Is Canola Oil Healthy?

Is Canola Oil Healthy

A few days ago, one of my kids commented on  a jar of mayo I had out on the counter, asking “I thought we don’t eat store bought mayo because of the vegetable oils… don’t we just make it?”

I typically do make mayonnaise, but was trying a new soy and canola free mayo made with avocado oil (verdict at our house = approved!) Until now, I’d never found a good store bought option, so I always had to make it. The kids wanted to know what the difference was and why we didn’t eat canola oil.

This led to an interesting conversation about the origins and processing of canola oil and how it is different from other oils like olive oil, avocado oil or coconut oil. In fact, canola oil has a history almost as strange as the history of breakfast cereal.

The Problem with Canola

Though it is marketed as a healthy oil, canola oil is anything but due to its origins and processing. Just as coconut oil comes from a coconut, you’d expect canola oil to come from a canola nut or seed, right? But it doesn’t because there is no such thing.

Origins of Canola Oil

“Canola” stands for Canada Oil or Canada Oil, Low Acid, which is a modified industrial seed oil.

The plant that we now use to make canola oil was first bred in Canada in the 1970s, and was derived from the rapeseed plant. Rapeseed oil had been used for centuries, but mainly as an industrial oil and not for human consumption since it contained various compounds like erucic acid, that are toxic to humans.

An Australian study found that erucic acid can be toxic to the heart, in high enough levels. In the 1970s, Canadian scientists wanted to create a low erucic acid version of rapeseed oil that could be consumed by humans, and Low Erucic Acid Rapeseed (LEAR) or canola oil as we know it, was born. It is high in monounsaturated fats, has a moderate level of Omega-3 and very little saturated fat, making it an inexpensive option that big food companies could market as healthy.

Compared to rapeseed oil, canola oil has a very low level of erucic acid — legally, it can only contain 2 percent erucic acid in the United States, so it is touted as a “heart healthy” oil.

Is Canola Oil GMO?

If you eat organic and stay away from genetically modified food, canola oil likely isn’t for you. Canola crops are often heavily treated with pesticides, and the vast majority of canola crops have been genetically modified.

According to the Canola Council, up to 80 percent of the canola grown in Canada has been genetically modified to make it resistant to pesticides. Estimates are that 85% of canola oil crops in the US are genetically modified at this point.

Canola Oil Processing

Another issue with canola oil is that it is highly processed. Canola seeds go through an extensive process to become oil. Seeds are cooked and formed into cakes, pressed to extract some of their oil, treated with the solvent hexane to extract more oil, and finally degummed and refined. Here’s a video that explains the process in depth:

From a previous post:

This chart from this informative article on the history and production of canola oil shows the process in more detail:

canola oil chart

Nothing like petroleum produced, overheated, oxidized, and chemically deodorized salad dressing for dinner… yum.

Canola oil is still proportionately high in polyunsaturated fats, which go rancid easily. Additionally, most canola oil is considered partially hydrogenated, and recent studies have shown that canola oil and other vegetable oils do contain processed and toxic trans fats (source).

Healthy Fats?

Canola oil is still considered healthy by some because of its low saturated fat (7%) and high monounstrauted fat (63%) content, but it still contains a high level of polyunsaturated fat in a higher concentration than we need. While it does contain Omega-3, it isn’t in a form that is easily usable to the body. From Authority Nutrition:

It is true that canola oil contains a balanced ratio of Omega-6 and Omega-3 fats.

However, keep in mind that although we need some amount of polyunsaturated fats, we absolutely do not need a lot.

Eating a lot of canola oil would raise your intake of polyunsaturated fats to unnatural levels, much higher than we were exposed to throughout evolution.

These fatty acids do get incorporated into cell membranes and are prone to oxidation, which can cause free radical chain reactions and damage important molecules like proteins and DNA (8, 9).

Also, the Omega-3s in canola oil are ALA (Alpha Linolenic Acid).

ALA is the plant form of Omega-3s, which is useless until it is converted into the animal forms – EPA and DHA.

Several studies suggest that humans are inefficient at converting ALA to EPA and DHA, so the high Omega-3 content of canola oil may not even be worth bragging about (10, 11).

For those wanting to increase the monounsaturated fats they consume, olive oil contains more of these types of fats, less polyunsaturates and does not undergo a complex chemical process to become a usable oil.

This article delves more deeply into the history and health effects of canola oil.

What to Use Instead of Canola?

