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Is Rapeseed Really a Healthy Oil?

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We're often asked about this oil, here's a look at the nutritional issues.

 

Rapeseed - Firstly The Good Points

A better crop than some for hay fever sufferers, as the pollen does not travel well. 

Rapeseed has a high smoke point avoiding carcinogenic compounds when cooking. 

The taste is mild and subtle, and certainly some chefs do like it for this reason.

These are good arguments for Rapeseed perhaps, BUT it must be organic, extra virgin, and cold pressed if you use it.  However there are healthier oils you can enjoy.

 

Why So Many Yellow Fields?

Rapeseed crops do look beautiful with the swathes of yellow across the countryside.  Some feel differently as it's not a traditional part of the British landscape, pretty colour or not.

And why are we seeing so many more of these yellow fields? Money of course!

Rapeseed was never intended for human consumption, and was not a money maker in the past. But with demand for cheap animal feed, biodiesel use, and as a cheap cooking oil, the price per tonne soared.  The EU offered subsidies in the 80s, and this too caused huge growth.  Production has roughly doubled in the UK in the past decade.

 

Pesticides & Herbicides

Significant research led to the EU ban of Neonicotinoids to protect the Bee population.  This highly toxic, systemic pesticide is also harmful to birds, butterflies and moths.  Contamination is so serious, that the EU panel felt global food production was under threat.

GM giant Syngenta have in the past applied for emergency exemptions for the use of Neonicotinoids, because they argue there is no other alternative when the flea beetle takes hold of a rapeseed crop. Some farmers say rapeseed crops are failing because of the Neonicotinoid ban.

Choosing organic is a personal decision, but wildlife aside, avoiding chemical exposure is a simple choice for many of us.  Rapeseed struggles under the organic model being vulnerable to certain pests, and because of a high requirement for nitrogen fertiliser. 

 

Is it Rapeseed or Canola?

In 1956 the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned rapeseed oil for human consumption due to high levels of erucic acid. Nature often tells us what to eat, and what to avoid, and the erucic acid made the oil very bitter and unpleasant.

So farmers developed different varieties with lower levels of erucic acid, apparently through "natural" selection.  This was called Canola (derived from "Canadian oil low acid") and proclaimed the all new healthy oil.  Today, the Rapeseed we see is this modern type - Canola, but referred to generically as Rapeseed.  Canola was originally a trademark but this term was abandoned.  In the UK we see both the LEAR type - Low Erucic Acid Rapeseed (2% erucic acid) and the HEAR type for industrial sources - High Erucic Acid Rapeseed (50 - 55% erucic acid).  Is there room for cross contamination? Some think there is.

 

Genetically Modified

It's no great surprise when you understand the history to discover that GM is prevalent. In Europe, there have been field trials, but they say there is currently no GM rapeseed being grown for food consumption.  In the US and Canada, most is GM - a staggering 90%.  Much of it is RoundUp ready - resistant to the toxic Glyphosate.

 

A Closer Look at Erucic acid

Erucic Acid is an omega 9 oil, and certainly has inflammatory properties.  It can irritate mucous membranes, damage the myelin sheath, interfere with vitamin E and can even causes myocardial lipidosis (fatty degeneration of the heart).   Whilst these results are from animal studies on rats (which we do not endorse for reference), the results have been dramatic, and over the years have been enough for governments to place clear restrictions on what are considered safe limits of eruric acid.

There are some anecdotal reports of allergic reactions to Canola Oil in America. And some small scale human studies have caused concern including one showing the potential for lung cancer risk when exposed to the heated fumes. 

Today, the levels of erucic acid are carefully regulated in foods.  Recorded levels in modern rapeseed ARE much lower, and are in the category of "Generally Regarded as Safe".  However, some claim that the Canadian Government paid large amounts of money to bypass the process for GRAS status.   As such, this is why there has been no requirement for long term human studies on Canola.

There's no escaping that this particular element of the oil has the potential for incredible disruption in the human body.  As ever, the widespread use of this, and other vegetable oils makes this more of an issue where people are consuming a lot of processed food, and thus by default consume more erucic acid than they should be.

 

Processing

Like most modern oils, the vast majority of rapeseed oil is highly refined and processed.  High temperatures, solvents, and bleach are used to create the end product.  During this process, trans fats are formed.  Any oil processed this way has little nutritional value and poses numerous health risks.  The issues with hydrogenated vegetable fats are well documented.

