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Is Canola Oil Healthy?

Is canola oil healthy? Some warn that canola oil is unnatural or even toxic. Should canola be banned from the cupboard? 

By
Monica Reinagel, M.S.,L.D./N
Episode #050

Is Canola Oil Genetically Modified?

Just how did these growers manage to produce rapeseed oil that was low in erucic acid? Well, I guess you could say that canola oil was genetically modified. But I’m not talking about inserting genes from a fruit fly into a rapeseed plant--we’ll get to that minute. The agricultural engineers that produced canola oil went about it the good, old-fashioned way that we‘ve been genetically modifying plants for hundreds of years. They selectively bred the plants to enhance certain desirable characteristics and suppress others.

Now, I’ve heard people say that they won’t eat canola oil because it didn’t exist 50 years ago. That’s true. Neither did Fuji apples or seedless watermelons. They were both produced using the same methods that produced canola oil.   If you feel comfortable eating these foods, then canola oil shouldn’t present any special issues.

Genetically Engineered Canola Oil

However, long after canola oil was developed with selective breeding, a much different kind of genetic modification arrived on the scene. Bioengineering allows scientists to take individual genes from plants, viruses, bacteria, or other organisms, and splice them into another organism’s genetic code--and this is what most people are worried about when they talk about genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, entering the food supply.

Perhaps the most notorious example of genetically engineered foods are strains of corn, soy, and--yes--canola that have been modified to withstand certain herbicides and other agricultural chemicals. The agribusiness giant Monsanto, for example, has produced seeds that have been genetically modified to allow them to survive applications of Monsanto’s weed-killer, Round-up.

These Round-Up Ready seeds allow farmers to gas the heck out of their fields without killing the crops. The Round-Up kills everything else, of course, but not the crops. Farmers are now freed from their reliance on age-old practices such as crop-rotation, intercropping, and good-old-fashioned weeding, and yields have exploded.

It’s working out great for Monsanto, too. First, it allows them to do something rather extraordinary--it allows them to get a patent on a seed. Second, farmers who buy Round-up Ready seeds also have to buy Roundup because the seeds have only been engineered to withstand Monsanto’s chemicals. Another brand might kill them.

The GMO Controversy

Like it or not, genetically engineered foods have become extremely common, which is a source of great controversy and concern. Some people worry that tampering with nature will produce unforeseen consequences. They may be right.

No one knows exactly what form those consequences might take. But it certainly wouldn’t be the first time that we humans interfered with natural processes and screwed them up big time. In the meantime, there are some very real consequences already unfolding, such as the gangster-like tactics Monsanto and other agri-giants are using to force farmers to buy their seeds every year or be sued for patent infringement.

I’m not kidding. I know it sounds like the plot of a John Grisham novel. If you’re interested in learning more about Monsanto’s tactics, there’s a new documentary called Food, Inc. that you can check out in theaters. I’ll also include links in the show notes to more information--and in the interest of fairness, I’ll include both sides of the story. You can draw your own conclusion. Unfortunately, unlike a Grisham novel, I’m not at all confident that the Matt Damon character is going to prevail in this particular plot.

So, I can certainly understand if you want to avoid plants that have been produced using genetic engineering. You can still find canola (and soy and corn) products that specify that they are GMO free--and buying these products is one small way to help ensure that genetically engineered crops aren’t the only plants we have left fifty years from now.

However, if you’re worried about using canola oil on the basis of urban legends about mustard gas, relax. Canola oil--especially non-GMO canola oil--is a great, healthy choice.

Identifying GMO-free foods can be a little tricky because the terminology hasn’t been well codified or regulated. I’ll include some links to more information on how GMO legislation and labeling requirements are evolving. You’ll find those links below.

Lastly, if you want a tip on how to store your oil properly to prevent spoiling, I've got one right here.

Administrative

For a Quick Tip addressing a reader question about grapeseed oil, click here.

If you have a comment on today’s show or a suggestion for a future show topic, post it on my Nutrition Diva Facebook Page or my Twitter account. You can also send an email to nutrition@quickanddirtytips.com.

Have a great day and eat something good for me!

RESOURCES: 

Snopes.com on canola oil legends

Erucic acid in food::A Toxicological Review and Risk Assessment

What Does GMO Mean?

Organic Consumer’s Association (anti-Monsanto)

Monsanto’s Side of the Story

Food, Inc. (the movie)

Oil image courtesy of Shutterstock

Pages

About the Author

Monica Reinagel, M.S.,L.D./N
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