On Nutrition by Ed Blonz

Canola Oil Safe to Use

DEAR DR. BLONZ: I see so much info online stating that canola oil, also called rapeseed oil, is not fit for human consumption, even after manufacturers address the toxic substances found in the original seed. This information says not to believe the canola proponents, insisting that this oil can cause blindness and other severe health problems. What are your feelings on this? Could this be the initial stage of another trans-fat-like trend -- something that people should avoid now, rather than waiting for all the chips to fall? -- R.H., San Francisco

DEAR R.H.: Misinformation on the internet can be like a pesky weed that keeps coming back. An already-debunked item gets found by a search engine and passed around anew, forcing a replay of the “Who do you trust?” game. I am glad that you wrote, because we each have the responsibility to exercise due diligence and find out the facts before we spread a bogus message of fear to others.

One way is to use a search engine, searching for the term in question, coupled with the term “urban legend” in quotes. Another is to limit your search to academic sites (those ending with .edu) or ones known to be evidence-based, such as berkeleywellness.com (I am on their editorial board). You can find Berkeley’s take on canola myths at tinyurl.com/yd865u5k.

Doing these searches for “canola” would have filled your pantry with more rational takes on the anti-canola nonsense. There is nothing wrong with canola oil; it does not contain, nor represent, an impending “trans-fat-like” dark spot on our food supply.

DEAR DR. BLONZ: You had recently reassured a reader who questioned the safety of cooking raw chicken in a slow cooker. I have another question about my son’s method for cooking chicken on the grill. He puts frozen chicken breasts on the hot grill and cooks them for about 15 minutes, turning frequently. He believes that the meat stays juicier than if he started with thawed pieces. I have eaten his grilled chicken, which did, indeed, seem to be quite moist. It appeared to be adequately cooked; at least, I did not suffer any ill effects. But is this a safe method of grilling? -- G.T., Pinole, California

DEAR G.T.: It can be safe if done carefully, but I don’t see the advantage here. Your son, the chef, has to walk the line between an overcooked, leathery outside and undercooked meat at the center. The thicker the piece of meat, the smaller the gap between these extremes. It’s all a matter of timing and a quick hand on the flipper. Constant attention is the name of the game. Lowering the grill temperature can provide more time for the heat to penetrate. It would also help if you had a good meat thermometer, and a grill that allows you to cook with indirect heat.

It is best to check the meat before you eat, checking the thickest part of the largest pieces. Undercooked chicken has a translucent quality to it. Care is also needed to avoid under- or overcooking when you start with poultry at refrigerator temperature, but it is much easier than starting with frozen. The USDA information page on freezing and food safety is at tinyurl.com/y9axm7qd. Their recommended minimum temperature for cooked poultry is 165 degrees F.

Send questions to: “On Nutrition,” Ed Blonz, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to questions@blonz.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.