It's easy to get answers about health and nutrition! Just send your question by email to [email protected] and Dr. Harlan will respond to selected questions of general interest. Answers will be posted in the Ask Dr. Gourmet newsletter (sign up now!) and archived in the Ask Dr. Gourmet section of the website.
Is canola oil a good oil or a bad oil? I have been reading a lot about people who are refusing to cook or bake with canola oil. I usually choose expeller pressed when I buy it. Can you clarify the debate surrounding canola oil?
This is another one of those urban myths that we have the internet to thank for. While there's so much good to be found on the web, there's a lot of misinformation out there.
Canola oil is made from the rapeseed. Rapeseed oil has been used for centuries for cooking in an unrefined form. It was associated with an increased risk of lung cancer - most likely because it was used for high temperature cooking. The oil also contained higher amounts of erucic acid, which has been linked to heart disease.
In the mid-1970s, however, rapeseed oil with low erucic acid content was brought to the market. With careful cultivation and cross breeding, scientists were able to breed rape seeds that replaced the erucic acid with oleic acid. After the change in makeup of the oil, the Canadian government coined the term Canola (Canadian oil) to support their (rapeseed) oil industry.
The oil is safe. I use it less often than I do olive oil, personally, because of the vast amount of research supporting olive oil. But because it's tasteless I use Canola oil for baking and other recipes where I don't want the flavor of olive oil to come through.
Thanks for writing.
Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP, CCMS