My daughters like watching science and technology shows on TV, and of course I’m happy about that. Their favorite is Mythbusters, but they also enjoy a few others, including How It’s Made.

Sara, my seven-year-old, ran into my office a couple of nights ago to tell me How It’s Made was about to explain where canola oil comes from. Canola oil, as you probably know, is the current “It Girl” among the lipophobes because it’s mostly monosaturated, like olive oil. You can buy it in bottles for cooking, but you’ll also find it in several brands of mayonnaise and margarines, always with some kind of logo advertising it as heart-healthy. 

When I went looking for the segment about canola oil on YouTube, I found that How It’s Made had already done a segment on butter. Take a look:

Sure, it’s industrial butter-making … big machines and all that. But the big machines are making butter pretty much like your great-grandmother did: taking cream and churning it with some salt. The end result is real food.

Now take a look at how canola oil is made:

Chemical solvents, industrial steaming, de-waxing, bleaching, and de-odorizing. Yummy. Have you ever heard of anyone having to de-odorize butter?

Real food on one hand, chemically processed industrial food on the other. And yet we’re supposed to believe it’s the real food that’s bad for us.

Your great-grandmother knew better.

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86 Responses to “Butter vs. Canola Oil: Spot the Real Food”
  1. Lori says:

    Conventional wisdom:

    refined grains = bad
    processed meat = bad
    highly refined, chemically processed fat = healthy

    Was is just me or did the dairy look a heck of a lot cleaner than the canola oil factory? Lack of hygiene is a real appetite suppressant for me, never mind that the canola cakes look like chunks of clay soil and the solvent wash looks like a dog’s bath water.

    It was not an appetizing visual.

  2. Now I’m a “How It’s Made” addict.

    It’s actually a fun show to watch. Our girls love it.

  3. Katy says:

    Pardon the long quote, but I found this fascinating. It’s from an article that I read a few years ago on the Weston Price website, “The Great Con-ola.” Note that the oil used to be consumed freshly-extracted along with quality saturated fats.

    RAPESEED OIL IN TRADITIONAL DIETS

    Rapeseed oil has been used in China, Japan and India for thousands of years. In areas where there is a selenium deficiency, use of rapeseed oil has been associated with a high incidence of fibrotic lesions of the heart, called Keshan’s disease.20 The animal studies carried out over the past twenty years suggest that when rapeseed oil is used in impoverished human diets, without adequately saturated fats from ghee, coconut oil or lard, then the deleterious effects are magnified. In the context of healthy traditional diets that include saturated fats, rapeseed oil, and in particular erucic acid in rapeseed oil, does not pose a problem. In fact, erucic acid is helpful in the treatment of the wasting disease adrenoleukodystrophy and was the magic ingredient in Lorenzo’s oil.

    High levels of omega-3 fatty acids, present in unprocessed rapeseed oil, don’t pose a problem either when the diet is high in saturates. A 1998 study indicates that diets with adequate saturated fats help the body convert omega-3 fatty acids into the long-chain versions EPA and DHA, which is what the body wants to do with most of the 18-carbon omega-3s.21 Conversion is reduced by 40-50 percent in diets lacking in saturated fats and high in omega-6 fatty acids from commercial vegetable oils (particularly soybean oil). In the animal studies on canola oil, dietary saturated fats mitigated the harmful effects of omega-3s.

    A 1995 Wall Street Journal article reported that use of rapeseed oil in cooking was associated with greatly increased rates of lung cancer in the women breathing the fumes.22 Once again, a lack of saturates in the diet may explain the association, because the lungs can’t work without adequate saturated fats.23 In India, rapeseed oil has been used as a cooking oil for thousands of years, but only recently have Indian housewives been cajoled into the belief that saturated butter and ghee should be avoided. Many now use vanispati, an imitation ghee made of partially hydrogenated soybean oil.

    PROCESSING

    Rapeseed has been used as a source of oil since ancient times because it is easily extracted from the seed. Interestingly, the seeds were first cooked before the oil is extracted. In China and India, rapeseed oil was provided by thousands of peddlers operating small stone presses that press out the oil at low temperatures. What the merchant then sells to the housewife is absolutely fresh.

