Since 2001, warnings have circulated via Email and Facebook warning people not to use Canola oil because it is highly dangerous to humans. According to such messages, you shouldn’t use Canola oil because it is made from a genetically engineered plant developed in Canada “which is part of the mustard family of plants.”
Since 2001, warnings have circulated via Email and Facebook warning people not to use Canola oil because it is highly dangerous to humans. According to such messages, you shouldn’t use Canola oil because it is made from a genetically engineered plant developed in Canada “which is part of the mustard family of plants.” />
Like other such warnings concerning foods derived from the mustard family, the message probably plays on the perceived correlation between mustard gas and the mustard plant. Mustard gas actually has nothing to do with the mustard plant or any plant in the mustard family. The gas derived its name because the impure form used in warfare had a yellow-brown color and an odor sometimes resembling mustard plants, but other times garlic, or horseradish. This was due to the sulfur.
The Mustard Family
The mustard family, however, is actually the family Brassicaceae from which all cabbages and cruciferous vegetables come. Brussels sprouts, cresses (watercress, wintercress, etc,) radishes, turnips, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, rapini, and many others. It could also be called the cabbage family.
The family is, in fact, the single largest contributor of plant foods to the human diet, consisting of 330 genera with around 3,780 species around the world. Therefore, warning people about the dangers of Canola oil because it is derived from a plant in the mustard family is senseless.
As explained here, Canola oil is extracted from the seeds of brassica napus. This plant from the “mustard family” is also known as rape, oilseed rape, rapa, rappi, rapaseed. Therefore, the oil derived from its seeds is also called rapeseed oil.
The same warnings of the toxic dangers of canola oil correctly state that canola is not the name of the actual plant and that rapeseed oil was renamed canola oil by combining Canada with oil. This seems to be inferring that the name was changed to hide the true source of the oil. However, the true reason the name was changed was because a cooking oil with the word “rape” in it probably would not sell well. After this name change, most Canadians actually adopted the word canola not only for the oil but for the plant and its seeds.
Recent scarelore about the dangers of GMO foods have only heightened fears about canola oil. Interestingly, however, the canola oil warnings claimed that the plant was genetically engineered even though the production of the oil predates such GMO production by around 20 years. While some canola oils sold today come from genetically engineered plants, most of the oil being sold at the time the warnings began did not.
Although many different types of netlore about the dangers of canola oil exist, some of the specific claims that have circulated are the following:
Canola Oil Contains Trans Fats
Canola oil contains trans fats Canola oil has not been hydrogenated and so does not contain any artificially induced trans fats. If any, only trace amounts of trans fats will exist, will have not have occured on purpose, and will pose no danger to human health (due to the miniscule amount).
Canola oil is a pesticide
Specifically, canola oil is claimed to be a biopesticide. Biopesticides are pesticides whose action is based on biological effects rather than chemical effect. It is true that canola oil can be used as a biopesticide. Rapeseed oil has been used as a biopesticide although there are much cheper and effective oils for this use such as petroleum and tar oils.
Rapeseed oil has been used as oil emulsions as summer sprays on apple trees. As a biopesticide, it poses no chemical threat whatsoever to humans or animals. Canola oil, can be sprayed on trees and will smother the eggs and pupae of overwintering insects, and, when diluted can be used directly to control such pests as mealybugs, scales, mites, and thrips and many other pests. Only insects or eggs that come into direct contact with the oil are affected.
Canola oil is but one example of a household product that can be used as a natural pesticide. For instance, plain water is a pesticide. Small insects that eat the leaves of plants in your garden, such as aphids and mites, can be knocked off the plant when you spray them with water. Sure, they will climb back up. But many of them will have had their mouthparts damaged from being forcefully torn away for the leaf they were feeding on. So, regular spraying can help control such insects. Saying water is dangerous because it is a natural biopesticide would be silly.
Soap is another example of a biopesticide. It can control aphids, small caterpillars, mites, and other insects with soft bodies. Similar to oils, soap only kills insects on contact. It will not affect insects crawling on the leaves after the soap has dried. Soaps are made from oils.
Although the warnings seek to link canola oils pesticide use with its claims of toxins, its effectiveness as a pesticide has nothing to do with toxins. Biopesticides are, instead, natural plant products that belong to a group of chemicals called secondary metabolites such as alkaloids, terpenoids, phenolics, and others. They have biological activity against insect pests while having no known function in plant physiology.
Canola Oil is Used as an Industrial Oil
Rapeseed oil, in highly refined states, is used as an industrial oil. There are many other examples of oils that are used for cooking or for human consumption also used in industry:
- soybean oil
- cottonseed oil (small amounts)
- sunflower seed oil (small amounts)
- safflower oil
- linseed oil
The last deserves some special attention. I already mentioned linseed oil. It has a number of important industrial uses. It is used to make oil-based paints. It is also used to make linoleum. Linseed oil comes from the seeds of the flax plant. In other words, it is flax oil, the same flax seed oil that contains beneficial Omega 3 acids and it sold as widely as a nutritional supplement.
However, there is a kernel of truth to the dangers posed to humans by ‘industrial’ rapeseed oil. Rapeseed oils made from plants which contain a large amount of erucic acid and used to produce oil containing up to 50% erucic acid pose health risks to humans and are not suitable for use in livestock feed. Many parts of the word still produce high-erucic-acid varieties for human use rather than only industrial use. Erucic acid was, incidentally, the magic ingredient in “Lorenzo’s Oil” which was a supposed cure for the genetic disease adrenoleukodystrophy.
Canola oil is a specific trade name referring to rapeseed oil made from low-erucic acid plants and most oil made in Canada and Western Europe is this type of oil. High erucic acid oils do, on the other hand, make very good lubricants and so are valuable in industry. So, while any old rapeseed oil is not suitable for human consumption, but only for industrial use, canola oil is not any old rapeseed oil, and it safe for humans. It contains a high proportion of monounsaturated fatty acids which are beneficial to human health.
Insects Won’t Eat Canola Plants
This type of claim is common in such internet myths. Often, insects, bacteria, mold, etc. “will not eat” the offending food. This claim that insects will not eat rapeseed or ‘canola’ because it is toxic is simply untrue. Rapeseed has pest problems just like any other plant crop.
Where Did this Rumor Come From?
The toxic canola oil scare has been helped greatly by the ridiculously nonfactual website Natural Health, among many others. However, it may be that it started with an article by John Thomas called ‘Blindness, Mad Cow Disease, and Canola Oil,’ published by Perceptions magazine in 1996. Thomas claimed that “Canola oil comes from the rape seed, which is part of the mustard family of plants. Rape is the most toxic of all food-oil plants. Like soy, rape is a weed. Insects will not eat it; it is deadly poisonous! The oil from the rape seed is a hundred times more toxic than soy oil…Canola is a semi-drying oil that is used as a lubricant, fuel, soap and synthetic rubber base, and as an illuminant for the slick color pages you see in magazines. It is an industrial oil and does not belong in the body!”
He then went on to say that it formed latex-like substances in the blood (just like soy, but worse), causes blindness, emphysema, respiratory distress, anemia, constipation, and irritability.
You’ll find most warnings tend to contain some of all of the elements use in his article, which can be read here.