Is Canola Oil Bad for You?
When it was first developed by Canadian scientists in the early 1970s, canola oil was not unwelcome. In fact, canola oil was considered one of the “good guys” and it was quite popular. However, decades later, consumers worldwide are searching for a healthy canola oil substitute.
Through cross-breeding techniques, researchers from Canada’s University of Manitoba were able to create a safer, more palatable version of rapeseed oil, which is made from the seeds of the rapeseed plant. Before this development, rapeseed oil contained high amounts of a substance known to cause various health problems: erucic acid.
Canola oil was first called LEAR, which is an acronym for “low erucic acid rapeseed.” For marketing purposes, its name was changed to canola oil—a nod to its Canadian origin.
Things were fine until 1995, when agricultural biotech company Monsanto made a genetically modified version of the rapeseeds for canola oil. Today, most canola oil products are made from these GMO seeds.
To be fair, canola oil works wonderfully when used as an industrial oil. However, the million-dollar question is this: Is canola oil beneficial for you when you use it for cooking? Unfortunately, the simple answer is no!
For one thing, more than 90% of canola oil is genetically modified. Secondly, as canola oil is a refined oil, it is partly hydrogenated to increase its stability. The problem with this is that it increases the adverse effects of canola oil.
Fortunately, there are several canola oil substitutes that you can use for your myriad cooking purposes.
Negative Health Effects of Canola Oil
Risk of Mental Disorder
A new theory circulating these days suggests that it is brain inflammation rather than serotonin deficiency that causes depression in human beings. Partially hydrogenated canola oil is pro-inflammatory, so consuming it could possibly lead to depression.
According to a 2011 study published in the journal PLoS One, replacing vegetable oils such as canola oil with olive oil can decrease your risk of suffering from depression by almost 50%.
Harmful for Kidneys & Liver
Various studies have shown that consuming genetically modified organisms (GMO) can have harmful side effects on the liver and kidneys. In a 2011 study, published in Environmental Sciences Europe, after being fed with GMO soybeans and corn, mammals experienced up to 30% disruption in liver functioning and 43% disruption in kidney functioning.
It’s true that canola oil is not made from soybeans or corn, but it is dangerous to ignore the harmful effects of GMOs. If our liver and kidneys aren’t working at their optimum levels, they cannot flush out toxins from our body.
Risk of Coronary Heart Disease
Canola oil is a monounsaturated oil that has some amounts of erucic acid, a fatty acid linked to heart damage and conditions like Keshan disease. People suffering from Keshan disease develop fibrotic lesions in their heart. Studies have shown that those with the disease often have excess levels of selenium and the erucic acid in their blood.
According to a 2009 study published in Atherosclerosis, being a partly hydrogenated vegetable oil, canola oil is known to cause inflammation and calcification of the arteries. This inevitably leads to coronary heart diseases.
Can Cause Memory Loss
Canola oil experiments conducted on animals like mice have given cause for alarm.
In a 2015 study published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, researchers enriched the diet of mice with extra-virgin olive oil and found that it reduced the levels of amyloid plaques and tau proteins in their brains. These are the calling cards of Alzheimer’s disease. The mice also showed improved memory.
On the other hand, a 2017 study published in Scientific Reports showed that when mice were fed a diet rich in canola oil, there was a higher incidence of both amyloid plaques and tau proteins in their brains. These mice also showed impairments in memory and their ability to learn.
Can Lead to High Blood Pressure & Stroke
Studies have indicated that stroke-prone and hypertensive animal subjects fed a diet rich in canola oil and other vegetable oils tend to have a shorter lifespan. In a 2000 study published in the journal Lipids, rats which had been bred to have high blood pressure and predisposition to strokes died earlier when they were explicitly fed canola oil diets.
A study published in Toxicology Letters that same year showed that the length of time it took blood to clot was shortened in stroke-prone rats when they were fed canola oil-based diets. Increased fragility in their red blood cell membranes was also observed.
Healthy Substitute for Canola Oil
You can use other vegetable oils in place of canola oil when cooking any of your dishes. Most vegetable oils have a high smoke point, which is essential if you are cooking your dishes over high heat.
Canola oil’s smoke point is 468 degrees F, so make sure that any substitute vegetable oil you choose also has a high smoke point. If not, the oil will break down during the cooking process, potentially releasing harmful chemicals into your food.
1. Sunflower Oil
Sunflower oil has a high smoke point and neutral flavor comparable to canola oil, so it can be used as a substitute in many types of foods, whether baked or pan-fried. It also contains polyunsaturated fats that are helpful in preventing type 2 diabetes and promoting better cholesterol levels in your body.
The vitamin E in the oil promotes skin health, and also boosts energy and protects against free radical damage that leads to chronic health conditions such as cancer. However, the downside of sunflower oil is that it is much higher in omega-6 content than other vegetable oils. The ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids recommended for good health is 1 : 1, so if you’re using sunflower oil, make sure you’re getting in enough omega-3 fats to keep things balanced.
2. Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is rich in saturated fats, but the majority of these fats are in the form of lauric acid, a medium-chain fatty acid that, when consumed moderately, has good cardiovascular effects. Studies suggest they can raise the good HDL cholesterol in your blood.
Keep in mind that coconut oil is sweeter than canola oil, so you can use it as a replacement when making desserts, baked goods, and other dishes that will be enhanced by its flavor.
