The Honest Truth About Canola Oil

By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.

Recently, one of my readers wrote in asking me why I’ve been so vocally against canola oil. She believed I was giving this oil a bad rap.

In fact, she’s not the first to question my position on canola. A lot of my readers and patients over the years have pushed back when I’ve advised them to avoid canola oil, mainly because so many other doctors—and medical associations—tout it as a “heart-healthy” oil.

On paper, canola oil looks like it has some health benefits. But in reality you’re better off avoiding it. Here’s why…

What Is Canola Oil?

Canola oil was first created in Canada in the 1960s, from seeds of the canola plant—a genetic variation of the rapeseed plant. Scientists developed canola when they realized that certain components of rapeseed oil were toxic (namely the erucic acid and glucosinolates). The new canola plant was made to be genetically similar to rapeseed but without most of those harmful compounds.

Today, canola is recognized all over the world. It’s the top cooking oil in Canada and Japan, the second most used oil here in the states, and the third most consumed oil worldwide.

There are a few qualities that drive canola’s popularity. One is a light texture and neutral taste. Another is its relatively high smoke point (the temperature at which oil begins to smoke and to release free radicals and potentially carcinogens). From a consumer standpoint, these make it perfect for sautéing, deep-frying, and other high-heat cooking.

Beyond that, though, I’m sorry to say canola’s benefits don’t really live up to their billing.

Is Canola Oil Healthy?

Mainstream medicine and nutritionists would have you believe that yes, canola oil is healthy. On the plus side, it’s relatively high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fat (not unlike olive oil). It’s also low in saturated fat and high in omega-6 essential fatty acids.

Because of this, the Food and Drug Administration approved marketing language for canola oil that suggests you may be able to help reduce the risk of heart disease by using it as a replacement for saturated fats in your diet.

But there’s just one problem with that: Mainstream medicine’s views on fats are just plain wrong.

Canola Concern #1: Saturated Fats Aren’t the Enemy

For decades, saturated fat has been vilified. It’s been blamed for our surging obesity epidemic and for continued high rates of heart disease. But that blame is misplaced. The truth is, we need saturated fat in our diet.

Saturated fat has a lot of health benefits. It’s an important building block for cell structure. It also helps the body digest and absorb proteins, omega-3 fatty acids, and fat-soluble vitamins like A and D. Furthermore, it plays a role in raising levels of beneficial HDL cholesterol, which improves your heart health, not harms it.

In fact, the “saturated fat causes heart disease” myth has been disproven in several well-designed studies and analyses. Cutting back on saturated fat doesn’t help you—it hurts you!

More Proof Saturated Fats Not The Enemy

Canola Concern #2: Too Many Omega-6 Fats

As far as omega-6 fatty acids go, I agree that canola oil is a great source. But again, it’s not the boon that food marketers and doctors claim.

Our bodies don’t have the ability to make essential fatty acids on their own, so we have to get them through our diet. There are two main types of essential fatty acids that we need: omega-3s and omega-6s. Omega-3s are the fats in fish and marine oils. I love them because of their health-promoting, anti-inflammatory properties. Omega-6s, on the other hand, can have the opposite effect and actually cause inflammation.

Even though we need omega-6s, they’re only good for us when the amount of them we consume is balanced with a healthy dose of omega-3s. And guess what? The standard American diet absolutely doesn’t deliver the right balance.

Ideally, you want the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 to be as close to 2 to 1 as possible. In reality though, most people are in a range that’s closer to 20 to 1…or even as high as 30 to 1!

This throws off the critical balance of essential fatty acids, and instead of calming inflammation, stokes it—upping your risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and other chronic, progressive illnesses.

So, bottom line, the fact that canola oil is low in saturated fat and high in omega-6s is not reason enough to include it in your diet.

Canola Concern #3: GMOs

To make matters worse, more than 90 percent of all canola grown in the United States is genetically modified.

Virtually all canola plants are genetically engineered to be resistant to the herbicide Roundup—allowing the plants to be endlessly sprayed, yet not die. This means the crops are continually exposed to glyphosate (the primary ingredient in Roundup), which has been linked with disruption of sex hormones, fertility problems, miscarriages, thyroid and neurological concerns, cancer, and ironically, heart disease.

