Download MP3 File (Right Click, Save Link As)
Canola Oil or rather: Canadian Oil is the result of intentional breeding process of the rapeseed (Brassica napus). The intention of the breeding project was to reduce the amount of erucic acid found in rapeseed plant when the seeds were cold pressed. (pg 169.) The usefulness of the rapeseed oil prior was that it’s oil was assumed to be one of the best lubricants for steam engines for ships. The popularity for this use was due to the fact that oil prices were higher during World War II. After the war the price of oil fell and the rapeseed oil fell out of vogue.
The oil was used for a time in Canada in cooking but the rapeseed was found to be linked to heart disease – likely due to the high erucic acid. This in turn would lead the Canadian government to ban the growing of the rapeseed.
Canola Oil was created using the technique of recombinant dna technology. This technology or approach is what makes genetic modification possible today. Canola begins with plant breeders from Canada by the name of Keith Downey and Baldur Steffansson. Both would work together to create a strain of rapeseed that had less erucic acid. Their approach would be to create thousands of crossed varieties that would have different levels of oil which is where the erucic acid was found. The approach was to use a scalpel on each seed and then use gas chromatography (used in oil industry) to analyze the oil in the seed. The seeds with lower erucic levels would be planted further, and eventually by 1974 they had a version with oleic acid replacing the prior erucic acid.
Engineered over and over
This oil is what we now know as Canola oil and soon became popular in the consumer food market thereafter as a ‘healthy food’. Author or “Rape of Canola”, Brewster Keen quotes:
“Violent intervention of Keith Downey’s scalpel – the ‘technology’ he introduced – was in fact, symbolically and practically the beginning of commercial genetic engineering; the deliberate reconstruction of living organisms to create novel life forms for purely human (and commercial) purposes”.
Around 1975, gene splicing was practiced under many terms including: plasmid engineering, molecular cloning, genetic engineering, genetic manipulation, etc.
The erucic acid has been found to to cause issues with the heart -specifically lesions in the heart muscles. A lesions is injury or abnormality in a tissue. It has been suggest that rapeseed is actually a natural poison/pesticide and that it was registered with the EPA at some point. Further investigation would be needed in seeing if and why it was removed from the EPA registration. It is interesting to find out that later it would be engineered to be herbicide resistant.
Rapeseed oil had been banned in 1956, but about 10 years later it returned back to the market as “LEAR” – low erucic acid rapeseed. This version was brought back after some heavy genetic tinkering to reduce the poisonous erucic acid amount innate to the rapeseed plant. The food and chemical industries thought that reducing the amount would make the oil ‘safe’. Later the term ‘Canola’ would be used for marketing the oil, likely due to the colorful history of the prior rapeseed oil.
As mentioned before – Canola exists based on needing a plant with low erucic acid. However, another phase was needed to make the plant to be herbicide resistant. This would be another revision of the plant. This revision now allows it to be sprayed with the herbicide glyphosate without dying. Unfortunately most canola on the market is genetically modified. Well technically all of it is considering the origins of the rapeseed – but a majority of canola oil is now herbicide resistant.
If Canola is to be marketed and perceived as a ‘healthy’ oil, then the manufactures benefit by Canola’s cheap production, shipment and storage. It’s mild taste also allows it to blend nicely into olive oil, which reduces costs in commercial kitchens. 100% Olive oil is a lot more expensive and a lot of kitchens will use a mix of canola and olive oil with the majority of the mix using canola. Not all kitchens do this – as some are aware of issues with canola and going back to butter and olive oil.
An interesting thing to consider is that due to marketing – Canola is thought to be a ‘healthy’ cooking choice. The problem is when heated – it becomes quickly toxic and loses the omega-3’s. when heated, the following are produced: 1,3-butadiene, benzene, acrolein and formaldehyde.
The low smoke point of canola creates toxic fumes that might cause cancer. The fumes have been found to cause lung issues and death of pet birds. Also- a study at Temple University found Canola oil linked to issues with memory and learning as well as weight gain in rats with an alzheimer’s like condition.
It has been noted that canola might also contain hexane residues after processing. Hexane is result of gasoline refining. The hexane is said to be removed according to manufacturers. On the other hand, hexane has been found in soy products (will talk more on soy later)which are processed similarly to canola. The fact that we even have to mention hexane and ‘deodorizing’ in the Joseph Mercola quote below – should really get one to consider how ‘natural’ this oil really is.
Canola oil was developed from the rape seed, a member of the mustard family. Rape seed is unsuited to human consumption because it contains a very-long-chain fatty acid called erucic acid, which under some circumstances is associated with fibrotic heart lesions. It has a high sulfur content and goes rancid easily. Baked goods made with canola oil develop mold very quickly. During the deodorizing process, the omega-3 fatty acids of processed canola oil are transformed into the dangerous trans fatty acids, similar to those in margarine, and possibly more dangerous. A recent study indicates that ‘heart healthy’ canola oil actually creates a deficiency of vitamin E, a vitamin required for a healthy cardiovascular system. Other studies indicate that even low-erucic-acid canola oil causes heart lesions, particularly when the diet is low in saturated fat.
A last interesting point to boot, is that Canola has been found to lower testosterone in rats. If you aren’t already aware – soy/soybean oil has been found to be a major hormone disruptor. The soy decreases the amount of testosterone, by increasing estrogen. In the study (linked in references), the canola oil had a similar effect as the soybean oil in decreasing the amount of testosterone in the testes of rats. This is to add insult to injury regarding the issues so far regarding canola.
Where is it found ?
Canola has broad appeal in the markets and is found even in many health food stores. Whole foods – is one that uses it in their prepared foods for the hot bar as well as in their baked goods. In general – chips, cereals, dressings, baked goods, crackers, mayo, canned fish, fried foods, ‘smart’ butters, sauces, etc. These are a few prime suspects, but it would be wise to check the labels as you buy your products – especially those that are likely to be using an oil in production- for example tortilla chips.
Whole foods has made a stand to defend the use of canola oil in their foods, but is it a financial/ political move ? It’s been said before in another article – just because you are shopping in a ‘health’ foods store – doesn’t mean that all of the foods there are ‘healthy’. It would be foolish to assume that whole foods has your best interest regarding health even if they sell a ton of organic items. This should more the case now that Amazon owns and operates all of the whole foods stores.
All in all – canola has a questionable origin, yet is quite pervasive in the markets today. Obviously, the rapeseed oil was found to be unfit for human consumption and taken off the market – rightfully so. With some tinkering, canola was brought back to market with little regard to how the changes in erucic content might effect consumers. There have been many reasons mentioned above to why a closer look at canola might be warranted. Due to its cheapness – it’s found in so many items and it’s imperative to examine food labels when shopping. -MD
Mendel in the Kitchen: A Scientist’s View of Genetically Modified Foods By Nancy Marie Brown, Nina V. Fedoroff (pg. 107-111, 169)