Canola is widely used as an inexpensive alternative to healthy cooking oils like olive, flaxseed or sunflower seed oils. Canola became available to consumers in the early 1980s, touted as containing large amounts of healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Some consumers, however, have come forward in recent years with complaints of allergic reactions to canola. This has left most doctors scratching their heads.
Canola is made from the rapeseed plant. Rapeseed oil originated in Europe thousands of years ago and was used mostly as an industrial oil because its high erucic acid content made it dangerous to consume. Scientists in Canada found a way to lower the erucic acid level to make the oil digestible. This new oil was named Lear oil. Advertisers wanted the exported Lear oil to have a more commercial name so it was changed to canola for Canada oil.
Canola allergies are difficult to pinpoint because they are not considered true allergies. An allergic reaction occurs when your immune system comes in contact with a protein that it recognises as "not-self" thus triggering a histamine reaction. Canola contains no proteins to react to. However, some people have reported strong reactions to foods cooked with canola. Symptoms include, but are not limited to, dizziness, vomiting, nausea, skin irritation and sneezing. In some cases, the reactions can be more severe. An allergy to canola may be labelled as an intolerance or sensitivity.
An allergic reaction to canola may not be an allergy. Canola goes through intense processing before being bottled and sold. The oil often is processed in factories that also process nuts, wheat, soy, etc. The byproducts of the nuts, wheat or other food products may sometimes end up making their way into the oil product. Nut and wheat allergies are common and severe in some cases.
Some studies have concluded that the intense heat canola is exposed to during processing makes the omega-3s present rancid, thereby nullifying the oil’s healthy effects. Other studies done on animals have suggested that continuous use of the oil may have negative side effects on the heart; rapeseed oil in its pure form has been shown to can cause heart lesions
It can be difficult to avoid canola, especially if you like an occasional evening out at a restaurant. The best way to steer clear of the oil is to ask the server or chef not to use it; the residues of the oil may be on cooking equipment, so proceed with caution. Read all labels when purchasing processed foods. Canola often is used as an added ingredient.
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