Oil is Not What You Think
by Barbara Minton
TBYIL articles by Barbara Minton
Should you be consuming canola
oil? The FDA seems to think so, allowing canola labels to claim that it
supports heart health and reduces the risk of coronary heart disease. Even
Whole Foods Markets is on board with canola oil, and most foods on their hot
bar are swimming in it. Proponents point out that canola is inexpensive,
tastes good, and has the lowest saturated fat content of any common edible
oil. But evidence has mounted that canola oil actually promotes heart
disease and is a hoax on the public rivaling the promotion of margarine.
Leading experts on oils and fats see canola oil as a victory for a food
technology industry that will not be happy until all traditional, real foods
have been replaced by imitations.
Canola oil is a product of food technology
Peanut oil comes from peanuts, and soybean oil comes from soybeans, but
there is no such thing as a canola. Canola is a marketing name derived from
Canadian-oil. Canola is the result of genetic modification of the rapeseed
plant, performed to breed out its undesirable taste and its hazards to
Oil from the natural rapeseed plant has been used in China, Japan and India
for thousands of years as the poor man’s cooking oil. The oil contained a
long-chain fatty acid called erucic acid which was irritating to mucous
membranes, and glucosinolates which taste so bitter that animals will not
eat feed containing it. Consumption of the oil was associated with high
incidence of fibrotic heart lesions, known as Keshan’s disease. Disorders of
the central nervous system, lung and prostate cancer, anemia, and
constipation were also associated with consumption. These were the
characteristics that Canadian geneticists diligently tried to get rid of in
their efforts to morph rapeseed oil into canola oil. But many health
professionals believe there is still too much erucic acid present in the oil
for safe use.
The food technology industry has a long history of manipulating consumers
The food technology business operates on the Hegelian Principle. First a
problem is created and blown out of proportion, and then a solution is
offered. When food technologists got going right after World War II, one of
their first efforts was to turn people against traditional fats like butter
so they could be sold a concoction called margarine. Eventually people woke
up to the ill effects of margarine, and the food industry promoted their
next creation, polyunsaturated oils, as the new “healthy” alternative. But
it quickly became clear that polyunsaturated oils, especially corn and
soybean oils, caused numerous health problems.
Since the food industry had so effectively turned everyone against saturated
fats, their only solution was to embrace the use of monounsaturated oils,
with olive oil becoming the new darling. It was an easy switch, because the
benefits of olive oil were documented in research associated with the health
and longevity of people who ate the Mediterranean diet. The problem was that
olive oil was too expensive to be used in processed foods. The result was
the birth of canola oil, newly named for the country where the majority of
rapeseed plants are grown.
The name was not the only thing new. Genetic modification made the rapeseed
into a plant tolerant of the herbicide Roundup. And because all proteins are
removed from the oil during processing, its promoters claim that it no
longer has the characteristics of a genetically modified food . However,
Europe and several other countries have banned the sale of canola oil. Not
the US though.
content of canola oil is altered by genetic modification
Researchers have discovered that health claims for canola oil are simply not
true. A team from Food Quality and Safety Research in Peoria, Illinois,
studied oil derived from 12 different lines of genetically modified rapeseed
varieties and analyzed them for phospholipids, tocopherols (Vitamin E), and
phytosterols by various chromatographic techniques. As they have previously
observed in genetically modified soybeans, there was a decrease in the
content and composition of phosphatidic acid in three of the modified canola
oils derived from the lines investigated.
Further analysis revealed variations in the phospholipid content of the
major classes. Other data indicated that the molecular species distribution
of phosphatidylethanolamine was significantly altered by genetic
modification when compared to phosphatidylcholine. The impact of oilseed
modification on the tocopherols content was variable. Phytosterol
composition was markedly affected by genetic modification. Brassicasterol,
campesterol, and beta sitosterol levels were consistently lower.
