Truths and Myths about Canola Oil

Canola oil is one of the healthiest culinary oils in the world with zero trans fat and the lowest amount of saturated fat of all common cooking oils. It has been rigorously tested and approved by authoritative scientific bodies for human consumption. In fact, canola oil is recognized as a heart-smart cooking oil by many health organizations*(1). The facts about canola are set straight here, showcasing the oil's heart-smart properties and versatility as well as the crop's usefulness in animal and industrial applications.

1. Scientists agree, canola oil is healthy.

Clinical studies have been going on for decades involving thousands of human volunteers to examine canola oil and its effects on the body. Canola oil is not only safe for humans per U.S., Canadian and other government approvals, but studies have shown it may also have health benefits. Canola oil is free of trans fat and cholesterol, with the lowest amount of saturated fat among common cooking oils, so trials have shown that it may favorably impact the body when used in place of other fat sources. In October 2006, canola oil received a qualified health claim *(2) from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on its ability to potentially reduce the risk of heart disease when used in place of saturated fat in the diet.

2. Canola is its own plant species, different from rapeseed.

Although they look similar, canola and rapeseed plants are very different. Scientists used traditional plant breeding to eliminate the undesirable components of rapeseed, namely erucic acid and glucosinolates. Before canola oil received "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS) status from the FDA and favorable recognition as a vegetable oil by Health Canada, it had to go through rigorous testing to ensure it was safe for human consumption.

3. Canola was developed by traditional plant breeding.

Unwanted traits in rapeseed were bred out through traditional cross-breeding to produce canola in the late 1950s and 1960s. In fact, modern crop biotechnology wasn't even invented at that time. Today, different varieties of canola help to produce crops that are resistant to drought, pests, disease and other challenges that farmers face. Plant breeders are constantly making breakthroughs to aid growers in getting the most out of their crop.

4. Canola belongs to the same family as cabbage and cauliflower.

Canola, along with cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower, is part of the genus Brassica, which belongs to the mustard family of plants. Although members of this family are occasionally mistaken for ingredients in mustard gas, they have nothing to do with it. Mustard gas got its name from its mustard-like odor.

5. Canola contains some of the same compounds as broccoli and Brussels sprouts.

Canola contains compounds called isothiocyanates, which are found in cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, turnips and Brussels sprouts. Although the name of these compounds has sometimes been incorrectly associated with cyanide, isothiocyanates are not harmful to the human body. In fact, some may even help prevent certain types of cancer.

6. Canola meal is a highly valuable feed for livestock.

Canola meal's high protein content makes it a useful and nutritious feed for cattle, fish and other animals. In dairy cattle, canola meal has been shown in several studies to boost milk production compared to other animal feeds. In 18 studies done over the course of 24 years, results found that using canola meal instead of soybean or cottonseed meal increased milk production by an average of 2.2 pounds (1 liter) per day in each cow.

7. Canola oil is non-allergenic.

Food allergens are proteins that can cause the body's immune system to react in susceptible individuals. Allergic responses are abnormal ones by the immune system to a specific food. Since traditional refined canola oil does not contain proteins, it will rarely, if ever, cause an allergic reaction.

8. Canola oil has a long shelf life.

Canola oil can be stored at room temperature for about one year. This is about the same shelf life as most other vegetable oils. Store canola oil in a cool, dark cupboard for optimal shelf life. Cold-pressed canola and flavored canola oils should be refrigerated to maintain their flavor and freshness.

9. Canola oil is free of cholesterol and trans fat and low in saturated fat.

Canola oil will not raise cholesterol in the body; it is a heart-smart choice for cooking. In fact, canola oil is high in monounsaturated fat, which studies show may help lower "bad" LDL cholesterol in the blood and control blood glucose. Canola oil also contains an omega-3 fatty acid that may help protect the heart and is a good source of vitamin E.

10. Canola oil is used in biodiesel, lubricants, soap and other products.

Any oil derived from plants can be used in making these products. Oils from canola, olives, corn, soybeans and flax can all be used to make a wide range of non-food items, including cosmetics, paints, plastics and more. Vegetable oils can even help fuel your car with biodiesel. Canola oil is a particularly good feedstock for biodiesel due to its low saturated fat content. In this case, what's good for the heart is also good for the engine.

Sources for the above facts include:
1. Health Canada
2. Purdue University Center for New Crops & Plants Products
3. U.S. Food and Drug Administration
4. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Research Centre
5. Wikipedia
6. Oregon State University Linus Pauling Institute
7. Canola Council of Canada
8. University of Nebraska-Lincoln Department of Food Science & Technology
9. Mayo Clinic
10. National Biodiesel Board

Footnotes

*(1) The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Health Canada, American Heart Association, American Dietetic Association, American Diabetes Association, American Cancer Society and Canadian Heart & Stroke Foundation among others.

*(2) Limited and not conclusive scientific evidence suggests that eating about 1½ tablespoons (19 grams) of canola oil daily may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease due to the unsaturated fat content in canola oil. To achieve this possible benefit, canola oil is to replace a similar amount of saturated fat and not increase the total number of calories you eat in a day. One serving of this product contains grams of canola oil.

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