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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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December 14, 2009

Dear Mark: Canola Oil

By Mark Sisson
97 Comments

I get a lot of questions about differentiating fact from fiction when it comes to all the “healthy” labels out there. Spanning everything from “heart healthy” to “boost your child’s immunity,” these classic marketing ploys are just part and parcel for the food industry. And yet these companies wouldn’t get away with the games if their claims didn’t reflect conventional wisdom on some level. The industry’s marketing tactics simply manipulate already strained, twisted messages about health and nutrition. The consumer is left to wonder what’s truth, half truth and bold-face scheme. Unfortunately, it’s never safe to judge a product by its label. In fact, if it needs a label at all, it’s already subject to questioning. The safest assumption is this: there’s always more to the story.

Dear Mark,

I’ve been adapting my diet to the Primal Blueprint over the last few months. I like olive oil for salads but wonder about the bottle of canola oil sitting in my cupboard. I tend to use it more for cooking, but I don’t see canola oil mentioned on MDA like I do olive oil. The label says something like “good source of omega-3.” Is this true? I’m wondering what your take on canola is. Thanks!

Thanks to Deb for this week’s question. Canola oil isn’t part of the recommended Primal foods for a number of reasons actually. Of course, you’ll find it everywhere these days – in bottled mayonnaise, salad dressings, margarine spreads, etc. It’s the latest darling of the “heart healthy” food industry, and their marketing gurus splash “omega-3” all over the labels to catch consumers’ interest. The problem is, canola oil goes through more primping and processing than a dog at a Kennel Club show.

Canola was a hybrid derived from rapeseed to reduce the high erucic acid content of traditional rapeseed oil, which had a bitter taste and toxic effects from the acid. Canola oil is also called LEAR (Low Erucic Acid Rapeseed). Like most cash crops, the largest share of the market is by far GMO-based, and one corporate GMO giant, Monsanto, has been accused more than once of the release of unapproved GMO seed varieties. Despite all the genetic engineering, somehow canola remains one of the most heavily pesticide-treated crops. Hmmm – wonder how that all works.

Continuing on the canola’s journey now…. Once harvested and graded, seeds are heated to facilitate oil extraction. Most canola oil is chemically extracted using the harsh petroleum-derived solvent hexane. Even when expeller pressing is used, a process common to organic brands, the massive force of industrial presses still produces heat. True “cold-pressed” canola oil (extracted with millstones) does exist but can be hard to find and is more expensive.

Following extraction, canola oil must be de-gummed to remove unappealing solids that settle during storage. The process involves heat and sometimes the addition of acids. Next stop, the oil is then bleached and separated. Finally, the oil (known for its stench) must be deodorized through heating methods that use temperatures as high as 500 Fahrenheit.

(Frankly, the whole process is rather unappetizing if you ask me. Deodorized food? Seriously.)

This brings us back to the omega-3 issue. Polyunsaturated fats aren’t the most stable fats out there. In fact, they’re pretty sensitive to heat and will turn rancid quickly. Obviously, canola oil undergoes a good deal of heating and heat-related degeneration in its processing. Needless to say, this is no good. Whatever omega-3 benefit there might have been is gone – like keys in lava, as one of the old Jack Handey quotes put it. What’s more is, you end up with a small but damaging amount of trans fat in your “heart healthy” oil. How’s that for irony?

My thinking is this: why bother with something so processed and unhealthy when there are umpteen other, better options out there? Olive oil, coconut, palm oil, lard and ghee are suitable for most cooking applications. And for salads and other “no heat” dishes, you have dozens of tasty (non-deodorized) choices, including avocado and nut oils. As for canola, who needs it?

For more on canola oil check out The Great Con-ola by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig and join the discussion in our forum.

I’m sure many of you have something to say about this oil. Share your knowledge and thoughts in the comment board, too. Grok on!

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44 Comments on "Dear Mark: Canola Oil"

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jay
jay
6 years 11 months ago

Like keys in lava… love it.

Furious Mittens
Furious Mittens
6 years 11 months ago

The full quote:
“If you ever drop your keys into a river of molten lava, let ’em go, because man, they’re gone.” – Jack Handy

Melissa "Melicious" Joulwan
6 years 11 months ago

There’s a new article out today about Monsanto. http://www.ajc.com/business/ap-investigation-monsanto-seed-240072.html… it’s pretty ugly business.

Claudette
Claudette
3 years 10 months ago

Have you noticed that the link “Cannot be found” and that many other links like this have also dissappeared?

Greg
Greg
6 years 11 months ago

I pretty much stick to olive oil for everything these days. Though I’m interested in trying avocado oil. Anyone know if foods fried/cooked in avocado oil have an avocado aftertaste? Because I’d love an avocado aftertaste on my grilled chicken, but not on my coconut pancakes.

allie
allie
6 years 11 months ago

Lately I’ve tried using avocado oil for cooking (stir fries, pan-fry etc). Apparently it has a high-heat cooking point?

