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Canola oil

 
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Whenever I look up a recipe that originates from the US, I often see the use of Canola oil.  I have never seen it in my part of the woods, although it doesn't mean that it is not available, I don't know., I always make a bee line for olive oil - can't help it, I was raise on it.  However when I looked Canola oil up, it really didn't  appealed to me.

Today, I stumbled upon this article by John Moody who is the author of three books: The Frugal Homesteader, The Elderberry Book, and DIY Sourdough: A Beginner’s Guide.

It certainly is an eye opener and I am glad that I never touched the stuff.



https://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/canola-oil/
 
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I am glad that you have posted this. There is no natural plant called con-ola. There is a plant called rapeseed which is poisonous. And then to make it edible and de-stink it it is processed  at high heat which kills any good oils and creates trans fats. Our government here in canada allows trans fats to be sold and not labelled if the amount is under what they deem safe. This is a huge Con (frankenfood). Thanks for bringing this up Olga. John
 
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Wow, the writer really has an axe to grind. I find it hard to take any article at face value when the word "ickier" is used -- that suggests starting with a conclusion and shopping for data.

The production and processing methods currently used are less than ideal IMO. And yes, I prefer olive oil for the flavour and texture, and I can afford it. But I don't believe enough olive oil can be produced in the world to meet demand. Oil is a cooking staple globally. I wonder, is there a lower impact field-crop oil source out there?

Side note: some chefs have experimented with cold-press organic canola, but it has a distinctive flavour so its uses are limited.

My 2 cents.
 
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Douglas IMO I never use olive oil for any higher heat as it will turn the oil rancid for lack of better words. I have been using avocado oil for some time now and it appears to be good at high heat and also affordable. John
 
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I'm not a fan of Canola either.  ... for many reasons, not least that I find it tastes nasty.

But it's probably the most affordable oil in Canada and I have used it when I'm skint.  But I prefer sunflower or olive oil - depending on what kind of cooking I'm doing.  Sunflower does better for baking and high heat, olive for regular cooking and raw.

Although pomace olive oil has been the most affordable oil lately and it's not bad tastewise for oven cooking at 325F.  Not sure how healthy it is overall, but money is tight.  
 
Douglas Alpenstock
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Thanks r, I'll give sunflower oil a try. Always open to better ways of doing things.

Anyone have a sense of its overall impact in production and processing?
 
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Douglas Alpenstock wrote: But I don't believe enough olive oil can be produced in the world to meet demand. Oil is a cooking staple globally. I wonder, is there a lower impact field-crop oil source out there?

I admit I avoid both canola and soya oil as I worry not just about how they're produced, but also about the use of gly....ate in the growing of the crop.

This article by the same group the OP linked to: https://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/pre-harvest-roundup-crops-not-just-wheat/

Personally, I think the solution is to return to small scale production and local pressing of things like this. There are some people growing olive trees in Southern BC, and it would be an awesome tree crop to use between coppiced rows or other tree crops as part of a Mark Shepard's model of growing enough of one thing to meet the needs of the local population, but not expect to feed people thousands of miles away. This may be why traditionally people living in cold areas of the world used pork fat - it was produced from "farm waste" and it had a decent shelf life. If the same machinery could also press sunflower seeds, they also grow here. I've heard pros and cons about grape-seed oil - I think the big cons are again the type of processing it requires to be edible - but around here, semi-wild grapes appear bound and determined to take over the universe.

Having looked at the list in the article I just posted, I see that I'm going to have to change my diet again. I love almonds. They're a tree crop. I don't see why they couldn't be responsibly produced as part of a multi-species food forest rather than as one more way to hurt the land and people. Is there something I'm missing?

That said, that's two pretty scary articles from the same outfit. Does anyone know if this "Healthy Home Economist" as a specific axe to grind or ulterior motive? You do have to subscribe to see some of her stuff, but that's not that uncommon if someone wants to keep trolls away.
 
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Canola, corn, 'vegetable', sunflower, safflower... are all high in omega 6s, so have a tendency to skew the human body's 3:6 ratios in an unhealthy way. I'm not a fan. Peanut oil is one of the best, for higher heat, but is a serious allergen for many people. I personally try to avoid regular or frequent consumption of legumes, because they're high in leptins - an inflammatory - because I have some inflammation issues that are grossly exacerbated by it. I tend to love tree nut oils, but they go rancid so quickly, and have wimpy smoke points. That leaves me with animal fats - things like ghee, butter, bacon drippings, lard, tallow, and schmaltz. They are flavorful, have higher smoke points, can (properly used and stored) outlast  most of their plant- based rivals, and they don't aggravate my health issues. In fact, since I made the switch to them, as my primary fat source, years ago, my health has improved. The only plant based oils we use, with any regularity are olive (lower smoke point) and coconut, which while we love both, are both very distinctively flavored, in such a way that we don't *always* like their... invasive, in some recipes.
 
Olga Booker
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That leaves me with animal fats - things like ghee, butter, bacon drippings, lard, tallow, and schmaltz.  




