On this site we extensively discuss the benefits of canola oil relative to the toxicity of omega 6 corn, soybean, safflower, and sunflower oils. The ONLY advantage of canola oil is that it contains up to 9% omega 3 ALA, while it can be used for baking and frying at high temperatures. Canola oil is good from a dietary perspective, because it can balance the massive consumption of omega 6 from animal meats, corn oil, soybean oil, safflower and sunflower oil. Canola oil is the only low cost vegetable oil that can be used as a frying oil. Unfortunately there are three major negatives associated with canola oil.
1. Canola oil contains erucic acid
Erucic acid is an omega 9 and it's main use is as a mineral oil. Erucic acid was proven to cause heart problems in rats. There has been no human study to proof the safety of low levels of erucic acid for humans. Nevertheless, the American Food and Drug Administration gave canola oil a GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe) notification in 1975. This GRAS status was also given to hydrogenated canola oil which we now know is not safe at all. The FDA never bothered to retract the GRAS status for hydrogenated canola oil.
Canola oil is the genetically modified version of rapeseed oil. The GMO modification reduced the erucic acid levels from 45% to less than 2%. Whether 2% erucic acid is safe for humans has never been proven. Fact is that the original rape plant is considered toxic.
Erucic acid is a long chain omega 9 that screws up the composition of the cell membrane. The kind and quantity of fatty acids in the cell's membrane determine, among other things, the presence of receptors or proteins sitting in the membrane. It has been theorized that erucic acic can interfere with the proper function of certain receptors. Very little scientific research has been done in this area, despite the mass use of canola oil for over 35 years.
Erucic acid is used in paints, lubricants and as a pesticide, and it's better not to ingest it at all. Canola oil is a brand name for low erucic acid rate (LEAR) rapeseed oil. The orginal rape plant (in the mustard family which makes for bright yellow flower fields in the spring) contains around 45% of this mineral oil. The canola oil is extracted from a GMO rape plant that contains an oil with between 1% and 2% erucic acid in the US. The European specification for rapeseed oil for human consumption is less than 5% erucic acid. However almost all canola oil is extracted from rape grown in Canada, and the vast majority of that oil is consumed in the US.
2. All canola oil is GMO or genetically modified
Canola oil is extracted from the rape plant and was for marketing reasons renamed to canola. The environmental problems with genetically engineered organisms is extensively discussed in the GMO blogs here at WellWise. Monsanto is currently introducing a GMO-RoundUp resistant version of the already GMO rape plant. The purpose of genetically modifying the rape plant is threefold: a) the bitter taste had to be removed to make the oil consumable, b) the erucic acid had to removed to reduce the toxicity, and c) Monsanto wants to sell as much RoundUp herbicide as possible.
WellWise does not support GMO crops, but we don't see a good omega 3 frying oil alternative to canola oil. The next best oil for frying is olive oil. Olive oil contains mainly omega 9, a relatively neutral fatty acid. Olive oil has a distinct taste that will rub off on the food. It also will be smokey, so frying at high heat is not recommended. However, if you're a vegetarian, you will have to ask the question how your body will get a balanced omega 6 to 3 ratio. Where do the omega 3s come from? The odds are steeply stacked against you if you eat any processed or restaurant foods. Processed foods, including organic foods, contain large quantities of omega 6 when they are prepared with corn oil (most likely GMO), cottonseed oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, or soybean oil (also GMO).
There's NO organic canola oil. No honest organic product may contain GMO, but unfortunately many organic food manufacturers and restaurants are less than truthful. Take for example Whole Foods Market, who uses canola oil extensively in their store prepared foods. Here's what the say on their website about canola oil:
"Canola is actually a cousin to cabbage and Brussels sprouts. In fact, it's a variety of rapeseed that's part of the mustard family, which includes those above-mentioned veggies. It's beneficial for heart health thanks to its fatty acid profile and omega-3 and low saturated fat contents and perfect for light cooking, sauces and desserts like homemade mayo or tender cakes."
On another Whole Foods page: "We are committed to helping our shoppers make a confident choice. We are excited to partner with the Non-GMO Project and we strongly encourage other manufacturers and retailers to act now and submit their products to the Product Verification Program. Taking a stand together will make a more significant impact on our overall food supply." Michael Besancon, Whole Foods Market Senior Global Vice President of Purchasing.
3. Canola oil can cause allergy like symptoms
Some people appear to have a severe sensitivity to canola oil. It may be the trace amounts of erucic acid that is causing this. The rape plant is in the mustard family, and the food sensitivity to mustard is well documented. There's no scientific explaination for the canola sensitivity. Medically it can not even be called an allergy, and is considered a sensitivity. Nevertheless, some people have serious reactions, including vomiting, chest pain and difficulty breathing.