Canola Oil: Is It Healthy?
By Laura Cipullo and the Laura Cipullo Whole Nutrition Services Team
What is Canola Oil?
Canola oil is the oil extracted from canola seeds, the genetic variant of the rapeseed plant. Canola oil has the lowest amount of saturated fat among cooking oils in the US and is high in unsaturated fats, especially the beneficial monounsaturated fats. Canola oil has high amounts of both omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids.
Canola oil has a smoke point of 396-414˚F, making it ideal for sautéing, grilling, and frying. Canola oil doesn’t alter the taste of a dish, which explains its popularity in baking dishes and vinaigrettes. Canola oil is also relatively easy to store: it is best to keep in a cool dark place, ideally a cabinet or pantry, and can last up to one year. A great tip is to smell the oil if you’re unsure of its expiration date. If the oil has an unpleasant or rancid smell, it has most likely spoiled, and may be best to buy a new one.
Is Canola Oil Healthy?
Omega-3 fatty acids have been found to play a very important role in protecting the heart, improving blood pressure, reducing inflammation and lowering cholesterol.
Diets high in canola oil, over other oils higher in saturated fat, were found to reduce total cholesterol levels by an average of 12.2%1. A similar study, comparing dietary canola oil with higher saturated fat-containing dairy products, found that substituting canola oil for dairy fat decreased participants’ total cholesterol levels.
Canola oil was also found to be effective in decreasing the growth of cancer cells and increasing the rate of the death of cancer cells1. Canola oil has been linked to aiding in the prevention of breast cancer. A population-based study found that women who regularly cooked with olive or canola oil had a significantly lower chance of developing breast cancer when compared to women who regularly cooked with hydrogenated, vegetable and corn oils2.
Despite its health benefits, canola oil has sparked some controversy as it is said to be one of the most genetically engineered foods sold in America. According to Spectrum Organics, a company that sells non-GMO canola oil, canola oil was originally made by hybridization. A process dating back to the 1920s, hybridization is the natural breeding of plants to yield the strongest and most bountiful crops. Like many modern day crops, however, canola oil is now one of the many that are genetically engineered. It is estimated that 93% of the canola oil currently sold in the US has been genetically engineered3.
While walking past one of our favorite places to eat in NYC, Hu Kitchen, we noticed they advertise that they don’t use canola oil. Whether genetically-modified canola oil or genetically engineered food is safe is still up for debate. For more information you can see our previous blog. It doesn’t mean you need to avoid canola oil altogether, rather, an easy solution to avoid genetically engineered canola oil, is buying an organic or non-GMO certified brand. In Laura’s kitchen you can find the following brands:
Do you use canola oil in your home? If not which oil/s do you use instead?
Interested in learning more about oils? Check out Laura’s blog What’s GMO and What’s Not GMO on the Bitsy’s Brainfood Blog. Keep an eye out for an upcoming post on the difference between cold-pressed oils and traditional oils.
1. Cho, Kyongshin, Lawrence Mabasa, Andrea W. Fowler, Dana M. Walsh, and Chung S. Park. “Canola Oil Inhibits Breast Cancer Cell Growth in Cultures and In Vivo and Acts Synergistically with Chemotherapeutic Drugs.” Lipids 45.9 (2010): 777-84.
2. Wang, Jun, Esther John, Pamela Horn-Ross, and Sue Ann Ingles. “Dietary Fat, Cooking Fat, and Breast Cancer Risk in a Multiethnic Population.” Nutrition and Cancer 60.4 (2008): 492-504.
3. Brumfiel, Geoffrey. “Genetically Modified Canola ‘Escapes’ Farm Fields.” NPR. NPR, 06 Aug. 2010. Web. 26 Oct. 2013.