It has a subtle/mellow avocado aftertaste. I’ll also add that it’s a deep green, so it gives a greenish tinge to meats when I pan fry. lol

Ken
Ken
6 years 11 months ago

I don’t think cooking with olive oil is wise. Breaks down once heated and becomes oxidated. No thanks.

Prefer coconut, palm oil, lard and ghee for cooking as mentioned in post. FWIW.

Aaron Blaisdell
6 years 11 months ago

I concur! Those are exactly the oils I use for cooking. And occasionally stuff like rendered duck fat (makes great sweet potato fries!) and beef tallow that I render after making beef broth.

Les
Les
6 years 11 months ago

Good article about canola oil. I’ve been using grapeseed oil for cooking. Is this a good alternative?

Brian Kozmo
Brian Kozmo
5 years 2 months ago

No.

Pedal Power
Pedal Power
4 years 9 months ago

Why not? Please explain.

Peggy
Peggy
6 years 11 months ago

YAY! my favourite Jack Handy quote…

what I did with my leftover canola? I drive a diesel Jetta so I dumped it in the fuel tank.

Johnny at The Lean Saloon
6 years 11 months ago

My inlaws have a tough time that I cook with lard, but the irony is that they used to cook with lard when they grew up, because that was all that their parents new. Their parents live into the late 90s, while my father inlaw who has been eating a low-fat diet and uses margarine since the 1980s suffers congestive heart failure in his 60s.

His wife uses canola oil in everything.

Diana
Diana
6 years 11 months ago

This is to reply to Greg;
I have been using avocado oil for a year or so now. I use it almost exclusively for roasting chicken. I have never found it to leave an avocado “taste” but it browns up the skin quite nicely. I do use it mixed with olive oil or mac nut oil for salad dressing too. I can’t back this up, but I do remember reading that it has a fairly high smoke point so should be safe for roasting at say 375°. Try it out!
Diana

Tyler
6 years 11 months ago

Oh Diana is this really true? I wonder if they have some simple and cheap procedures for me to follow so I can make avocado oil out of my 6 avocado trees.

Jan Jones
Jan Jones
6 years 11 months ago

Mark,

What about grapeseed oil for cooking/baking? It’s not a grain and can tolerate heat. It’s light and has no taste. It is high in PUFA’s, so is that a problem? Any thoughts?

Aaron Blaisdell
6 years 11 months ago
I’ll chime in. When there are such wonderful and healthy oils for cooking, such as coconut oil, palm oil, ghee, and lard, that are so readily available, why bother using anything else? I LOVE the flavors that the list of four oils above provide. Perhaps it is difficult to conceive of using oils that are solid (i.e., fat) at room temperature most of the year around most of the world? I don’t worry about this. I scoop the fat out of the jar, plop it into the frying or roasting pan, and lick the rest off the spoon. Or if… Read more »
Dione
Dione
3 years 11 months ago

Per the book, TPB, grapeseed oil has an Omega 6 to 3 ratio of about 690 to 1. Even corn oil is 80:1 (and lost of others which are WAAAAY below).

I guess you could use it externally. If you have a tub of it just standing around…

melissam
melissam
6 years 11 months ago
Here is some food for thought about rancid fats Rancid fat: Rancidity is caused by oxidation or hydrolysis. The main gist of the process is that these generate highly reactive molecules and destroy vitamins. Fats with lower free fatty acid content keep better because the chemical structure of them is less easily degraded. Highly rancid fats taste unpleasant, but somewhat rancid fats may not be detectable by taste. Keeping fats in cool, dark places and in tight containers can slow down the process. (from my Food Science text and http://chestofbooks.com/food/science/Experimental-Cookery/Rancidity.html, which is nice, but a little outdated) Oxidized Fat in… Read more »
Sonagi
Sonagi
6 years 11 months ago

“Despite all the genetic engineering, somehow canola remains one of the most heavily pesticide-treated crops. Hmmm – wonder how that all works.”

One purpose of genetic engineering is to make the plant resistant to the damaging effects of pesticides, hence, the greater pesticide residues owing to heavier spraying. Yet another reason to avoid GMO foods.

Gary-A
Gary-A
6 years 11 months ago

If I’m not mistaken, I thought I read somewhere that a food only has to have 10% RDA to be labeled a “good source.” And for something like omega-3’s, which have such a low RDA anyways…..

vanmartin
vanmartin
6 years 11 months ago

Hi Mark, any thoughts on Macadamia oil? I live in South Africa and it’s far more readily available than coconut oil, palm oil and lard over here.