Another unfortunate aspect of GMO canola is that after the oil is extracted the remaining “meal” is often added to animal feed. So not only are you potentially getting a hefty dose of toxins in canola oil, you’re also potentially getting it in your meat, cheese, and eggs.

This is why I always encourage you, to the extent you can, to buy organic, pasture-raised/grass-fed meats that come from animals that aren’t fed this type of industrial junk.

Canola Concern #4: Too Much Processing

There’s one final reason I’m not a fan of canola oil, and it has to do with how the oil is produced.

Canola and other vegetable oils are made when seeds are crushed, then heated and mixed with chemical solvents, such as hexane, to extract the oil. Hexane is derived from petroleum and crude oil. It’s used as a cleaning agent in the textile and furniture industries and as an additive in gas, glue, and varnishes. The EPA classifies hexane as an air pollutant, and the CDC says it’s a neurotoxin.

Vegetable oil manufacturers, on the other hand, want us to believe hexane is completely safe. They claim that all of it is removed post-production, but I don’t buy it. The FDA doesn’t monitor hexane in food and companies aren’t required to test for it, so it’s impossible to know for sure if any trace residues may remain.

I’d rather not take the risk…would you?

One final note… Remember when I mentioned that canola oil has a pretty high monounsaturated fat content?

Well, during production, all vegetable oils (including canola) go through a procedure called deodorization, to create the bland taste that most consumers like. As part of this, canola oil is heated to extremely high temperatures—and high temperatures are exactly what turns beneficial fatty acids into dangerous trans-fatty acids. So obviously, I don’t trust this aspect of canola oil production, either!

When it comes to oils, cold- and expeller-pressed options are the safer and healthier alternative. These oils don’t use any chemical solvents, and because they undergo less processing, they tend to be higher in nutrients and antioxidants. This is one of the many, many reasons I am such a huge fan of cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil.

Better Options Than Canola Oil

So if not canola, then what? After all, you’ve still got to cook, right?

First, let me say that I’m not a fan of high-heat frying with oil of any kind because the heat can cause the oil to oxidize, which makes it inflammatory. If I’m going to use some oil on the stovetop to cook meat or veggies, I prefer a quick saute.

For that type of cooking, I like coconut oil—or if you can’t handle the taste of coconut oil (it does have one, so beware), avocado oil is another good option.

Coconut Oil Bad Rap Unjustified

One oil that I love but try to stay away from in a skillet is olive oil. You can use it in a pinch, but whenever you apply heat to olive oil, it starts losing its great antioxidant benefits. I prefer to keep olive oil for “finishing” meals—drizzling it over roasted or sauteed veggies and salads, adding it to sauces for extra flavor, and even basting it on cooked meats.

Used that way, extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is great in any amount (I recommend eating as much  as you can handle). I consider it the “secret sauce” of the Mediterranean diet, and study after study has proven just how much olive oil can improve our health. It’s been shown to:

  • Improve blood pressure
  • Reduce oxidation of LDL cholesterol while increasing protective HDL
  • Inhibit abnormal blood clotting
  • Lower risk of certain cancers
  • Decrease risk of age-related cognitive decline

Whatever minimal nutritional benefits canola oil does have, they’re fully negated by the fact that canola is not only genetically modified, but so highly processed. That’s why I’ve been telling patients for years to avoid it and opt instead for healthier oils, including EVOO. When it comes to truly amazing taste and nutrition, olive oil simply can’t be beat.

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23 Comments

  1. Beverly S.

    on December 8, 2017 at 2:41 pm

    Thanks for explaining the truth about Canola Oil being dangerous to our health adding all vegetable oils including corn & soybean oil relationship with GMO corn & soybeans!
    As long as I live, I will never understand how the farming practices have turned to GMO seeds & products!
    Yes, I try & buy organic, grass-fed/grass finished meats, dairy, and pastured chickens & eggs! I have to protect my diseased kidneys, fatty liver, & immune system from effects of lupus. It is amazing how wonderful eating clean from growth hormones, antibiotics, & Genetically Modified foods has improved my blood tests! Eating wild Alaskan Salmon, grass-fed Bison, grass-fed grd beef, & pastured chicken & eggs has helped me also! Avoidance of sugar & simple carbs has helped to reduce my triglycerides & cholesterol. Your Omega-3, CoQ10, L’carnitine, B-vitamins has helped my blood pressure, energy level, & help to reduce my joint pain! Thanks for promoting the Extra Virgin Olive Oil & Mediterranean diet!

