Good Fats? Bad Fats? Cutting Through Some of the Confusion

by Dr. Patricia

If there is one area of nutrition that has everyone confused, it’s which fats and oils are truly healthy.

Widespread use of canola oil is a prime example of this confusion run amuck.

Just Google “Canola Oil”, and you’ll find advice ranging from “It’s poison! Don’t ever consume it!” to, “It’s the world’s healthiest cooking oil”.

Or take a trip to your local natural foods store, and you will be greeted with a variety of organic foods containing canola oil…and a select variety boasting a “canola-oil-free” label.

So, is canola oil healthy…or not?

To the contrary. In fact, next to soy fake foods and artificial sweeteners, it’s the biggest fake-health-food to ever infiltrate our food supply.

Read on to find out the history and science behind why canola oil became so popular, how to avoid it, and what to use instead.

What is Canola Oil is Made From?

Canola oil gets its name from the two words: “Canadian” and “oil”.

In the 1970s, Canadian scientists used genetic manipulation to turn rapeseed oil (a popular pesticide at the time) from a dangerous, inedible product, into the ‘heart healthy, omega-3-rich” canola oil we know today.

The oil was made edible by removing two key compounds known as: erucic acid (a fatty acid known to cause heart lesions) and Glucosinolates (which gave the oil an unpleasant bitter flavor).

What’s wrong with this picture? Three Key Things…

#1: The extraction process used to make most canola oil requires high heat. This renders the omega-3 fatty acids rancid, and therefore incredibly bad for your heart and cell health. Heat it again for cooking, and you double your dose of rancid fats.

#2: Highly toxic chemical solvents, such as hexane and bleaches, also used in the extraction process remain in the end-product in trace amounts.

Trace amounts may seem safe, but if you cook with canola oil every day, 365 days a year, you wind up consuming a lot more than a “trace amount” of these chemicals.

#3: Despite its engineering, canola oils still contains trace amounts of heart-damaging erucic acid. More on this to come…

Why the labels “Organic”, “Non-GMO”, and “Expeller-Pressed Canola Oil” Don’t Matter…

Though it is estimated over 90% of canola oil crops in the United States and Canada are genetically-modified1, you can find organic, non-GMO, expeller-pressed-canola oil.

But that doesn’t make it better.

You are still consuming a genetically-manipulated, highly-processed oil that contains low-levels of erucic acid (the compound mentioned above that causes heart lesions).

Now, our friends at “Big Agriculture” would have you believe these trace amounts are nothing to worry about.

Yet, there have been no human studies done to demonstrate the cumulative effects of canola oil consumption.

Conversely, animal studies have shown that regular consumption of canola oil creates vitamin E deficiency, which causes an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and shortened lifespan.2.

Another study showed that even in low amounts, the erucic acid found in canola can cause heart lesions3.

Plus, if you’re using expeller-pressed canola oil for cooking, that heat will cause oxidation of those omega-3s resulting in a rancid product.

How to Avoid Canola Oil in Your Favorite Natural Foods

Avoiding canola oil in any food requires paying serious attention to labels.

Just recently, I ordered what appeared to be an olive-oil-based mayonnaise from an online natural food store. It had a picture of olives and a notation implying the olive oil was significant. I have been an avid label reader since I was a teen (nerd alert, I know), however I let my guard down on this one.

Imagine my dismay when I opened the box, read the label, and found it was loaded with canola oil!

The lesson: read labels thoroughly, including your favorite organic, natural foods brands.

The Best (and worst) Canola-oil Alternatives for Cooking

Neutral-tasting canola oil is advertised to be wonderful for everything—from deep frying to salad dressings.

However, choosing an alternative isn’t as simple as switching to another neutral-tasting vegetable oil, like safflower or soybean oil.

Why not?

Because many vegetable oils are produced using that same high-heat, chemical solvent extraction process.

This creates a highly rancid, pro-inflammatory, free-radical producing nightmare of a fake food you want to steer clear of.

Instead, choose healthy fats and oils that fall under these three guidelines:

  • Are high in anti-inflammatory fatty acids (omega-3s)
  • Are stable and not rancid
  • Minimally processed or cold-pressed
  • Organic

The Best Fats Oils for Cooking:

  • Virgin coconut oil (for low-to-medium heat cooking and baking)
  • Refined Coconut oil (for high heat cooking and baking)
  • Extra virgin olive oil (for salads, and low-to-medium heat cooking)
  • Pasture-raised butter (for low-to-medium heat cooking and baking)
  • Clarified butter or ghee (for medium to medium-high heat cooking)
  • Avocado oil (for salads, low heat cooking)

In addition, a high-quality fish oil, cod liver oil, or plant-based EFA oil like evening primrose or borage, can go a long way in helping supply those much-needed anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids.

There is much more to say on the topic of healthy fat vs. unhealthy fat, omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acid ratios, and why vegetable oils should be avoided (despite what we’ve been told).

However, if you can start by just replacing canola oil with one of the healthy oils or fats listed above, you are taking significant steps towards better health and nutrition.

And if enough of us start doing this—just like GMOs—the food companies will notice and start taking canola oil out of our favorite products.

Until then, read labels carefully and enjoy in good health!

-Dr. Patricia.

  2. Sauer, FD, et al, Nutrition Research, 1997, 17:2:259-269
  3. Kramer, J K G, et al, Lipids, 1982, 17:372-382; Trenholm, H L, et al, Canadian Institute Food Science Technology Journal, 1979, 12:189-193.

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