The Real Problem with Restaurant Foods

During and following the pandemic, restaurants were forced to raise their prices; by about 8% in Sept 2022, with some raising their prices by 10 to 15 percent that year. More price increases followed in 2023 and 2024 due to a number of factors, including the rising cost of energy, food and labor, as well as the additional costs incurred by being forced by public demand to use delivery apps and services. Not to mention good old fashioned inflation.


Those of us who regularly eat in restaurants have felt this increase each time we look at the menu or receive our bill. And this dramatic increase in the cost of dining out has led me to review whether or not I feel the restaurant experience is now worth the cost.


The restaurant industry was hit harder than most by the pandemic, being a business that depends on an in-person experience. (Unlike the fast food industry, which did very well during this time due to the drive-through options they had.)  (Source)


According to a recent survey done by Restaurants Canada, “62 percent of restaurants said they were operating at a loss or barely breaking even, up from 10 per cent pre-pandemic”. Restaurants have responded to these challenges by trying to reduce food wastage, shrinking portions and using “more cost-effective ingredients”.


One of the primary foods used in the food business is oil, and while cheaper less healthy oils were already widely used in fast food and lower end restaurants, the drive to reduce production costs has pushed more and more restaurants to resort to the most commonly used cheap cooking oil: canola.


Canola Oil


The most widely consumed food oil in Canada, canola is a relatively new type of oil selectively bred from rapeseed plants to produce an oil very low in erucic acid. This fatty acid, which is in high amounts in rapeseed oil, was found to have carcinogenic properties when fed to experimental animals.


Developed in Canada, canola oil (“Can” for Canada, “ola” for oil) “contains 55% of the monounsaturated fatty acid; oleic acid, 25% linoleic acid and 10% alpha-linolenate [polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA)], and only 4% of saturated fatty acids”.   (Source)


While higher in omega 3 fatty acid precursors than most vegetable oils, and half monosaturated fatty acids (like olive oil), it still contains a high amount of omega 6 PUFAs compared to its omega 3 contents. (One tablespoon of canola oil contains 2.66 grams of omega-6 per tablespoon and 0.13 grams of omega-3s.)


Most of us are now aware that omega 6 PUFAs are considered to be mostly detrimental to our health. (This family of high PUFA oils include corn, soy, sunflower, and peanut oil.)


Sure, canola is high in monosaturated oils, like avocado and olive oils which are both considered generally healthy to use. But canola brings with it the problem of being one of the most common genetically engineered foods. The problem with that being, aside from the other issues surrounding GMO foods, canola was engineered to take high levels of the pesticide Roundup, and so is very contaminated with this dangerous substance.


Deep Frying

Of all the foods we eat in restaurants, perhaps the worst is deep fried foods. This is so due to a number of factors including that, when not cooked at the ideal temperature, the food serves as a sponge to absorb large amounts of the oil it was fried in. Furthermore, according to Dave Asprey (the “Bulletproof” guy), the inflammatory response in the body after eating a deep fried meal is akin to having just smoked cigarettes. (Reference) To this we can add the damage caused by high acrylamide levels which develop when starchy foods (like potatoes) are cooked at high temperatures.


Back in the day, deep fryers used lard or tallow, saturated animal fats that did not become damaged under high heat. Other saturated fats used were coconut and palm oils. However, after the demonization of saturated fats, the restaurant industry started switching over to vegetable oils for deep frying, based on the newly initiated public demand. Even movie theaters stopped cooking popcorn in coconut oil and moved to using vegetable oils.


This move away from saturated fats was ideal for and encouraged by the developing canola industry, in the late 70s. 


Canola oil is pretty stable at high temperatures (deep fryers operate at between 350 and 400 degrees F), has a neutral flavor, and is one of the most affordable oils on the market. Thus its use in the restaurant industry became widespread, and now with the changes to the industry discussed above, has become even more widespread. And this move towards canola oil is even happening among small owner-operated restaurants, which used to pride themselves on using a higher grade of raw materials. 


Other oils with a high smoke point (meaning they can be used to safely cook foods at high temperatures) include peanut oil or soybean oil or what is referred to as “vegetable oil” (also found as an ingredient in many potato chips). “Vegetable oil” simply refers to a product that is using canola and/or soybean oil. 


Commercial Chinese food is usually cooked in peanut oil with canola and soybean oil also being common. (Peanut oil imparts a flavor which suits Chinese food, but other ethnic foods tend to use more neutral oils.)


Japanese food in Japan actually uses a lot of rapeseed oil, but Japanese restaurants here in Canada now commonly use canola oil. Thai cuisine skews towards canola or soy oils, and all fast food restaurants now mostly use canola oil.


So What’s Wrong With Canola?


Marketed as a modern healthy alternative to saturated fats, and even as a cheaper alternative to olive oil, with similar health benefits, canola was pushed heavily into the market by The Canola Council of Canada, who call it “the healthiest of all commonly used cooking oils.”


In the U.S. canola oil consumption has tripled since 2000, up to about 3 million tons in 2017. And of this large amount of oil consumed, “more than 90% of U.S. crops and upwards of 80% of Canadian canola are derived from genetically-engineered seeds”.