Absolutely!  I am lucky enough to live in a goose and pig producing county.  Roast potatoes in goose fat?  Oh, man! That's so good.  And in Belgium, the best fries are cooked in beef fat.  Curry and ghee go hand in hand while some English puddings call for lard.  Being French, cooking with butter is a no brainer and as mentioned earlier Olive oil of good quality is reserved for salads or some simple dishes.  I never use coconut oil as it has too great a carbon foot print.
 
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Carla Burke wrote:Canola, corn, 'vegetable', sunflower, safflower... are all high in omega 6s, so have a tendency to skew the human body's 3:6 ratios in an unhealthy way. I'm not a fan. Peanut oil is one of the best, for higher heat, but is a serious allergen for many people. I personally try to avoid regular or frequent consumption of legumes, because they're high in leptins - an inflammatory - because I have some inflammation issues that are grossly exacerbated by it. I tend to love tree nut oils, but they go rancid so quickly, and have wimpy smoke points. That leaves me with animal fats - things like ghee, butter, bacon drippings, lard, tallow, and schmaltz. They are flavorful, have higher smoke points, can (properly used and stored) outlast  most of their plant- based rivals, and they don't aggravate my health issues. In fact, since I made the switch to them, as my primary fat source, years ago, my health had improved. The only plant based oils we use, with any regularity are olive (lower smoke point) and coconut, which while we love both, are both very distinctively flavored, in such a way that we don't *always* like their... invasive, in some recipes.



I noticed a big difference in my health when I switched to animal fats too.

I avoid seed oils for several reasons, including the omega 3:6 ratios, but I do use sunflower oil in mayonnaise because that is the most affordable organic one here that doesn't give a strong taste.

Beef tallow from the butcher already rendered and ready to use is au$6/kilo here, or I buy it unrendered from my favourite farmer for au$3/kilo. It is way more affordable here to get animal fats than plant ones, and they are so good for cooking with and have the benefit for containing vitamins A, D, and K2.

I think the main reason plant fats are promoted and used in recipes are because they are currently produced and distributed on a large scale and anyone can find them, where as the current industrial food system treats animal fats other than butter as 'waste', so it can be harder to find.
 
Jay Angler
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Kate Downham wrote:

I think the main reason plant fats are promoted and used in recipes are because they are currently produced and distributed on a large scale and anyone can find them, where as the current industrial food system treats animal fats other than butter as 'waste', so it can be harder to find.

I think in Canada the animal fats are demonized as contributing to high cholesterol. I'm suspicious that's not just wrong but badly wrong and I always save the fats from my home-raised animals for most uses. I suspect that all fats and oils are holding on to toxins in our "industrial food system", so almost anything we can grow and process ourselves is an improvement.
 
Kate Downham
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"Nourishing Fats" by Sally Fallon is a really good book to read if you're interested in the history of how different fats have been used, and in the rise of industrial seed oils and the anti-cholesterol, anti-animal fats stuff.

I wrote a long review of it and hope to get around to posting it up on Permies one day!
 
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The only oil crop that grows here is rape (canola) the local mill produces cold pressed oil from it, it does not have a particularly strong taste but it is expensive. The only other local option is pork fat which to my taste buds is vile and clings round your mouth leaving a horrible feeling behind.  I do not feel that importing oil from somewhere tropical is at all sustainable. We don't deepfry much but rapeseed is the only oil for that that I am comfortable buying here.

Price wise rape and sunflower are the same price at around $1.5 per liter
organic cold pressed rape is $7 per liter
olive oil (extra virgin as they have 26 types of this at co-op and NO "normal" ones) $12 per liter
Butter (if it came in ltrs) $10 per liter
Pig fat $5.6

 
Douglas Alpenstock
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Skandi Rogers wrote:The only oil crop that grows here is rape (canola) the local mill produces cold pressed oil from it, it does not have a particularly strong taste but it is expensive.


Interesting. That's the challenge with northern climates -- local edible oils, excepting animal fats, are tough to produce in the short growing season and harsh winters. Industrial methods increase yields and control fungi/weeds/insects, so no surprise that local organic (?) would cost more, given the scale or production and lower yields.

It can't be cold-pressed rapeseed though (rape is the Latin for oil IIRC); it would be inedible. So it must be the canola hybrid. And likely non-GMO; I think Europe has banned it. So if you're trying to stay local, and depending on how it's grown, it might actually be an ethical choice.
 
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The writing style in the original linked article punches some of my "needs more research before I'm comfortable" buttons.  But I stopped considering canola oil to be fit for human consumption a couple of years ago.  It is on my long list of "stuff they try to sell me as if it were food, only I'm not sure it actually is".

What got my attention was a quick look at the wikipedia entry.  For me the two big red flags are the erucic acid (every discussion I've ever seen uses a passive construction like "is considered safe in these quantities" without explaining how the "safe" quantities were determined) and the hexane stripping.  Hexane is pretty toxic.  Supposedly they process with hexane and then retrieve "all" the hexane, but nothing in the industrial world is really that perfect.  Mind you there are a ton of other processed oils that are cleaned with hexane one way or another -- an argument against highly processed oils in my book.  

