Canola oil and olive oil are two of the most popular cooking oils worldwide.

They are both promoted as heart-healthy and share similar uses. However, some people wonder how they’re different and which is healthier.

This article explains the differences between canola and olive oil.

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Canola oil is made from rapeseed (Brassica napus L.) that has been genetically modified to be low in toxic compounds like erucic acid and glucosinolates, which rapeseed naturally contains. This engineering makes canola oil safe for consumption (1).

Canola processing involves heating, pressing, chemical extraction, and refining. The oil also undergoes bleaching and deodorizing, which give it a neutral color and odor (2).

On the other hand, olive oil is made from pressed olives, the fruits of the olive tree.

While many types exist, the two most popular are regular or “pure” olive oil and extra virgin olive oil.

Extra virgin olive oil is extracted using only pressing, while regular olive oil contains a combination of virgin (pressed) oil and refined (heated or chemically extracted) olive oil (3, 4).

Although extra virgin olive oil is more expensive than regular olive oil, it is considered healthier because it’s less refined.

Summary Canola oil is made from genetically modified rapeseeds. Meanwhile, olive oil is made from pressed olives and come in several forms.

In terms of nutrients, canola and olive oil are quite similar.

The nutrients in 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of canola and regular (refined) olive oil are (5, 6):

CanolaOlive
Calories124124
Fat14 grams14 grams
• Saturated 7%14%
• Monounsaturated64%73%
• Polyunsaturated 28%11%
Vitamin E16% of the RDI13% of the RDI
Vitamin K8% of the RDI7% of the RDI

Notably, olive oil provides more saturated and monounsaturated fat, whereas canola oil contains more polyunsaturated fat.

Antioxidant content

Canola and olive oil differ significantly in their content of antioxidants, compounds that neutralize potentially harmful molecules called free radicals.

Free radicals are highly unstable and can cause cellular damage when levels get too high in your body. Studies link free radical damage to chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and certain cancers (7).

Olive oil boasts over 200 plant compounds, including polyphenols, which act as powerful antioxidants in your body (8).

However, the amount of polyphenols depends on the processing method (9).

Because the refining process significantly reduces antioxidant content, regular olive oil has a low polyphenol count. Meanwhile, extra virgin olive oil is packed with polyphenols (1, 2, 9).

These include oleuropein, hydroxytyrosol, and oleocanthal, which are linked to a lower risk of heart disease and reduced inflammation (10).

Summary Olive oil and canola oil have similar amounts of fat and calories but a different fatty acid composition. Olive oil — especially extra virgin — is also higher in antioxidants than canola oil.

Olive and canola oils have unique properties that lend themselves to different culinary uses.

Frying

With high-heat cooking methods like frying, oils may hit a temperature — known as the smoke point — at which they begin to smoke (11).

At 460℉ (238℃), canola oil has a higher smoke point than either regular or extra virgin olive oil — 410℉ (210℃) and 383℉ (195℃), respectively (11, 12).

Once an oil reaches its smoke point, its glycerol and free fatty acids begin to degrade and form compounds like aldehydes, ketones, and alcohols. These compounds may be toxic and create an unpleasant flavor (11).

However, even with a lower smoke point than canola oil, both regular and extra virgin olive oils appear to be fairly stable at high heat and unlikely to form toxic compounds.

Nevertheless, overheating them may reduce some of their beneficial compounds, such as oleocanthal antioxidants, which can impact their overall taste (13, 14, 15, 16).

That’s why canola oil is better suited for high-heat frying, including deep frying and searing. That said, both oils are suitable for pan frying and other moderate-heat frying methods.

Other uses

While olive oil can be used for frying, it’s more often consumed raw.

For example, extra virgin olive oil makes a great dip for breads. It also works well as a salad dressing and is delicious drizzled straight from the bottle onto your favorite dish.

It has a bright color and almost spicy flavor, so cooking with it gives dishes a rich Mediterranean taste.

However, some people may find this flavor undesirable. In this case, regular olive oil, which has a more neutral taste, may be a better alternative.

On the other hand, canola oil is bleached and deodorized to give it a neutral profile. Unlike extra virgin olive oil, it isn’t commonly used in foods outside of fried and baked goods.

One major downside of olive oil is its high price. That’s why olive oil is not widely used in most commercial kitchens and restaurants.

Summary Olive and canola oils are suitable for pan frying and medium-heat cooking, while canola oil is better for deep frying and high-heat searing. For dips, dressings, and toppings, extra virgin olive oil is preferable due to its strong flavor.

Nutritionally, olive oil — especially extra virgin — is healthier than canola.

People who regularly use olive oil have reduced heart disease risk factors, improved blood sugar levels, and a lower risk of death (17, 18, 19).

For example, an analysis of 33 studies revealed that people with the highest olive oil intake had a 16% lower risk of type 2 diabetes than those with the lowest intake (18).

Additionally, greater olive oil consumption is linked to a lower risk of stroke and a reduction in heart disease risk factors, including LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglyceride levels (17).

Olive oil’s benefits can be attributed to its antioxidants and other plant compounds, which are especially abundant in extra virgin varieties (9).

On the other hand, canola oil is highly refined, which drastically reduces its content of nutrients like essential fatty acids and antioxidants (1, 2).

While canola is often promoted as a heart-healthy fat, current research is conflicting. Though some studies suggest that it’s beneficial, others indicate the opposite (1, 20).

One study in 2,071 overweight or obese adults noted that those who often used canola oil had a higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome than those who rarely or never used it (20).

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions characterized by excess belly fat and high triglyceride, cholesterol, blood pressure, and fasting blood sugar levels, which collectively raise your risk of heart disease (21).

Keep in mind that many studies linking canola oil to heart-health benefits have been funded by the canola industry, potentially raising conflicts of interest. Overall, more research is needed on canola and heart health (1, 22, 23, 24, 25).

In addition, rodent studies associate this oil with increased inflammation, a negative impact on memory, and lower blood levels of antioxidants (26, 27).

Meanwhile, multiple studies show that extra virgin olive oil has anti-inflammatory properties and heart-health benefits (28, 29, 30).

As far as your health is concerned, more evidence supports the benefits of olive oil over canola.

Summary Robust research links olive oil — especially extra virgin — to health benefits, including for your heart. It’s less refined and boasts more antioxidants than canola oil, which makes it a better choice.

Olive oil and canola oil are popular cooking oils that share similar uses.

Whereas canola may be better suited for frying, both can be used for medium-heat cooking. Olive oil is a better choice for toppings like salad dressing.

Notably, olive oil is healthier than canola, as it provides many disease-fighting antioxidants and is good for your heart.

If you’re looking for a healthy, versatile cooking oil, olive oil is a terrific choice.