Thankfully, there are many good alternatives to canola oil and most of them taste better too! At our house, we use:

  • Olive oil or avocado oil in place of canola or vegetable oils in low temperature cooking or cold uses like salad dressings
  • Coconut oil, butter, lard, ghee or tallow in high heat cooking or baking

The Mayo Dilema

The one food that I had the most difficult time finding a replacement for canola oil in was mayonnaise. I love mayo, and after switching to a real food diet had trouble finding a similar tasting replacement. I ended up making my own, and while I liked the flavor, it was definitely not the same as “regular” mayo.

If you’re like me and crave the taste of “regular” mayonnaise, there hasn’t been a healthy option available. Until recently, that is. Mark Sisson’s just created and released a new avocado oil mayo and it got rave reviews when I served it to my husband and kids last week. It’s currently only available at Thrive Market here.

Have you replaced canola oil with something healthier?

You May Also Enjoy These Posts...

Reader Interactions

It Shouldn’t Be This Hard to Be Healthy…

Become a Wellness Mama VIP member for free and get access to my handbooks & quick start guides to help you detox your home, become a master of home remedies, make beauty products from scratch, and conquer mealtime madness!

Yes! Let me in!

Wellness Mama widget banner

Reader Comments

  1. Hi Katie, So my daughter has a fruit allergy (all fruit except melon) and so many oils (olive, avocado, coconut, etc.) are not an option for her and I have a diary allergy. I will be using tallow and lard here soon that I plan to start rendering myself but for now our happy medium for family cooking is canola. I use Spectrum’s Organic Non-GMO Canola oil. What is your opinion of this particular brand and certifications? Thanks, Corrie

    • I have not used that particular brand, but my feeling is that even organic, non-GMO LEAR is still not the best for you, especially once processed in the way that it is. That said, under the circumstances it is probably the best you could do with such allergies, since you are eliminating 2 of the 4 major concerns that I have about the stuff.

      • Hi Katie, thanks for this post because I have been working towards cutting out canola for bothme and my family. My dad is a big mayo guy and I found a brand that is non-gmo on Amazon called Sir Kensingtons mayo. Before I actually buy it, I was just curious if you or any readers have tried it or if you may know anything more about it? Thanks!

  2. Katie, I am an African American woman. I use Hellman’s mayonnaise one a month as a deep conditioner on my girls hair. It works wonders. Afterwards it’s very soft and well moisturized. Would this recipe work for their hair? I don’t use the mayonnaise from beauty supply stores because it is expensive as I feel I’m buying a name brand not a healthy product. I’m new to all things healthy and your site is very beneficial to me. Thank you for all you do. Could you please reply to my email so I can see your response?

    • Lots of people find mayonnaise beneficial to their hair… the combo of protein from the eggs and the mixture from the oils is a great one-two punch of nutrition. I personally think avocado oil would be even better for hair because it is similar in weight to canola oil (which is why it works so well as a healthy substitute in mayo) but because it is not processed it is going to hang onto all its awesome properties to really nourish your hair!

      • I have a very hard time accepting the term non-GMO when applied to canola oil. The rapeseed plant had to be genetically modified to remove enough erucic acid from the plant to even think about human consumption. To me this translates to ALL canola oil being GMO no matter how it is labeled. How are claims of non-GMO justified when applied to canola oil?

        • I agree, the plan has been altered, but that percentage I referred to as being specifically GMO is because it is modified to be able to withstand large amounts of roundup and other chemicals without dying. The plant itself is a modified version of a rapeseed plant though so your point is well made.

          • I am so glad I am not crazy and by following my knowledge and my gut now know I was right all along! Thanks Katie!! I tell EVERYONE even in the grocery store to stay away from this “fraud” of an oil. It is ALL GMO!

          • Thank you, Ivy! Now I will not feel like the only voice crying in the wilderness. To me ALL canola is GMO and I will NOT purchase anything that contains it.

            Fortunately, a clerk at my favorite health food store told me this week that they will no longer stock products containing canola oil. They will sell what is on the shelves, but not order any more. I plan to introduce them to Primo Kitchen Mayo with avocado oil. I was looking for mayo when I had the discussion with the clerk. All they had contained canola oil; except for the vegan mayo in the refrigerator. I am not vegan and object to mayo that is egg free. Egg is a main ingredient in mayo.