 
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At present I am using olive oil for cold things like salads and grapeseed oil or in rare cases butter for cooking. I am leery of using most animal fats for cooking due to concerns about potential residues of pesticides etc in most commercial products as others have mentioned. We are hoping to have our own pigs one of these days though.

We currently have hazelnut and walnut seedlings that will be planted out within the next year as part of our nut polyculture, and eventually hope to be able to produce some nut oils - that will be a longer term project, especially the walnuts.

Sunflower oil would likely be more achievable in the short term, even though that is mostly an annual crop. I haven't started growing perennial Maximilian sunflowers yet but they are on my radar as something to get one of these days - anyone know if that is a good oilseed crop?
 
Jay Angler
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Andrea Locke wrote:Sunflower oil would likely be more achievable in the short term, even though that is mostly an annual crop. I haven't started growing perennial Maximilian sunflowers yet but they are on my radar as something to get one of these days - anyone know if that is a good oilseed crop?

The seeds I was sold as being "Maximilian sunflowers" do re-grow from the roots each year, but the seeds are like dust so I can't see how you'd get worthwhile amounts of oil out of them. They also take a *long* time to flower, so some years they go moldy in my climate by the time they flower and I doubt are getting much pollinator action.

If I was going to try for sunflower oil, I'd go for the annual varieties that are called an "oil seed". Yes, permaculture focuses on perennial crops for good reasons, but particularly in northern areas like Canada where we just don't get much winter sun, the key is to grow those annuals responsibly - planting them as part of a polyculture or at least as rows alternating with other crops and not tilling any more than is essential. Maybe it's just because we get so much winter rain and have fairly rocky, clay soil, but I need some areas I can dig to bury veggie scraps or dead tomato plants, and I couldn't do that easily around my fruit trees, but I can do it in the fall in a raised annual bed.
 
Skandi Rogers
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Douglas Alpenstock wrote:[
It can't be cold-pressed rapeseed though (rape is the Latin for oil IIRC); it would be inedible. So it must be the canola hybrid. And likely non-GMO; I think Europe has banned it. So if you're trying to stay local, and depending on how it's grown, it might actually be an ethical choice.



In Britain and Europe we don't call it canola we call it rape (raps here in Denmark) so if you see one of us saying cold pressed rape that is what we mean. I believe canola is a tradename?
 
Douglas Alpenstock
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Skandi Rogers wrote:In Britain and Europe we don't call it canola we call it rape (raps here in Denmark)


Thanks, I didn't know that.
 
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Jay Angler wrote:There are some people growing olive trees in Southern BC


I can't believe I missed this on my first pass through your post. That's amazing!
 
Olga Booker
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If anyone in France is interested, I have found out that it is called Huile de Colza.
 
Andrea Locke
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Douglas Alpenstock wrote:

Jay Angler wrote:There are some people growing olive trees in Southern BC


I can't believe I missed this on my first pass through your post. That's amazing!



The commercial olive farm is only a few miles away from me here, actually. This year was their fifth harvest. Here is their web site which talks a bit about trees and yields. www.theolivefarm.ca

There was a little olive tree growing in a thin crack of soil on bedrock at our place when we moved to BC in 2012, planted by the previous owners. It wasnt in a place where I could move it or easily build a tree barrier so my goats ate it.



 
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Trying to ingest more locally, our household tends to look at sunflower, canola/rapeseed, safflower, corn, and soybean oils.  Can't recall now why I settled on safflower for the time being, but expeller pressed canola seems okay.  I'm probably rationalizing to conclude that most European stock of humans, outside of animal fats, will be fine with "all things cabbage".....thereby justifying the use of rapeseed/canola as an oil source.  No great solutions IMO when trying to balance all factors.  Seems like the oil ratio issues and which oil is optimum changes annually in terms of nutrition experts.  And traditionally breeding can alter these ratios as they've done in sunflower over many decades.
 
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Dan Boone wrote:... - an argument against highly processed oils in my book.  


I'm fairly certain that highly processed foods of any kind are, if not somewhat harmful, at least less beneficial than minimally processed alternatives. Processing that deactivates anti-nutrients is beneficial, but such processing is far from high. Although canola/rapeseed is a notable Canadian agricultural product, my wife and I quit using canola oil over a decade ago after reading that it's produced with a solvent extraction process. Of course, as for most people, we didn't do much research and were guided by assumptions. But I now realize that canola was actually developed to improve the nutritional profile of natural rapeseed, which has apparently been used in Asia for millenia. It's actually a highly stable oil and good for frying.

On the other hand, I learned several years ago that my preference for polyunsaturated oil was misguided and now olive oil (which is monounsaturated) is what we mostly use, apart from animal fats.
 
