The Great Con-ola (canola oil)
By Sally Fallon and Mary G. Enig, PhD
Canola oil is "widely recognized as the healthiest salad and cooking oil available to consumers." It was developed through hybridization of rape seed.
Rape seed oil is toxic because it contains significant amounts of a poisonous substance called erucic acid.
Canola oil contains only trace amounts of erucic acid and its unique fatty acid profile, rich in oleic acid and low in saturated fats, makes it particularly beneficial for the prevention of heart disease. It also contains significant amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, also shown to have health benefits. This is what the food industry says about canola oil.
Canola oil is a poisonous substance, an industrial oil that does not belong in the body. It contains "the infamous chemical warfare agent mustard gas," hemagglutinins and toxic cyanide-containing glycocides; it causes mad cow disease, blindness, nervous disorders, clumping of blood cells and depression of the immune system. This is what detractors say about canola oil.
How is the consumer to sort out the conflicting claims about canola oil? Is canola oil a dream come true or a deadly poison? And why has canola captured so large a share of the oils used in processed foods?
Let’s start with some history. The time period is the mid-1980s and the food industry has a problem. In collusion with the American Heart Association, numerous government agencies and departments of nutrition at major universities, the industry had been promoting polyunsaturated oils as a heart-healthy alternative to "artery-clogging" saturated fats.
Unfortunately, it had become increasingly clear that polyunsaturated oils, particularly corn oil and soybean oil, cause numerous health problems, including and especially cancer.1
The industry was in a bind. It could not continue using large amounts of liquid polyunsaturated oils and make health claims about them in the face of mounting evidence of their dangers. Nor could manufacturers return to using traditional healthy saturates -- butter, lard, tallow, palm oil and coconut oil -- without causing an uproar. Besides, these fats cost too much for the cut-throat profit margins in the industry.
The solution was to embrace the use of monounsaturated oils, such as olive oil. Studies had shown that olive oil has a "better" effect than polyunsaturated oils on cholesterol levels and other blood parameters. Besides, Ancel Keys and other promoters of the diet-heart idea had popularized the notion that the Mediterranean diet -- rich in olive oil and conjuring up images of a carefree existence on sun-drenched islands -- protected against heart disease and ensured a long and healthy life.
The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) sponsored the First Colloquium on Monounsaturates in Philadelphia. The meeting was chaired by Scott Grundy, a prolific writer and apologist for the notion that cholesterol and animal fats cause heart disease. Representatives from the edible oil industry, including Unilever, were in attendance.
The Second Colloquium on Monounsaturates took place in Bethesda, Maryland, early in 1987. Dr. Grundy was joined by Claude Lenfant, head of the NHLBI, and speakers included Fred Mattson, who had spent many years at Proctor and Gamble, and the Dutch scientist Martign Katan, who would later publish research on the problems with trans fatty acids. It was at this time that articles extolling the virtues of olive oil began to appear in the popular press.
Promotion of olive oil, which had a long history of use, seemed more scientifically sound to the health-conscious consumer than the promotion of corn and soy oil, which could only be extracted with modern stainless steel presses. The problem for the industry was that there was not enough olive oil in the world to meet its needs. And, like butter and other traditional fats, olive oil was too expensive to use in most processed foods. The industry needed a less expensive monounsaturated oil.
Rapeseed oil was a monounsaturated oil that had been used extensively in many parts of the world, notably in China, Japan and India. It contains almost 60 percent monounsaturated fatty acids (compared to about 70 percent in olive oil). Unfortunately, about two-thirds of the mono-unsaturated fatty acids in rapeseed oil are erucic acid, a 22-carbon monounsaturated fatty acid that had been associated with Keshan’s disease, characterized by fibrotic lesions of the heart.
In the late 1970s, using a technique of genetic manipulation involving seed splitting,2 Canadian plant breeders came up with a variety of rapeseed that produced a monounsaturated oil low in 22-carbon erucic acid and high in 18-carbon oleic acid.
The new oil referred to as LEAR oil, for Low Erucic Acid Rapeseed, was slow to catch on in the US. In 1986, Cargill announced the sale of LEAR oil seed to US farmers and provided LEAR oil processing at its Riverside, North Dakota plant but prices dropped and farmers took a hit.3
Before LEAR oil could be promoted as a healthy alternative to polyunsaturated oils, it needed a new name. Neither "rape" nor "lear" could be expected to invoke a healthy image for the new "Cinderella" crop. In 1978, the industry settled on "canola," for "Canadian oil," since most of the new rapeseed at that time was grown in Canada.
