Truth and Myths about Canola

A great deal of misinformation about canola's safety has been distributed by certain individuals. Impartial professionals in the fields of nutrition, biology and food science were contacted to provide the answers below. We have listed the statements made in the form of questions and answers to better help you understand what is fact and what is fiction or myth.

Q: Olive oil comes from olives, peanut oil from peanuts, sunflower oil from sunflowers, but where does canola oil come from--is canola oil rapeseed oil?

A: No. Canola oil comes from canola seed. Canola is the name given to a very healthy oil that was developed from rapeseed. But it is not rapeseed oil and has vastly different fatty acid and other properties than rapeseed oil. Canola was developed using traditional plant breeding methods to remove undesirable qualities in rapeseed. In terms of their properties, canola oil is as different from rapeseed oil as olive oil is as different from corn oil.

Q: Are canola oil and rapeseed oil poisonous to living things?

A: No. However, since rapeseed oil has high levels of erucic acid, canola oil is healthier for you. Rapeseed oil is not used in our food supply except in minute amounts as an emulsifier in a few processed foods. For example, some brands of peanut butter contain minute amounts of rapeseed oil to prevent the peanut oil separating from the peanut butter. This use is approved by Canadian and U.S. food regulatory agencies backed by research showing this use is absolutely safe. The rapeseed oil used in these few processed foods is fully hydrogenated and, therefore, no longer rapeseed oil. Full hydrogenation of rapeseed oil results in the total saturation of erucic acid. When erucic acid is fully hydrogenated, it forms a common saturated fatty acid called behenic acid. Behenic acid is naturally present in peanuts, peanut oil and peanut butter. A few processed food labels may say the products contain rapeseed oil (as an emulsifier) but since the rapeseed oil has been fully hydrogenated, it is not rapeseed oil. Rapeseed is grown on very limited acreages under contract between the grower and the buyer (it doesn't get into the regular grain handling system). Liquid high erucic acid rapeseed oil is used for industrial purposes and cannot be purchased in food stores. Canola oil has been thoroughly tested and is guaranteed safe for humans. Plus it can lower blood cholesterol and has other health benefits.

Q: Can canola oil and rapeseed be used as lubricants, penetrating oils, fuel, soap, paints, etc?

A: Yes. However, canola is not alone. Other vegetable oils, like corn, soybean and flax can also be used industrially to make lubricants, oils, fuel, soaps, paints, plastics, cosmetics, inks, etc. In fact, any organic hydrocarbon (including ALL vegetable oils) can be processed and denatured to make industrial chemicals. Proteins in milk can be used to make glue and wheat can be used to make ethanol, an ingredient in "gasohol." But because you can do this doesn't make the approved food forms like canola oil or corn oil, for example, that you buy at the store somehow poisonous or harmful. The food forms of all these oils are safe. Canola oil is even safer since it has the most healthy fatty acid profile of any commonly used oil.

Q: Does canola oil turn rancid very fast and leave a residual rancid odour on clothing?

A: No. Canola oil shelf life stored at room temperature is roughly one year. The shelf life of other vegetable oils stored at room temperature is similar.A: No. Mustard gas is an oily volatile liquid which got its name from its mustard-like odour. It bears no relation to canola, or any other plant member of the mustard family.

Q: Is it true in China rapeseed oil was found to emit harmful emissions when heated?

A: Yes. However, the study also found that other vegetable oils produced the same emissions under the same conditions. But, the use of refined oils and much lower cooking temperatures (as used in Canada and the U.S.) prevent these emissions. We do not use rapeseed oil for cooking in North America (and the oil isn't available in food stores). We use canola oil which has vastly improved nutritional and other properties. Most people in China cook with unrefined rapeseed oil, which is not processed to remove contaminants, and it contains no antioxidants. All vegetable frying oils used in Canada and the U.S. (and many other countries) are refined and frequently contain antioxidants which help prevent harmful emissions during frying. Temperatures during wok cooking in China are about 100 F (56 C) higher than used in Canada and the U.S. This combination of frying with unrefined rapeseed oil at very high frying temperatures (to the point where the oil produces a thick, black smoke) can produce harmful emissions.

Q: Is canola oil safe for animals and humans?

A: Yes. Before being approved for food use, canola oil was required to go through stringent animal feeding trials to ensure it was a safe edible oil. And a great deal of research has been done which shows the benefits of incorporating canola oil into human diets. The low level of saturates, high level of monounsaturates, and intermediate levels of both essential fatty acids give canola oil a very attractive fatty acid profile. When used as part of a balanced diet, canola oil has been shown to lower blood cholesterol levels and have a beneficial effect on clot formation, thereby decreasing the risk of heart disease and stroke. Canola oil contains just 7% saturated fat compared to, for example, 15% for olive oil, 19% from peanut oil and 12% for sunflower oil.

