Canola Oil Harmful or Healthful
Canola oil is now appearing to pose health risk after many decades of use. The present paper investigates the occurrence of possible ill health effects of canola oil and determines what the facts are on the subject, based on current thinking and sound scientific principles via a systematic review of the literature. Canola oil like any other edible oils has been used to manufacture a wide range of products from soaps, cosmetics and lubricants to name a few. The main health concerns with canola oil being its origin most probably through genetically engineering and refined through the process of hydrogenation has increased the levels of trans fatty acids. The consequences of these risk factors are most probably coronary heart diseases and other medical complications.The problem
The question of whether canola oil is safe or harmful for human consumption is now beginning to be debated by some. The origin of the canola oil is now being questioned and its usefulness as cooking oil are now attracting much debate among scientists and health activitists, alike.
This involves a systematic review of the literature on canola via defined search engines such as google.com and reputable data bases such as EBSCO HOST during the time period March 15 to April 4, 2009 using key words and phrases. Information obtained was screened for relevance, content, authoritative and currency. Of the two hundred articles collected only five was found suitable and referenced in the paper based on the stipulated criteria.
Canola oil is oil derived from the seeds of canola plants. These plants were first developed in Canada in the 1970''s. The word "canola" means Canadian oil. These plants were later grown in the United States and other parts of the world. Advances in technology has brought with it advances in the way plants grow and develop. The use of genetic engineering has now found application with many plant and animal species, including canola oil. The insertion of favoured genes over unfavoured genes into an organism''s genetic material has resulted in the creation of supposedly better species. The conclusions from any long term studies on the health effects of genetic engineering are still lacking and remain inconclusive.
Canola oil provides a valuable source of dietary fat. Fat is needed in the body for a range of physiological and biochemical functions. Being, an integral component of the basic functional unit of the body-the cell, membranes and synthesis of hormones that direct body functions. Comparison of dietary fats on the basis of saturated fats, polysaturated fat, and monosaturated fat content revealed that canola oil is far better oil when compared to safflower oil, flaxseed oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, olive oil, soybean oil, peanut oil, cottonseed oil, lard, palm oil, butterfat and coconut oil.
Canola oil has the lowest amount of saturated fat (7 %) and contains the highest amounts of monosaturated and polysaturated fats (93%) and is the richest source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3-fatty acid, and linolenic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid. These fats are essential fats since the body cannot readily make these fats. Canola oil is also a good source of fat soluble vitamins; A, D, E and K and plant sterols. Research has suggested that canola oil may protect the heart by reducing arrhythmias, inflammation and infection and blood clots that may lead to strokes and ischemia.
The United States Food and Drug Administration, one of the publics'' food safety watchdogs recently (2006) authorized a qualified health claim for canola oil, allowing canola to say on its label its ability to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease due to its unsaturated fat content.
Canola is a multi-functional oil which has a high heat tolerance, light, very little or no taste and of a smooth texture. The claim by some that canola is used as an industrialized oil may have some validity, but this claim must be taken in context. To say that because canola oil is used as industrialized oil it cannot be transformed and used as edible oil is totally invalid. Rapeseed oil was used in the 1970 as a lubricant for machinery. Other oils such as olive oil, flax oil, coconut oil have been used extensively in the manufacture of soaps and cosmetics.
Canola oil and mustard gas (2,2-dichlorodiethyl sulfide) have been misconstrued by some as being the same is erroneous and false. Mustard gas is derived from ethylene and sulphur chloride and not from canola oil.
Canola oil belongs to the rapeseed type oil which is part of the brassica family of plants. Brussel sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, kale, greens, and other vegetables come from the same family. The rapeseed oil is inedible and is not approved for human consumption because of the high amounts of the toxic erucic acid and glucosinolates. Erucic acid is an omega 9 fatty acid and research has shown little or no human health effects. Babies should not be given foods rich in erucic acid because of delicate undeveloped digestive, biochemical, physiological and immune system. Animal studies have reported lung carcinomas and myocardial lesions. Glucosinolates are secondary metabolites of plants belonging to the Brassicales family. These organic compounds contain sulphur and nitrogen and are derived from glucose and an amino acid. These substances are responsible for the bitter taste of many foods and serve as a deterrent against insects and herbivores.