  2. letitia Fitzgerald

    on December 10, 2017 at 2:09 pm

    Coconut oil is very good for everything!!!!!!

  3. HeartMD Editor

    on December 26, 2017 at 11:04 am

    Hi Beverly,
    Thank you for sharing your success story with us. We are thrilled to hear you have benefited from from following a Mediterranean style diet and using targeted nutritional supplements.
    Wishing you the best of health!

  4. Gregory Rudisill

    on May 9, 2018 at 3:45 pm

    Thank you for the way that you talk about “rapeseed oil” or as the canadian ag community wanted to distance themselves from the “offensive ” name and bad reputation of its true identity. Having looked some “medical sites” that flat promote this stuff, and wholly disregard anything slightly negating it, especially since there are alternatives. I again thank you for you assessment. While the term “First do no harm” isn’t actually in the oath, I think that the general thought that it is, and that most people feel that is how doctors should perform in their profession. Thank you, again.

  5. Gina

    on May 16, 2018 at 6:47 pm

    Is walnut oil not an option?

  6. mary wilson

    on July 4, 2018 at 2:41 pm

    I AM SO IMPRESSED WITH BOTH YOU AND YOUR SON’S DEVOTION TO BE WHOM YOU SAY YOU ARE. IT SADDENS ME SO TO SEE THE GREED OF MONEY BE THE DRIVING FORCE OF TOO MANY MD DOCTORS TODAY. WE HAVE ALL GROWN UP BEING TAUGHT WE CAN TRUST OUR DOCTOR, AND FEEL SAFE AND KNOWING, (WE THOUGHT!) WE HAD SOMEONE WITH OUR BEST INTEREST AT HEART. JUST AS WE ALL THOUGHT THE FDA PROGRAM WAS THERE FOR US, (THE PEOPLE) THERE ARE STILL PEOPLE TODAY, THAT REFUSE TO GIVE UP THAT IDEA!!! IT IS SO GOOD TO SEE THOSE OF YOU THAT HAVE GOOD KNOWLEDGE AND THE RESOURCES TO SHARE THAT ARE SAFE !!! TO BE ABLE TO DO THE WORK YOU ARE DOING, YOU WILL BE REWARDED. YOU MAY NOT END UP BEING AS MONEY RICH AS THESE DOODS, THAT HAVE CHOOSEN TO GO THE ROUTE THEY HAVE CHOOSEN. BUT WITH ALL THE ANGUISH, AND HELL TOO MANY POOR PEOPLE HAVE AND ARE HAVING TO DEAL WITH EACH DAY BECAUSE THEY CAN’T SEE THE REAL FACTS,

  7. morwenna hague

    on November 4, 2018 at 7:03 am

    In light of the Brexit negotiations, my concerns are heightened after reading this.. We in the UK need to embrace Europe’s food culture and production rather than the USA’s. Very unsettling times.

  8. Barb Norton

    on December 22, 2018 at 7:01 pm

    I can’t eat anything cooked in canola oil because of extremely bad fishy flavor and smell that comes from it. I only use mayones that contains soy or olive oil because all the others taste fishy. As for it being healthy I don’t think any vegetable oil is healthy. A German Chef who I worked with at a catering firm ask what I used he said we will do a little test he put three teaspoons out one he dipped in butter the other he dipped in lard and the third in canola oil. Then ran the hot water tap the two spoons with natural products on them ( butter & lard ) came perfectly clean with nothing more than hot water the oil however needed a large dolup of soap to clean it off. He then said to me what do you think that oil would do to your insides. I have now got lard in my deep fryer at home and use butter for most if my frying. Everyone in the family has lost weight and feeling a lot healthier since I went back to what my mother and grandmother used to cook with. No margarine in my house.

