Canola oil is the third most-produced vegetable oil after palm and soybean oil worldwide.
What’s canola oil made of?
Canola oil is a popular vegetable oil which is made of a rapeseed variety.
It is known for many centuries in the Mediterranean area and Northern Europe. Ancient varieties of the rapeseed were particularly rich in erucic acid.
People didn’t consume vegetable oil from rapeseed, as it could be toxic in high doses, mainly due to erucic acid. Rapeseed oil contained a big amount of erucic acid. Even more than 40%.
Because of the high amount of erucic acid, rapeseed oil was mainly used in industry as a lubricant, as it has the same properties as mineral oils, but it is more biodegradable.
Health effects of erucic acid
Erucic acid is a monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acid.
Erucic acid has been reported to be dangerous for human health.
Tests on animals show that vegetable oils with a high amount of erucic acid over time can lead to (3):
- a heart condition called myocardial lipidosis,
- changes in the weight of the liver, kidney and skeletal muscle
Based on this, experts established a tolerable daily intake of 7 milligrams per kilogram of body weight (mg/kg) per day (3).
This safe level is pretty high. Most people consume up to half the quantity of the safety level.
From rapeseed oil to canola oil
Canola was originally a trademark name of the Rapeseed Association of Canada.
Canola comes from “Can” + “Ola”. “Can” from Canada and “Ola” from Oil-Low-Acid.
In 1976, Canadian scientists improved the quality of previous cultivars of rapeseed through traditional plant breeding. This led to consumable canola cultivars with much less erucic acid content.
As a result, canola oil was created. A vegetable oil with less than 0.5% erucic acid of total fatty acids. The traditional rapeseed oil contains more than 40%.
Nowadays, when you buy canola oil it must contain less than 2% of erucic acid.
The leading production countries of canola oil are Europe with 63% of global production and Canada with 31%.
Is canola oil a healthy vegetable oil?
Canola oil-based diets have been shown to (2):
- reduce total cholesterol levels,
- reduce substantially the Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the dangerous for our health cholesterol),
- improve insulin sensitivity.
These effects were observed in comparison with diets containing higher levels of saturated fatty acids.
Scientists found that these health effects of canola oil could be achieved:
- only if we replace saturated fat with fat from canola oil and
- not increase the total daily calories.
Canola oil is especially high in monounsaturated fatty acids which benefits our health in contrast with the saturated fatty acids, that are mainly present in animals products, such as meat, dairy, eggs, butter, etc.
Fat coming from plants, like vegetable oils such as canola oil, is healthier than fat coming from animal sources. The reason is the high content of saturated fat in animal sources.
Nutrition facts of canola oil
- saturated fatty acids (SFAs): tiny amount. Only 7%
- monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs): substantial amounts. 61% oleic acid (omega-9).
- polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs): 21% linoleic acid (omega-6) and 11% alpha-linolenic acid (ALA or omega-3)
It also contains plant sterols (0.53–0.97%) and tocopherols (700–1,200 ppm).
Canola oil contains only 2 vitamins:
- Vitamin E, 18 mg/100gr. The recommended daily intake is 15 mg for adults. So, a tablespoon provides about 16% DV.
- Vitamin K, 71 mcg/100gr. The recommended daily intake is 80-120mcg for adults.
Why canola oil is bad for you?
It’s Genetically Modified
Most commercial canola oils are probably GMO products.
For instance, Canada which is in the top 5 countries that grow genetically modified crops worldwide, mainly produces genetically modified canola. In 2009, 90% of the canola production of Canada was genetically modified (1).
It’s treated with Heat
Commercial canola oil is extracted with heat. This method declines the quality of the final vegetable oil. The worst outcome is the production of trans-fats, the kind of fats that have been connected to serious health problems.
The best vegetable oils like extra virgin olive oil are extracted through a cold-pressed procedure.
These oil have the minimum process.
Cold-pressed organic canola oil is extremely difficult to be found. Also, it’s much more expensive.
It’s produced with Solvent Agents
Most commercially available canola oils are extracted by hexane solvent extraction:
- Crushing the plant seeds
- Extraction of the crushed material with a boiling solvent named hexane. This way the maximum amount of oil is extracted from the seed
- Deodorization for creating the preferred taste and no odor.
