There are a lot of controversies on the Internet about canola oil. Some say it is one of the healthiest oils for cooking, others say it is one of the worst. This page tries to answer the commonly asked question – Is canola oil healthy and good for cooking and baking, for both dogs and humans?
First, what is canola oil?
Contrary to what many people think, canola is not a plant. It is just a coined word (Canada Oil, Low Acid).
So where does the oil come from?
Canola oil comes from hybridized, genetically modified rapeseed plants. As you may know, oil from the original rapeseed plants contains toxic substances (glucosinolates) and erucic acid, which is an unhealthy fatty acid that, according to animal studies, can cause heart problems. Rapeseed oil cannot be used for human consumption.
In the 60s and 70s, plant breeders in Canada began experimenting cross-breeding rapeseed plants to minimize the levels of glucosinolates and erucic acid.
When we think of cross-breeding naturally, we tend to think of the traditional natural cross pollination methods, right?
However, the so-called "cross-breeding" process used by the Canadian plant breeders was far from natural. It started in a laboratory using a genetic methodology called seed-splitting - think of it as a high-tech form of hybridization. Seed splitting generally involves the use of gas chromatography to identify the genes that are to be manipulated, and then the seed is split, and a half seed is germinated. Through trials and errors combining parts of different split seeds, the genetically modified plant with the desired characteristics is made. This technology is the precursor to genetic engineering.
Canola oil is the oil obtained from this hybridized rapeseed plant born through seed-splitting; it contains less than 2% erucic acid, and is considered safe for human consumption.
It is debatable whether oil from a plant that has been hybridized in a way described above is safe from a long-term perspective.
In addition, it is important to remember that even if it is safe for use, it does not necessarily mean that it is good for health. And that, I think, is the bottom line.
So... coming back to the original question, "Is canola oil healthy?"... I have come to the conclusion that it is not. My verdict is mainly based on the following:
The extracted oil is then refined. First, it is washed in sodium hydroxide (a.k.a. lye, or caustic soda) to remove impurities. Then it is cooled to 5°C to thicken the wax in the oil (which will be filtered out to make vegetable shortening). The filtered oil is then bleached so it will be lighter in color. Finally, steam distillation is used to remove the odor.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t really want to use a cooking oil that has been treated with chemicals and then bleached!
If you compare the extraction method of canola oil with that of olive oil, which is extracted by pressing only, you will realize how unhealthy the manufacturing process of canola oil is.
But here is the thing: polyunsaturated FAs are very heat and light sensitive – they can become rancid and oxidized easily when exposed to heat (e.g. during cooking) or light (e.g. if it is not stored in dark-colored containers and away from sunlight). When oxidized, free radicals are released – and we all know that free radicals can cause health problems in people and dogs. That's why flaxseed oil is not used for cooking and is always stored in dark-colored bottles (granted, flaxseed oil contains an even higher level of ALA than canola, but still the ALA level in canola is not negligible).
So while we have a seemingly healthy cooking oil with good fatty acids, but if heated or exposed to light, the goodies quickly dissipate, and may even pose healthy threats to us!
When there are other choices of good oil for cooking and baking (e.g. olive oil, coconut oil), why use something that is mediocre at best?
For those who argue that for cooking dog food or baking dog treats, a bit of canola oil here and there will do no harm.
I beg to disagree.
Dogs have smaller bodies than people and are more susceptible to the harmful effects of toxins and impurities. One of the purposes of baking our own dog treats is to make sure that the ingredients are healthy and safe for our dogs. Aren’t we defeating the purpose if we use sub-standard food items?
And that, my friends, is why I do not use canola oil in all the recipes on this site.