"Canola" also sounded like "can do" and "payola," both positive phrases in marketing lingo. However, the new name did not come into widespread use until the early 1990s.
An initial challenge for the Canola Council of Canada was the fact that rapeseed was never given GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) status by the US Food and Drug Administration. A change in regulation would be necessary before canola could be marketed in the US.4 Just how this was done has not been revealed, but GRAS status was granted in 1985, for which, it is rumored; the Canadian government spent $50 million to obtain.
Since canola was aimed at the growing numbers of health-conscious consumers, rather than the junk food market, it required more subtle marketing techniques than television advertising. The industry had managed to manipulate the science to make a perfect match with canola oil -- very low in saturated fat and rich in monounsaturates.
In addition, canola oil contains about 10 percent omega-3 fatty acids, the most recent discovery of establishment nutritionists. Most Americans are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, which had been shown to be beneficial to the heart and immune system. The challenge was to market this dream-come-true fatty acid profile in a way that would appeal to educated consumers.
Canola oil began to appear in the recipes of cutting edge health books, such as those by Andrew Weil and Barry Sears. The technique was to extol the virtues of the Mediterranean diet and olive oil in the text, and then call for "olive oil or canola oil" in the recipes. One informant in the publishing industry told us that since the mid 1990s, major publishers would not accept cookbooks unless they included canola in the recipes.
In 1997, Harper Collins engaged Dr. Artemis Simopoulos to write a cookbook featuring the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids.5 Dr. Simopoulos was a pediatrician who had served for nine years as chair of the Nutritional Coordinating Committee of the National Institutes of Health before becoming president of the Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health.
She had published several papers on omega-3 fatty acids, calling attention to their disappearance from the food supply due to the industrialization of agriculture. Her most famous paper, published in 1992 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, compared omega-3 levels in supermarket eggs from hens raised on corn with eggs from hens allowed to roam and eat a more varied diet.6 The more natural eggs contained twenty times more omega-3 than supermarket eggs.
Simopoulos’s The Omega Plan came out in 1998 and was reissued as The Omega Diet in 1999. The book discusses the virtues of monounsaturated and omega-3 fatty acids in the Mediterranean diet.7 Since unprocessed canola oil contains not only lots of monoun-
saturated fatty acids, but also a significant amount of omega-3, it shows up in most of the book’s recipes. Simopoulos claims that the Mediterranean diet is low in saturated fat and recommends lean meat and lowfat yogurt and milk as part of her regime.
The canola industry’s approach -- scientific conferences, promotion to upscale consumers through books like The Omega Dietand articles in the health section of newspapers and magazines -- was successful. By the late 1990s, canola use had soared, and not just in the US.
Today China, Japan, Europe, Mexico, Bangladesh and Pakistan all buy significant amounts. Canola does well in arid environments such as Australia and the Canadian plains, where it has become a major cash crop. It is the oil of choice in gourmet and health food markets like Fresh Fields (Whole Foods) markets, and shows up in many supermarket items as well.
It is a commonly used oil in sterol-containing margarines and spreads recommended for cholesterol lowering. Use of hydrogenated canola oil for frying is increasing, especially in restaurants.
Reports on the dangers of rapeseed oil are rampant on the internet, mostly stemming from an article, "Blindness, Mad Cow Disease and Canola Oil," by John Thomas, which appeared in Perceptions magazine, March/April 1996. Some of the claims are ludicrous. Although rape is a member of the brassica or mustard family, it is not the source of mustard gas used in chemical warfare.
Glycosides or glycosinolates (compounds that produce sugars on hydrolysis) are found in most members of the brassica family, including broccoli, kale, cabbage and mustard greens. They contain sulfur (not arsenic), which is what gives mustard and cruciferous vegetables their pungent flavor.
These compounds are goitrogenic and must be neutralized by cooking or fermentation. As rapeseed meal was high in glycosides, it could not be used in large amounts for animal feeding. However, plant breeders have been able to breed out the glycosides as well as the erucic acid from canola oil.8 The result is a low-glycoside meal that can be used as an animal feed. In fact, canola meal for animal feed is an important Canadian export.