  9. Elaine

    on February 4, 2019 at 5:23 pm

    As a Canadian, I apologize for the toxic canola oil. I’ve avoided liquid oils for years, after a biochemist told me they are not as healthy as touted. Even the beloved olive oil is rancid! All of them have air in the bottles even if they could be processed by avoiding exposure to air. Plus as soon as you open the bottle all precautions go out the window. One oil chart rated olive oil with 14 omega 6 to every 1 omega 3. I know 4 people with heart disease and all 4 have used olive oil for years. I personally find it offensive when olive oil is poured on top of food, 35% cream is my choice for salad dressing. I use butter and coconut oil. I have seen some lard where the labels state it has been hydrogenated! Maybe because it was on the shelf and not refrigerated! Plus, there have been incidents that when food is transported in semitrailers during the summer months, many of the drivers will shut off their refrigeration units to save money! We cannot even trust the labels of many products. It has been proven that many lie. Oh what a tangled web we weave, when we practice to deceive. Then there are chem trails in the skies, food companies placing nano particles into our food, this can all be very depressing! Thank God I have assurance of being in Heaven after I die, through faith in our Savior & Lord Jesus Christ. And leave this toxic world behind. You can too. God Bless.

  10. Akshay

    on February 13, 2019 at 8:00 am

    In point number 2 you missed out mentioning a very important detail. It doesn’t have too much omega 6, rather a very good balance of omega 6 and omega 3 – which is something that matters more than their absolute quantities in this case.
    In a way, 2nd point is not valid.
    And in point 4 you casually mention that oil would be oxidised to produce trans fats. If there were trans fats in the finished product, it would be there on the label and it is impossible to get away with trans fats in your product but not mentioning it.

  11. Jackie Robin

    on February 19, 2019 at 5:51 pm

    Hmmm. Truth? Opinion would be more accurate. Red flags go up when there’s a ‘shop now’ button on a website. Looks like opportunistic fear mongering to me.

  12. Trudi Trahan-upchan

    on March 22, 2019 at 7:19 pm

    I began to cripple at age 6, it took me another 60 years to discover that the worse of my attacks, paralyzing & memory loss were a direct result of Canola aka Rapeseed oil hidden in my diet, packaged foods, Canadian which does not require all ingredients to be listed. No one believes me as to just how dangerous Canola is for children. I thanks you for your article and I posted it to my Facebook timeline & page; Canola is toxic. If more doctors took the time to investigate they would discover that Health Canada is 100% behind pushing this Monsanto toxic oil (now owned by Bayer). God bless you. Doctors like you are rare.

  13. Trudi Trahan-upchan

    on March 22, 2019 at 7:21 pm

    No one believes me as to just how dangerous Canola is for children. I thanks you for your article and I posted it to my Facebook timeline & page; Canola is toxic. If more doctors took the time to investigate they would discover that Health Canada is 100% behind pushing this Monsanto toxic oil (now owned by Bayer). God bless you. Doctors like you are rare.

  14. David Brown

    on May 23, 2019 at 12:36 am

    Even more dangerous than Canola oil is 20 carbon chain omega-6 fatty acid arachidonic acid. There is too much of it in the food supply. Excerpt from a 2011 Review by Norwegian animal science researchers Olav Christophersen and Anna Haug: In this article, we discuss some specific examples of the interactions between diet and drugs in the pathogenesis and therapy of various common diseases. We also discuss, using common pain conditions and cancer as specific examples, how a better integration between agricultural science, nutrition and pharmacology could lead to improved treatment for important diseases (with improved overall therapeutic effect at the same time as negative side effects and therapy costs can be strongly reduced). It is shown how an unnaturally high omega-6/omega-3 fatty acid concentration ratio in meat, offal and eggs (because the omega-6/omega-3 ratio of the animal diet is unnaturally high) directly leads to exacerbation of pain conditions, cardiovascular disease and probably most cancers. It should be technologically easy and fairly inexpensive to produce poultry and pork meat with much more long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and less arachidonic acid than now, at the same time as they could also have a similar selenium concentration as is common in marine fish. The health economic benefits of such products for society as a whole must be expected vastly to outweigh the direct costs for the farming sector. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3031257/