Researchers in 1980 have since then created through selective breeding fully "double-zero" varieties without significant amounts of these two toxic compounds.
The United States Food and Drugs Administration has since then approved canola varieties with low erucuc acid (0.5-1% far below the 2% limit set by the USFDA) content for food production. The Trinidad and Tobago Food and Drugs Inspectorate has subsequently allowed the importation and use of canola oil without any significant complaints from the public or through its routine laboratory analyses.
It is there important not to confuse rapeseed oil with canola oil. Indiscriminate interchangeable use of the rapeseed and canola oil may be the source of confusion and misrepresentation among the public.
With dwindling oil and hydrocarbon reserves worldwide, world researchers and scientists are searching for alternative renewable forms of fuels that are more effective and environmentally cleaner. There is now much research in this area to develop biofuels or biodiesels from rapeseed, soybeans, corn and wheat and its products. Some of these fuels have already been developed and are currently being tested.
Canola oil use as an insecticidal agent is bringing to the forefront some measure of health concern. This application is not unique to canola oil. In fact many plants and plant products contain chemicals that can be used to repel insects and have been used to preserve crops and to increase yields. Canola more so rapeseed oil may be used as an insecticide in moderate amounts.
The major health concern with canola oil lies not in being used in the manufacture of soaps, cosmetics, lubricants, or insecticides but in its ability to be transformed into trans fatty acids during the process of refining or partial hydrogenation and commercialization. Trans fatty acids are non essential, potentially dangerous fats that increases the risk of coronary heart diseases by raising levels of "bad" low density lipoproteins (LDL) cholesterol and lowering the levels of "good" high density lipoprotein (HDL).
The United States National Academy of Science has concluded that there is no safe level of trans fats. There is now a world drive to rid foods of trans fats, particularly restaurant and other fast foods outlets. Labels that claim that there is zero trans fat may in fact contain less than one gram per teaspoon per serving in keeping with the United States regulatory requirements.
Canola oil is multi-functional cooking oil. Canola oil was first developed in Canada as rapeseed oil used as a machinery lubricant and then selectively transformed through breeding and genetic engineering into edible oil called canola oil, rich in monosaturated and polysaturated fats. These fats namely, linoleic acid (omega-6-fatty acid) and alpha-linolenic (acid-omega-3-fatty acid) have been shown to have beneficial effects on the heart and blood vascular system. The greatest concern to the publics'' health is the growing number of foods that are currently imported into Trinidad and Tobago that are genetically modified. The present laws do not require that genetic engineered products to be declared on the label. The long term use of genetically modified foods and consequent health effects on the human population are not known. Canola like most foods consumed by man should be done in moderation. Any food consumed may be potentially dangerous since the incidence of diseases such as cancer, diabetes, strokes arising from food consumption depends on the amount consumed, frequency of use/consumption and genetic predisposition. Hydrogenation or the addition of hydrogen to double bonds in fats as a result of the refining process serves to generate trans fatty acids. The levels of these fats may be quite high in canola oil and are major health risk factors particularly for coronary heart disease, diabetes, strokes and other vascular disorders.
Food and nutrition board, Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. 2005. Dietary References Institute for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty acid, Cholesterol, Proteins and Associated Acids. National Academies Press. pp 424.
Fast food outlets asked to cut down trans fat usage. 2007. ABC. Retrieved 12th, March, 2007.
Kummerow F.A. 2008. Cholesterol won''t kill you, but trans fat could. Trafford.
NYC Board of Health. Board of Health Approves Regulation to Phase Out Artificial Trans Fat:FAQ. Retrieved April 3th, 2009.
Stender S, Dyerberg J. 2004. Influence of trans fatty acids on health. Ann. Nutr. Metab. 48(2):61-6.
Texas A & M University. 2005. Canola oil may soon burn in engines rather then frying. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 4th, 2009. http://www.sciencedaily.com
Dr Pattron is a Public Health Scientist and Scholar.