Hemagglutinins, substances that promote blood clotting and depress growth, are found in the protein portion of the seed, although traces may show up in the oil. And canola oil was not the cause of the mad cow epidemic in Britain9, although feeding of canola oil may make cattle more susceptible to certain diseases.
Like all fats and oils, rapeseed oil has industrial uses. It can be used as an insecticide, a lubricant, a fuel and in soap, synthetic rubber and ink. Like flax oil and walnut oil, it can be used to make varnish. Traditional fats like coconut oil, olive oil and tallow also have industrial uses, but that does not make them dangerous for human consumption.
We have had reports of allergies to canola, and internet articles describe a variety of symptoms -- tremors, shaking, palsy, lack of coordination, slurred speech, memory problems, blurred vision, problems with urination, numbness and tingling in the extremities, and heart arrhythmias -- that cleared up on discontinuance of canola. None of this has been reported in the medical journals, however.
Writing for the Washington Post, Professor Robert L Wolke (www.professorscience.com) chastises the publishers of these reports as spreading "hysterical urban legends about bizarre diseases."10 The industry actually profits from such wild claims, because they are wrong and easily dismissed.
Nevertheless, consumers do have reason to be cautious about the establishment’s favorite oil, now showing up in an increasing number of products.
Recently I bought a cooking oil that is new to our supermarkets, Canola Oil. I tried it because the label assured me it was lowest in 'bad' fats. However, when I had used half the bottle, I concluded that the label told me surprisingly little else and I started to wonder: where does canola oil come from?
Olive oil comes from olives, peanut oil from peanuts, sunflower oil from sunflowers; but what is a canola?
was nothing on the label to enlighten me which I thought odd. So, I did
some investigating on the Internet. There are plenty of official Canola sites
lauding this new
'wonder' oil with all its low-fat health benefits. It takes a
little longer to find sites that tell the less palatable details.
Here are just a few facts everyone should know before buying anything containing canola. Canola is not the name of a natural plant but a made-up word, from the words 'Canada' and 'oil'. Canola is a genetically engineered plant developed in Canada from the Rapeseed Plant, which is part of the mustard family of plants.
According to Agri Alternatives, The OnLine Innovation, and Technology Magazine for Farmers, 'By nature, these rapeseed oils, which have long been used to produce oils for industrial purposes, are... toxic to humans and other animals'. (This, by the way, is one of the websites
singing the praises of the new canola industry.)
Rapeseed oil is poisonous to living things and is an excellent insect repellent. I have been using it (in very diluted form,
per instructions) to kill the aphids on my roses for the last two years. It
works very well; it suffocates them. Ask for it at your nursery. Rape
is an oil that is used as a lubricant, fuel, soap and synthetic rubber base and
as a illuminate for color pages in magazines.
It is an industrial oil. It is not a food. Rape oil, it seems, causes emphysema, respiratory distress, anaemia, constipation, irritability, and blindness in animals and humans. Rape oil was widely used in animal feeds in England and Europe between 1986 and 1991, when it was thrown
out. Remember the 'Mad Cow disease' scare, when millions of cattle in the UK were slaughtered in case of infecting humans? Cattle were being fed on a mixture containing material from dead sheep, and sheep suffer from a disease called 'scrapie'.
It was thought this was how 'Mad Cow' began and started to infiltrate
the human chain. What is interesting is that when rape oil was removed
from animal feed, 'scrapie' disappeared. We also have not seen any
further reports of 'Mad Cow' since rape oil was removed from the feed.
Perhaps not scientifically proven, but interesting all the same. US and
Canadian farmers grow genetically engineered rapeseed and manufacturers
use its oil (canola) in thousands of processed foods, with the blessings
of Canadian and US government watchdog agencies. The canola supporting
websites say that canola is safe to use. They admit it was developed
from the rapeseed, but insist that through genetic engineering it is no
longer rapeseed, but 'canola' instead.
Except canola means 'Canadian oil'; and the plant is still a rape
plant, albeit genetically modified. The new name provides perfect cover
for commercial interests wanting to make millions. Look at the
ingredients list on labels. Apparently peanut oil is being replaced with
rape oil. You will find it in an alarming number of processed foods.