  15. John Effer

    on June 22, 2019 at 3:00 am

    I can understand why so many people today are dropping dead with cancers and other metabolic diseases. I wouldn’t feed canola oil to my dogs it is a deadly poison primarily used in engineering as a lubricating oil. What a lot of people do not realise is that it does not come from a canola plant but a plant called rapeseed. The reason it is called that is because soon after the farmer harvest’s this crappy plant he can’t put anything into the ground for five years because it rapes the soil of all of its natural goodness. Governments are also a major cause why we are fed a lot of crap in modern society. They get paid by the [people who are involved in the production of these poisonous foods. All food today contains ingredients that are not meant for human consumption. To stay in good health do the research and refuse to buy their crap.

  16. zdravko k sazdanoff

    on June 22, 2019 at 11:28 pm

    The pro canola fan boys say they use “food grade Hexane”, no such thing. It may be packaged in a USP or food grade facility but the chemical is still a toxin. Would you be ok with eating products manufactured with food grade gasoline?

  17. Goyum Oil Expeller

    on July 18, 2019 at 3:09 am

    Great article… Just wanted to show my support because the world really needs information that’s well displayed and stays on point like this. It also helps that you guys keep it impartial and really seems like you view it with an objective lens. Please keep the quality of your posts high

  18. Lawrence DelRe

    on August 25, 2019 at 9:56 am

    I am one of those who are sensitive to canola oil. I don’t say “allergic” because allergic causes are proteins, as I understand it.
    It took me about ten years to figure out why the area of my small intestine would lock up, sometimes for days. Gurgling, but nothing getting through. Additionally, I would have an intense cramp in my mid-back at the same time. It was like a knife going straight through my middle.
    I had been buying canola oil all this time, because it was similar to olive oil and the promotors said it was healthy.
    One day, after I ate some bagels smothered with honey butter made from canola oil, I had one of the bad reactions that lasted at least three days. Since the effects were always delayed, I had no way of knowing. Then, a week later, I ate some more bagels smothered with the canola oil butter. When it hit me that evening, I finally put two and two together, and realized what’s what. I stopped the canola oil then, and I don’t have any more episodes unless I make a mistake.
    Most fast food and restaurants use canola oil now. I know, because I ask. I can “get away” with a little bit, but if I ignore precautions, I’ll get hit again.
    Occasionally I’ll realize I’ve eaten something with canola oil because I’ll get instant mild heartburn with the first bite., although gastritis is not usually part of the primary complaint that pops up later.
    I am the canary in the coal mine. There is an epidemic of gastric problems in the United Corporations of America. Who do you think changed the laws so that you read this on ingredient labels meant to protect the consumer:?: “(Palm, and or, soy, or corn, or canola, or cottonseed oil,) Why bother? To hide it, to make it look like a real vegetable oil.

  19. Chris R.

    on September 3, 2019 at 10:45 pm

    Smartfood is one of many snacks and other foods using the extremely cheap-to-produce, heart-disease-causing canola oil, which is estimated to now be in 80% of the American diet. Read here for more information on canola oil and why Smartfood and so many one-time healthy or touted-as-healthy snacks should now be avoided at all costs: https://www.bulletproof.com/diet/healthy-eating/what-is-canola-oil/ Thank you, and good health (and food choices) to you all.

  20. Kerry

    on September 9, 2019 at 10:58 am

    Common sense will tell you …firstly it’s modified …then the extreme heart process that kits given multiple times .There can be no nutritional value left .We are led to believe by producers that it’s non harmful .There is huge amounts of money involved and as always us the case deception will follow. We can’t rely on Doctors as they are lead by Drug Companies etc to believe what they are told.Doctors are not taught nutrition.Doctors are taught to medicate which treats symptoms not cures as Drug Companies don’t produce drugs to cure .There is more money to be made with sick people treating symptoms.
    Unless we demand the truth and stand up we will be fed chemical drugs and tocpxic food that already is harmibg our health dramatically .
    We need to stop being fed BS and think for ourselves. We are dying slow painful deaths due to plain ugly greed .Kerry Australia

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