Now, the oil is considered safe for consumption by the FDA and Health Canada because the genetically modified protein in the plant is removed during the processing that extracts the oil. This makes canola oil, in their minds, to be the same as any conventional oil, and “safe for unlimited human consumption”.


Unfortunately, the chemical residue of the high amounts of RoundUp (a glyphosate-based herbicide) still resides in the oil, especially since seeds have a tendency to pick up and store pesticides (Source). (Another reason to ensure all the seed oils you use are organic.)


While canola oil has been heavily promoted as healthful for many decades now, only recently have there been any studies done on its potential dangers.


Canola and Alzheimer’s


One research group decided to see if the rise in Alzheimer’s disease (AD) might have a relationship to canola oil, given that there has been a “sixteen-fold increase in deaths from Alzheimer’s reported in 1991: a total of 14,112, up from just 857 deaths reported in 1979”. Remember, that is about when canola oil started to be widely used.


Let’s have a look at their rodent study (from 2017) that sought to determine if there was any potential link between canola oil and AD.


“Herein, we investigated the effect of chronic daily consumption of canola oil on the phenotype of a mouse model of AD that develops both plaques and tangles. To this end mice received either regular chow or a chow diet supplemented with canola oil for 6 months. At this time point we found that chronic exposure to the canola-rich diet resulted in a significant increase in body weight and impairments in their working memory together with decreased levels of post-synaptic density protein-95, a marker of synaptic integrity, and an increase in the ratio of insoluble Aβ 42/40 (amyloid plaque) …Taken together, our findings do not support a beneficial effect of chronic canola oil consumption on two important aspects of AD pathophysiology which includes memory impairments as well as synaptic integrity. While more studies are needed, our data do not justify the current trend aimed at replacing olive oil with canola oil.”   (Source)


In a human version of the above study, which ran for a full year, “180 older adults were randomly assigned to either a control diet rich in refined oils — including canola — or a diet which replaced all refined oils with 20–30 ml of extra virgin olive oil per day. Notably, those in the olive oil group experienced improved brain function”.   Source).


Supporting the aforementioned link between canola oil and inflammation highlighted by Dave Asprey, “a recent rat study demonstrated that compounds formed during the heating of canola oil increased certain inflammatory markers and oxidative stess”. (Source)


In another rat study, “the canola oil diet significantly decreased lifespan and led to sizable increases in blood pressure, when compared to a soybean oil diet”. (Source) Which is saying something, since soy oil is much higher in omega 6 PUFAs than canola oil is.


A small human study (2020) had subjects cook with either only canola or olive oil for six weeks. “Those who consumed only olive oil had significantly lower blood levels of interleukine-6, a substance that promotes heart inflammation. There were no significant improvements after six weeks among those eating only canola oil.  (Source).


Findings like these provide a sharp contrast to the industry-funded reviews that claim canola oil protects against heart disease risk factors, like total cholesterol and high “bad” cholesterol (LDL) levels.  (Source)  Though it has been pointed out that studies implying canola oil is good for heart health tended to use less refined and unheated canola oil.




Glyphosate is the primary ingredient in the most widely used herbicide in the world: Roundup. In an article detailing the mechanism of how glyphosate is absorbed in the body and what it does to the gut microbiome, Dr. Arthur Krigsman provided a clear explanation of the particular pathology that results from ingesting too much glyphosate and how it is distinctly linked to autism.  (Source)


For those few readers unaware, Roundup is used mostly on GMO foods (primarly canola, corn, soy, and sugar beets), but is also sprayed on many other non-GMO crops right before harvest, to serve as a desiccant (dry the crop out so it is less prone to mold) or to speed ripening. Common crops that receive this treatment include legumes, oats and wheat, which is why it is important to purchase organic versions of these foods.


Since both the FDA and Health Canada consider glyphosate to be nontoxic to humans they do not mandate that foods be tested for levels of Roundup. “An ever increasing body of research by independent scientists, however, has proven otherwise.”


A systematic review investigating the effects of this herbicide on the nervous system of animals and humans came to the conclusion “that exposure to glyphosate or its commercial formulations induces several neurotoxic effects”. 


Glyphosate seems to exert a significant toxic effect on neurotransmission and to induce oxidative stress, neuroinflammation and mitochondrial dysfunction, processes that lead to neuronal death due to autophagy, necrosis, or apoptosis, as well as the appearance of behavioral and motor disorders…it is unequivocal that exposure to glyphosate produces important alterations in the structure and function of the nervous system of humans, rodents, fish, and invertebrates.”   (Source) 


Now, it is possible that the link to AD is only due to the glyphosate content of canola oil, and not inherent in the oil itself, since we do not know if the studies referred to used GMO oil or not.


Edible Oils


Humans traditionally used animal fats for cooking: fat from beef (tallow), pig (lard), chicken or duck fat, or they used butter, or coconut or palm oils. Such saturated fats do not get damaged by high heat, and thus do not produce free radicals, unlike over-heated vegetable oils (PUFAs).


