Canola Oil vs. Olive Oil

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Medically reviewed by:
Dr. Jennifer Hughes, MD

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With the abundance of different cooking oils lining shelves in the grocery store, it can be difficult to ascertain the healthiest types. 

It becomes even more confusing when canola oil enters the mix, as this oil has been the center of nutrition controversy for the past decade. 

In this article, take a deep dive into what canola oil and olive oil are, how they’re made, and the nutritional and culinary pros and cons of each oil (spoiler alert: olive oil is the winner!).

What Is Canola Oil?

Canola oil is made from the rapeseed plant, but the oil didn’t originate until the 1970s when plant scientists in Canada first extracted it from a special breed of low-toxin rapeseed.

In fact, the name “canola” comes from its Canadian origins, with “canola” being a contraction of “Canadian” and “ola,” meaning oil. 

Canola oil has a mild and neutral flavor with broad culinary uses, qualities that lent themselves to the oil’s quick rise in popularity over the past few decades. 

However, canola oil is not without controversy—while many nutrition guidelines still recommend canola oil as one of the healthiest fats, more recent research suggests that this oil is inflammatory and may be detrimental to health.  

How Is Canola Oil Made?

Canola oil, along with the other top three most-consumed vegetable oils—soybean, corn, and palm oil—are sometimes referred to as “RBD oils,” which stands for “refined, bleached, and deodorized.”

Let’s take a closer look at what the RBD process entails.

Canola oil is made through several steps, including:

  • Cleaning, conditioning, and flaking the seeds: The seeds of the rapeseed plant are separated and cleaned to remove dirt, then conditioned with a pre-heating process to about 95 degrees Fahrenheit and “flaked” by roller mills, which ruptures the seeds’ cell walls.
  • Steam-heated cooking: The flaked seeds are cooked using steam heaters, reaching temperatures of up to 221 degrees Fahrenheit for 15-20 minutes.
  • Pressing: Screw presses or expellers remove 50-60% of the oil from the flaked seeds. 
  • Chemical extraction: Using a chemical called hexane, this process attempts to extract the remaining oil from the seed flakes.
  • Desolventizing: As hexane is not suitable for consumption, they must strip the hexane from the canola by heating it a third time with steam temperatures reaching 239 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Refining and deodorizing: All of these steps lead to unpleasant tastes and aromas, so the last step is to refine the oil with various methods, including steam distillation, phosphoric acid, or clay filtration. 

As you can see, this is not a very simple process, involving high heat, chemical solvent extraction, and lots of refining. 

This oil is considered a polyunsaturated fat (PUFA), which is a generally healthy fat but can become unhealthy or inflammatory when it becomes rancid or oxidized.

The high heat and chemical processes involved with making canola oil are thought to oxidize the fat, turning it from a nutritious oil to a not-so-healthy one.

While ​​“cold-pressed” canola oil does exist—which would only use mechanical pressing and no heat or chemicals—it is hard to find and often very expensive.

What Is Olive Oil?

Olive oil is made from pressed olives and has more varietals than canola oil, including extra-virgin, virgin, light, and refined or pure olive oil.

Unlike most other vegetable oils—except for avocado oil—olive oil is extracted from the fruit of the plant (the olive) and not the seed. 

Olive oil—especially extra-virgin olive oil—has plentiful health benefits and has been used for purposes ranging from culinary, medicinal, religious, skin care, soap-making, and even as a fuel source since its origination in modern-day Turkey about 6,000 years ago. 

It has high levels of healthy fat antioxidants that are known to benefit cardiovascular, metabolic, cognitive, and immune health. 

Regular olive oil consumption is even linked to longevity and slower aging, as it’s a key dietary staple of people living in the Blue Zonesareas around the world with the highest percentages of people living healthfully to age 100 and beyond

How Is Olive Oil Made?

The healthiest and highest grade variety is extra-virgin olive oil, which is made from one single mechanical cold-pressing of olives, without the addition of chemical solvents, alcohol, or refining treatments.  

