Canola is a hybridised form of the rapeseed, which has specifically been bred to contain lower levels of erucic acid than those found within rape. Erucic acid is a monounsaturated fat which has been found to cause tissue damage in many organs of laboratory animals. In the early 1970s, Canadian plant breeders developed a strain of rape plant that yielded a seed with less than 2% erucic acid. As this new form of rape was originally grown in Canada the oil was renamed Canola (acronym for Canadian Oil Low Acid).
Within Canada and the USA, canola is widely used for home cooking and to manufacture processed foods. In the UK canola is known as rapeseed and is growing in popularity but it is a similar genetically modified version to canola, bred to contain lower levels of erucic acid.
Canola/rapeseed contains around 60% monounsaturated fat, 30% polyunsaturated and some trans-fats. All polyunsaturated fats are very unstable when exposed to heat, light and oxygen. The industrial manufacturing process of producing canola/rapeseed involves high temperatures, bleaching and chemical deodorisation which damages the fats rendering them unstable. When these highly processed oils are consumed they will have an inflammatory effect on the body tissues which over time promote inflammatory conditions like arthritis, damage to blood vessels and heart disease.
Cold pressed canola and rapeseed will have undergone a lower level of processing than regular canola/rapeseed but once the oil has been extracted from the seed it will become rancid when exposed to heat, light and air. Cold pressed canola/rapeseed should be stored in dark bottles and kept refrigerated and only used as a dressing.
As the long term health implications for consuming genetically modified plants on a regular basis is uncertain, I do not recommend consuming canola/rapeseed oil. Check labels of common foods sold in the supermarket to avoid products containing canola, rapeseed or any other processed polyunsaturated/monounsaturated oil blends such as: soybean oil, corn oil, sunflower oil and grape seed oil.
Fats and Oil Recommendations
- For high heat cooking use heat stable fats such as coconut or butter ghee (clarified butter). These fats have been used for humankind for centuries and are safe but please use in moderation. When you fry onions and garlic in butter ghee or coconut oil you can reduce the amount of fat by adding some water or broth. Butter ghee will give your food a wonderful flavour and it also contains valuable fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K if the butter has been made from grass fed cattle.
- Both coconut and butter ghee contain medium chain fatty acids which are an easy to obtain source of energy for the body which doesn't get stored as fat.
- There have been studies which demonstrate that consuming coconut oil is beneficial for brain fog, poor memory and degenerative diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer's. This is probably due to the medium chain fatty acids which get converted to ketones by the liver and can be directly used by the brain as fuel.
- As a spread, avoid margarine as it is an artificial product which has a similar inflammatory effect within the body. Instead opt for butter or coconut as a spread. If you want a softer spreadable fat you can always blend butter or coconut oil with some monounsaturated oil like olive, almond or avocado oil.
- At lower cooking temperatures and as dressings use cold pressed monounsaturated oils such as virgin olive oil, avocado oil, or almond oil. Pour these oils directly onto food after it has been cooked.