These findings mean that changes in composition resulting from genetic
modification have significantly altered the synergy and balance created by
nature. When natural balance is altered, the integrity of the plant is lost
and it is no longer a proper food source. But this was no matter to the food
industry that was thrilled with the new rapeseeds because they were loaded
with monounsaturated fats, and low in toxic euracic acids and bitter tasting
glucosinolates. And even better, the new rapeseed also contained about 10
percent omega 3 fats. Canola oil was ready for marketing to a population
that was just beginning to embrace healthy eating.
Most canola oil comes from genetically modified plants
Since its introduction in the fields of Canada in 1995, acreage devoted to
the genetically modified rapeseed has steadily grown. Today more than 85
percent of the crop comes from genetically modified seed.
Canola oil surmounts one marketing challenge after another
The next marketing challenge for the Canola Council of Canada was the fact
that rapeseed was never given GRAS (Generally recognized as Safe) status by
the USDA. Before canola oil could be marketed in the U.S., a change in
regulation was required. Much rumor and speculation surrounds how this was
achieved. When GRAS status was granted in 1985, word was that it cost the
Canadian government $50 million to buy it, but this has never been proven.
Soon recipes began appearing in books sponsored by leading health gurus,
such as Andrew Weil, and in diet books and newspaper columns promoting
canola oil as the equivalent of olive oil, and sales have soared. Today,
sales of the oil have soared in the United States. Canola oil is found in
spreads, and used almost exclusively in processed and packaged foods. It is
the oil of choice for most restaurants and is the primary cooking oil in
many homes. Unfortunately, science does not support the enthusiasm for
Leading experts conclude canola oil is not safe
Even though canola oil has GRAS status, no long-term studies of its effects
on humans have been done. Results of animal studies have challenged the
health claims made for canola oil as well as undermined what has come to be
traditional thinking on the link between types of fats eaten and heart
Sally Fallon and Mary G. Enig, Ph.D., are North America’s leading experts on
the subject of fats and oils. They have written extensively on the subject,
and many of their works can be found at the Weston A. Price Foundation
website. The following is a summary of the research findings they consider
relevant to the use of canola oil:
A study published in 1978 in the Netherlands investigated whether oil from
hybridized rapeseed plants caused heart lesions in test animals. In earlier
studies, animals fed the high erucic-acid rapeseed oil showed growth
retardation and undesirable changes in various organs, especially the heart.
The results were mixed. Rats genetically selected to be prone to heart
lesions developed more lesions on the hybridized rapeseed oil than they did
on olive oil or sunflower oil.
In 1982, researchers at the Canadian Institute for Food Science and
Technology looked at the interaction of saturated fats with rapeseed oil and
soybean oil. When saturated fats in the form of cocoa butter were added to
their diets, rats in both groups had better growth and a significant
lowering of heart lesions. These results supported the conclusion that heart
lesions in rats were related to the balance of dietary fatty acids, not to
cardio-toxic contaminants in the oils.
In 1997, after the appearance of the genetically modified rapeseed, Canadian
researchers found that piglets fed milk replacement containing canola oil
showed signs of Vitamin E deficiency, even though the milk replacement
contained adequate amounts of Vitamin E., suggesting that canola oil blocks
absorption of Vitamin E. Piglets fed soybean oil-based replacement fortified
with the same amount of Vitamin E did not show Vitamin E deficiency.
In 1998, the same research group reported that piglets fed canola oil
suffered from a decrease in platelet count and an increase in platelet size.
Bleeding time was longer in piglets fed both the hybridized rapeseed oil and
the new hybridized and genetically modified canola oil. These changes were
mitigated by the addition of saturated fatty acids from either cocoa butter
or coconut oil to the piglets’ diet. Another study a year later again found
that canola oil suppressed the normal developmental increase in platelet
Studies at the Heath Research and Toxicology Research Divisions in Ottawa,
Canada discovered that rats bred to have high blood pressure and proneness
to stroke had shortened life-spans when fed canola oil as the sole source of
fat. The results of a later study suggested that the problem was the sterol
compounds in the oil, which made cell membranes more rigid and contributed
to the shortened life-span of the animals. Sterols were shown in the Peoria
study to be markedly impacted by genetic modification of rapeseed.
