British produced, cold pressed, rapeseed oil is all the rage with celebrity chefs and high end restaurants, not to mention many nutritionists, doctors and dieticians.
Grown on our own soils by hardworking, diversifying farmers, rich in all those health enhancing essential fatty acids and brimming with immune boosting vitamin E, what’s not to like? Quite a lot it seems as the very same oil has allegedly been linked to a whole host of ills ranging from muscular sclerosis, mad cow disease, cancer, heart and lung disease and genetic engineering.
So what is the truth about cold pressed, British produced rapeseed oils? Are they really safe to use as an alternative to our trusty olive oil?
Rapeseed oil contains high levels of Erucic acid which is toxic to humansOld strains of rapeseed oil used to contain high levels (up to 40 per cent) of something called erucic acid which can indeed be toxic in the diet, especially to young children.
However, these strains were banned for use in the human food chain several decades ago. New varieties of plants have now been bred (see below) that produce oil containing less than one per cent erucic acid. In 1977 a law was also brought in limiting the erucic acid content of foods to no more than 5 per cent of the total fatty acid content in products that contain more than 5 per cent fat.
In truth however, most British produced cold pressed rapeseed oils contain less than 0.5 per cent. An amount deemed to be a very safe level.
[Related feature: All you need to know about oils]
Rapeseed oil is genetically modified
New strains of rapeseed containing much lower, levels of erucic acid were developed in the 1970s. This was long before genetic engineering was in use, and was done using traditional plant cross breeding methods.
The plant breeding programs where simultaneously yet independently carried out in Europe and in Canada and in 1978 the Western Canadian Oilseed Crushers Association registered a product called ‘Canola’ which stands for Canadian Oil, Low Acid.
Today in several countries around the world rapeseed oil is known as canola oil, whereas here in the UK, we still call it ‘rapeseed oil’. In the states however, up to 93 per cent of canola oil has now been genetically modified to make it more resistant to pesticides but all British produced rapeseed oil is GM free.
Rapeseed oil is so harmful it can kill insects such as aphids?
Pour any culinary oil, including the very best olive oil over an insect and you’ll suffocate it. Vegetable oils in general are recommended by many horticulturists as a non-chemical, more environmentally friendly insect control method. This however, does not mean that eating rapeseed oil is harmful to human health.
[Related article: Whole foods - what to eat for your health]
Rapeseed oil is used as lubricants, penetrating oils, fuel, soap and paints?
Any plant sourced oil can be used industrially to make lubricants, oils, fuel, soaps, paints, plastics, cosmetics or inks and many animal derived foods also have non-food uses, for example proteins in milk can be used to make glue.
Rapeseed, palm, sunflower, soya, olive oils can be used to make biodiesel (in fact Rudolf Diesel, the inventor of the diesel engine powered it on peanut oil, as diesel fuel had not been invented!). This however, does not mean that oils approved for human consumption are poisonous or harmful.
Rapeseed oil can cause various diseases, from emphysema to mad cow’s disease.
The truth is there are no sound scientific studies suggesting a link between British produced rapeseed oil and any disease. After extensive animal and human testing it has been proven to be absolutely safe to consume and will not produce these or any other diseases or conditions. It is, in fact, one of the healthiest oils you can buy.
It’s a good source of immune boosting, skin enhancing vitamin E and has just 7 per cent saturated fat compared to 14 per cent in olive oil or 51 per cent in butter. It's also high in omega-3 and omega-6 and has a higher smoke point than most olive oils (the point at which disease-causing carcinogens and free radicals are released from the oil) making it a far healthier option when stir frying, baking or shallow frying foods.
[Related feature: How to eat like an expert]
Over the previous two decades, numerous clinical studies involving thousands of healthy volunteers, have examined the role of rapeseed oil in lowering blood cholesterol levels and reducing risk of coronary heart disease, cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure. The studies confirmed that when used as part of a balanced diet, it has been shown to lower blood cholesterol levels and decrease the risk of heart disease and stroke.
So why are there so many scare stories surrounding British rapeseed oil?
A great deal of the negative health associations with British, cold pressed rapeseed oil seem to stem from an email or ‘fact’ sheet that was so full of horror stories it went viral. One of the craziest stories the email contained was that rapeseed oil is related to mustard from which mustard gas was made in WWII with the specific intention of killing people. In fact, rapeseed and mustard are related, however mustard gas was given its name because it has a mustard type aroma, apart from that there is no other link.