The Startling Truth About Canola Oil – Part 1

Written by Anil Bajnath, MD
Posted July 13, 2021

Dear Longevity Insider,

Anything with the term “vegetable” is commonly advertised as healthy or a "healthy alternative" to a food item we love.

For a long time, canola oil was considered by most as a healthy cooking oil option ultimately, being the oil of choice for most due to its versatility and price point. In recent years, canola oil’s health claims have been put in question. This has led to many of my patients asking me: What are the best fats to use at home?  

Currently, in the USA, the top four vegetable oils consumed regularly are soybean, canola, palm oil, and corn oil. These four oils are referred to as refined, bleached, and deodorized (RBD) oils, named after their manufacturing process. RBD oils are produced through a refining process by crushing the plant material to express the oil, commonly followed by treating the plant material with hexane, a petrochemical solvent, to extract the last bit of oil left in the plant material.

Refined oils then go through various treatments. These treatments may include: using an earthen bleaching clay to reduce the color and smell of the oils by filtration, steam distillation, exposure to phosphoric acid, and more. Ultimately, the exact process will differ for each oil. Interestingly, when you compare organic virgin coconut oil or extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), vegetable oils are considerably cheaper.

Canola Oil Origins

Canola oil was originally bred from rapeseed cultivars of B. Napus and B. Rapa in Canada in the early 1970s. There is no canola plant. Canola oil is made from crushed seeds from a variety of rapeseeds, which are in the turnip family. The name canola is the combination of “can” from Canada and “ola” that stands for “oil, low acid.”

Originally, Canola oil had a different nutritional profile than what is currently accessible on the shelf of our grocery stores today. Traditionally, rapeseed oil contains almost 60% monounsaturated fats. However, two-thirds of that 60% is erucic acid. Erucic acid has a chain length of 22 carbon atoms with one double bond at the omega-9 position. Erucic acid consumed at high levels is very dangerous, as animal studies have shown that its exposure leads to adverse heart health effects.

As of 1956, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has banned rapeseed from the human food chain as a whole. Since the strain developed in Canada was considered low acid, it was granted GRAS (generally regarded as safe) by the FDA, making its way to the United States in the 1980s.

In 1995, a genetically engineered rapeseed was introduced to Canada to increase plant resistance to herbicides. This resulted in a genetically modified variety being developed a few short years later. Genetically modified crops are traditionally lab-made by combining the DNA of various species that cannot naturally reproduce together (think salmon and romaine lettuce). In the case of canola, this genetically modified variety is considered the most disease-, herbicide-, and drought-resistant canola variety to date. In fact, currently, around 90% of this Canadian variety is herbicide resistant.

Concerns Over GMOs

Currently, in the United States, around 93% of the canola grown is from genetically modified seeds. Despite this, it is commonly considered a GMO-free product. (GMO stands for genetically modified organism.) There have been several health and ethical concerns surrounding genetically engineered foods such as:

  • Impacts on Traditional Farming Practices: GMO agricultural practices were originally developed to prevent crop and food loss. Unfortunately, this has also led to superweeds and resistant pests. This has forced farmers to have to utilize more labor and use more toxic chemicals to manage this. In an effort to combat this, there has been an overuse of glyphosate which hinders the plant's ability to absorb nutrients and adversely reduces the longevity and health of the soil. The overuse has resulted in several glyphosate-resistant weeds. 

  • Harm to Human Health: A group of scientists conducted a study where they fed rats a diet of GMO potatoes and reported after 10 days of feeding that every organ system was adversely affected. Several organizations have expressed concerns as introducing foreign genes that we would otherwise not have exposure to may hurt human health. Currently, scientists do not believe GMO foods present a risk to human health.

  • Threat to Genetic Biodiversity: Biodiversity is the variability among living organisms. In farming, it includes plants' genetic resources and is critical for the sustainable production of food. Additionally, genetic diversity helps us adapt to new conditions whether it be weather, disease, or pests, and aid ecosystems in acclimating to changing environments.

  • Unintended Crossbreeding to Non-Modified Crops: Generally, crossbreeding occurs when you intentionally select a plant for specific traits and then transfer pollen from one plant to another. GMO crops can crossbreed with non-GMO crops by pollen. Many times unintended, pollen can be carried by the wind, by water, or even insects and cross-pollinate non-modified crops.

  • Potential Allergic Reactions: There have been many concerns regarding the allergenic potential of a genetically modified plant.  

Clearly, GMO can lead to a whirlwind of concerns. That's why many countries have placed a ban on GMO products altogether.

For the my latest research on the seedy "vegetable" oils will mentioned today, go here.

To your longevity,

Anil Bajnath MD
CEO/Founder, Institute for Human Optimization
Chief Medical Officer, Longevity Insider HQ