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Here in Ontario we have local cold pressed sunflower, hemp and flax oils produced organically near Port Burwell.
But why not use lard and tallow for most cooking where you don't need the oil to be liquid at room temp?
It's known for a long time that animal fats have been mischaracterized as bad for  health. Check out Weston A Price Foundation for details.
 
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Kate Downham wrote:

I think the main reason plant fats are promoted and used in recipes are because they are currently produced and distributed on a large scale and anyone can find them, where as the current industrial food system treats animal fats other than butter as 'waste', so it can be harder to find.



Kate, I think you hit the nail on the head there. As an urban dweller, the only sort of lard or suet readily available to me is factory-farmed, hydrogenated, possibly chemically bleached/deodorized stuff that seems far from healthful. On the other hand, organic virgin olive oil and unrefined sunflower oils are common.

I don’t buy much canola, because I prefer the taste and cooking qualities of the other oils, but might try some again if a higher quality version came on market, I understand it was a traditional cooking oil in parts of Asia in the past.
 
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For years I thought greasy foods made me sick. I later figured out it was just certain oils. Oxidation and the Omega-6 ratio mentioned is why I don't use oils like canola. And as I recall, the fat from a cow raised naturally just so happens to have the ideal ratio of Omegas for human consumption. One raised on corn has fat with radically skewed ratios. From what I've read, the oils we use today may be one of the biggest causes of our poor health.
 
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Here in Georgia and much of the nation, pecan trees provide a ready source of high quality, tasty oil. I have no problem personally with peanut oil, but pecan oil will probably be safer for sensitive people. Pecans are remarkably cold hardy,  they just need irrigation or access to ground water such as you find along a creek bottom.
 
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Pecans are very difficult to grow here in PNW. They need lots of heat.  I have a couple of small olive trees.  I grow them for the leaves as medicine though.

I mostly cook steaming with water, and then I drizzle olive oil. I will use coconut oil for pan frying, which I don't do much.  No deep frying here.  Coconuts are obviously not local.  

I have read for years about how canola oil is extremely processed and an industrial "food".  I try to get my vegan wife not to buy it.  I won't use it.

John S
PDX OR
 
Andrea Locke
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Hazelnut oil might be a reasonable substitute for pecan oil in the PNW as they do well in the climate. I have two northern pecans up here in southern BC but they won't produce for a few years yet, if they ever do. I consider them an experiment. The hazels should be producing in a couple more years and are more of a sure thing.
 
Douglas Alpenstock
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So, I did the grocery run today. (More like a combat insertion into hostile territory -- we're going back into Covid lockdown here. Argh.)

I had a look at sunflower oil, generic brand, and the cost was not much less than olive oil. Pass. Help me out: is sunflower oil better? Lighter, more flavourful, more responsible? BTW, the basic stats on the label were the same as canola.

I also noticed a fancy version of canola oil, touted as "first pressed" (but not cold pressed). I raised my skeptical eyebrow: better quality? or a ploy by the marketing hamsters?
 
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Douglas Alpenstock wrote:   Help me out: is sunflower oil better? Lighter, more flavourful, more responsible?



Wish I had something more helpful.  The chart below is one of many comparing saturated fats versus poly- and mono-saturated fats.  Seems the current consensus is to favor unsaturated over saturated.  As for the canola oil grades that you might encounter, I did not find "first pressing", but saw other grades mentioned here, notably that expeller pressed seems to eliminate any hexane/organic chemical extraction of the oil altogether:   http://www.centrafoods.com/blog/comparing-the-grades-of-canola-oil

For the general northern Plains region that we both live in and with respect to 'locally produced' (if not in actuality, then at least potentially), sunflower and safflower will be relatively abundant along with canola and, increasingly, soybean and corn.  (Hazelnuts grow here but currently not with the yield found in milder climates.) Agree that it's a tough call...balancing the health aspects of the oil with what might be locally sourced.  

And then there is the potential impact of human genetic background to consider:

"Traditional wildlife foods harvested and consumed by the Inuit resident on the east coast of Baffin Island were analyzed for fat and fatty acid contents. While values for these components in caribou and various species of seals have been reported earlier, this is the first comprehensive report of the major fatty acids in the spectrum of foods consumed by a population resident in the high Arctic. This is the first report of fat and fatty acid contents of several of these foods derived from animal population species. Summary data are also presented on fats, energy, and total fatty acid contents in the average annual diet of adult males and females who consume both traditional Inuit and market foods. It was found that while market foods contribute more total energy, total fat, and saturated and polyunsaturated fats, the total energy as saturated fat is less than 10%. The very low ω-6 to ω-3 fatty acid ratios in the Inuit food dietary profile of 0.26 (women) and 0.29 (men) are the reverse of recently proposed ratios for optimal health. However, since the traditional Inuit diet supported a healthy population supposedly free of cardiovascular disease, the low ω-6 to ω-3 dietary fat intakes may be appropriate for the Inuit."  (my emphasis added in bold)  --  https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/0889157591900344

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I've pretty much stopped using seed / soy oils altogether at least when I'm cooking for myself.