This process is by far the cheapest and most efficient way to extract canola oil.
It has been estimated that refined vegetable oils extracted with hexane contain about 0.8 mg of residual hexane per kilogram of oil (0.8 ppm). It is considered a negligible amount for human health.
Unfortunately, these manufacturing processes leave the oils damaged, creating oxidation and trans fat content.
When canola oil is deodorized, it is treated to temperatures above 200ºC to adjust the color, texture, odor, and taste of the final product to the customer’s preferences.
All refined vegetable oils, during exposure to these high temperatures, are being damaged.
Some amount of natural unsaturated fatty acids in canola oil is transformed into trans fat. Trans-fats are considered extremely harmful to health. Our bodies have a hard time metabolizing them.
The trans-fat content has been measured to be up to 3.6%.
During the process of canola oil, a part of the beneficial omega-3 fatty acids turns to harmful trans-fat.
Why canola oil is good for you?
Canola is a good alternative for people with peanut, tree nut, and soy allergies. It isn’t considered allergenic.
The omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is about 2. That means that canola oil has some decent amount of the wanted omega-3 fatty acids.
In a matter of fact, canola oil has the best ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s, among vegetable oils.
Additionally, it’s very low in saturated fatty acids. Only 7%.
Is canola oil gluten-free?
All vegetable oils are gluten-free.
It is a common practice to grow canola plants in rotation with grains like wheat or barley. As seeds are always cleaned and examined through the processing of the final product, it’s rather difficult to contain gluten.
Just to be sure, prefer canola oil that is gluten-free certified. Otherwise, you’ll never be sure, as additives or flavorings could contain gluten.
What’s the smoke point of canola oil?
Canola oil has the highest smoke point of 238 oC (460 oF), along with soybean oil. For this reason, it is used for frying.
Keep in mind that deep-frying can transform healthy fatty acids in the original canola oil to trans-fat.
For instance, frying French fries in the same canola oil for days could increase the total trans fatty acid content of the oil.
Why do we use canola oil?
Canola oil is a commercial success because of:
- Taste: Thanks to the deodorization process, it has a smooth natural taste.
- Smoke point: Has a high smoke point of 238 oC (460 oF). The smoke point of olive oil is only 193 oC (380 oF). This makes canola oil perfect for frying.
- Price: It is a low-cost highly processed vegetable oil. It is better to be used in pastries, cakes, and frying. On the other hand, extra virgin olive oil is a more expensive vegetable oil that has been extracted without the presence of heat. It is better used in dressings.
Which vegetable oil to prefer? Canola oil vs Olive oil
Why prefer canola oil
Canola oil is a perfect vegetable oil for frying. It has a high smoke point, it’s cheaper, and contains healthy omega-3.
You should consider that the most commercial canola oils are GMOs.
Why prefer extra virgin olive oil
In comparison, it’s a product of low process.
It’s cold-pressed, meaning an absence of heat during production. This means no deterioration of the final product (no heat means no trans-fat).
Moreover, extra virgin olive oil has unique polyphenols, which are super helpful for our health.
Extra virgin olive oil is much more expensive than canola oil. It’s the ideal vegetable oil for dressings.
Most quality olive oils come from ancient varieties. Olive trees are part of the Mediterranean area for centuries.
They aren’t genetically modified.
You can learn more about the extra virgin olive oil health benefits here.
Additionally, you can learn about the importance of polyphenols in our health here.
Should you avoid vegetable oils?
All vegetable oils are calorie-dense, meaning that you shouldn’t consume large amounts of them. Both olive and canola oil contains 120 calories per tablespoon.
Consider consuming whole nuts and seeds for a healthier dietary fat intake, as they contain fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Vegetable oils are mainly fat, containing no fiber.
- Genetically Modified Canola: The Canadian Experience (pdf)
- NCBI-PMC: Evidence of health benefits of canola oil
- European Safety Food Authority (efsa): Erucic acid a possible health risk for highly exposed children
- Journal of the American Oil Chemists’s Society: Degradation and Nutritional Quality Changes of Oil During Frying