Oil is used in so many food products, and we use it on a daily basis while in the kitchen! But do we know what are in the common oils found at supermarkets? Well, keep reading to see how two of the most common oils; canola and soybean, are produced, why they are bad for your health and what you should be buying instead.
Let’s start at looking at the steps undertaken to produce the oil we see on our shelves!
How Canola Oil Derived Its Name
Olive oil comes from olive, grapeseed oil comes from grape seeds, peanut oil comes from peanuts and canola oil comes from … rapeseed. The plant known as “rape,” from a Latin word for “turnip,” is a domesticated crop in the widely cultivated Brassicaceae family (also known as the mustard family, the cabbage family, or the cruciferous vegetables).
Although the word has disturbing connotations today, during World War II people thought nothing of referring to “rapeseed,” and the oil from those seeds was used for industrial purposes.
The real problem with the name “rapeseed oil” is that the oil was so toxic that the FDA banned it for human consumption in 1956. So when Canadian growers bred a new variety of rapeseed in the 1970s with a lower content of the toxic erucic acid, they decided they needed a new name for it.
The term Canola was coined from “Canadian Oil, Low Acid” to convince consumers that this oil was safe to eat. And while “Canola” was originally a registered trademark, the term became so widely used that the trademark was eventually abandoned, and “canola” became the generic term in many countries for any low-erucic rapeseed oil.
Canola oil is a very effective insecticide, and it is the primary ingredient in many “organic” (non-chemical) pesticide control products sprayed on vegetables to kill bugs.
Processing Of Canola And Other Vegetable Oils
‘Canola represents the third most important crop in Canada after wheat and barley’ (1); considering this, it makes sense that the manufacturing process is as efficient as possible, pumping out an oil that is cheap and accessible.
- Oil seeds such as soybean, rapeseed, cotton, sunflower are gathered. Most of these seeds are from plants that have been genetically engineered to resist the massive amounts of pesticides applied to them. Canola oil is a genetically modified version of rapeseed oil. The natural form of rapeseed oil is toxic, so companies wanted to make a type of oil that was cheap and easy to grow yet similar to rapeseed oil. This was how canola oil was first thought of.
- The seed pulp and oil are then put through a hexane solvent bath and steamed again to squeeze out more oil. Hexane is produced by the refining of crude petroleum oil. It is a mild anesthetic. Inhalation of high concentrations produces first a state of mild euphoria, followed by sleepiness with headaches and nausea. It is also highly toxic to our environment, being a contributor to greenhouse gasses.
- Phosphate is added to the seed/oil mixture to separate the two.
- Finally, the crude oil is produced, and the leftover products turned into animal feed, etc.
The crude vegetable oil is then put through further refining techniques including degumming, neutralization, and bleaching.
In this process, water is added to the oil. A large part of the water soluble and even a small proportion of the non-water soluble products are removed.
Any free fatty acids, phospholipids, pigments, and waxes in the extracted oil promote fat oxidation and lead to undesirable colors and odors in the final products. These impurities are removed by treating the oil with caustic soda or sodium carbonate. The impurities settle to the bottom and are drawn off. The refined oils are lighter in color, less viscous, and more susceptible to oxidation.
Health Consequences of Neutralization: Caustic soda is corrosive to the eyes and skin when in direct contact. It can also cause throat and mouth irritation as well as causing nausea, stomach cramps, and diarrhea (2).
The major purpose of bleaching is the removal of off colored materials in the oil. The heated oil is treated with various bleaching agents such as activated carbon, or activated clays. This may remove any impurities, but it can also lead to health problems.
Health Consequences of Bleaching: The bleaching process strips the oil back of any natural antioxidants, which are important in maintaining a healthy body!
Deodorization is the final step in the refining of vegetable oils. Pressurized steam at extremely high temperatures is used to remove odors and tastes that would affect the final product. The oil produced is referred to as “refined oil” and is ready to be consumed or for the manufacture of other products. A light solution of citric acid is often added during this step to inactivate any metals such as iron or copper present in the final product.
Health Consequences of Deodorization: ‘The standard deodorization process removes a large portion of the omega-3 fatty acids by turning them into trans fatty acids’(3). These fatty acids can be damaging to health by raising your bad cholesterol levels, increasing the likelihood of you developing heart disease or suffering from a stroke.
The research found that up to ‘4.6% of all the fatty acids in canola are trans isomers’ (4). These trans isomers are a type of plastic, such as nylon; which is found in our clothes! So we are consuming substances which we can wear and use.
Health Consequences Of Using Canola Oil
Considering how canola oil and other vegetable oils are produced, it is clear that some products put into the manufacturing process cannot be good for our bodies. There are many side effects to consuming large amounts of canola and vegetable oils. Below is just a small list of the nasty side effects:
- Increases LDL (bad) cholesterol level
- ‘Development of heart disease, some cancers’ (5)
- Depletes Vitamin E levels rapidly
- ‘Tremendous increase in disorders like systemic lupus, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, pulmonary hypertension, and neuropathy. (6)‘
- Paralysis of the skeletal muscles
- Spasms of the respiratory system
- Blocking enzyme function
- Shuts down our immune system
With so many worrying health consequences of these overly processed oils, we should try and avoid consuming them as much as possible even though they are the cheapest and most available substances.
Unfortunately, these two oils are not the only ones we should be keeping away from. Safflower, corn, sunflower and vegetable oils can all have negative effects as a majority of them can turn rancid at high heats. They are all genetically modified so that they have longer shelf lives, look more appealing for consumers and taste a certain way. None of these genetically modified oils have any nutritional benefits left for human consumption.
Read more about vegetable and seed oils. Should you use them?
Safer Alternative Oils
Raw Coconut Oil
Coconut oil has many positive effects on our health, from helping improve bad cholesterol levels to lowering body fat and containing anti-inflammatory effects (7). It is also extremely delicious and have a myriad of other uses!
Another way to use our favorite fruit! It’s great to use for frying as it has a high smoking point, so you won’t stink out your house as soon as you turn on the cooker! Discover more benefits of using this great fruit here.
If you haven’t discovered your love for olive oil yet then you are about to! This delicious, natural ingredient is great on salads or drizzled over a piece of bread. It’s a fantastic alternative to other manufactured vegetable oils. Just make sure you are buying the best kind of olive oil you can, as some manufacturers have found a way to combine bad oils with olive oil. But if you find its pure form then you are in for a treat.
It’s evident that many oils, like canola and soybean, can negatively affect our health—just look at the processes it goes through in production! Considering soybean and canola oil contain ingredients that make plastic we can be assured that opting for a more natural type of oil will benefit our health in the long run. Go for olive, avocado or coconut oil for a delicious, healthier diet change.