    Modern oil processing is a different thing entirely. The oil is removed by a combination of high temperature mechanical pressing and solvent extraction. Traces of the solvent (usually hexane) remain in the oil, even after considerable refining. Like all modern vegetable oils, canola oil goes through the process of caustic refining, bleaching and degumming–all of which involve high temperatures or chemicals of questionable safety. And because canola oil is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which easily become rancid and foul-smelling when subjected to oxygen and high temperatures, it must be deodorized. The standard deodorization process removes a large portion of the omega-3 fatty acids by turning them into trans fatty acids. Although the Canadian government lists the trans content of canola at a minimal 0.2 percent, research at the University of Florida at Gainesville, found trans levels as high as 4.6 percent in commercial liquid oil.24 The consumer has no clue about the presence of trans fatty acids in canola oil because they are not listed on the label.

    http://www.westonaprice.org/know-your-fats/559-the-great-con-ola.html

  4. Sarah says:

    Rule of thumb: If you can smash it and it becomes fat, it’s good. See coconuts, peanuts, avocados, olives…

    If you smash it and fat doesn’t come out, probably not a good idea, see rapeseeds, cotton seeds, soybeans…

    Canola comes from the rape flower, right? You don’t eat flowers number one (cept maybe in some fancy european countries,) and you don’t smash them to get fat out. Simple.

    That’s a good rule. If industrial processing is the only way to render out the fat, it’s probably not something we should be eating.

  5. Allison says:

    My grandma was an old fashioned farmer, milked her own cows(very well taken care of), separated the milk and cream. She would hand all us grandchildren jars full of cream and we’d shake them to create butter, it was a contest who could make butter the fastest. Not only was she clogging our arteries, she was using child labor too!

    As for children eating butter, I keep catching my son sticking his fingers in the butter and eating it(we keep it on the counter). I tell him “Get your fingers out of the butter!! If you want to eat the butter, get a spoon.”

    I found teeth marks in our butter once. Apparently one of the girls couldn’t be bothered to find a butter knife.

  6. Scott says:

    Canola is genetically altered to withstand repeated sprayings with powerful weed killer. Some varieties are also “altered” to include built-in insecticide. Whereas one can wash normal produce to remove impurities, genetic engineering renders this impossible. So the next time you consider a product that contains canola, don’t do it. Healthy it is not!

  7. Amy says:

    Wow – I think I’ll be having an unplanned intermittent fast after watching that canola oil video!! Yuck!!

    Finally, a good use for canola oil.

  8. Larry says:

    Back in college for a writing class, I wrote a science fiction story about a future where all energy was clean and renewable, but businesses still wanted to find new uses for petroleum, so they re-purposed it as a natural health food and marketed it to the masses. My grad student instructor at the time commented that that would be a hard sell. So I told him the history of Canola, a former engine lubricant re-purposed as food.

    LOL.

  9. MedPhyzz says:

    That second video is so disgusting! I knew that a lot of processing and chemicals were used to make vegetable oils, but seeing it happen really shows what an industrial product it is. Very energy intensive too. Thanks for another interesting post, Tom.

    I listed the steps required to make maragines and vegetable oils before, but the video really drives it home.

  10. Allison says:

    You can eat sunflowers, olives, peanuts, coconut, and even corn which all have oils on the shelf. But I’ve never seen rapeseeds, or canola seeds for sale anywhere, not even at the farmers markets or whole food stores. I have seen it in birdseed however.
    Is this a seed fit for human consumption? Could you have rapemeal (like oatmeal or cream of wheat)? A quick internet search only brought up info on the consumption of the oils.
    If this is a seed that should be consumed in only tiny quantities (like mustard or even wheat for that matter), I think consuming only one portion, the oil, of the seed, and highly processed at that, is a bad idea!

    Even if humans would eat the rapeseeds, it’s not likely we’d ever eat enough to get that much of the oil.

  11. mary titus says:

    Allison, how ’bout those butter seeds? The longer I spend time getting healthier, the more I realize that poor health exists because of us. Watch the canola thing without knowing it is a canola thing. What would you assume they were manufacturing? It is also a crime that it is fed to our cattle.