Fallon and Enig conclude, “These studies all point in the same directions –
that canola oil is definitely not healthy for the cardiovascular system.
Like rapeseed oil, its predecessor, canola oil is associated with fibrotic
lesions of the heart. It also causes Vitamin E deficiency, undesirable
changes in the blood platelets, and shortened life-span in stroke-prone rats
when it was the only oil in the animals’ diet. Furthermore, it seems to
retard growth which is why the FDA does not allow the use of canola oil in
infant formula. When saturated fats are added to the diet, the undesirable
effects of canola oil are mitigated.”
In his book “Young Again: How to Reverse the Aging Process,” John Thomas
links rapeseed with the outbreak of mad cow disease that led to the wide
scale destruction of animals in Great Britain in the early 1990s. Rapeseed
oil was widely used in animal feeds from 1986 until the outbreak of the
disease. Reports at the time blamed the bizarre behavior of livestock on the
viral disease scrapie. However, when rapeseed oil was removed from animal
feed, the disease disappeared.
Thomas also believes that glaucoma is the result of insufficient blood flow
due to agglutination (clumping together) of red blood cells and waste
buildup on the cells and intercellular fluids. He suggests that the
ingestion of canola oil over time may cause the disease as well as other
vision irregularities such as retinitis. He explains how clumped red cells
cannot squeeze through the tiny capillaries in the posterior of the eye,
resulting in inability of oxygen to be delivered to the mitochondria of
cells in the retina.
According to Thomas, canola oil is an acetlycholinesterase inhibitor.
Acetylcholine is critical to the transmission of signals from nerves to
muscles. When the enzyme that catalyzes acetylcholine metabolism is
compromised, nerve fibers cannot signal muscles to respond as desired.
Processing of canola oil produces trans fats
Although the rapeseed has been a source for oil since ancient times due to
its ease of extraction from the seed, modern processing adds a whole
different dimension. Fallon and Enig have vividly described the procedure
during which rapseed oil is removed by a combination of high temperature
mechanical pressing and solvent extract, usually with a toxic substance
called hexane. Following considerable refining, traces of the solvent
remain. And like all vegetable oils, canola oil goes through the process of
caustic refining, bleaching and degumming, all of which involve high
temperatures or the use of hazardous chemicals.
During all this processing, the omega-3 content in the oil becomes rancid
and smelly, so the oil must be deodorized. The foul omega-3 fatty acids are
cleaned up by being largely turned into trans fatty acids. Although the
Canadian government lists the trans fat content of canola oil at a minimal
0.2 percent, research at the University of Florida at Gainesville found
trans fat levels as high as 4.6 percent in commercial canola oil. In a time
when almost everyone is aware of the tremendous health hazards posed by
trans fats, people eating canola oil have no idea of the presence of trans
fats in the oil they are consuming.
When canola oil is hardened through hydrogenation as it often is when used
in food processing, the trans fat level can go as high as 40 percent.
Because canola oil hydrogenates better than corn or soybean oils it is the
first choice of processors. Higher levels of trans fat translate to longer
shelf life for processed foods, meaning that bagged cookies and snacks can
sit on store shelves for months before they are sold.
Stick with the tried and true
Given the complexity of plants, the total effect of a given plant derived
food on human health is dependent upon its many chemical constituents and
their interactions with the biochemical pathways in the body. The greater
the alterations to the product as it was naturally created, the less that
product maintains its integrity and the greater the chance for something to
go very wrong.
Food technologists and people claiming to be health experts have struck out
twice already with their recommendations of margarine and polyunsaturated
oil. It looks like strike three is canola oil. At this point, common sense
dictates the best alternative is to stick with fats that have been in
traditional use by the affluent in various cultures for thousands of years
and have not been known to cause disease.
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