3. Safflower Oil
Safflower oil comes from the seeds of the safflower, so don’t confuse it with the similar-sounding sunflower oil. Safflower oil has a neutral flavor and a high smoke point, which means it can be heated to high temperatures and lends itself well to frying and baking. It also has several health benefits, such as reducing the symptoms of PMT (premenstrual tension) and balancing blood sugar. It is gentle on your skin and helps in reducing inflammation, making it a viable alternative to canola oil.
4. Olive Oil
Olive oil has a stronger flavor than canola oil, which may pose a problem when you are baking. But the strong flavor makes it ideal for preparing other dishes such as salad dressings or pasta sauces. Olive oil is regularly used for cooking and in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. It’s important to note that olive oil has a relatively low smoke point, so it’s best used for drizzling over vegetables and breads, and adding to precooked meals.
Olive oil has been linked to several health benefits, such as fighting breast cancer, controlling cholesterol, preventing diabetes and arthritis, facilitating weight loss, and cleansing the digestive system.
5. Corn Oil
Corn oil has the same amount of calories as canola oil and both have a mild flavor, but canola oil is healthier than corn oil in other respects. Corn oil can be used for cooking and especially frying, as it has a high smoke point. Corn oil contains polyunsaturated fatty acids and is low on saturated fat. Corn oil is said to lower cholesterol levels, help in cardiovascular health, reduce blood pressure, and aid in skin care.
Still, there is a big chance that the corn used to make the oil was grown from GMO seeds. Be sure to read any product labels accordingly. Moreover, corn oil contains higher-than-ideal amounts of omega-6 fatty acids; therefore, it is vital to use the oil only in moderation.
6. Soybean Oil
Soybean oil has become very popular in the last 10 to 15 years. And why not? It has a high smoke point of 492 degrees F that makes it a great oil to use when you are frying. It has a natural, clean flavor and an odor you can barely smell, and it’s ideally suited for salad dressings, baking, and shortening.
Soybean oil has low levels of saturated fat and is high in unsaturated fats, which makes it healthy for consumption. But due to its popularity, many varieties of the seeds are genetically engineered. Most brands of soybean oil are refined, blended, and sometimes hydrogenated.
7. Peanut Oil
Peanut oil is prevalent in Asia for cooking, and is similar to sesame oil because it has its own distinctive flavor that is sweet and nutty. It is rich in vitamin E, which is an antioxidant that helps prevent heart disease and lowers cholesterol. It has a high smoke point just like canola oil, so it is ideal for pan-frying and deep-frying.
You can also use peanut oil for grilling and roasting. Don’t use it for baking, though, as it has a mild flavor, whereas you really need oil that has a neutral flavor.
8. Cottonseed Oil
Cottonseed oil is often called an American original oil and has been used all over the world since the 1880s. It is a vegetable oil that’s commonly used in deep-frying and baking because it has a neutral taste similar to canola oil. Cottonseed oil is used for making mayonnaise, salad dressings, sauces, and marinades.
On top of that, cottonseed oil offers several potential health benefits such as whitening the teeth, moisturizing the hair, and treating black acne. It is also used in the manufacture of skin care products.
Though it’s had a bad rap in health circles for decades, butter is the preferred cooking fat among chefs and culinary experts. It’s commonly used for baking, pan-frying, and making sauces, as well as for spreading on breads and topping cooked vegetables.
Churned from the cream of cow’s milk, butter is about 80% fat, 16% water, and four percent milk solids. Butter’s high saturated fat content is what’s been said to increase blood cholesterol levels and the risk for cardiovascular disease in general.
But in recent years, studies have challenged the notion that butter is more dangerous for your heart than vegetable oils. In a 2016 study published in PLoS One, researchers found no significant rise in risk of heart disease or death for people who regularly consumed butter over plant-based oils.
That said, butter remains a high-calorie, high-fat food that should only be consumed in moderation. It’s also got a low smoke point of 350 degrees F, so beware of cooking at excessively high temperatures.
According to the American Dietetic Association, canola oil provides you plenty of calories (one tablespoon contains 120 calories), which may be a bit too much for a health-conscious person. Applesauce is an ideal replacement for canola oil, especially when you are baking sweets like brownies and cakes.
Substitute applesauce for half or one-third of the oil in your recipe to cut the calories and boost taste. If you do not want your baked dishes to taste too sweet, use unsweetened applesauce instead.
The Last Word on Canola Oil Substitutes
Up until the mid-1990s, canola oil was a natural oil made from the seeds of a certain variety of rapeseed plant. Then biotech firm Monsanto created a genetically modified version of canola oil seeds, which are used in 90% of all canola oil products on the market today.
The popularity of canola oil declined as a result, as the GMO-based oil is likely to contain substances that are known to cause several health problems when consumed. Some of these negative effects may include a higher chance of developing mental disorders, damage to the kidneys and liver, as well as an increased risk of coronary heart disease, memory loss, high blood pressure, and strokes.
However, there are many substitutes for canola oil that you can use to cook a number of dishes. Some of them are sunflower oil, coconut oil, olive oil, safflower oil, soybean oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, peanut oil, applesauce, and butter.
Now that you know some of the possible harmful effects, it’s a good time to decide if you want to continue using canola oil in the future. We’ve provided you with a list of healthy canola oil substitutes. Choose an oil you find suitable for your purposes, taking note of the precautions for each. Your health and the health of your family depends on you, so make the right decision!
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