I find that olive / avocado / coconut oils will work for most foods, and I've started to save the fat from bacon I cook, just like my Depression-baby mom used to do.

Dr. Cate Shanahan has brought a lot of the real dangers of seed oil consumption to light. See one article here: https://drcate.com/can-you-really-cook-with-olive-oil/.
 
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When a recipe refers to a specific product it is usually from one sponsored originally to promote that product. In my day it was Crisco on of the first hydrogenated oil products now considered hazardous.
 
                        
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I agree that with solvent extraction canola is less that desirable but at 61% mono-saturated fat I found a producer, Spectrum, that has non-GMO, organic, expeller pressed canola. For pan frying things like fish I like it because it does not contribute a taste to what I am cooking.

Jenn
 
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There is another oil that grows in colder climates, and has higher omega 3's:  camelina oil.

This is a brand that is grown in Eastern Washington State:  https://camelinagold.com/

I've bought (and been gifted) Camelina Gold and it is similar to a strongly flavored olive oil, though with its own unique flavor. I did have some go rancid once, and wasn't able to use it. Though when fresh, a chef friend of mine used it in place of olive oil in a fresh mozzarella, tomato, cucumber, onion salad and she loved it. And this chef has a very picky palate.

This camelina oil from Denmark is offered by a wonderful herbal company and includes great info:  https://mountainroseherbs.com/camelina-oil

Here is another article that explains even more:  https://www.ecowatch.com/6-reasons-why-you-should-try-camelina-oil-today-1882105650.html

I think if this oil becomes more common (again?), and farmers learn they can grow it in place of canola, with easier processing, it won't be long before the price becomes more affordable.
 
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Here's what I keep hearing from doctors: If you cook on high heat, it generally will lead to more problems like starches like potatoes and sweet pats creating acrylamides. Steam, boiling, and sauteing produce less than baking, broiling or pan frying.  Deep frying is a health disaster in general.  Microwaves produce less acrylamide, but more EMF. I hear doctors arguing among themselves on microwaves, so I avoid them.  With high heat, saturated fats are better because they are damaged less by the heat.

When I bake sweet potatoes, I steam them first, so they're cooked, then bake them for flavor. To avoid the acrylamides, I only cook at 200 to 225 F. It takes longer, but I don't like cancer.

Olive oil is apparently great for you in moderation, but it can't handle the high heat that other fats can.  I use olive oil by drizzling it on my food after I steam or boil it usually.  There is a ton of fake olive oil out there, and Extra virgin is better for your health.

Heavily processed oils that are polyunsaturated like canola are even worse after high heat, because they are damaged and then damage you.

Much of the health benefits of fats are in the fats that are unprocessed. That means, however, that they can go rancid, so use them up and get more.  

I drive my wife crazy because every time I learn more I change what I think we should eat. I hope I'm not driving you crazy too.

John S
PDX OR




 
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Jocelyn Campbell wrote:

This camelina oil from Denmark is offered by a wonderful herbal company and includes great info:  https://mountainroseherbs.com/camelina-oil




I had never heard about this and I know a lot of people growing rape and looking for strange new crops, Danish lentils anyone? so I went looking for it. It's very rare it seems, I found it sold 2 places online for eating most places sell it for skin care. Since they sell most of it flavoured with lemon oil I'm going to guess it's actually pretty vile tasting but at $67 per liter I'm not going to be finding out! One of the reasons for the price is the yield the half that of rape. What I did find was that it is very high in linolenic acid and at around 25% protien it could be a very good crop for feeding pigs on a homestead. (rape has a bitter taste that pigs often refuse) If it is easy to process and cultivate of course.
In-fact the main use here seems to be trying to reduce imports of soya beans as animal feed and instead use things we can grow here, including camelina and even processing grass into protein supplements (letting animals actually EAT grass would be way to easy)
 
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Skandi Rogers wrote:

Jocelyn Campbell wrote:

This camelina oil from Denmark is offered by a wonderful herbal company and includes great info:  https://mountainroseherbs.com/camelina-oil




I had never heard about this and I know a lot of people growing rape and looking for strange new crops, Danish lentils anyone? so I went looking for it. It's very rare it seems, I found it sold 2 places online for eating most places sell it for skin care. Since they sell most of it flavoured with lemon oil I'm going to guess it's actually pretty vile tasting but at $67 per liter I'm not going to be finding out! One of the reasons for the price is the yield the half that of rape. What I did find was that it is very high in linolenic acid and at around 25% protien it could be a very good crop for feeding pigs on a homestead. (rape has a bitter taste that pigs often refuse) If it is easy to process and cultivate of course.
In-fact the main use here seems to be trying to reduce imports of soya beans as animal feed and instead use things we can grow here, including camelina and even processing grass into protein supplements (letting animals actually EAT grass would be way to easy)


Wow, that is expensive in Denmark! Maybe it's becoming more common in the States. The first link I provided:

Jocelyn Campbell wrote:
This is a brand that is grown in Eastern Washington State:  https://camelinagold.com/


works out to $13.20 per liter or $50 per gallon. Though I imagine shipping overseas would be cost prohibitive.

