The Great Olive Oil Misconception — Dr. Ornish Responds

Dr. Ornish answers questions about the health value of canola oil versus olive oil.

By Dean Ornish | MD

Okay, let’s address the second concern—that canola oil is “genetically engineered and literally poison.” It’s neither. Canola oil comes from a hybrid plant developed in Canada during the late 1960s to 1970s using traditional pedigree hybrid propagation techniques (not genetically modified) involving black mustard, leaf mustard and turnip rapeseed.

It has also been claimed that canola oil is used in making mustard gas, a poison. This is totally untrue. Actually, mustard gas doesn’t even come from the mustard plant; it was so named because it smells similar to mustard. Canola oil has allegedly been used as an industrial lubricant and ingredient in fuels, soaps, paints, etc. The truth is that many vegetable oils, such as corn, soybean and flax are also used in these applications. That doesn’t make those oils unhealthy or dangerous. Canola oil has also been accused of killing insects, such as aphids. Again, all other oils can do the same, not by poisoning insects, but by suffocating them.

As described in a recent issue of the University of California, Berkeley, Wellness Letter, “Don’t believe the scary rumors about canola oil. The oil is not toxic, nor does it cause everything from heart disease to multiple sclerosis. It comes from a special type of rapeseed plant bred since the 1970s to be extremely low in certain toxic substances. The FDA and other agencies all agree that canola oil has no adverse effects. In fact, far from causing coronary artery disease, the oil is rich in heart healthy unsaturated fat—notably alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3 fat, like that in fish oil). It is a good, inexpensive choice as a cooking or salad oil. Canola’s only drawback: like all oils, it has 125 calories per tablespoon.”

I believe that part of my value to Reader’s Digest is to provide readers with innovative perspectives that are science-based, even when they challenge conventional wisdom, ones that you may not be reading in other publications.  As I wrote in my column, I like the taste of olive oil and I use it sometimes. It’s a healthier fat than many others, but it’s not nearly as healthy as canola oil, fish oil and flaxseed oil.