Dear Clean Plates,
A chef friend of mine told me he uses canola oil because it has a high smoke point, and is flavorless. I’ve even seen it listed on menus as “healthy.” But other friends tell me it’s dangerous. What’s the truth?
Oil Mixed Up
Canola oil does have a high smoke point, which is a good thing when cooking; once oil starts smoking, its structure changes, and smoke means it’s becoming carcinogenic. But the reason canola oil’s smoke point is high is also a negative. Most canola is highly processed via solvent extraction, which involves high temperatures that destroy the oil’s nutrients.
So, what is canola? It was developed in Canada in the 1970s by cross-breeding rapeseed plants (they’re related to mustard seed), and dubbed “canola” after the words “Canadian oil.” (Also, the word “rapeseed” didn’t sound appealing to most consumers.) Canola was bred to be low in saturated fats—it contains the least of any common cooking oil—and low in erucic acid, a potentially harmful component that naturally occurs in rapeseed, and that has been linked to heart lesions in lab animals. While there is still some erucic acid present naturally in the canola plant, only 2% or less is allowed to be present in the canola on your supermarket shelf.
To us, the most concerning thing about canola oil is that it packs 21% omega-6 linoleic acid (olive oil has 9%, and coconut oil has 2%). High intakes of omega-6 linoleic acid (polyunsaturated fats) have been linked to inflammation, heart disease, cancer, obesity and many other illnesses. Why: when these fats are exposed to heat, light and pressure, they become oxidized, which increases disease-promoting molecules called “free radicals” in your body.
If you still prefer canola because the tastes of better-choice oils like olive, macadamia nut, or aroma-free coconut oil are too strong, look for cold-pressed, organic, non-GMO canola oil, but remember that cold-pressed oils have lower smoke points. Also, know that even though it may be listed as “free of trans-fats,” canola oil can still contain up to half a gram per serving (check the ingredients to ensure nothing is listed as “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated”), so use it sparingly.
For more info about healthier oils, click here!