Canola Oil vs. Vegetable Oil

Woman pouring oil from bottle onto wok in kitchen
Canola oil and vegetable oil are interchangeable in most recipes. (Image: belchonock/iStock/GettyImages)

Canola oil is a type of vegetable oil that is made from the rapeseed, a yellow plant that's a member of the mustard/cabbage family. Both canola oil and vegetable oil, which can be made from a variety of plants such as corn and peanut, can be used interchangeably in recipes without changing the texture of the food.

The biggest difference is in the health benefit. Because canola oil is lower in saturated fat and contains omega nutrients, it’s considered to be better for your heart. Keep in mind that oil is a something you should use sparingly, as both types have about 120 calories in a tablespoon.

Saturated Fat

Minimize your intake of saturated fat, as too much may contribute to health conditions — including heart disease.

The American Heart Association recommends eating foods that are high in monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats instead of saturated fats. Canola oil is higher in these fats and has half of the saturated fat of vegetable oil. Both oils do have the same number of calories, and — as long as the vegetable oil is soybean based — neither has cholesterol.

Omega Nutrients

Increasing your consumption of omega-3 and omega-6 can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. Omega fatty acids may also alleviate arthritis symptoms and aid in depression therapy, according to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University.

Canola oil is rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Vegetable oil may contain both fatty acids, but soybean-based ones can have fatty acids that are hydrogenated and highly refined, so they aren’t as beneficial as the omega nutrients in other oils.

Uses

Both canola oil and vegetable oil can be used in baking as a substitute for shortening, butter or margarine. Vegetable oil tends to work better when you're frying foods, because prolonged heat can damage the fatty acids in canola oil and possibly compromise their safety.

Canola oil is fine if you're doing a stir fry, because it holds flavor of the veggies and meats better, and the fatty acids can survive the quick high heat. Canola oil is also a better choice for dressings and marinades as the oil's neutral flavor allows herbs and spices to stand out.

Considerations

Vegetable oil is really not one particular type of oil. Although major brands such as Wesson and Crisco primarily use soybeans in their vegetable oils, corn, peanuts, safflower seeds, cottonseeds and sunflower seeds may also be used.

Because no definitive formula exists for making vegetable oil, some may contain less fat and more nutrients, making them healthier than others. Check the label on any vegetable oil you're thinking about buying before you make your purchase.

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