Henriette
6 years 11 months ago

Macadamia oil is great – it is mono saturated
works well in salads and mayo
but is horrible expensive here in Denmark so Vanmartin you make me very envious.

vanmartin
vanmartin
6 years 11 months ago

Want to start a business importing macadamia oil into Denmark? I have the contacts 😉

Henriette
6 years 11 months ago

😉 think it will be a tad expensive

Icarus
Icarus
6 years 11 months ago

It’s hard to find store-bought mayo that isn’t made with canola or an even worse oil (soybean, safflower, etc.)… impossible, actually. I’d like to try coconut oil, but at the moment it’s cold enough at room temperature that the coconut oil is rock solid – and this is in sunny Tucson, Arizona. I wouldn’t want to heat the coconut oil because I’d be worried about accidentally cooking the eggs. Macadamia nut oil is too expensive; extra-virgin olive oil too strong. 🙁 What’s a mayonnaise-loving girl to do?

paleo_piper
6 years 11 months ago

I’ve run into the same problem in norCal, just can’t find a mayo without either soy or canola. 🙁 I found a jar of “olive oil” mayo once and was excited for five seconds until I read the label and realised that olive oil was actually at the bottom of the ingredients. I haven’t been brave enough to try making my own yet.

What about avocado oil? I’ve also seen some Groks make bacon fat mayo.

vanmartin
vanmartin
6 years 11 months ago

You should absolutely try the mayo recipe on this site. It’s not tricky at all and it turned out delicious.

heykapo
heykapo
6 years 11 months ago

Wilderness Family Naturals makes a mayonnaise without soy or canola oils, or sugar. It has a lovely deep yellow color. But you must really love mayonnaise, because the shipping is costly.

Monica oil
6 years 11 months ago

How can key in the lava … love it Here is something to think about rancid fats

Chris
Chris
6 years 3 months ago
Ok, this came as a chock to me. A couple of questions: 1. On the back of my canola oil it says that 100 grams contain 7.5 grams of saturated fats, 62.5 grams of monosaturated fats and 30 grams of polysaturated fats of which 9 grams is omega 3. These numbers are for the oil thats in the bottle, after the refinement. Suppose that the rest of the polyunsaturated fats (21 grams) are omega 6, this gives a ratio of roughly 2 in the finished product. Is that really that bad? 2. I read somwhere that 40% of the canola… Read more »
Jeff
6 years 21 days ago

Coconut oil for cooking and olive oil to dress is definitely the way to go.

Eleanor Snyder
5 years 6 months ago

This is a reply long after the previous posts. I thought the mayo recipe was going to show up. Just make mayo with olive oil, following Joy of Cooking or an Internet recipe. EASY and GOOD.

Willis Leisey
5 years 2 months ago

Derülo is presently outlining his voyage tracking the album, Future History via a series of webisodes that are usually placed on his official site every Fri

ATP33Toronto
ATP33Toronto
4 years 4 months ago

Dead link, correction: The Great Con-Ola should link to:
http://www.westonaprice.org/know-your-fats/the-great-con-ola

Thanks for your articles, superior information! 🙂

Mary
Mary
4 years 2 months ago

What about butter? I use grass-fed to cook eggs and saute vegetables.

Erik
Erik
3 years 10 months ago

Lots of jungle is deforested to produce palm oil, so from an environmental point of view (survival of orangutans) it’s a terrible choice.

nilsern
nilsern
3 years 8 months ago
Do any studies on humans actually show that erucic acid is toxic? From what I have read, the only studies showing adverse effects are animal studies under extreme conditions (pigs feed pure erucic acid instead of breatmilk etc), and even then there was no permanent damage and their bodies adapted to the extreme diet. Studies in rats are useless no matter which oil you use since they poorly metabolise fat in general. I parts of India, mustard oil and seeds (rich in erucsis acid) has been consumed for several tousand years and some studies has shown that mustard might have… Read more »
Cindy
Cindy
1 year 8 months ago
Thank you for such a wonderful article. I know it has some age on it, yet, the facts are still the same – Canola Oil is nasty and as I have said, if you have to process something to the point of changing it completely why bother??? As you pointed out the rapeseed plant (canola) is toxic to humans and is so nasty that bugs won’t eat it GMO or non-GMO!!! Also would love to hear your opinion on Soy both GMO and non-GMO as soy is not very kind to your body either – regardless of what “THEY” say.… Read more »
Aimee
Aimee
1 year 4 months ago

I use my vegetable oil to oil my grill before and after cooking. That’s pretty much the only reason I still buy it. I am trying to remember to use olive oil for the before, but we usually just have it on the meat anyway.

Suzy T
Suzy T
7 months 21 days ago

You briefly mention expeller pressed canola. Do you approve of this? You say its harder to find and not cheap. I found a decent price recently on Amazon, so I’d like to know if you approve when it is marked Expeller pressed NON GMO Canola Oil.
Please and thank you 🙂

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