Canola oil is a vegetable-based oil found in countless foods.
Many people have cut canola oil out of their diet due to concerns over its health effects and production methods.
However, you may still wonder whether it’s best to use or avoid canola oil.
This article tells you whether canola oil is good or bad for you.
What Is Canola Oil?
Canola (Brassica napus L.) is an oilseed crop created through plant crossbreeding.
Scientists in Canada developed an edible version of the rapeseed plant, which — on its own — harbors toxic compounds called erucic acid and glucosinolates. The name “canola” comes from “Canada” and “ola,” denoting oil.
Although the canola plant looks identical to the rapeseed plant, it contains different nutrients and its oil is safe for human consumption.
Ever since the canola plant was created, plant breeders have developed many varieties that improved seed quality and led to a boom in canola oil manufacturing.
Most canola crops are genetically modified (GMO) to improve oil quality and increase plant tolerance to herbicides .
In fact, over 90% of the canola crops grown in the United States are GMO .
Canola crops are used to create canola oil and canola meal, which is commonly used as animal feed.
Canola oil can also be used as a fuel alternative to diesel and a component of items made with plasticizers, such as tires.
How Is It Made?
There are many steps in the canola oil manufacturing process.
According to the Canola Council of Canada, this process involves the following steps (3):
- Seed cleaning. Canola seeds are separated and cleaned to remove impurities such as plant stalks and dirt.
- Seed conditioning and flaking: Seeds are pre-heated to about 95℉ (35℃), then “flaked” by roller mills to rupture the cell wall of the seed.
- Seed cooking. The seed flakes are cooked by a series of steam-heated cookers. Typically, this heating process lasts 15–20 minutes at 176–221℉ (80°–105°C).
- Pressing. Next, the cooked canola seed flakes are pressed in a series of screw presses or expellers. This action removes 50–60% of the oil from the flakes, leaving the rest to be extracted by other means.
- Solvent extraction. The remaining seed flakes, containing 18–20% oil, are further broken down using a chemical called hexane to obtain the remainder of the oil.
- Desolventizing. The hexane is then stripped from the canola meal by heating it a third time at 203–239℉ (95–115°C) through steam exposure.
- Processing the oil. The extracted oil is refined by varying methods, such as steam distillation, exposure to phosphoric acid, and filtration through acid-activated clays.
In addition, canola oil made into margarine and shortening goes through hydrogenation, a further process in which molecules of hydrogen are pumped into the oil to change its chemical structure.
This process makes the oil solid at room temperature and extends shelf life but also creates artificial trans fats, which differ from the natural trans fats found in foods like dairy and meat products.
Artificial trans fats are harmful to health and have been widely linked to heart disease, prompting many countries to ban their use in food products
Canola oil is a vegetable oil derived from the canola plant. Canola seed processing involves synthetic chemicals that help extract the oil.
Like most other oils, canola is not a good source of nutrients.
One tablespoon (15 ml) of canola oil delivers :
- Calories: 124
- Vitamin E: 12% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI)
- Vitamin K: 12% of the RDI
Aside from vitamins E and K, canola oil is devoid of vitamins and minerals.
Fatty Acid Composition
Canola is often touted as one of the healthiest oils due to its low level of saturated fat.
Here is the fatty acid breakdown of canola oil :
- Saturated fat: 7%
- Monounsaturated fat: 64%
- Polyunsaturated fat: 28%
The polyunsaturated fats in canola oil include 21% linoleic acid — more commonly known as omega-6 fatty acid — and 11% alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of omega-3 fatty acid derived from plant sources.
Many people, especially those following plant-based diets, depend on sources of ALA to boost levels of the omega-3 fats DHA and EPA, which are critical for heart and brain health.
Though your body can convert ALA into DHA and EPA, research shows that this process is highly inefficient. Still, ALA has some benefits of its own, as it may reduce fracture risk and protect against heart disease and type 2 diabetes .
It’s important to note that the heating methods used during canola manufacturing, as well as high-heat cooking methods like frying, negatively impact polyunsaturated fats like ALA.
Additionally, canola oil may contain up to 4.2% of trans fats, but the levels are highly variable and usually much lower .
Artificial trans fats are harmful even in small amounts, prompting the World Health Organization (WHO) to call for global elimination of artificial trans fats in food by 2023.
Aside from vitamins E and K, canola oil is not a good source of nutrients. Canola oil may contain small amounts of trans fats, which is harmful to health.