The Truth Behind Anti-Canola Crusade


Q. Is it true that canola oil contains toxins and is unsafe to use?

A. No. The negative reports circulating on the Internet are unfounded. The bad press on canola may stem from the fact that it originates from the rape plant, a member of the mustard family, whose seed oil is high in erucic acid?a known toxin.

Rapeseed oil?not allowed to be sold in the U.S.?naturally contains about 30% to 60% erucic acid, a compound that has been linked to heart lesions in laboratory animals. Though people in India, China and Japan have been cooking with it for centuries, scientists have recently discovered that cooking with unrefined rapeseed oil at high temperatures gives off toxins that may be linked to lung cancer.

In the 1970’s, Canadian scientists used traditional plant breeding methods to develop a rape plant whose seed oil contained less than 2% erucic acid. They named the variety canola?”can” for Canada and “ola” for oil. By 1990, erucic acid levels in canola ranged from 0.5% to 1%, well under the 2% limit set in 1980 by the Food and Drug Administration for oil sold in the U.S.

No research has yet indicated that this level of erucic acid poses any risk to humans. On the contrary, canola oil contains the most desirable fatty acids. It is lower in saturated fat than any other oil and contains more monounsaturated fat than any oil except olive oil.

Today, about half the canola crop is genetically modified (GM)’similar to the GM takeover of other crops used to produce oil, like corn, soybean and cottonseed. There’s no way to tell if the oil you buy comes from a GM plant or not. However, like all oils, canola oil is virtually protein-free, so no GM material can be detected in the final product. But GM plants could pose a potential environmental threat, which EN objects to. Organic canola oil (non-GM) exists, but may be expensive or difficult to find in some locations.

EN‘s Bottom Line? Canola oil is safe and healthful. There’s no need to toss out what’s in your cupboard based on cyber-misinformation. However, genetic modification issues might be a reason to buy organic canola or time-honored olive oil, which, to date, is non-GM.

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