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.

Posted in Food Allergies
6 comments on “Is it canola or rapeseed? Talking about canola oil
  1. Sarah Dokis says:

    Ever since canola oil became popular replacement for other oils in food I have started experiencing mild to severe allergic reactions and so have my children and grandchildren. Last night I had mayo made with canola oil on slice of bread and ended up having severe asthma attack with nausea and vomiting, my throat swelled up and I almost ended up in hospital. Reaction happened about 2 hours after eating it in my sleep and from what I read it is normal for reaction to happen right away or up to few hour later.
    I am just wondering if canola is not a reason behind growing asthma problems in children since you can find it in all fast food, snacks and even in some baby foods. All prepared foods you buy in stores contain it and it is impossible to avoid it. I remember rape and present day canola plants growing on our farm and my grandmother would cut them down before they went to seed. She told us that it was very common to use seeds and oil as untraceable poison in old times meaning prior to 1920es. I use to pick pretty gold flowers and put the in a vase for my mother, my grandma always made me wash my hands and arms up to my elbow because of the white sap that was in the stems.

  2. Julie Trone says:

    Hi Sarah;
    You brought up a great point about canola. We have similar concerns because of the history of canola. You may want to get tested for canola allergy since it sounds like you had an allergic reaction. Glad you are now okay.

  3. Alex says:

    I’ve had a consistent sever reaction to canola oil – my chest tightens, my face gets red, I feel pressure in my upper torso and I start vomiting. After I have vomited out the foaming stomach contents I’m fine. It happens consistently when I eat something with canola oil and it happens almost immediately. Very unpleasant – makes it almost impossible to eat out.

  4. Katie says:

    Thanks for your article. I began reacting several years ago when I had to change my diet to accommodate an allergic breast feeding child. It took months to identify canola oil. (I had to cut dairy and soy for my daughter) I am perfectly healthy when we cut with other oils and I can adapt any recipe to (I can make a gluten free, dairy free, soy free, canola free Olaf birthday cake!)
    I was wondering if your research has found: the percentage related to mustard allergy?
    2) And if any ethnicities are more predisposed or if it is an exposure issue (such as north Europeans and Irish with Celiac)?
    Incidentally I have been pretty sick having eaten Japanese mustard. When I researched and found the brassica family…..everything kind of clicked. I also can’t eat brussel sprouts or cauliflower. This is how I came upon your site. Very best!

  5. Julie Trone says:

    Canola oil can be as allergenic as any other food. We are glad you found out and were able to eliminate it from your diet. Mustard allergies are not uncommon however we are not sure of the actual percentage of people who are allergic to mustard just know that it is more than a few and rising so you are not alone. The statistics for various allergies and in various countries have not been calculated except for the most common allergens. Mustard allergies fall under the category of ‘spice’ allergy. You have done marvelous investigative work on your allergy by learning about the botanical relationships of the Brassica family. We hope you are now on the path of feeling well. Be sure to ask many questions when you eat out or at someone’s home for a meal. These are the places that pose the most likelihood of exposure to those foods and oils that you and your daughter cannot eat. Many thanks for your comment. Visit our Facebook page to begin a conversation about spice allergy or other topics you are researching. Allergy Free Table is our name on Facebook.
    The best of health to you,

  6. Julie Trone says:

    We are glad that you reached out to us about canola oil. There are many people who are allergic or sensitive to canola oil. Since we aren’t physicians we cannot diagnose however based on your description we feel you should avoid canola oil entirely until you can be seen in an allergist’s office. If you are indeed allergic be aware that you may have worsening symptoms after exposure and that can be life threatening. Food allergies can become worse without notice. It is very difficult to avoid canola when eating any prepared foods that you or someone you trust has not prepared them. Be sure to read labels,talk with wait and chef staff when eating out. The canola plant is a genetically modified plant originally created from a plant called ‘rapeseed’ which has a historical reputation of being highly allergenic. To learn more about food allergies go to our website:
    Be well,

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