By Geraldine Campbell
There’s a lot of confusion around canola oil and whether or not it’s healthy. Here, we take a look at what it is, what you should know, and what to look for.
What is canola oil?
Developed in Canada in the 1970s by cross-breeding rapeseed plants, it was dubbed “canola” after the words “Canadian oil.” (Also, most consumers thought the word “rapeseed” sounded unappealing.) It was bred to be low in saturated fat and erucic acid, a potentially harmful component that occurs naturally in rapeseed. While there’s still some erucic acid, the canola on your supermarket shelf contains 2% or less.
Is canola oil healthy?
In canola’s pro column is the fact that it’s high in omega-3s and phytosterols, or plant sterols, which block the absorption of cholesterol. It also has a high smoke point, which is a good thing when cooking. Once oil starts smoking, its structure changes; smoke means it’s becoming carcinogenic. Its neutral flavor is also a plus. Because, well, sometimes, you don’t want your food to taste like coconuts.
So far, so good, right? But, before you pick up a bottle at the grocery store, there are a few things you should know.
First, most canola oil is highly processed via solvent extraction that involves high temperatures. The heat destroys some of the oil’s nutrients and may also create trans fats. Yep, that’s right: Although it may be listed as “free of trans-fats,” canola oil can still contain up to half a gram per serving.
This flavorless oil also packs 21% omega-6 linoleic acid, which has been linked to inflammation, heart disease, cancer, obesity and many other illnesses. But the science here is less than straight-forward. What researchers can agree on? You should keep an eye on the balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in your diet. (Most Americans eat more omega-6s.)
The bottom line? If you’re going to use it, use it sparingly. This shouldn’t be your day-in and day-out go-to oil. At the supermarket, look for cold-pressed, organic, non-GMO canola oil and check the ingredients to ensure nothing is listed as “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated.” And remember that cold-pressed oils have lower smoke points, which makes it less suitable for cooking at high temperatures.
Buy It: La Tourangelle Organic Canola Oil, $6