  12. mary titus says:

    Allison, if you want to eat butter get a spoon…priceless.

  13. mary titus says:

    Larry, have you ever seen the movie “Solyent Green “?

  14. J. Stanton says:

    Note how the canola video cleverly avoids mentioning the solvent they use to extract the oil, and just says “a solvent”.

    It’s hexane…a significant constituent of gasoline. Delicious!

    The problem isn’t that large quantities of it remain in the food…it’s that despite the best efforts to recycle, roughly a gallon of hexane escapes for each ton of soybeans (or canola) processed. That means a large soybean processing plant emits over five million pounds of hexane per year!

    http://www.epa.gov/ttnchie1/ap42/ch09/final/c9s11-1.pdf

    Yup, “solvent” sounds more neutral than “hexane.”

  15. James Gegner says:

    You know, it never ceases to amaze me just how convoluted a person’s logic can be, especially when so-called health and nutrition “experts” constantly tell us that we should use man-made Frankenfats such as canola oil instead of natural cooking fats such as butter, lard, beef tallow and bacon grease. Give me natural fats any day of the week instead of those horribly unhealthy processed vegetable oils.

    In response to the comment by Katy about the WAPF article “The Great Con-ola,” there is another excellent article written by Sally Fallon and Mary G. Enig, PhD called “The Oiling of America.” It basically talks about how the switch from natural fats like butter and lard to margarine and processed liquid vegetable oils has led to disastrous health consequences for untold millions of Americans over the last several decades.

    I remember when I was a small child growing up in Iowa (I’m originally from Cedar Rapids, and I have an older brother who still lives there) seeing commercials in the ’70s for Crisco vegetable shortening featuring country music singer Loretta Lynn talking about how it made her fried chicken taste so good. Yuck! I have to wonder if she really knew what it’s really made from if she would continue using it. I’m not sure she would.

    We switched to all that garbage in our family after my dad was diagnosed with high cholesterol. If only we’d known.

  16. Grace says:

    I totally agree, this canola processing business is gross and if I didn’t already use lard and butter for all my cooking, I would switch right away!!

    However, I want to hold you accountable here for some (unintentionally, I assume!) biased wording. The malicious “chemical solvent” they use to wash the canola after the first round of pressing is sodium hydroxide (as stated in the video), more commonly known as lye or caustic soda. While it sounds scary to us, mostly because lye is a strong base most of us are used to seeing in cleaning detergents, bases like sodium hydroxide, potassium hydroxide (potash or pearlash) and sodium carbonate (washing soda) have been used in food preparation for a long time; to make soap, chinese noodles, some german pretzels, and water softening (removing mineral ions from water, mainly calcium and magnesium, the presence of which can hamper soap’s effectiveness).

    My only point is, that while some chemical processes seem scary and “industrial” to us because we see them in an industrial setting, some of what is going on in the canola plant is no more chemically advanced (or dangerous!) than the churning of butter. They are both relatively old, and well-known chemical reactions.

    However, I still wouldn’t buy the stuff, because of the GMO issue and because I do not for one second by the “heart-healthy monounsaturated” crap.

    Love the blog! Keep it up!

    I believe they use two solvents in the process, one unnamed. I could be wrong; I’ll have to watch the video again. From what I once read online, hexane is the first solvent.

  17. Loydew Williams says:

    I’ve wasted a few minutes here reading material without an once proof that canola oil is danger. What was used to entice these people to bad mouth a great product? I’ved used it for years and Yes my Mom used it and she lived to the ripe old age of 103 years, I have letters of recognition from President Reagan,Bush and Willard Scott. How many of these advocates are trained in the art of Scientific Investigation??? Have a nice day

    Nice to hear from the Canola industry. Speaking of the art of scientific investigation, I guess by your logic if we can find a smoker or two who lived to be 100, that proves smoking is just fine … or if the tobacco industry receives a nice letter from Willard Scott.