  3. A major problem with Canola is that many semi government organisations such as the various Heart Foundations around the World, including the bumbling stumbling Australian Heart Foundation here, recommend this dreadful substance as being healthier than natural good fats such as butter.

    This is often translated into awarding stars, ticks or whatever labelling system the country uses, to unhealthy foods that appear in supermarkets and downgrading healthy foods like meat, dairy products etc.

    The fact that many of these pseudo health organisations are financed by processed food manufacturers such as Nestle isn’t widely known to the busy shopping public. The average shopper just sees five stars on the bottle of oil and reckon it must be doing them good. Sadly the problem is compounded by out of date nutritionists who have high profiles in the media and who reinforce this bad advice.

    I wonder how many “nutritionists” in their heart of hearts realise they have been giving lousy advice but are unwilling to admit they had been way off track, thus lose face with their clients.

    The wagons have been circled, unfortunately.

    • Spot on Mike, Australia is high on the list of un-enlightened nations when it comes to so called expert advice. Many of our revered nutritional gurus cling to long discredited pseudo science. The dire consequences of replacing normal fats in cells with these industrial chemicals is slowly being brought to light. While this stuff should never be put near ones mouth, it does make an excellent fuel for diesel engines.

      • Your comments are AWESOME! Love to read such awakened intelligent verbiage!

    • INCREDIBLY AWESOME FACTS! Spread it!!

    • Totally agree Mike. I would add that it is “deadly” advice. One of many reasons we don’t watch television.

  4. Mark Sisson’s Primal Mayo is also available from his web site at marksdailyapple.com. You have to buy 3 jars however.

  5. Why are there so many products with soy and canola. They have to know by now a lot of us want no part of theses products

  6. I just made a version with melted expeller pressed coconut oil (no coconut flavor) and it came out tasting a lot like regular old mayo. I was very impressed!! Super yummy.

  7. This is such great info! I wondered about organic non-GMO canola oil too. Do you have a cheat sheet showing which oils and fats are safe and what they should be used for?? That would be so helpful!

  8. I’ve wondered this for a long time – I’m SO glad you took the time to clear up the issue! I had no idea where it came from, or exactly what canola oil is, just that I usually avoid it!

  9. *sigh* I keep going back to Hellman’s b/c every other mayonnaise that claims to be better for you tastes disgusting. I will have to try this one!

    • I was raised on Kraft mayo, but switched to Hellman’s because it does not contain Lactic Acid, Potassium Sorbate and Phosphoric Acid; all of which are in Kraft mayo. But, I am still NOT happy about their use of soybean oil as 90% of the USA market of soy is GMO.

  10. I personally use Vegenaise brand mayo,it is vegan,gluten-free,dairy-free,soy-free and non-gmo. It’s the best mayo I’ve found for people like me who have many food allergies and it comes in many other varieties. It does have High-Oleic Safflower oil in it which from what i’ve read isn’t a bad oil. The taste is pretty darn good if you don’t have time to make your own.

    • We use Vegenaise too (tastes great!), when we cave to using mayonnaise, but I’m not that happy with it because it does use refined oils. Now I’m thinking of making my own mayo using cold-pressed avocado oil.

  11. I’ve seen it before on your site, that olive oil shouldn’t be heated, but never get an explanation why? I personally don’t use it because I just don’t like the taste, but my mother uses it all the time for high heat cooking, where she used to use lard while I was growing up. Can you explain this to me, if only so I could nag at her? Lol

    • The idea is that the olive oil is likely to oxidize, but there is a lot of debate about this. I choose not to cook with it, but you might want to do a little more research on your own.

      • If you run a search on UC Davis research on contents of different brands of olive oil, you might be surprised to know that many brands of oil labeled olive oil actually have been cut with other oils, some unhealty, and are really not exactly olive oil at all, even though they do contain SOME olive oil. This study include major brands, including those imported from Italy. The study does give a list of brands that were actually pure olive oil.

  12. I must admit I am a Grok-er and follow the primal blueprint. I love every Mark Sisson/Primal Fuel product I have tried and the “mayo” does NOT disappoint. I love to add it to avocados and shredded or chunked chicken breast for a good chicken salad. Yum-o!

  13. Thanks for sharing such great information, I use olive oil for salads and coconut oil and sunflower oil for cooking.

  14. Is the avocado oil in this product unrefined avocado oil? Is this an important distinction for avocado oil, like it is with some of the other oils?