There is more, but to conclude: rape oil was the source of the chemical
warfare agent mustard gas, which was banned after blistering the lungs
and skins of hundred of thousands of soldiers and civilians during
W.W.I. Recent French reports indicate that it was again in use during
the Gulf War.
Check products for ingredients. If the label says, 'may contain the
following' and lists canola oil, you know it contains canola oil because
it is the cheapest oil and the Canadian government subsidizes it to
industries involved in food processing.
I do not know what you will be cooking with tonight, but I will be
using olive oil and old-fashioned butter, from a genetically unmodified
Here is more information..........
Canola oil from the rape seed, referred to as the Canadian oil because
Canada is mainly responsible for it being marketed in the USA . The
Canadian government and industry paid our Federal Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) $50 million dollars to have canola oil placed on
the (GRAS) List 'Generally Recognized As Safe'. Thus a new industry
was created. Laws were enacted affecting international trade, commerce,
and traditional diets. Studies with lab animals were disastrous. Rats
developed fatty degeneration of heart, kidney, adrenals, and thyroid
gland. When canola oil was withdrawn from their diets, the deposits
dissolved but scar tissue remained on all vital organs. No studies on
humans were made before money was spent to promote Canola oil in the USA
Adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD) is a rare fatal degenerative disease caused
by a build up of long-chain fatty acids (c22 to c28) which destroys the
myelin (protective sheath) of the nerves. Canola oil is a very long
chain fatty acid oil (c22). Those who will defend canola oil say that
the Chinese and Indians have used it for centuries with no effect,
however it was in an unrefined form.(*) (* taken from FATS THAT HEAL
AND FATS THAT KILL by Udo Erasmus.)
My cholesterol level was 150. After a year using Canola oil I tested
switched back to pure olive oil and it has taken 5 years to get it down
to 160. Thus began this project to find answers since most Doctors will
say that Canola oil is O.K.
My sister spilled Canola oil on a piece of fabric, after 5
pre-treatings and harsh washes, the oil spot still showed. She stopped
using Canola oil, wondering what it did to our insides if it could not
be removed from cloth easily. Our Father bred birds, always checking
labels to insure there was no rape seed in their food. He said, 'The
birds will eat it, but they do not live very long.' A friend, who
worked for only 9 months as a quality control taster at an apple-chip
factory where Canola oil was used exclusively for frying, developed
numerous health problems. These included loose teeth & gum disease; numb
hands and feet; swollen arms and legs upon rising in the morning;
extreme joint pain especially n hands, cloudy vision, constipation with
stools like black marbles, hearing loss; skin tears from being bumped;
lack of energy; hair loss and heart pains. It has been five years since
she has worked there and still has some joint pain, gum disease, and
A fellow worker, about 30 years old, who ate very little product, had a
routine check up and found that his blood vessels were like those of an
80 year old man. Two employees fed the waste product to baby calves and
their hair fell out. After removing the fried apple chips from the diet
their hair grew back in. My daughter and her girls were telling jokes.
Stephanie hit her mom's arm with the back of a butter knife in a
gesture, 'Oh mom', not hard enough to hurt. My daughters arm split open
like it was rotten. She called me to ask what could have caused it. I
said, 'I'll bet anything that you are using Canola oil'. Sure enough,
there was a big gallon jug in the pantry.
Rape seed oil is a penetrating oil, to be used in light industry, not
for human consumption. It contains a toxic substance, (from
encyclopaedia). Even after the processing to reduce the erucic acid
content, it is still a penetrating oil. We have found that it turns
rancid very fast. Also it leaves a residual rancid odour on clothing.
Rape seed oil used for stir-frying in China found to emit cancer
causing chemicals. (Rapeseed oil smoke causes lung cancer) Amal Kumar
The Wall Street Journal June 7, 1995 pB6 (W) pB6 (E) col 1(11 col in).
Compiled by Darleen Bradley.
Canola oil is a health hazard to use as a cooking oil or salad oil. It
is not the healthy oil we thought it was. It is not fit for human
consumption, do not eat canola oil, it can hurt you. Polyunsaturated or
not, this is a bad oil.
Be Sure to also read this informative report written by leading health
expert Tom Valentine, Canola Oil Report.