The problem is further compounded by the fact that the food industry uses vegetable oils extracted under high heat and pressure, followed by extraction of the remaining pulp with chemical solvents. That means these cheap PUFA oils are already unhealthy before they even get heated up in high temperature cooking. Thus their use in dressings and sauces, even when not cooked at high temperatures, is still contrary to good health.


In order to reap any health benefit from vegetable oils like sesame, safflower, sunflower, etc, (which do provide Omega 6 essential fatty acids) they should be “cold-pressed”. This involves pressing out the oils at room temperature under minimal pressure, and results in oils which are delicate and can easily go rancid (another reason they find no place in the food industry). Such oils need to be stored in dark glass bottles, in a cool place, so they are protected from heat, light and moisture.


The following acceptable oils can be used in salad dressings and other uses that don’t involve heat: hempseed, flax, olive and walnut.


While there is a popular theory now that all omega 6 oils are dangerous to health and should be strictly avoided, omega 6 fatty acids are considered “essential”, which means they are necessary and only available from the diet. The problem, widely agreed upon, is that food in the West had an unhealthy ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids, with the average consumer getting 20 times more omega 6 than 3 from their diet. I do agree that this ratio is responsible for a good chunk of our main diseases (cancer, heart disease, and diabetes), but if one has a balanced diet high in omega 3’s, they may in fact need the occasional intake of omega 6 fatty acids as well.


Canola Dominates


Of the damaged vegetable oils widely used in processed food and the commercial food industry, corn, canola and soybean oil (the top 3 GMO foods) are by far and away the most common, with canola gradually dominating that market. When grocery shopping, have a look at the ingredients in cookies, canned goods, frozen processed foods, potato chips, and even bread and roasted nuts, and you will see how much canola oil we are inadvertently consuming on a regular basis.


This use of canola oil is now also dominating the salad dressing market, thus you will find that it is very commonly used in restaurant salad dressing, as well as sauces which require an oil base. 


In the grocery store we can read the labels, but when we are at a restaurant it can be difficult to find out what oils you are being fed. You could ask the waiter and, if they are keen on getting a tip, they may go to the kitchen and ask the cook, or read the ingredients on the bucket of commercial salad dressing that they draw from.


You might be dining at a small venture that focusses on locally produced foods, but it still doesn’t mean they are using high grade oils, since, as I mentioned at the outset, restaurants are in dire financial straits these days and need to cut corners where they can. Oils are one of the easiest places to make that cut, since restaurants use so much oil. It is in dressings, sauces, as well as on the grills, saute pans, and sandwich presses, not to mention deep fryers. Meats are often coated with oil just before being cooked, as are the breads used in hot sandwiches.


Many restaurants also use hydrogenated vegetable oils, which produce trans fats, free radical producing oils that are as linked to disease states as smoking is to lung cancer.


What To Do


Of course there is one big problem for any restaurant that decides to use good cooking oils. Imagine the response of those customers with high cholesterol, who have been prescribed statin drugs and diets low in saturated fats, when they find out the deep fryer is filled with lard or coconut oil. No restaurant would have the time or resources to educate their clientel as to how their doctor is wrong on this issue.


However, there are a couple of things you can do to improve your dietary experience when dining out.


Most restaurants will have olive oil and balsamic vinegar in the back so you can request a simple salad dressing be used on your food rather than their commercial dressing (or the dressing they made with canola oil). 


Another option is to ask that your food be grilled in butter when ordering eggs, pancakes, stir frys, or hot sandwiches. 


To Be Fair


During my research I did find that some studies have shown some health benefits for those who used canola oil regularly. 


An independent 2021 study found that canola oil improved the lipid profile and insulin sensitivity in women with PCOS.”


Other studies have found evidence that canola oil may: protect against microbial infection; reduce cardiometabolic risk factors; delay heart disease progression; promote a modest reduction in body weight.”   (Source)


As mentioned above, most of these studies used unheated canola oil, and a less refined product than is found in the restaurant industry. So, given that canol is fairly high in omega-3 precursors, if one were to use an organic version occasionally, I can’t see too much problem with that approach. But, at the very least, try to ensure that the canola oil is not genetically modified. For example, when I am on the road, I will sometimes get a Beyond Meat burger from A&W, since I know they claim to use non-GMO canola oil.




As a result of the increased prices, and my realization that canola and other cheap de-natured vegetable oils are a big part of my meal, I have rolled back my restaurant dining experiences. It is one thing to get unhealthy food when one goes to a fast food restaurant; that is kind of what we expect. I look at it as cheating on my generally good diet, but I am aware such dining is a guilty pleasure, and one that I keep to a minimum. However, I used to be able to think that my fine dining restaurant experience (including Chinese, Japanese, and Thai foods) were at least giving me a higher grade of food for the extra money I paid. I no longer think that is true, and now make a point of making careful dietary choices when I do dine out.


(Author: All newsletters and blogs are written by Ken Peters who has worked as a nutritional consultant for the last 30 years, and as product designer for NutriStart for the last 25 years.  He has also authored two books – Health Secrets Vol. 1&2.  He may be reached at:

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