Q: Is either rapeseed oil or canola oil linked to mad cow disease?

A: No. Mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopthy or BSE) results from feeding sheep offal to cattle. A similar condition, scrapie, has long been known in sheep. Whole sheep carcasses, including brain and spinal tissue, were used to prepare protein meals for cattle. Scientific evidence indicates that BSE is caused by a prion, a small glycoprotein, which somehow invokes the production of a special kind of protein in the central nervous system of susceptible animals. There is no connection between prions and canola oil.

Q: Can canola kill insects like aphids?

A: Yes. But so can ALL other oils including olive, corn, sunflower, peanut, etc. These oils kill aphids by suffocation, not by poisoning them. Vegetable oils in general are recommended by many horticulturists as a non-chemical, more environmentally friendly insect control method.

Want more information that debunks canola misinformation? Check out these Web pages:

Q: Does canola oil or rapeseed oil cause emphysema, respiratory distress, anaemia, constipation, irritability, and blindness in animals and humans?

A: No. After extensive animal and human testing, canola oil has been proven to be absolutely safe to consume and will not produce these or any other diseases or ailments.

Q: Was canola developed using genetic engineering or irradiation?

A: No. Canola was developed using traditional plant breeding methods. The goal of traditional plant breeding is to "mate" or cross a plant which has one desirable trait such as heat resistance (which makes the plant hardy in drought conditions) with a plant that may not be heat resistant but which carries another desired trait. The offspring of this crossing are then mated until a plant emerges that has the desirable traits of both "parent" plants. Dozens of generations of plants may need to be crossed before the ideal plant emerges.

Q: Does the Canadian government subsidize canola oil to industries involved in food processing?

A: No. Canada's food processors use canola oil because it is in demand by consumers looking for more healthy food.

Q: Have human studies been conducted on the consumption of canola oil?

A: Yes. Clinical studies conducted over the past 20 years, which have involved thousands of healthy volunteers, examined the role of canola oil in lowering blood cholesterol levels and reducing risk of coronary heart disease, cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure. Please see the lists on these Web pages:

http://www.canolainfo.org/html/bibliography/index.html
http://www.canola-council.org/pubs/goodnews.html
http://www.canola-council.org/pubs/transfatty.html
http://www.canola-council.org/pubs/omega3.html
http://www.canola-council.org/pubs/vitamine.html
http://www.canola-council.org/pubs/oilprop.html

Q: Was GRAS status for canola oil purchased from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)?

A: No. GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) status was granted following the

submission of a lengthy petition, which detailed years of research on the health effects of canola oil in human and animal diets.

Q: Is canola made of a "very long chain fatty acid oil (c22)" that can cause a degenerative disease?

A: No. Canola oil's fatty acid profile consists predominantly (over 90%) of the 18 carbon unsaturated fatty acids oleic acid, linoleic acid and linolenic acid. Canola does not cause or contribute to any disease, in fact, it can improve health. The positive effects of canola's unsaturated fatty acids on certain health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, are well documented.

Q: Does canola form "latex like substances which agglutinate red blood corpuscles?"

A: No. In fact, canola oil is a good source of alpha-linolenic acid or ALA, for short. ALA is the essential omega-3 fatty acid and is required in the human diet because our bodies cannot make it. Numerous animal and clinical studies show that ALA has many of the same beneficial effects on blood clotting, platelet aggregation and the vascular system as the omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish like salmon and mackerel.

WHAT INDEPENDENT SOURCES SAY:

Media:

Western Producer's rebuttal to canola misinformation

Washington Post's "Canola Baloney" rebuttal to canola misinformation

Other independent sources:

American Council of Science and Health  

Urban Legends (be sure to follow the links at the bottom of the page to find the truth)

Urban Legends (Snopes.com)

Cancer Association

Health Central

Do you want to know more about canola's health qualities? Check out these Web pages.

PUBLICATIONS:

The Good News about Dietary Fat

Trans Fatty Acids and Coronary Heart Disease

Canola is a Good Plant Source of Omega-3

Canola and Vitamin E

Nutritional Properties of Canola Oil

The fatty acid levels of common oils

History and development of canola

Cooking with Canola Oil cookbook

Other Information:

Canola Info's Truth and Myths Response

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