While canola oil may occupy a space in many pantries, consumers are likely unfamiliar with the numerous potential health benefits it offers. A good source of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, canola oil is considered heart-protective. The presence of plant sterols and vitamins E and K contribute to its excellent nutrient profile.
Canola oil is made by expelling the oil from the seeds of the canola plant. Canola oil as we know it today was not produced for consumption until the late 1970s. The canola plant belongs to the Brassicaceae family; Brassica napus (commonly known as rapeseed) is the plant species canola comes from. However, because rapeseed contains a high percentage (roughly 40 percent) of erucic acid, plant scientists in Canada bred out this characteristic to create canola – a contraction of “can” for Canadian and “ola” for oil – with low erucic content (less than 2 percent) for food use.
Research indicates that even a modest consumption of canola oil can significantly improve blood lipid profiles. In studies with participants who included canola oil in their diet, total cholesterol levels dropped by an average of 12.2 percent and “bad” LDL cholesterol was lowered by approximately 17 percent when compared to diets high in saturated fats. Keeping total cholesterol and LDL within healthy limits can help prevent the onset of cardiovascular disease. In some studies, Canola oil also exhibited anti-thrombic (prevention or dissolution of blood clots) and antioxidant (anti-inflammatory) properties, which may benefit the body in other ways.
The alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) in canola oil is an omega-3 fatty acid which may have several associated health benefits. Since our bodies cannot make essential fatty acids, we need to consume them on a daily basis. How much is enough? It is recommended that the average intake for a man is 1.6 grams ALA daily and for a woman, 1.1 grams; this translates to about 1.2 tablespoons of canola oil for men and 0.8 tablespoons for women.
Aside from its health-enhancing properties, canola oil stands out for its versatility in the kitchen. Given its high smoke point, canola oil is suitable for use in all cooking methods, including baking, sautéing and grilling or as a pan coating. Thus, canola oil can replace sources of saturated fat while enhancing your well-being. With its mild, smooth taste, canola oil can also be used in salad dressings and marinades. Reminder: REPLACE, don’t ADD! It is important to replace sources of saturated or trans fats with heart-healthy oils without increasing your overall daily calorie intake in order to fully reap the health benefits.
Lomo Saltado is a popular dish in Peru. It is a unique dish in that it carries an Asian influence, common to dishes found in the ubiquitous Chifa (Peruvian-Chinese) restaurants as well as in many home kitchens. While Lomo Saltado is traditionally prepared using beef tri-tip, I thought I’d make a different version using chicken.
2 tablespoons Canola oil
1 lb cooked chicken breast, thinly sliced in sticks shape
Salt, pepper and 1-2 teaspoon of cumin to taste
2 Red onions, cut into sticks
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons of soy sauce
1 tablespoon of chili paste (or aji paste)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tomatoes, cut into sticks
2 tablespoon of cilantro, chopped
Heat the oil and sauté the onions, garlic, aji, and vinegar to the pan. Cook for 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and mix well. Season with salt and pepper and stir in the cumin. Add the chicken to the pan, add the soy sauce, and sprinkle with cilantro. Stir well and cook for another 1 minute.
Manuel Villacorta is a registered dietitian in private practice, MV Nutrition, award winning nutrition and weight loss center in San Francisco. He is the founder and creator of Eating Free, an international weight management and wellness program and author of Eating Free: The Carb Friendly Way to Lose Inches, Embrace Your Hunger, and Keep Weight Off for Good and his new book Peruvian Power Foods: 18 Superfoods, 101 Recipes, and Anti-Aging Secrets from the Amazon to the Andes (HCI, October 2013)