Canola was originally developed from the rape seed. It was modified by selective breeding because rapeseed oil was too high in a toxic fatty acid called erucic acid. Canadian plant breeders came up with a variety of rapeseed that is much lower in erucic acid, yet high in beneficial monounsaturated fat and omega 3 fat. Only olive oil contains more monounsaturated fat than canola oil. Canola oil also contains approximately ten percent of the omega 3 fat alpha-linolenic acid. The new modified canola oil was originally called LEAR oil; this stands for Low Erucic Acid Rapeseed. Both “LEAR” and “rape” don’t have pleasant connotations, so a cleaver marketing guru came up with the name canola in 1978, alluding to Canadian oil.
Canola oil is now widely available as a cooking oil, in margarines, and is present in a great number of processed foods. Olive oil is a much healthier choice, but it is too expensive for the food industry to use in processed foods. Also, the fact that olive oil goes cloudy in cold temperatures makes it unappealing to the eye when used in some foods.
The majority of canola oil on the market is heavily processed. It goes through a process of refining, bleaching and degumming. This exposes the oil to oxygen, light, high temperatures and chemical solvents. Canola oil is fairly high in omega 3 fats, and these are most sensitive to processing, and likely to become damaged and form trans fatty acids. Therefore, canola oil can be higher in trans fats than other liquid vegetable oils. You are better off getting omega 3 fats from whole foods like fish, walnuts, flaxseeds and pumpkin seeds; all of which are also rich in antioxidants. Another problem with canola oil is that a great deal of it is genetically modified. There are several new varieties, such as Roundup Ready Canola, which is more tolerant to some herbicides and insecticides. Genetically modified canola has been approved for use in Australia. If you do use vegetable oil in cooking, it is best to stick to extra virgin olive oil or virgin coconut fat.