It’s no secret that canola oil has gotten a lot of praise within the health community. Tons of bloggers, nutritionists and even the FDA talk up its health benefits and nutritional value. But is it really healthier than other cooking oils? And how healthy are its breeding and manufacturing processes?
What’s a canola plant?
Canola oil comes from the canola plant, a member of a large family of plants known as crucifers. The canola plant was first breed in the 1960s on prairies by Canadian scientists who initially took the rapeseed plant and used traditional breeding methods to remove the anti-nutritional components, erucic acid and glucosinolates, from the rapeseed (These toxic chemicals are what led the FDA to ban the human consumption of rapeseed oil in 1956.)
In 1970 the canola plant was trademarked. While it still looks the same as rapeseed, it is a completely different plant with a different nutritional makeup. It is internationally regulated that in order to use the trademarked “canola” name, the product must contain no more than 30 micromoles of glucosinolates and less than 2 percent of erucic acid.
Canola plants grow to a height of one to two meters. The yellow flower produces seedpods that are about 5 centimeters in length and there is an average of 60 to 100 pods per plant. Inside each pod there are 20- 30 tiny round seeds about 1 mm in diameter and each seed contains 42-43 percent canola oil.
When it is ready to harvest, the plant changes color from green to light yellow. That’s when the seeds are ready to be crushed to extrude the canola oil.
When the canola seeds are crushed they are broken down into their two component parts – oil and meal – and are both further manufactured into a wide variety of products.
The Manufacturing Process
The fairly complex canola oil manufacturing process involves the use of some toxic chemicals. The full process has canola oil going through rounds of refinement, which includes deodorizing and bleaching. Refining is used to improve the color, flavor and shelf life of canola oil.
Furthermore, the introduction of herbicide tolerance has reduced the usage of natural resources in canola oil production. In Canada there are three main groups of herbicide-resistant canola: Roundup Ready and Liberty Link varieties that were produced using genetic modification, and Clearfield varieties that were developed using a traditional plant breeding technique called mutagenesis.
In these processes, a transgenic protein gene is inserted into the canola plant. However, all protein is removed from canola oil during processing, so herbicide-resistant canola oil contains no genetically modified material and is identical to canola oil from a non-genetically modified canola plant.
Canola oil vs. Olive oil
Canola oil and olive oil are both commonly referred to as healthier alternatives to other oils. This begs the question: how are canola oil and olive oil different?
One of the largest differences between the two is how they are manufactured. While canola oil is developed at high heat, olive oil is actually cold pressed. Olives are picked right from the olive tree and are crushed and pressed at cold temperatures to help maintain their nutritional integrity.
As you know, there are several classifications of olive oil (extra virgin olive oil, virgin olive oil, etc.)– This has to do with the number of times the olive is pressed. The first press is what produces what we know as extra virgin olive oil. This means most nutrients are preserved in this press. Virgin olive oil is what comes out of the second press. Any further pressing is used for lighter olive oils.
Interestingly, the light or “pure” olive oils are actually those that undergo the most pressing and refining, meaning they contain fewer nutrients.
In terms of the nutritional value of canola oil vs. olive oil, canola is typically lower in saturated fats but high in omega 3 fatty acids, which are shown to have a positive effect on the heart. On the other hand olive oil (particularly extra virgin olive oil) contains more nutrients. It is antioxidant-rich and has high levels of omega 3 fatty acids. Olive oil is considered beneficial for brain functioning along with heart health.
So which one is better for you?
They both have their pros and cons. While they clearly undergo very different manufacturing processes, in terms of their nutritional value there’s no clear answer as to which is healthier.
But when it comes to low processed to high processed food, we can recommend that if a food takes a lot of refining, deoderizing and bleaching we're better off with the low processed choice. Especially when heat sensitive fats are involved, the less chance of oxidation the better.
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