Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Showdown at the Canola corral

There will be more posts on this topic, but I had to get something down after my conversation with a representative from the Alberta Canola Producers Commission this afternoon. They had a display set up in the Students' Union Building at the University of Alberta this afternoon. I noticed it on my way back to my office after my Ashtanga Yoga practice and thought I would check it out. There was a large version of the graph on the top of this figure (below) that caught my eye.
Canola oil is listed at the top of this chart because it has the least saturated fat content of the oils listed. The representative asked if I used canola oil. Here is a paraphrased excerpt of our conversation.

Me: No I don't use canola oil.
Rep: What oil do you use?
Me: Coconut oil, lard (bacon grease actually, butter and olive oil.
Rep: Don't you know those have a lot of saturated fat?
Me: Is that bad?
Rep: Yes, saturated fat has been linked to heart disease.
Me: What studies showed this?
Rep: Studies as far back as the 1960s.
Me: Did you know those researchers selected countries for their studies that fit their theory that saturated fat is bad, and that if all the countries were included in their analyses, there would be no relationship?
Rep: That's one interpretation.

There was more back and forth about rates of heart disease increasing in countries in Asia that have increasing use of saturated fats that I countered with the question of refined carbohydrate use also increasing in these countries - to this the reply was that there are a number of factors. I then asked why focus on saturated fat? The rep asked about my blood work, to which I replied that it was even better now that I used saturated fats more and no canola oil. I can't remember if I mentioned that I also don't eat any grains. 

Here's my "unhealthy" breakfast this morning. Fortuitous, I know. A two free-run egg omelet (eggs from Big Coulee Farms in Athabasca; they sell pastured chickens, beef, and pork too), with German salami (from the Grapevine Deli in St. Albert - go there for gluten/preservative-free deli meats and imported goodies, tell them I sent you), mushrooms and asparagus all fried in bacon grease (gasp!) from triple-smoked European bacon from, where else, the Grapevine Deli!

I then asked about the high percentage of omega 6 in canola oil and pointed out that the n6:n3 ratio is already a problem in society so why would we want more in a product like canola oil? The reply was that the 6:3 ratio in canola was respectable at 2:1. I noted that the fraction of n6 in coconut oil was tiny by comparison to canola (2% in coconut vs 21% in canola). No real answer. (I didn't get into the other issues like the production process and the issues with GMO plants.) The rep had not much more to offer at this point. I left the display and went back to work.

I'm not sure anything was accomplished, except that I engaged the rep in, what I thought, was a meaningful discussion, and presented a counterpoint to the conventional wisdom that canola (and other seed oils) is good for health.

My student Ashley suggested that I put some information up about where to source coconut oil in the greater Edmonton Area. Here is the brand I buy I get mine from the Great Candaian Superstore for $8.99 per 454g (1 pound) container. In honour of my conversation(s) (there was another one that I had with nutrition students about grains and carbohydrates in diet - I'll post on that later) I ate a large tablespoon full of the oil pictured below when I returned to my office.


  1. Now if you can get the con-ola (spelling intended) rep to down a tablespoon of coconut oil after your conversation with him, I'd be duly impressed!

  2. Yeah, she didn't seem too interested in trying out my lifestyle. I should have asked her how *her* blood work was, given that she asked (and I spilled) about mine!

  3. You exercised admirable restraint, Chris. I just walk away from most of those types of "debates" these days.

  4. Rep: Yes, saturated fat has been linked to heart disease.
    Me: Having a television is linked to heart disease. Driving a car is linked to heart disease. Tax rates are linked to heart disease. Lots of things are "linked" to heart disease, but this doesn't mean any or all of them cause heart disease. Do you know of any evidence proving that saturated fat causes heart disease?