Canola oil: friend or foe?

This is the weirdest urban legend I have ever heard of, even on the Internet. I was looking up information on Canola oil since I had bought it for a recipe and was wondering what the exact plant it came from was and what the health benefits were (since it’s a vegetable oil that is supposed to be pretty healthy). I did a Google Search for Canola Oil and the top hit was for a Web page on the dangers of it– namely, that it is basically deadly to the human body. WTF?

Apparently, there are many more Web sites and email forwards devoted to this topic. Among the large number of rumors surrounding canola oil is that Canola was genetically engineered in Canada and the FDA in the US was paid off to release Canola oil as “safe.” The theory is that it takes over 10 years for symptoms to develop, but Canola oil is responsible for a host of serious medical problems, including blindness, heart disease, and lung cancer. They say Canola oil is a trans fatty acid (“trans fat”), a “bad” fat that has been linked to diseases like artherosclerosis and heart disease. Some also claim that Canola oil is used to make mustard gas.

Right.

The truth is that Canola was originally bred in Canada, but it is simply the cultivar of the rapeseed plant, which belongs to the same familiy of plants as mustard and cabbage. Because of high levels of the organic compounds that produce a mustard flavor, Canola oil was not considered palatable. Additionally, while it was intially linked to heart disease in laboratory rats, it was later discovered that the animals showed the same symptoms when fed similar amounts of other fats. That is, the rats got sick because they were fed a lot of fat, not because Canola oil itself is some type of poison. In the end, Canola was able to be bred to reduce the mustard flavor and the concentration of erucic acid (a fatty acid that is thought to be connected to heart disease), making Canola oil palatable. Moreover, Canola oil does NOT contain any trans fats and is in fact a “healthy” oil, containing unsaturated fatty acids (the “good” fats) that our bodies need, but cannot produce on their own.

So, Canola oil is our friend and those that perpetuate such a horrible and ridiculous urban legend are most certainly our foes.