The Pros and Cons of Cooking with Canola Oil

Medically reviewed by Natalie Butler, RD, LD on January 29, 2018Written by Diana Wells on April 28, 2016
Pouring canola oil

Overview

In the not so distant past, if you needed cooking oil, the choices were limited to three or four brands. If you need cooking oil these days, you have enough choices to fill the better part of an aisle in your local grocery store. In fact, some specialty stores may even dedicate an entire aisle to the wide variety of oils now available.

While it may be losing some shelf space to more exotic oils, canola oil is still a favorite cooking oil for many. But with all the options out there, you may be wondering if it should still be your go-to cooking oil or if it’s time to try something new.

Before you start trying out different oils, here’s a look at the pros and cons of cooking with canola oil.

What is canola oil?

Canola oil is taken from the seeds of the canola plant. You may have heard that canola oil is dangerous because it’s from a toxic plant known as rapeseed. Rapeseed contains erucic acid, which is toxic to both humans and animals. Animals won’t go near it.

But while the canola plant does originate from the rapeseed plant, it has actually gone through an extensive breeding process to become the canola plant. The dangerous levels of erucic acid have been bred out. It’s considered safe for consumption by the FDA. The Mayo Clinic even recommends canola oil for baking.

The pros of cooking with canola oil

Despite some of the negative press canola oil has gotten over the years, it’s still considered a healthy option for cooking.

Here are some of the pros of using canola oil:

  • It’s high in monounsaturated fat.
  • It’s low in saturated fat.
  • It has a high smoke point.
  • It’s a good source of essential omega-3 fats.
  • It has a neutral flavor.

The cons of cooking with canola oil

There are some cons to canola oil. Consider these before deciding whether or not it’s the right cooking oil for you. Being an informed consumer is always important when making decisions for your health.

Here are some of the cons of using canola oil:

  • Many types are genetically engineered (GMO).
  • It contains some trans fats, so it’s important to use it in moderation.
  • It’s also extensively processed, which includes the use of hexane gas and deodorization.

Certified organic or cold-pressed forms are available, so you can avoid the GMOs, but both can be expensive.

Alternative cooking oils

From olive to grapeseed, there are a large number of cooking oil options. But it’s best to purchase them in smaller amounts initially and try them out before committing to a full bottle. One option is to try them out at a restaurant first, as many serve dishes cooked with different oils.

Some oils have a stronger flavor than others, which you may or may not like. These flavors may work well with some foods, but not others.

Oils each have different smoke points. If an oil has a low smoke point, it shouldn’t be used for any cooking that involves high heat, like frying, roasting, or grilling.

Other cooking oils you can use instead of canola oil include:

  • Olive oil. Olive oil is considered one of the healthiest of cooking oils, but it does have a stronger taste than some other oils. This is particularly true if you are used to the neutral flavor of vegetable oils. Extra virgin olive oil isn’t heat stable and should only be used for low or no heat cooking.
  • Coconut oil. This contains medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are said to boost metabolism and can help curb hunger by making you feel fuller. Extra virgin coconut oil should be used at lower temperatures, so it’s not good for frying or high-heat cooking. Refined coconut oil is more heat stable and still retains beneficial MCTs.
  • Avocado oil. This oil is very rich in healthy monounsaturated fatty acids and is very stable at high temperatures, making it a great oil for frying, grilling, and roasting.
  • Grapeseed oil. This is a byproduct of winemaking and has a high smoke point but also contains substantial amounts of omega-6 and omega-9 fats. These fats can be pro-inflammatory when over-consumed. It also has a fairly neutral flavor. It’s a specialty oil, which makes it more expensive.

It’s important to consider how you want to use the oil when making a decision. For cooking, know the smoke point. Many oils don’t hold up well when used with high heat. Also, some oils aren’t recommended for use in cooking. Only use oils like extra virgin olive oil in salad dressing or in recipes that don’t require much heat, if any.

Next steps

While you can find all kinds of different oils in stores, canola is still a good choice for healthy cooking. If you prefer to avoid GMOs, be sure to look for brands that say certified organic, or go for avocado oil.

If those are too expensive, there are oils that have similar qualities and a neutral flavor. If you’d like to try oil with more flavor, consider olive oil. When it comes to cooking oils, always taste test and read labels carefully.

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