Canola Oil vs. Vegetable Oil

There are around a dozen types of common vegetable oils, and canola is one of them. The difference between canola oil and vegetable oil is negligible.

There are around a dozen types of common vegetable oils. (Image: filistimlyanin/iStock/GettyImages)

Canola Oil vs. Vegetable Oil

Vegetable oil is a catch-all term for viscous liquid made from plant-based sources. Canola is a type of vegetable oil made from the seeds of the canola plant, according to the Mayo Clinic. It's only one of many plant-based liquids that are also known as vegetable oils, though. The Cleveland Clinic suggests you use a variety of household cooking oils as part of a healthy diet.

Oils made from corn, soybeans, sunflower, safflower, canola, avocado, peanut and olives are all common types of vegetable oils, according to the Cleveland Clinic. There are also combinations, or blends, of vegetable oils, according to Cook's Illustrated.

If you see a container marked vegetable oil in the supermarket, it's usually soybean- or corn-based, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center. For example, if you look up the ingredients in Wesson Vegetable Oil, it is, indeed, made of 100 percent soybeans.

So when you're comparing canola oil vs. vegetable oil, you may be comparing canola- and soybean-based liquids. If you were comparing vegetable oil vs. corn oil, you may be comparing corn with soybean.

What Is Canola Oil?

Canola oil is made from the canola plant, which was developed via crossbreeding with the rapeseed plant, according to the Mayo Clinic. Canola was developed by crossbreeding the canola plant with the rapeseed plant. Rapeseed oil in large quantities contains erucic acid, a compound that in large quantities can be toxic to humans, but canola oil contains very low levels, as the Mayo Clinic reports.

Canola, like most vegetable oils, contains low levels of trans fats. Just about every type of vegetable oil marketed contains less than 5 percent of trans fat, as Harvard Health notes. It's less per one tablespoon serving than what the Food and Drug Administration requires to be labeled trans-fat free, which is why canola-based liquid is often labeled as such.

Canola oil contains trace amounts of trans fats because it is deodorized, like nearly all vegetable oils. This process takes place because most consumers want vegetable-based viscous liquids to have a bland taste, Harvard Health reports. Soybean oil also goes through this process.

Canola is low in saturated fat and has a high proportion of monounsaturated fat, according to the Mayo Clinic. This makes it a healthy choice when it comes to cooking oils.

What Is Vegetable Oil?

Most vegetable oil is either soybean or corn-based, according to the University of Rochester Extension. Crisco's and Wesson's vegetable oils are both 100 percent soybean-based. The viscous liquid from soybeans contains alpha-linolenic acid, which is the main vegetarian source of essential omega-3 fatty acids, Harvard Health reports.

Because soybean oil is refined, any vegetable oil that is composed of soybeans is good to use in cooking at high heat, according to Serious Eats. The processing that goes into achieving the neutral taste of soybean liquid is what makes it better for cooking at high temperatures.

Soybean oil's smoke point, or the temperature at which it starts to smoke in a pan, is 450 degrees Fahrenheit. The smoke point for canola oil, on the other hand, is 400 degrees Fahrenheit, which is still fairly high.

That means soybean liquid, often labeled vegetable oil, is good for searing, sautéing, deep frying or stir-frying, according to Serious Eats. Any food-based oil starts to degrade once it reaches its smoke point, according to the American Heart Association (AHA), so it's better to cook at a high temperature that is just below that smoke point.

Good Fats in Oil

Soybean and canola oil both contain alpha-linolenic acid, the main vegetarian source of essential omega-3 fatty acids, according to Harvard Health. The FDA has determined that soybean and canola liquids are good sources for essential omega-3 fatty acids.

The FDA has also determined that credible evidence exists that oils with oleic acid may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. The directive reports that oils that contain at least 70 percent oleic acid per serving can make a qualified health claim that consuming these may reduce heart disease risk.

Canola still provides a large dose of linolenic acid, Harvard Health reports. Using these oils instead of solid fats and tropical liquids, according to the AHA, may benefit your heart. Solid fats include butter, lard and stick margarine. Tropical liquids include palm and coconut oil.

Fat is essential to your health, according to the Cleveland Clinic. It helps your body do essential things, such as absorbing vitamins A and E. Certain types of fat, including monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, help protect your heart as long as you eat reasonable portions. Canola and soybean oil fit this description.

Cooking With Healthy Oils

Canola and soybean oil are safe for nearly all home uses, according to the AHA. Besides being healthy, they are versatile for the home cook. The AHA has some tips for healthy cooking with these ingredients:

  • You can cook at various temperatures, including stir-frying and pan-frying. The AHA doesn't recommend deep-fat frying as a healthy cooking method, so the small difference in canola or vegetable oil for deep frying is not as important if you're looking for a healthy way to fry.
  • Try to keep the oil from going above the smoke point, which is when it starts to degrade. That's 450 degrees Fahrenheit for soybean oil and 400 degrees Fahrenheit for canola oil.
  • If it smells bad, don't use it. When the oil is stored for too long, it can become oxidized or rancid. It will have a distinct smell, and you should get rid of it.
  • Don't re-use or reheat any used cooking oil.
  • Buy cooking oils in smaller containers so you don't waste any, and store them in a dark, cool place to keep them fresh.

Healthy oils can be used in many dishes, even those that call for solid fats. The AHA has a few suggestions:

  • Make your own salad dressings, marinades, dips and sauces.
  • Grill, sauté, stir-fry, bake or roast foods.
  • Coat pans to keep food from sticking.
  • Spread or drizzle on food for flavor.
  • Use it to season cast-iron cookware.
  • Substitute it for butter, margarine, shortening or lard in a recipe.

Cooking with heart-healthy oils can make your food taste better. At the same time, canola and vegetable or soybean oils can help you get the essential fats you need without losing the flavor of fat from your diet.

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