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.
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. 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, avocado oil, palm oil, lard and ghee are suitable for most cooking applications. And for salads and other “no heat” dishes, you have dozens of tasty choices, including avocado oil and nut oils. As for canola, who needs it?
I’m sure many of you have something to say about this oil. Share your knowledge and thoughts in the comments. Grok on!
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.