Is it canola or rapeseed? Talking about canola oil

 Canola Oil Controversy Canola_Flower1271132_rapeseed

The photo on the left is the rapeseed plant.  The photo to the right is the canola flower (photo courtesy of Wikipedia). This brings me to my mini-dissertation about canola oil.  This type of oil has a good and bad reputation.  Long ago my brother told me to avoid the oil; something about the smoke point and toxicity.  I did some research.

A couple of months ago I spoke with Lisa Campbell, from the website  Her title is  Oil Nutrition Research Manager.   I asked her whether canola was botanically related to the rapeseed plant and why canola oil packaging does not say ‘rapeseed’ on the ingredients label.

Lisa did send me an explanation of  the allergenic properties of canola, below.  Their website:

Q: Do you know if there are any kind of allergies in relation with canola oil?

A: Pure oil is non-allergenic. In order to trigger an allergic reaction, a protein must be present. In the case of oils, occasionally a small amount of protein from the grain, nut or seed from which the oil is derived remains in the oil. If a person is highly allergic, this may be sufficient to trigger an allergic reaction. It would be quite unusual for a person to be so allergic to canola that the oil would cause a severe reaction. In fact, it may be more common for a person to be intolerant (i.e. Experience a non-immune-mediated reaction) to a preservative in the oil (such as benzoates, BHA, or BHT), which are sometimes added to the oil (check labels). Such a person would react to the preservative regardless of the oil itself.

Lisa assured me that canola oil is highly refined and has nearly undetectable levels of proteins that are not rapeseed.  Even though I was told canola oil is hypoallergenic I have a friend whose son was highly allergic to canola oil so I know it can be an allergen to some people.   A problem for those with this allergy is canola oil is in so many processed foods.

There is an actual canola plant.  I was unaware of this when I began writing about canola so I did more research.

The canola plant is botanically related to the rapeseed plant but also to broccoli, kale, cauliflower and mustard.  It is a genetically engineered form of the rapeseed plant, aka GMO.  Like all oils it is processed.  Processed means something was done to the plant to create the oil like squeezing, steaming and capturing the oils or other industrial processing methods like purifying for taste and color.

Erucic acid is a component of canola oil and rapeseed oil.  It is reported that the content in canola oil is very low but more plentifully in the rapeseed plant.  This acid is an irritant to eyes, nose, and the respiratory system.   Rapeseed oil was originally used for industrial purposes since it is toxic to pets and humans.   The Mayo Clinic website states ‘Misinformation about canola oil may stem from the fact that the canola plant was developed through crossbreeding with the rapeseed plant. Rapeseed oil contains very high levels of erucic acid, a compound that in large amounts can be toxic to humans. Canola oil, however, contains very low levels of erucic acid’.  My question, still unanswered, is whether even small amounts of erucic acid can have long term effects on health.  Some people believe it does.  I am unsure due to lack of scientific study.

Trying to find out the absolute truth of the safety of canola oil is difficult.  Some of the history is marred by marketing and government intervention.  The Weston Price Foundation has a great web page dedicated to the history of adding canola oil to our grocery shelves…read on –

It is easy to hear one or two negative reports and make a decision.  I know that’s how many decisions are made but I highly recommend digging deeper and asking questions to find out answers to help make an informed decision about your health or your child’s health.   Canola oil certainly has had a bad reputation in many circles however it is a widely used oil.  Much of the medical community are in favor of using this oil for other health benefits like no saturated fat and can be used with high temperature.  We suggest you use oil that does not contain any allergens or substances you are avoiding, whether it is canola or another oil.  For this food sensitive shopper I am sticking to olive oil!



Julie is the CEO of Allergy Free Table, LLC. She started the company in 2009 after publishing her first of three pocket guides for food allergy management. She and her husband have twins; one with life threatening multiple food allergies and both with asthma. Julie avoids all gluten and soy due to intolerance. In May 2015 Julie will have completed her Master's degree in Nutrition Education from Framingham State University. Her company's mission is to empower through education. Allergy Free Table, LLC offers educational materials and courses to help manage food related disease and custom programs in nutrition education and food allergen/gluten intolerance management.

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