    If you want to consume oils that were never part of the human diet until recently and require chemical extraction, bleaching, and de-odorizing, enjoy. By the way, I first became aware that canola oil is a lousy substitute for real fats by reading a book written by PhD who’s spent most of her life studying the biochemical effects of oils and fats.

  18. Kate says:

    This reminded me of the “butter is natural” campaign we had a while back here in Switzerland:
    http://i18.photobucket.com/albums/b111/kaazizzle/blog/butter-2.jpg
    It says “I eat butter – i don’t” and “I make butter – I make margarine”

  19. Kat says:

    ^ About those photos, wouldn’t that confuse people into thinking it would cause weight gain?? based on how skinny the barbie is who doesn’t consume it? lol

  20. So if the problem is the chemical processing of canola oil in a factory, then choose cold-pressed, organic canola. It does exist, including plants that have not been modified to be resistant to Roundup, and it does not require chemical extraction, bleaching or deodorizing. Just clean the seed, warm it up and press/grind and let the oil drip out.

    Modern dairy practices involve antibiotics, pasteurization and deodorizing – creating a completely different product than what my grandfather hand-milked into metal buckets. So — butter may not need to be deodorized, but the milk that makes the butter was.

    And no, I’m not any part of the canola industry. We primarily use butter and lard, but when I want a liquid oil, I use canola oil.

  21. Catherine Denis says:

    I’ve been researching a lot about canola oil in order to understand it more and try to avoid it because it makes me physically sick. My first encounter with it was when I was 6 years old and was eating Cheerios. Every time I tried to eat it I threw up. It was very odd because I’ve been eating it for so long and then my body was suddenly rejecting it. Currently in my life my body has been rejecting a lot of food I used to be able to eat all the time like Oreos and other junk like cake frosting.

    Now I know why. Canola oil. It derives from rapeseed plants which apparently very poisonous to all living things. It’s in so many things that I’ve felt like I couldn’t trust anything someone handed me to eat or anything without a label. Nevertheless, I can eat just about anything and there are foods that are safe to eat.

    Sometimes I feel like I’m blessed with the very picky stomach I have because I never should’ve eaten the snacks I used to eat in the first place anyway.

    That’s why I gave up sugar by the time I was in my teens. It made me feel ill. If only I’d recognized grains weren’t helping either.

  22. Luke says:

    Wonderful, just makes you want to consume it. Right? Enough chemical processing for you? Bleached enough for you? Ugh, it just makes me sick.

  23. Erica says:

    Better living through chemistry?

  24. Janice says:

    I am concerned about NuVal imposing their outdated nutrition facts on the public.
    Checkout their facebook page, and challenge their post about how great they say Canola Oil Is!!!! The public needs to see the response about the concerns over this!

  25. Jude Smith says:

    My grand mother lived to be 98 years old She would never have anything but butter in her home, for eating and baking. She walked everyday to go shopping. She died of old age!


    Just think of how long she could’ve lived if she’d just eaten healthy!!

    Cheers,
    The Older Brother (filling in for Tom)

  26. Terry Huffman says:

    Good stuff Tom and Jerry. Can we here in ____ expect some more good common sense letters-to-the-editor soon?

    That would be up to the Older Brother. I live in Tennessee.

  27. Mark Oakley says:

    My girlfriend and I tried this experiment when we first heard that canola might have deleterious effects. (Her sister had worked on a documentary which demonstrated that rats fed on canola quickly suffered liver dysfunction and other problems:

    We made muffins. (One batch using vegetable oil and the other butter. Same ingredient list otherwise.)

    The blind taste test: Both muffins tasted great, but the one using vegetable oil created a caustic sensation and we felt our throats noticeably tighten in a manner which I found similar to an asthma response. The butter muffins were smooth and caused no reaction in this manner. It was night and day.

    However, I’ve stopped eating muffins altogether; grains and sugars and other carbohydrate rich foods, turns out, are pretty nasty. I stick to animal meats and fats almost exclusively these days and I feel far better than I have done in years. (I’ve been on a meats only diet, with some very limited carbs and veggies for about a year now. After about three months, -it was a difficult switch-over for my body to become a fat-burner, but after that period I quickly noticed differences. The big one was that I no longer experience sugar crashing, (a signifier of typeII diabetes).