There ARE cold pressed rapeseeds on the market.  And if you are to use rapeseed, then please at least ensure it is of the cold pressed extra virgin kind.  You can be sure that when you see rapeseed oil as a, listed ingredient in processed foods, that it is NOT this kind!  Where you see just vegetable oil listed as an ingredient, this will typically be soya or rapeseed. 

 

A Note on Omega 3

Some argue for Rapeseed saying it is higher in Omega 3 than Olive Oil.  This is absurd, Olive Oil is recommended for the monounsaturated fats that are good for your heart (also found in nuts and avocados). The fact of the matter is when the prices of Olive Oil rose, Rapeseed was touted as a healthy, cheaper alternative! For Omega 3, you want fresh fish, or a fish oil supplement if you can't manage fish.  For vegans, Hemp Oil is a healthy option for omega 3, and also for salads, but it is not suitable for cooking.

 

A Note on Saturated Fats

Nowhere is there more nutritional nonsense than on this subject.  Do not under any circumstances believe that saturated fats are bad for you.  They never were, and never will be.  The reasons for the flawed nutritional policy across the western world are political, financial, and based on debunked research.  

It's on the back of this nonsense that you will see claims that rapeseed is healthier because it's "low in saturated fats".  This is not a reason to use any oil, and in fact, saturated fats have far more benefits.  You can read more on this subject in our articles Low Fat is Fattening, and Butter v Margarine.

 

The Alternatives

You can be sure that such a cheap, mass produced oil, one of the biggest crops in the world, used as the basis for cheap animal production, and found in nearly all processed foods, is going to have issues.  We don't need trials to know this!  The evidence from the food industry is plain to see.

Some will argue it has been used throughout history, this may be true, but this has not been for food.

In our opinion, there are better oils with higher nutritional value far more suitable for cooking and meeting your omega oil requirements.     So again, small amounts of organic, extra virgin, cold pressed rapeseed MAY be ok if you choose.  But even better in general are ...

  • Butter - so very good for you, and delicious too!
  • Or Ghee is better at higher temperatures
  • Coconut Oil is excellent at high temperatures as it has such a high smoke point.
  • Hemp oil is a fantastic source of vegetarian omega oils, but Must NOT be heated.

  • Extra virgin olive oil - enjoy daily if you can but do avoid "Mild" ones, these are often highly processed.
  • Avocado oil is extracted direct from the fruit, and is a stable and healthy oil.
  • Flaxseed oil is also ok unheated, but may have inflammatory propeties if used in large amounts in the long term. So use in moderation
  • Palm oil is ok, but ONLY if from sustainable sources.


We hope this article has been of interest, any questions, as ever, do please contact us.

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REFERENCES

Guidance on the risk assessment of plant protection products on bees (Apis mellifera, Bombus spp. and solitary bees) European Food Safety Authority

Chronic impairment of bumblebee natural foraging behaviours induced by sub lethal pesticide exposure. Functional Ecology, British Ecological Society July 7, 2014

Risks of large scale use of systemic insecticides to ecosystem functioning and services Worldwide Integrated Assessment of the Impact of Systemic Pesticides July 2014

A Review of Research into the Effects of Neonicotinoid Insecticides on Bees, with Recommendations for Action. By Jennifer Hopwood, Mace Vaughan, Matthew Shepherd, David Biddinger, Eric Mader, Scott Hoffman Black, and Celeste Mazzacano

Fats that heal and fats that kill by Udo Erasmus

25 Amazing Facts About Food, authored by Mike Adams and David Guiterrez

USDA, Economic Research Service various references

Canola Oil - Is It Safe? Evidence Points To BIG Trouble! Compiled by Darleen Bradley  From Hilary A. Thomas 5-9-99

Push for a premium with HEAR rapeseed varieties Farmers Weekly David Jones

The Great Con-ola by Sally Fallon and Mary G Enig 2002

Butter V Margarine Seventh Wave Supplements Ltd
www.seventhwaveuk.com/content/26-butter-or-margarine

Low Fat is Fattening Seventh Wave Supplements Ltd
http://www.seventhwaveuk.com/content/98-low-fat-is-fattening

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