    • My question too. Cold-pressed unrefined avocado oil is the pure form, but also has a strong flavor which I doubt would taste too good in mayonnaise. So Katie, what do you know about the avocado oil used in this new mayo? How is it refined and processed?

  15. Thank you! Great information.

  16. Funny lard always gets a bad rap. Any particular lard u recommend or not? Thanks

    • Where I live, the lard I can purchase has several additives which I would rather not use. Is there a source for lard that is just lard? I really do not want to render my own.

  17. Definitely the oil from an avocado is intrinsically healthier than the oil from a rape seed. However, it is my understanding that all refined oils go through similar intense processing that damages the oil, whether it be canola, sunflower or avocado. Unless proven otherwise, should we assume that the avocado oil in the mayonnaise is processed in the same way as canola oil?

  18. I just got an email in my inbox about all oils not being shelf stable. They all start oxidizing the moment they are bottled and last for only 6 months. Many of them state a best used by date NOT the Harvest Date. Reason? They don’t want you to know they are way past 6 months old and rancid! Olive Oil is the worst bc most is shipped overseas by boat. Being of Italian descent I love my olive oil ( and the Italians all saute with it but never cook at high heat) but REAL olive oil tastes like Heaven in a Bottle. Have to go Italy for it though. There is a guy who is the Olive Oil guru here in the states and will ship you the best EVO on the planet by his jet plane but its like $80 a month for 3 tiny bottles.
    A safe EVO with a Harvest date I buy is from Cali called: California Olive Ranch
    Mayo I use: Hain Safflower Mayo but I rarely use it

    • So true! Real olive oil must be bought from a reputable company. I learned this when I took a vacation to Athens, Greece and bought olive oil grown on their island, Crete (whose inhabitants are known for being the healthiest people on the planet, and using olive oil in just about everything). It was divine and tasted different than other olive oils I had ever tasted. After this I had to look it up and find out why. Sure enough, most “olive oils” are not 100% real, and sometimes contain a mixture of olive and canola. I personally buy Bragg olive oil (the same company that makes the best apple cider vinegar ever) and it’s pretty good.

      • Also, I hate the way olive oil it tastes heated, just can’t do it, and found out here why you shouldn’t heat it anyway! Who knew? 😉

  19. How long does the avocado oil mayo stay good food for?

  20. What do you think of palm shortening (from a trusted source like Tropical Traditions) for use in baking and/or deep frying?

      • Did you find it to be a healthy alternative or did you not like it?
        Also, how long does the new mayo that you tried stay good for?

      • Do you find it to be a good sub for canola oil or prefer the other oils you mentioned?

        • It is a pretty good sub… it doesn’t have a strong taste like coconut oil does and cooks well.

  21. hOW ABOUT COLD PROCESSED CANOLA OIL?

  22. As the plant that provides canola oil had to be genetically modified before it could be consumed without poisoning the person consuming it why would any form of canola oil be acceptable?

    The grain that produces canola oil is a GMO version of rape seed. Rape seed was the source of “mustard gas” used in biologic warfare during WWI. Inhaling mustard gas produced a fast and horrific way to die.
    Before rape seed could be used to produce canola oil for human consumption it had to be modified to reduce, but not eliminate, the eurcic acid it naturally contains. Eurcic acid was the active ingredient in mustard gas.

  23. We use Grapeseed oil (notice the “G”) for our homemade mayo. The results are great and I’ve been really happy with it. Have you tried it and what does your research indicate about the healthiness?

  24. try a research about grape seed oil too. as I understand, the grape’s seeds doesn’t have that much oil to produce this amount of oil all over the word. no company doesn’t explain clearly how they make it and as i know, they just put the seeds in another oil such as canola oil to mix the extract of grape seed with the oil. this is The most optimistic assumption!!!!!!!!!!

  25. Thanks wellness mamma its mothers like you spreading the word that are our only hope. When the millions of kind loving and trusting american mothers finally wake up and see how they have been lulled to sleep and kept in the dark and made acomplices in the health destroying end that big food is bringing us all too. I like you understand the cold ugly truth its sickening to know that there are people that would in the name of profit hurt the ones we hold dearest but when it does come out and they know the truth they are going to be very very angry!! How can Russia Switzerland India Australia and over 75 other nations have banned or seriously restricted gmo and here in america most people cant give an even close to accurate description its a sin. I could pick a 100 mothers coming out of a supermarket and ask them for a definition and I’d bet 95 couldn’t give one why? how?