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Is Canola Oil Actually Bad For You? + Cooking Oils To Use Instead

Abby Moore
Editorial Operations Manager
By Abby Moore
Editorial Operations Manager
Abby Moore is an editorial operations manager at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine.
Image by Danil Nevsky / Stocksy
August 11, 2020

With so many vegetable oils on the market, it can be hard to know which are considered healthy and which might be harmful. Canola oil, in particular, often gets a bad rap—but is it really all that bad for you?

To better understand what canola oil is made of and how it affects overall health, mbg spoke with registered dietitians and functional nutritionists.

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What exactly is canola oil?  

Canola oil is a vegetable-based oil with a neutral flavor and high smoke point. It's made by crushing the seeds of the canola plant after it dies. Synthetic chemicals, like hexane, are generally used to help extract the oil. 

Oftentimes, canola oil is confused with or mislabeled as rapeseed oil, but functional nutritionist Dana James, M.S., CNS, CDN, says they are not the same.

Through plant-breeding, Canadian scientists removed two ingredients from the rapeseed plant (glucosinolates and erucic acid) to make the canola plant, registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator Shahzadi Devje, R.D., CDE, MSc, tells mbg. That's also where canola gets its name, she explains—Can for Canada and ola for oil.  

What's the nutrition info for canola oil?

This is the nutritional value for 1 tablespoon of canola oil, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

  • Calories: 124
  • Saturated fatty acids: 1.03 g
  • Monounsaturated fatty acids: 8.86 g
  • Polyunsaturated fatty acids: 3.94 g
  • Trans fatty acids: 0.055 g
  • Total Fat: 14 g
  • Vitamin E: 2.44 mg
  • Vitamin K: 9.98 µg
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Are there any benefits to canola oil?  

Compared to other conventional vegetable oils, Devje says canola oil is relatively low in saturated fats and high in monounsaturated fats. Though some studies have shown monounsaturated fats can lower LDL cholesterol, these effects haven't been studied in canola oil specifically.

"Canola oil also contains vitamin E, vitamin K, and plant sterols to support heart health," Devje adds. 

Is canola oil bad for you or fine? 

Despite some trace benefits, canola oil is often considered one of the least healthy vegetable oils because of the way it's manufactured. Most canola oils in the U.S. use chemicals, including hexane (a hazardous air pollutant) to extract the oil from the plant, Devje explains.

Like other highly processed oils, it's commonly classified as a refined, bleached, and deodorized (RBD) oil. In other words, canola oil is generally stripped of its natural antioxidants and minerals and may contain trace amounts of trans fats. "You could buy cold-pressed canola oil, but that's tough to find and has a hefty price tag," Devje says.

Most modern canola plants in the U.S. are also genetically modified, she adds. Generally, that means more herbicides will be used in production, which may have harmful effects on the environment. 

"As a conscious consumer, who also appreciates the struggles of farmers, I care not only about my health but also our planet's health," Devje says. "We must bring innovation in this space so that it's sustainable for all."

Overall, James says to avoid it when possible, but if a salad dressing or marinade has canola oil in it, there's no reason to stress. 

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What are the healthiest cooking oils to use?

Since canola oil isn't necessarily the best choice, consider these R.D.-approved options, instead:

  1. Olive oil: "One of my personal favorites is extra-virgin olive oil," Devje says. "It's reasonably affordable, tasty, has a medium-high smoke point...and is super versatile for cooking and food prep." Compared to most oils, olive oil has a higher level of monounsaturated fats and antioxidants. It's also less likely to be processed, she adds. 
  2. Avocado oil: Because avocado oil comes from a large seed, it's easier to find in an unrefined, minimally processed state. It's not as neutral in flavor as canola oil, James says, so it won't pair well with everything. Here's how to make sure your avo oil is high quality.
  3. Coconut oil: Coconut oil is high in medium-chain triglycerides (MCT), which are a fat source that converts to energy more quickly. It's also high in lauric acid, which has been shown to improve cholesterol levels. Plus, it works just as well in vegan baked goods as it does roasting savory veggies. 
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Bottom line.

Canola oil is commonly confused with rapeseed oil but is actually a different variety of the plant. The vegetable oil is low in saturated fats and has a neutral cooking flavor. However, because most canola oil in the U.S. is genetically modified and highly processed, it may not be the best option for human or environmental health.

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Abby Moore
Abby Moore
Editorial Operations Manager

Abby Moore is an editorial operations manager at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine. She has covered topics ranging from regenerative agriculture to celebrity entrepreneurship. Moore worked on the copywriting and marketing team at Siete Family Foods before moving to New York.