Everything You Need to Know about Canola Oil

May 12, 2020
Canola oil is one of the most popular vegetable oils. It originated in Canada and it was Canada's industries that began to develop it, in 1978, by genetically modifying rapeseed plants.

Canola oil, also known as rapeseed oil, is a vegetable oil used in innumerable foods. Many people have removed canola oil from their diets due to worries about its health effects and the methods of production.

However, if you’re still asking yourself if it’s good or bad to use this oil, in this article we’ll explain everything. Keep reading to find out more!

What is canola oil?

Canola oil in a glass container.
The food industry frequently uses canola or rapeseed oil in a variety of products.

Canola oil is one of the most popular vegetable oils. It originated in Canada (which is where the name comes from). It was Canada’s industry that began to develop it, in 1978, by genetically modifying rapeseed plants.

Although the canola plant looks identical to the rapeseed plant, it has different nutrients and its oil is “safe” for human consumption. The majority of crops are genetically modified to improve the quality of oil and to increase the plants’ tolerance to herbicides.

How is it made?

There are many steps in the process of making canola oil. According to the Canola Council of Canada, the process involves the following steps:

  • Seed cleaning. The canola seeds are separated and cleaned to eliminate any impurities, like plant stems and dirt.
  • Seed conditioning and shelling. The seeds are preheated to about 35ºC (95ºF), then “scales” are made by the roller mills breaking the seed’s cell walls.
  • Cooking the seeds. The seed flakes are steamed. Generally, this process lasts from 15 to 20 minutes at 80-195ºC (176-383ºF).
  • Pressing. Next, the cooked canola seed flakes are pressed in a series of screw presses. This action eliminates 50-60% of the oil from the flakes, leaving the rest to be extracted through other means.
  • Extraction. The remaining seed flakes, which contain about 18-20% of the remaining oil, are broken down even more using a chemical called hexane to get the rest of the oil.
  • Solvent. Then, the hexane is separated from the canola flour by heating it for the third time to 95-115ºC (203-239ºF) with steam.
  • Processing the oil. Finally, the extracted oil is refined. This can be done through various methods, including steam distillation, exposure to phosphoric acid, and filtering it through acid-activated clay.

Read also: Sweeten Your Life with Healthy Coconut Oil

Nutrient content

Compared to other oils, canola oil isn’t a good source of nutrients. One tablespoon (15 ml) of canola oil provides:

  • Calories: 124
  • Vitamin E: 12% of your recommended daily value (RDV)
  • Vitamin K: 12% of your RDV

Besides vitamins E and K, canola oil lacks any other vitamins and minerals.

Acid and fat composition

People often promote canola as one of the healthiest oils due to its low levels of saturated fatsHere’s a breakdown of the fatty acids of this oil:

  • Saturated: 7%
  • Monounsaturated: 64%
  • Polyunsaturated: 28%

The polyunsaturated fats in canola oil include 21% of linoleic acid, more commonly known as omega-6 fatty acid, and 11% of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of omega-3 fatty acid derived from vegetable sources.

Many people, especially people who follow vegetarian diets, depend on sources of ALA to increase their levels of DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids. These are fundamental for heart and brain health.

Although your body can turn ALA into DHA and EPA, research shows that this process is highly inefficient. However, ALA has many benefits itself, since it can reduce the risk of fractures and protect you from heart diseases and type 2 diabetes.

Read also: The Best and Worst Cooking Oils for Your Health

Why might canola oil be bad for your health?

Blocked artery.
The main risk associated with canola oil is the cardiovascular risk due to the possible presence of trans fats.

It’s important to keep in mind that the heating methods used during the creating of canola oil, just like methods of high heat cooking, like frying, have a negative impact on the polyunsaturated fats like ALA.

Additionally, when exposed to high temperatures in processing, a small amount of the unsaturated fats from the oil, especially the polyunsaturated fats, turn into trans fats. This reduces the amount of omega-3 fatty acids even more.

Trans fats are unhealthy, even in small amounts, which brought the World Health Organization (WHO) to ask for the global elimination of these fats in foods by 2023.

Finally, we recommend that if you decide to consume this type of oil, you should look for an organic option that hasn’t been genetically modified. Otherwise, it could be harmful to your health.

 

  • Lin, L., Allemekinders, H., Dansby, A., Campbell, L., Durance-Tod, S., Berger, A., & Jones, P. J. (2013). Evidence of health benefits of canola oil. Nutrition reviews71(6), 370-85.
  • Thornton J. Eliminate “toxic” trans fats from food by 2023, WHO urges. BMJ. 2018 May 15;361:k2154. doi: 10.1136/bmj.k2154. PubMed PMID: 29764815.
  • Przybylski O, Aladedunye FA. Formation of trans fats during food preparation. Can J Diet Pract Res. 2012 Summer;73(2):98-101. PubMed PMID: 22668846.
  • Canola council of Canada. Steps in oil and meal processing. https://www.canolacouncil.org/oil-and-meal/what-is-canola/how-canola-is-processed/steps-in-oil-and-meal-processing