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Canola Oil: Heart Healthy or Advertising Myth?

Canola oil is often touted as a healthy oil in television ads, and even by a number of doctors. Supporters are primarily focused on the fact that canola oil is naturally rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. The standard American diet tends to be low Omega-3 fatty acids and higher in Omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-6 fatty acids also tend to promote inflammation in the body, which has been linked to a number of chronic health conditions, whereas Omega-3 fatty acids are naturally anti-inflammatory. Omega- 3 fatty acids are commonly found in cold water, fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines, anchovies, and tuna, shellfish, walnuts, as well as chia seeds and flaxseeds. They can also be taken as a supplement.

Additionally, canola oil is promoted as being low in saturated fats, as well as a good source of oleic acid. Olive oil is also rich in oleic fatty acids and this is what contributes to the many health benefits we see when people include extra virgin olive in their diet.

So, with all these beneficial components, why do I recommend avoiding canola oil?

Canola oil was developed as a cost-effective and healthy alternate to saturated fats. However, canola oil is highly refined and nearly 90% genetically modified. Although there are no really good studies out there yet looking at the health effects of eating genetically modified foods (GMOs), there are a number of reports that highlight several health concerns associated with them.

Part of the reason GMO plants are so popular in the commercial farming industry is because they are genetically modified to be resistant to herbicides. Therefore, farmers can liberally spray these chemicals on their crops to kill the weeds without fear of killing their crops. Glyphosate is the primary ingredient in Roundup, which is a common herbicide. It also contains other additives and chemicals which improve its weed-killing effectiveness. Even after harvesting and processing, these glyphosates residues remain in these foods and by consuming them, they build up in our bodies. It is estimated that over 300 million pounds of glyphosate-containing herbicides are sprayed on crops in the U.S. alone every year. This includes soy, wheat and canola plants which are predominantly genetically modified. Therefore, if you are eating these foods, you are likely consuming glyphosate residues. Glyphosates residues can wreak havoc on our bodies, as they are highly inflammatory and have been showed to be “endocrine disruptors,” meaning that they interfere with the normal functioning of various hormones, like reproductive hormones and thyroid hormone.

Other recent research has shown that glyphosates may be a natural antibiotic, however not in a good way. Glyphosate seems to be particularly effective against beneficial strains of bacteria in our gut, like Lactobacillus and Bfidobacteria, however ineffective at killing off pathogenic strains like Clostridium perfringens and Clostridium botulinum (often high of children on the autism spectrum) and Salmonella. This results in an overgrowth of “bad” bacteria and an imbalance microbiome, which has been linked to a whole host of health conditions.

Additionally, canola oil is highly processed. The process for refining canola oil requires the use of substances like hexane, which is a chemical component of gasoline, and this affects the quality and health of the oil.

According to the Weston A. Price Foundation founder Sally Fallon and Mary Enig, a renowned nutritionist and fat expert:

“Like all modern vegetable oils, canola oil goes through the process of refining, bleaching and degumming — all of which involve high temperatures or chemicals of questionable safety. And because canola oil is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which easily become rancid and foul-smelling when subjected to oxygen and high temperatures, it must be deodorized. The standard deodorization process removes a large portion of the omega-3 fatty acids by turning them into trans fatty acids. Although the Canadian government lists the trans content of canola at a minimal 0.2 percent, research at the University of Florida at Gainesville, found trans levels as high as 4.6 percent in commercial liquid oil. The consumer has no clue about the presence of trans fatty acids in canola oil because they are not listed on the label.”

These types of fatty acids, in turn result in a pro-inflammatory effect on the body when consumed. And at the end of this process, the touted heart healthy omega-3 fatty acid content of this oil is likely very limited or non-existent. So, for all these reasons, I highly recommend that my clients avoid canola oil all the together.


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