 
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Lots of issues here, but I'll comment on some, then get to Canola!


The cholesterol thing that several have mentioned.  It's been re-evalued in the last few years, by returning to the Statin-test trials and comparing the results with long-term heath studies.  Some real anomalies have emerged; mainly in that the direct link of CVD with LDL is imaginary.  So I think that the strong emphasis today on deliberately lowering Cholesterol is mistaken.  Our bodies are hugely competent in producing cholesterol, and will make as much as we need; if we eat plenty, fine.  If we don't, our bodies' chemical factory produces it.  If we use cholesterol-lowering drugs (which, for a minority of at-risk older men, are vital), we just make more.  Depending on diet and culture, major studies across the world have found that some healthy people have high cholesterol levels and are fine, while people at severe risk of CVD death can have average cholesterol levels in some cultures.  People with very low cholesterol levels have an elevated risk of cancers and other life-threatening problems, according to large-scale recent studies - and it's been known to be caused by cholesterol-reducing drugs.  The key with CVD is not cholesterol, it's severe mental stress, usually compounded by poor diet.

Taking this into account, what do we need to be healthy?  What I've been recommending for years is to eat mostly vegetables - preferably half of all your food by weight should be vegetables.  That counters most of the issues with bad diet at one stroke, and along with staying hydrated is maybe 80% of becoming healthy.  Ten percent more is the omega-3 fats deficiency, as below.  Discuss?


Oils and Fats

Basic food chemistry to begin with;
you need a super-short Fats Course 100.5 to see the issues with Canola.  Skim through if you know this already; it may not be high school biology or organic chemistry in all countries.

All oils (liquid at room temperature) and fats (solid at room temperature) are 'triglycerides', made from attaching three fatty acid molecules to a glycerol molecule.  Fatty acids are chains of carbon-oxygen-hydrogen atom clusters, of different lengths.  When the chain is flawless, we call the fatty acid 'saturated'.  When a hydrogen atom's missing, the chain kinks at that point and the acid's called 'unsaturated'; it leaves the fatty acid more reactive - able to attach to other molecules.  Convention labels an unsaturated acid by the point where the first kink occurs - usually point 3, 6, 7 or 9 in the chain from the unattached end.  Got it so far?

Mono-unsaturated fatty acids kink once (duh!); polyunsaturated kink more than once; in practice, usually twice to five times and making them more reactive, less stable.  The first kink in the molecule from the free end is called the 'omega-point'.  So, hah! we've got to the nub of those terms we tend to throw around.  In practice, again, Omega-6 fatty acids kink twice, usually beginning at point 6; Omega-3 fatty acids kink three or more times, usually beginning at point 3.  You can look up the names of the fatty acids online, together with their kinking patterns - Wikipedia has exhaustive listings, including more detail than you really wanted to know as you get into each article!

Here's the rub of it, though.  All fats and oils (triglycerides) are rather like a handle-less fork with three prongs.  The prongs (fatty acids) are commonly any length from 4 chain units upwards to about 22, and while some are straight (saturated) others are kinked 1,2 or 3 times.  Each fork can have a mix of prongs of any kind, though in different triglycerides, certain fatty acids are commonest, and an oil or fat may have many and varied triglycerides, all mixed up together.  Our chemical factories are expert at disentangling the forks, stripping off the prongs and recombining them in a different sequence.  

How is that in practice?  Each oil and fat can be characterized (after analysis) by the ratio of the fatty acids in it.  Hard fats are mostly long-chain saturates; very light oils (lowest 'freezing' point) are mostly Omega-3 fatty acids and will stay liquid except in deep freeze.  The kinking of a fatty acid stops the forks from lying flat, so the whole oil will be less dense - which equates to a lower freezing point.  For example, at the two extremes typical beef fat is 40-40-3-2 (sat-mono-o6-o3; saturates are mostly long chain) and coconut fat 92-6-2-0 (mostly short chain saturates), while flax oil at the other extreme is 9-19-14-58.  The first two melt above blood heat and can feel greasy in the mouth; flax oil is still liquid at -20C, -10F.

One last thing - about the trans-fats people have mentioned.  When a polyunsaturated oil is 'hydrogenated' by adding the missing hydrogen atom at each kink, the unsaturated oil becomes a saturated fat - totally saturated.  That's how the original vegetable fats were made over a century ago, and the process was used to make margarine and commercial fats from whatever cheap oil was available.  The totally saturated fat was too hard to be usable alone, so the fat was blended with some oil to make it similar to animal fats like lard.  So far, so good; the saturated fatty acids made by total hydrogenation are identical to those produced naturally.  

