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4 July 2012

Oil's Well – why rapeseed oil is good for you

You may have heard about the endless health benefits of olive oil and the Mediterranean Diet, but did you know that Britain produces an oil that equals, and may even rival it?
Intrigued by this information we spoke to our Industry Expert, Priya Tew of Dietitian UK, to find out more about Britain’s golden elixir, that is rapeseed oil.

AFT: Rapeseed oil has been around for a very long time but not as a gourmet culinary ingredient, we’ve even heard that it was quite unpalatable.
PT: It was used in Asia and Europe as a lamp fuel and in WWII as a lubricant for steam engines. Now all these years later we have a version that has been bred to taste better and is actually good for us.

AFT: It is amazing to think that rapeseed oil was not considered a food, so now with it becoming part of our diet, what makes it so special for our health?
PT: Like olive oil, rapeseed oil is low in saturated fat and high in monounsaturated fats, in fact it is made of about 60% Oleic acid (MUFA). This specific fat has been shown to have some significant health benefits.

AFT: Olive oil has become an ubiquitous store cupboard essential and we’d like to see more British people using rapeseed oil as it tastes good and is good for you. You say that rapeseed oil has much in common with olive oil, so how is it better for us?
PT: Back in the 1980’s some landmark research was conducted that looked at the diet and death rate of over 11,000 middle aged men in 7 Countries. They found that the Mediterranean men had a lower death rate from cancer and heart disease which was related to their diet. Eating less saturated fat and more monounsaturated fats (MUFA) was the key and Oleic acid was the main source of the monounsaturated fat that these men were eating (1). This is the main fat in rapeseed oil.

AFT: Obviously in addition to using rapeseed oil we would need to follow a balanced diet to enjoy all the health benefits. What is the Mediterranean diet?
PT: The Mediterranean diet contains plenty of fresh and unprocessed foods. With an emphasis on eating fruit and vegetables, beans and pulses, wholegrains, olive oil and nuts. Dairy foods, fish, poultry and red wine are eaten in moderate amounts. Only a small amount of saturated fats, salt and processed foods are eaten, most meals are cooked from scratch and flavoured with plenty of herbs and spices. Eating this type of diet can reduce death from heart disease by 10% and can also reduce cholesterol levels (2).

AFT: Rapeseed oil is still a fat, so how can it help people looking after their heart?
PT: Some small studies have suggested that using specifically more rapeseed oil could lower total cholesterol levels and more importantly lower the “bad” cholesterol (LDL) levels (3,4), once again supporting the fact that eating rapeseed oil can be good for your heart.
Rapeseed oil is a healthy fat to be choosing to include in your diet on a regular basis. Reducing your intake of saturated fats such as butter, cheese and processed foods and increasing avocados, nuts, seeds and rapeseed oil can help lower your risk of heart disease.

Priya Tew is a registered dietitian who runs her own nutrition consultancy business, Dietitian UK.
As a mum and food lover she is passionate about helping people to discover good quality food and to show them how healthy eating is not just tasty but vitally important.

If you haven’t yet tried rapeseed oil, we’d urge you to do so. It is great for cooking – use it for shallow frying and roasting – potatoes turn out wonderfully crisp. It is perfect for making dressings too.

To find out where you can get rapeseed oil from, take a look at our Oils section on The Artisan Food Trail here

For more about rapeseed oil the following articles and recipes should inspire you:
Say hello to yellow or why you should buy extra virgin cold pressed rapeseed oil
Zingy Honey Chilli Chicken recipe
‘A Very British’ Watercress Pesto recipe
Carrot Cake recipe
Roast Potatoes recipe

1. Keys A et al (1986). The diet and 15 year death rate in the Seven Countries Study. Am J Epidemiology 124: 903-15.
2. Sofi F, Abbate R, Gensini GF, Casini A. Accruing evidence on benefits of adherence to the Mediterranean diet on health: an updated systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Nov [cited 2011 Oct 24];92(5):1189-96. Abstract available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20810976
3. Gillingham LG et al (2011). High oleic canola and flaxseed oils modulate serum lipids and inflammatory biomarkers in hypercholesterolaemic subjects. Br J Nutrition 105 (3) 417-27
4. Iggman D et al (2011). Replacing dairy fat with rapeseed oil causes rapid improvement of hyperlipidaemia: a randomized controlled study. J Intern Med 270 (4): 356-64.

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