bleached with organic acids, and deodorized, so the oil you use to cook will neither look nor smell as it does naturally.
- Polyunsaturated fats oxidize under high heat: Oxidization can occur either during processing or cooking. The oxidization of polyunsaturated fats releases free radicals into the body, increasing your risk for many diseases, including cancer.
I always recommend unrefined coconut oil for cooking, because the saturated fats found it in remain stable under high heat, which means you don’t have to worry about loading your body up with free radicals or trans fats. Plus, coconut oil has been proven to increase the body’s metabolic rate, increasing your chances of weight loss.
Considering the serious concerns surrounding canola oil, you (and your waistline) are probably better off leaving it on the grocery shelf and sticking with coconut or extra virgin olive oil.