But from the 1930s, oil factories began to stop the hydrogenation process part-way through to save time, leaving some oil incompletely saturated.  The result, thought useful at the time, was a fat of just the softness required to replace either lard or butter, ready to use once some flavouring had been added (usually, and still today, buttermilk - whey - a by-product of cheese and butter making).  Here's where the mischief came in, although no-one at the time understood it.  The partial hydrogenation produced a lot of altered fatty acids which were different to the natural ones.  All the polyunsaturated fatty acids in vegetable oils are in a 'cis' configuration, where the two or more kinks are on the same side of the chain.  But under hydrogenation, adjacent kinks can be on opposite sides, straightening the chain out again. This is called a 'trans' configuration ('trans' meaning 'across'), and the oil/fat with plenty of this will act like a saturated fat in body chemistry.  

So 'trans fats' aren't actually evil, but they aren't natural either; our bodies (say some experts) can't cope with them properly.  There are two problems: one is that the trans fatty acids have all the health drawbacks of saturated fats (but not worse).  But also, they upset our EFA-extraction.  The enzymic mechanism which reserves polyunsaturated fatty acids for body chemistry like building cell walls, is fooled into reserving trans fats - because they're still unsaturated - then discards them later because they don't work.  So you can become deficient in the vital Essential Fatty Acids your body needs for cell building and repair.  It's good that partially-hydrogenated oils are now banned - trans-fat vegetable oils are bad for you!  

Last comment: one trans-fat is harmless.  It's trans-vaccenic acid, the main fatty acid in mammal milk, including - yes - human milk as well as cow's milk!  It may even help in cholesterol control, according to some recent research.


Common oils we've mentioned - including Canola
OK, we're now here!  And I'll begin with rapeseed oil.

Rapeseed
is an ancient Eurasian crop, cousin to mustard (and interbreedable) and in the brassica group, with cabbage, sprouts and swede.  The seed oil is, in history, slightly hot (much less than mustard) and slightly bitter, partly from the erucic acid in it.  It's been used as a food oil for thousands of years in cooler climates where sunflowers and olives don't grow well.  The bitters and heat have slowly been bred out but - unlike the USA's official supposition - it's palatable and safe to eat when you get used to it.  

There WAS a 1970s scare in the US about erucic acid poisoning rats fed on it, so that rapeseed imports were banned (it wasn't grown then in the US).  However, later tests showed that (1) rats were unusually sensitive to erucic acid, and (2) rats respond badly to a forced all-oil diet anyway; they also responded badly to a sunflower oil diet.  But the deed was done, and the oil banned.  Canadian growers, under this stimulus, bred the first rape variety with a very low erucic acid content (a L-E-A-R oil) and - in a marketing coup - got this 'Canada Oil' Canola accepted for sale in the US - thus cutting out the European growers whose similar LEAR oil bore the dreaded name 'rape'.  Strangely, despite being chemically identical to Canola LEAR and non-GM, European and Asian LEAR is still banned from the US as 'unhealthy'; I guess the government labs that might clear it are 'busy'.  LEAR oil is now ubiquitous worldwide, and the HEAR varieties confined to industrial chemical use; fuels, for example.  Except in peasant economies, where the locals like their traditional rapeseed oil with a bit of a bite.

One of the issues people have raised about oils is the omega-3 content.  Well, it's great for health!  Commercial oil companies hate omega-3 because it turns rancid quickly (it's very reactive, remember), and they have discovered that super-long shelf life is a business advantage.  So omega-3 has been stripped out of commercial manufactured foods for many decades, along with natural vitamins.  Instead, artificial antioxidants have been added, and most of these are deleterious to health ("We only add a little!")  Rapeseed oil has a useful amount of omega-3, in good balance with the omega-6 - which is a health advantage compared with olive oil.  Also as with olive oil, it majors in monounsaturates, which are healthier than saturates.  And the taste?  Don't care what some people have said; MY cold-pressed rapeseed oil tastes great!  Nutty, and sort-of halfway between hazelnut oil and olive oil.

The issue of GMO (or GM as we call it in Europe) is another matter.  Whether we cautious people want it or not, GM is here to stay, and in medicine as well as plants and animals will eventually give huge benefits.  Why I've been very anti-GM (like most people in the UK) is because of the reason the pharma giants like Monsanto are doing the gene editing, more than the cross-pollination with naturally bred varieties.  It's already been mentioned here: the use of Roundup to kill weeds can be intensified if a crop can be altered to be Roundup resistant - and that's what Monsanto did with their GM rape (and also got to call it by the Canadian Government trademark name Canola).  

But if, for example, a plant was modified to produce vitamin A (it's a simple genetic switch-on with one replaced gene), this, done today easily and accurately by the CRISPR technique, would make it a real lifesaver, rather than a marketing tool for chemicals!  500 years ago, by the way, that's just what plant breeders in the Low Countries did: they bred a new carrot that was orange rather than purple or yellow, through its copious amounts of beta-carotene.  It's spread across the world, is and now a valuable source of vitamin A.  And have you seen those Canadian orange cauliflowers? ....