    I only need to eat a meal twice a day; my grocery bill has plummeted to around $25 per week, and yet I have a lot more energy. Strange body/joint aches and pains have vanished. No more stomach/heart burning. I’m not zombie-thin anymore and have much more muscle and fat in all the right places. I feel and look like an action figure, though this was not my reason for switching diets. My skin doesn’t break out anymore. These were all very noticeable effects. Also, I’ve only had one cold in the last year, and it was gone in under three days many around me suffered through multiple flus, etc.

    Very interesting!

    An excellent book on the subject: “Life Without Bread”.

    I can immediately taste vegetable oils now too. My wife makes pretty good muffins with almond flour.

  28. Kerrigan says:

    I don’t think it’s a good idea to exclude carbohydrates long term. Humans have big brains and need a lot of glucose. In people with damaged metabolism gluconeogenesis from fat and protein would probably work less than efficient, overburden liver and kidneys, release stress hormones, anti-inflammatory cortisol, which would probably make you feel butter short run but lower metabolism and lead to adrenal fatigue in the long run.

    None of those dire predictions have held up to actual research. The big brain runs happily on ketones as well as glucose.

  29. Arun B. Agarwal says:

    It seems awkward that those people who introduce all sorts of trans fat and refined oils in the food with all its negative aspects are not bothered,don’t feel any responsibility and keep on business as usual.They do not provide any meaningful research.They do not take permission before unloading their concoction before people to consume.Whereas others defending old fats with a history of usage without any ill effect struggle a lot and perhaps a slowly winning long drawn battle.

  30. JR says:

    Canola makes me sick. I was diagnosed with IBS but after keeping a food journal I discovered that it was Canola Oil that was causing my symptoms. Recently I ate one croûton that had it in it and that was all it took.

  31. tim says:

    I tried using oil in one pot and lard in another pot for a fondue with friends. They all said that the meat came out of the lard crisper and with a much better flavor than out of the oil. When compared side by side like that it is obvious which tasted better and is healthier. THe meat coming out of the oil tasted oily while the meat coming out of the lard tasted natural. Point to consider in all food is: natural is good, processed is not good. How plain can it be before people understand it.

  32. Doreen Cavazza says:

    I wasn’t sure about canola oil because, of course, everything says it’s so healthy. Today, I put into my web search bar, “Tom Naughton on canola oil” and found this blog. There’s a restaurant near where I work that sells hot dogs and hamburgers, etc. They have a HUGE sign that says, “We use canola oil”. I want to go in tomorrow and thank them for letting me know they’re using an unhealthy oil, and I won’t be eating there any longer.

    Thank you for the invaluable information you offer. Watching Fat Head when I did a couple of years ago was the best thing I ever did.

    Thank you for watching.

  33. A. M. Griffith. says:

    This was really an awesome article. I appreciate the contrast between the two products demonstrating how simply the wholesome one was produced vs. how complicated and elaborate the undesirable the other had to be maneuvered.

  34. We are always being told that canola oil is the more healthy choice, but is it really that natural? http://www.megaoils.com/butter-oil/

  35. Riccardo says:

    Rape seeds, are derived from the plant that Italians eat and call rapini, or brocolli rabe, a healty green vegetable. The modern GMO and non GMO version is produced industrially worldwide. Canola oil is mostly rape seed oil, the term canola stand for Canadian light vegetable oil. Industrial mass produced refined vegetable oils have been introduced into use after WW2 with consequential gradual deterioration in public health, and huge increase in the obesity rate world wide. Yet the medical establishment continues promoting and recommending consumption of polyunsaturated fats over saturated fats. The producers of vegetable oil have corrupted the medical establishment, and have invented the term ” essential oils”,; there are small quantities of polyunsaturated oils in animal fats, coconut oil, and fresh not roasted nuts. The over the counter supplement industry has been fueling the demand for flax seed and fish oil- omega 3, quoting that Japanese eating lot of fish supposedly have longer healthier lives, yet these oils are very unstable and can go rancid in a very short time.

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