by Mike Geary, Certified Personal Trainer, Certified Nutrition Specialist
Author of best selling program: The Truth about Six-Pack Abs
If you've been following my fitness newsletters for some time, you may have noticed that I NEVER include canola oil in any of my recipes or any of my lists of healthy foods.
Many people have asked me why, because all they hear in the mainstream media is that canola oil is "heart healthy" and a good source of monounsaturated fats similar to olive oil.
Well, first of all, you need to realize that much of what you hear in the mainstream media has been influenced by heavy handed marketing tactics by big food companies. Canola oil is cheap for them to produce so they want to fool you into thinking it's a "health oil" so that people, restaurants, etc will buy it up as their main oil of choice.
The dirty truth about canola oil
Yes, it's true that canola oil is high in monounsaturates, but let me explain why canola oil is anything but "healthy".
Canola oil is made from something called rapeseed. Rapeseed actually had to be bred over the years to reduce the percentage of a problematic component of rapeseed, which is erucic acid.
Important note on canola oil "urban legends": There is a problem with most websites that DEFEND canola oil, saying that internet "urban legends" on the dangers of canola oil are unfounded. The problem is that these websites that defend canola oil ONLY talk about the issue of erucic acid. The issue of erucic acid IS an urban legend, because erucic acid has been bred out to very low levels over the years, so it is a non-issue.
However, these websites that defend canola oil are barking up the wrong tree because they don't address the issue of the processing of canola oil and oxidation of the polyunsaturated component of canola oil, which is what makes it unhealthy for human consumption. THAT'S the real issue that they either don't understand (because they are not nutrition experts) or are simply ignoring.
Let's look at the REAL issues with canola oil:
Canola oil typically ranges between 55-65% monounsaturated fat and between 28-35% polyunsaturated fat, with just a small amount of saturated fat.
While we've been led to believe that high monounsaturated fat oils are good for us (which they are in the case of virgin olive oil or from unprocessed nuts or seeds), the fact is that canola oil has more detriments than it does benefits.
As you may have heard me talk about in other newsletters or in my The Truth about Six-Pack Abs Programone of the biggest problems with highly processed and refined vegetable oils such as corn oil, soybean oil, and yes, even canola oil, is that the polyunsaturated component of the oil is highly unstable under heat, light, and pressure, and this heavily oxidizes the polyunsaturates which increases free radicals in your body.
The end result of all of this refining and processing are oils that are highly inflammatory in your body when you ingest them, potentially contributing to heart disease, weight gain, and other degenerative diseases.
The reason that extra virgin olive oil is good for you is that it is cold pressed without the use of heat and solvents to aid extraction. EVOO also contains important antioxidants that help protect the stability of the oil.
Canola oil, on the other hand, is typically extracted and refined using high heat, pressure, and petroleum solvents such as hexane. Most canola oil undergoes a process of caustic refining, degumming, bleaching, and deoderization, all using high heat and questionable chemicals.
Does canola even have trans fats?
Even worse, all of this high heat, high pressure processing with solvents actually forces some of the omega-3 content of canola oil to be transformed into trans fats.
According to Dr. Mary Enig, PhD, and Nutritional Biochemist, "Although the Canadian government lists the trans fat content of canola 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 liquid canola oil".
And this is the crap that they are marketing to you as a "healthy oil"!
As you can see from the details above on how canola oil is processed, it is barely any healthier for you than other junk oils like soybean oil or corn oil. The bottom line is that it is an inflammatory oil in your body and should be avoided as much as possible.
The only canola oil that might be reasonable is if you see that it is "cold pressed" and organic. Most canola oil is NOT cold pressed or organic, so you might as well choose oils that you know are healthier.
Your best bets are these truly healthy oils:
- extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) - for lower temperature cooking or used as a healthy salad dressing oil
- Udo's Choice Oil Blend - NEVER use this for cooking as it has a higher polyunsaturated fat content (therefore heat destroys the benefits of this oil, and increases it's inflammatory properties), but it is a cold processed blend of healthy oils that mixes well with olive oil for salad dressings.
- Virgin coconut oil - great for all temperatures of cooking due to its super high stability under heat. A great source of healthy saturated fats in the form of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), one of which is Lauric Acid, which helps support the immune system and is lacking in most western diets.
- Organic grass-fed butter - I like to use a mix of grass-fed butter, coconut oil, and a small bit of olive oil for most of my cooking. Grass-fed butter is a great source of the healthy fat, CLA, which has even been shown in studies to have muscle building and fat burning properties. Grass-fed butter also has a much healthier omega-6 to omega-3 ratio than standard butter at your grocery store. Kerrygold Irish butter is my favorite grass-fed butter.
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