Rapeseed oil, then, does have ethical issues as it's sold on supermarket shelves.  But they are exactly the same as for other commercial oils.  Olga, your link to the 'Canola Oil Con' page is useful - but to me, only to show up how people can get fooled by pseudo-science.  All the nastiness of commercial oil production is there applied only to Canola, yet the same methods are used to produce ALL of the oils on your typical supermarket shelf!  Yes, sunflower, soya, peanut, safflower, grapeseed. cottonseed, and all the rest of the common cooking oils are extracted - to the last drop - by mash boiling, high-force hot presses, solvent extraction and those other methods.  And they can use seed that's a little off (or worse), because the oil's always bleached to remove odours (which can be pretty nasty!).  The resulting oil is flavourless, with no preservative vitamins (these are extracted to sell to you later as pills) or plant sterols and stanols for health.

My suggestion?  Avoid all supermarket cheap oils if you can.  Rapeseed/Canola no more or less than the others.  Go instead for 'cold pressed', often labelled, after the olive oil market, as 'extra-virgin'.  And ideally, organic too, because that label requires avoiding artificial fertilizers, weedkillers and GM.  In England, most supermarkets sell cold-pressed rapeseed oil at £4 a half litre (US $5 per 17oz), six times the cost of the cheap stuff.  The place I buy at sells it for £1.45; they clearly don't milk the 'healthy' image as the others do.

Olive oil, sunflower oil, peanut oil
The same applies as with rapeseed.  The bland cheaper oil ('mild' for olive oil) is processed the nasty way - avoid.  Buy cold-pressed only, and pay the price.

Soya oil, cottonseed oil, grapeseed oil
These are always heavily processed, because cold pressing won't work.  Avoid.

Nut oils
Great - as long as they're cold pressed, which they usually are.  But keep them just for flavouring salads, or for body rubs.  Unless you burn $20 bills for fun.


The smoke point issue
This is another common misunderstanding, in my opinion.  It's certainly true that burning-produced compounds can be unhealthy.  But the same applies to making toast, barbie smoke, searing meat and so on, as for smoking fat.  It's there for the flavour, and the carcinogenic issue is no different.  Commercial deep fryers are the place where it becomes a problem, because those tasty-smelling smoke products get to concentrate in the fat if it's not changed regularly, and you get to eat too much.  Since fire for food was invented, humans have dealt with the issue well enough - our bodies can cope with these natural by-products of burning, as long as we're not overwhelmed.

In frying then, as a couple of posters have mentioned, either use purified animal fats, palm oil or coconut fat for smoky frying, or do what the Chinese do in stir-frying - splash a spoonful of water into the pan occasionally, to keep the temperature down.  No good for those crispy fries, though!  As in deep frying, there's no problem as long as the fat has no by-products in it that will burn - use ghee rather than butter, for example.  I do fine with cold-pressed rapeseed oil and flax oil - but I don't super-hot-fry in them.  Even the most sensitive pure oil - flax oil - is good for eggs and sausage; bacon needs good timing.


Omega-3 and omega-6
This is a real issue, and Canola oil is at the heart of it.  In our modern diets, unlike millennia ago, seed oils are a major source of calories.  They are now freely available and cheap, and fast food has made them ubiquitous.  That's a problem, because now we've dumped trans fats, the oils used in commercial frying are mostly omega-6 rich. Our bodies cannot make the basic omega-6 fatty acid linoleic acid, nor the basic omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid.  These two are called the Essential Fatty Acids because we need at least a little of each by mouth to stay healthy.  So we're adapted, unlike most mammals, to chemically extracting and reserving what we get in our food.  And we need both, in roughly equal but small amounts.  The same processing and reserving enzyme works on both, and if we have more than four times as much of one as the other, we can miss reserving enough of it.  Same as for trans-fats, which fool that process, too.  So if we eat a lot of omega-6 oils (and we do, we do!) we get super-short of omega-3, with consequent health trouble.  Typically, junk diet eaters get 50 times the 6 as the 3; most folks get 15-20 times as much.  

There is a solution, though.  Simply avoid eating those common omega-6 rich oils altogether, and select sources of omega-3 oils to eat regularly - flax oil, chia oil and also some wild-caught, far-northern oily fish a couple of times a week - eaten with the skin.  And for cooking, rapeseed and olive oil, along with animal fats if you eat those.  This ought to bring your 'Omegas' into balance.


John Weiland's oils chart is sort-of useful, but it lumps all polyunsaturates together (3 and 6 are very different for health) and puts them in the centre, not on the opposite side to saturates.  This page I googled does it better, and the website's oil descriptions are pretty good, too - though a little out of date.  https://www.skillsyouneed.com/ps/fats-oils.html

Final point: I mostly eat cold-pressed flax (linseed) oil, because it's very high in omega-3 (60%-ish), and this makes up for the omega-6 it's hard to avoid eating.  I buy it cold-pressed in gallon cans by post, direct from the farm, and store it in half-litre glass bottles in the freezer till I need it, when a bottle goes into the fridge.  It's OK there for a month or so.  I mostly use rapeseed oil for frying, and for body anointing - rub all over every morning.  Keeps my skin supple, and is what the world's farming poor do with their oil and fat in warm climates, just as people have been doing since - oh, forever!

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