April 28, 2013

Still Using Canola Oil?

Hey Kids! Remember way back when, when I was writing about fats on a regular basis? (Okay, so maybe it wasn’t a regular basis, but it was more frequent than I’ve been writing lately.)  You might recall from my Mardi Gras / “Fat Tuesday” series that I spent some time talking about modern vegetable oils—y’know, the ones that are supposed to be “heart healthy” and soooo much better for us than those nasty, scary animal fats? (*insert eye roll.*) I mentioned that these oils are mostly polyunsaturated (more than one double bond, for you biochem crackerjacks out there), and it’s precisely because of this that they are actually the worst oils to cook with in terms of heart health and…well, the health of every other darn part of our bodies, too.

And I mentioned that in order to extract bottles and bottles of clear, odorless oil from things like corn and soybeans (y’know, things that are just loaded with fat), these grains and legumes are subjected to incredibly high temperatures, pressures, and chemical solvents, and are then filtered, bleached, and deodorized before we can pour a tablespoon or two into our frying pan and lovingly cook a nutritious meal. (Note: if you’re thinking corn and soybeans are not rich sources of fat, you’re right. So ask yourself how it is that it’s almost impossible to pick up a processed food item and not see them on the ingredient list. If you had to think of the five—or ten, or fifteen—fattiest foods you know, I doubt corn and soybeans would make the list. But I digress. Shocker, I know…) And the result of this massive amount of processing is that any properties beneficial for health that might have been present in the whole food—or even the unrefined version of the oil—are long gone by the time the oil leaves the factory, let alone by the time it gets to your cupboard after sitting in a warehouse and on store shelves for who-knows-how-long. These are not good eatin’, folks.

But that’s only true for the polyunsaturated oils, right? If you eat canola, which is high in monounsaturated fat (just like olive oil [or LARD!!]), you’re in the clear, right? Right? Um, no. Sorry to burst your bubble, but here’s the lowdown on canola.

Canola oil is high in monounsaturated fat, but that’s only because plant scientists figured out a way to breed a particular variety of rapeseed oil that is high in oleic acid. (Again, the same one that predominates in good ol’ EVOO.) See, canola oil comes from the rapeseed plant, and straight-up rapeseed contains a type of fatty acid called erucic acid. A while back, researchers thought erucic acid was toxic, so in order to make it safe for human consumption, they developed a breed of rapeseed that was low in erucic acid. In fact, the original name for canola oil was LEAR oil—for “low erucic acid rapeseed.” (Neat, huh?) But that name was a PR failure, so they took to calling it “canola,” because it was first created in Canada—“CANadian Oil Low Acid,” get it? Hehheh. (Note: there seems to be a lot of doubt as to whether erucic acid is actually toxic. According to Wikipedia [the sum total of all human knowledge, of course], the early research was kind of wacky, and there’s a chance erucic acid might even be protective. But for our purposes here, it’s doesn’t matter much. This is just gee-whiz info for now.)

Okay, so yes, canola oil is pretty high in nice, relatively stable monounsaturated fatty acids. And products that contain canola oil (like some brands of mayonnaise and salad dressing) often advertise that they’re high in ALA – alpha-linolenic acid – an omega-3 polyunsaturated fat (which most of us are trying to get more of). BUT…remember how fragile those polyunsaturates are? Do you think those omega-3s survive the grinding, heating, bleaching, and deodorizing? There’s a reason things like fish oil and flax oil are supposed to be kept cold—because they’re highly susceptible to oxidation and rancidity. Unlike nice, safe-for-cooking fats like tallow, lard, and duck fat, these oils are not strong, stable molecules. So to claim on a label that something is “good for us” or “heart healthy” because it has processed & refined canola oil in it is sketchy at best. (At worst, it’s not only false advertising, but just plain lies.)

If you’re still not sure about this, I encourage you to watch this video. It’s only a few minutes long, and I guarantee it’ll be worth it. (Ignore what the narrator says at the beginning about it being good for us because it’s low in saturated fat…ugh. Also, there is no such thing as a "canola plant.") If you can watch it and still go out of your way to use canola for cooking (or anything else, for that matter, like store-bought condiments, granola bars, etc.), then you have a stronger stomach than I do. Seriously, I double-dog dare you to buy another bottle of canola oil after watching this. (Not to mention soy, corn, safflower, or any other fragile vegetable oil that goes through pretty much the same process.)

For more on how we’ve been “had” with canola oil, check out this article. The title alone is good for a smile:  “The Great Con-Ola.”

(Special thanks to Liz Wolfe, of CaveGirl Eats, for posting a link to the video, which is how I found it. In fact, this entire post has just been my [very long] way of getting you to see it.)


Where do you want your fats coming from?
Factories? Or farms?

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