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The Rumor About Canola Oil Being Banned in Europe Has A Grain Of Truth

Here's why nutritionists say you should avoid the stuff

Canola oil has owned prime real estate on grocery store shelves and our kitchen cabinets for decades — well before before anyone was using avocado, olive or coconut oil. But now this humble oil has become a viral sensation. Indeed, the hashtag #canolaoil appears in more than 33,000 posts on Instagram and has more than 47 million views on TikTok. Everyone is asking: Why is canola oil banned in Europe?

Influencers and everyday folk alike have gone as far as comparing canola oil to motor oil and claim it’s been banned in Europe because of its harmful effects on our health. So does canola deserve its bad rap? Should you toss your canola oil in the trash to spare your health? We asked registered dietitians: What’s so bad about canola oil? Read on to find out!

What is canola oil?

The third most produced type of vegetable oil in the world, behind palm and soybean oils, canola oil is derived from rapeseed, a yellow flowering plant that’s part of the cabbage and mustard (brassicaceae) family.

First produced in Canada in 1974 and developed as a multi-purpose oil for people to bake, stir fry and deep fry, canola made from rapeseed was very high in erucic acid, which is toxic in large amounts. So in the 1970’s, clever Canadian chemists started crossbreeding variations of rapeseed. They called their new version canola to play on the term “Canadian oil.” Its seeds are heated, then crushed and processed similarly to how corn, sunflower and soybeans are processed. The result? The golden liquid we recognize today as canola oil.

Is canola oil the same as vegetable oil?

The term vegetable oil is a broad name for many different types of cooking oils, and canola is just one on that list. However, in the U.S., shoppers readily find vegetable oil and canola oil, which can lead to some confusion, since they both have high smoke points and similarly neutral flavors, says registered dietitian Kiran Campbell, RDN. (Click through to learn about how grapeseed oil can lower cholesterol.)

Is canola oil the same as motor oil?

It’s hard to imagine that a pretty wildflower that grows around the world can spark so much controversy. But there are many ways to process rapeseed, and one of those converts rapeseed into a component of many types of motor oil. As a result, conspiracy theories that motor oil is being packaged as canola oil abound. It’s true, rapeseed oil has been used for centuries to keep ships and later steam engines running smoothly. But overwhelming scientific data proves that canola oil packaged and sold for human consumption is most definitely not motor oil. “The canola oil we cook with has a much lower erucic acid level than motor oil,” says Campbell.

Why do people think canola oil is banned in Europe?

This bit of scuttlebutt first surfaced in 2018, when murmurs — that grew into roars — on the Internet claimed canola oil was banned in Europe due to it having dangerously high amounts of some fatty acids. According to the rumor, the European Union banned canola oil because it was “toxic” and “carcinogenic.” But there is no evidence that the canola plant is toxic or carcinogenic.

What are the risks of cooking with canola oil?

The processing method used to manufacture canola oil is called high-heat hydrogenation. “This process creates trans fatty acids, unhealthy fats that can increase the risk of heart disease,” says registered dietician Jillian Kubala, MS, RD. This same process is also used to produce palm, soybean and corn oil to make them more suitable to use when frying and provide their neutral flavor.

And the calorie content of canola oil can become a slippery slope. “Even though it’s an unsaturated fat, canola oil is still considered fat, so all calories listed will be from fat,” explains Campbell. Dine on too many foods cooked in — or with — canola oil and you’re at risk of your favorite jeans fitting a bit more snugly.

Is canola oil bad for your health?

According to a study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, most canola oil goes through a process of hydrogenation, leading to levels of trans fatty acids in the oil. Trans fatty acids increase your risk of developing heart disease, the leading cause of death in the US. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned artificial trans fatty acids back in 2015 when they were ruled generally unsafe to eat. In 2018, the FDA concluded that consumption of any kind of trans fats contributes to elevated “bad” LDL cholesterol levels.

What’s more, canola oil is often genetically modified and highly processed, note nutrition experts Mira Calton, CN, and Jayson Calton, PhD, leading authorities on nutrition and micronutrient deficiencies. And animal studies have linked canola oil to harmful health effects such as increased inflammation, high blood pressure and memory problems. 

Another study in Open Heart finds that canola oil has a poor ratio of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids. That imbalance can lead to inflammation and oxidative stress in the body. The ratio of omega 6s to omega 3s in canola oil is 8:1. “The ideal ratio should be closer to 4:1 or even 2:1 to modulate inflammation and oxidative stress,” says Kubala. (Click through for more on how to balance Omega 3-6-9 for weight loss and better health.)

“Western diets are notorious for having an overabundance of omega-6 fatty acids and moderation, and a proper balance between omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids is key to curbing your risk of cardiovascular disease, arthritis and metabolic disorders, which are all associated with chronic inflammation,” says Trista Best MPH, RD, LD, a registered dietitian at Whitfield County Health Department, environmental health specialist and adjunct nutrition professor.

Notes Campbell, “The bottom line here is that we need to consume a smaller ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids to prevent inflammation.”

So which oil is healthiest?

“Experiment with extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) in salad dressings, marinades and for low- to medium-heat applications,” says Kubala.

The Caltons, bestselling authors of Rebuild Your Bones: The 12-Week Osteoporosis Protocol, agree that olive oil is a superior choice. “Studies show that replacing refined oils, including canola, with EVOO, improves brain function, lowers the risk of dementia and brings other health perks, including reduced stress, better moods and improved heart health.” EVOO has also been shown to reduce inflammation, improve arthritis symptoms and lower the risk of liver damage and cardiovascular disease.

And it’s so easy to make your own deliciously good-for-you vinaigrette. The easy recipe: Slowly whisk 14 cup of EVOO into 112 Tbs. of vinegar or lemon juice, then add any flavors you enjoy, like grated garlic, mustard or fresh herbs.

“Avocado oil is another good source of monounsaturated fats and is a high-heat oil that can be used for frying and sauteing,” says Kubala. It’s buttery, grassy taste is great for salad dressings, homemade mayonnaise or sauteeing veggies.

For more on what cooking oil is healthiest, click through to A Nutritionist’s Advice: ‘What’s the Healthiest Oil To Cook With?’

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

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