The United States imports its canola from Canada. In fact, the name canola is a combination of the words Canada and oil. Recently, Canola has come under scrutiny by concerned consumers being fed false information. Much of the canola alarm stems from rumors; however, this does not mean that there are no dangers to be cautioned against. It is, never the less, important to decipher the rumors from the truth.
Most of the false alarm comes from the origin of the plant. Canola is extracted from the rapeseed plant, a member of the mustard family that contains high levels of toxic erucic acid. Although toxic, all but small percentages of erucic acid are removed in the refining process making the oil fit for human consumption. It is widely thought that because this plant is a member of the mustard family it was used to make the chemical warfare mustard gas. In truth, mustard gas is made from dichlorodiethyl sulfide, ethylene, and sulfur chloride, which bare no connection to the plant in question. Other reliable members of the mustard family include Cabbage, kale, and mustard greens, all of which are edible. Another common misconception is that an oil used for industrial purposes cannot be used in food; yet, there are many other edible oils that are used industrially, among these are: coconut oil, which is used to make cosmetics and soaps; walnut oil, which is used in varnish; and flax oil, which is used in the production of paint. There are also a great deal of claims that rapeseed is responsible for the mad cow outbreak in Europe and that it is to blame for a number of bizarre ailments in humans, but none of these claims have been either medically or scientifically documented.
Still, there have not been any long- term human tests to indicate that eating canola oil is beneficial to the health of the consumer, yet this oil is marketed as a healthy alternative that is low in saturated fats and rich in oleic and omega-3 fatty acids. These polyunsaturated fats are said to lower cholesterol and contribute to brain growth; however, on the flip side, extensive animal studies on rats and mice reveal that canola oil is not good for the cardiovascular system and has been proven to cause lesions on the heart, stunt growth, contribute to vitamin E deficiency and shorten the life span of test animals when used alone, without any saturated fats. These Symptoms are lessened when omega-3 fatty acids and saturated fats are balanced.
Rapeseed has been used in China and India for thousands of years, but the refining process has changed dramatically since ancient times when peddlers extracted juice from the seed over heated stone presses. Today, the process requires modern machinery used at high temperatures for pressing, and chemicals for bleaching, degumming and deodorizing. Traces of these chemicals remain in the oil after refinement and the deodorizing and hydrogenation process convert significant amounts of omega-3 fatty acids into trans fatty acids giving the oil a longer shelf life, while putting the consumer at risk for chronic diseases. It is evident that more research is necessary to conclusively determine the health status of canola, but it appears that in the mean time consumers should remain, at least mildly, cautious of this wonder oil.
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© Melt Magazine 2002