As extra-virgin olive oil is unrefined, it is considered the highest quality—both in terms of taste and nutritional value. 

One high-quality option for extra-virgin olive oil is from Primal Kitchen, a health-conscious brand providing elevated sauces, dressings, and other condiments. 

The next best quality is virgin olive oil, which is unrefined although not commonly seen in the grocery store.

“Regular” or “pure” olive oil sounds better than it is—it’s created by mixing mostly refined olive oil with 15-25% extra virgin olive oil and has to be treated with heat and chemicals to remove flavor defects. 

Lastly, you may have seen “light” or “extra light” olive oil at the store—this type is not lighter in calories but lighter in color and taste. 

Light olive oil is essentially a refined olive oil produced using heat and chemicals, as it’s a mixture of refined olive oil and 5-10% virgin olive oil.       

Canola Oil Vs. Olive Oil

Canola Oil Vs Olive Oil Graphic Graphic

Many people wonder what the difference is between canola oil and olive oil, including nutritional value and how to use them for cooking. 

Nutritional Comparison 

Here is the nutritional breakdown for a standard one tablespoon serving of each oil:

Canola oilExtra virgin olive oil
Calories124119
Fat14 grams (g)14g
Saturated fat1.1g1.9g
Monounsaturated fat  8.8g10 g
Polyunsaturated fat4.3 g1.5 g
Vitamin E16% of the Daily Value (DV)10-33% of the DV

As oils do not contain protein, carbohydrates, or sugar, those nutritional values are not included here. 

Both canola oil and olive oil have similar amounts of calories and total fat, but differences arise with the types of fat. 

While the fat in olive oil is more monounsaturated, canola oil has greater amounts of polyunsaturated fats.

Depending on the variety, olive oil’s vitamin E content can vary from 10-33% of the Daily Value, while one serving of canola oil provides about 16% of the recommended daily intake.

Additionally, olive oil has a higher concentration of polyphenolic antioxidant compounds, such as tyrosol, hydroxytyrosol, and oleuropein. 

Culinary Uses

The varying culinary uses of canola oil and olive oil has to do with their smoke points.

Smoke points are the temperature at which an oil or fat will start to smoke, which is a sign of degradation and the release of harmful free radicals that cause oxidative damage and an unpleasant taste. 

While canola oil’s smoke point is high, at 400-450°F, extra-virgin olive oil’s smoke point is slightly lower, showing signs of smoking and degradation at 375°F. 

For both oils, the refined versions will have higher smoke points than the cold-pressed, unrefined oils. 

Both regular and extra-virgin olive oil have been found to be relatively stable at high temperatures—and not form toxic compounds—although they do lose some of their beneficial compounds, like antioxidants. 

Due to these differences, olive oil is best for low- to medium-heat cooking, salad dressings, or drizzling on a meal after it’s finished cooking.

Olive oil—especially cold-pressed, extra-virgin olive oil—tends to have a stronger taste than canola oil, providing fruity, peppery, or slightly bitter flavors. 

For these reasons, some people avoid using olive oil in some recipes, especially with baking or meals where olive oil would alter the flavor profiles.

Conversely, canola oil is very neutral due to the deodorizing process, so many people use it widely in high-heat cooking, baking, and deep-frying. 

Pros and Cons of Canola Oil

Canola oil has both positive and negative qualities. 

The primary redeeming quality of canola oil is its high content of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. 

The PUFAs in canola oil are both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids; canola oil also contains omega-9 fatty acids in the form of erucic acid.

While we require both types of fat in our diets, omega-6 fats promote pro-inflammatory pathways while omega-3 fats are anti-inflammatory. 

Although the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 2:1 in canola oil is not unhealthy, the ubiquitous nature of canola oil in the American diet contributes greatly to our nation’s excessive omega-6 intake.

However, its fat content also contributes to canola oil’s negative side, as the PUFAs in canola oil are highly susceptible to fat oxidation during the extensive extraction process. 

Oxidized fats have detrimental effects on our health, causing increased inflammation and risk of conditions like heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.

One study indicated that regular canola oil consumption in humans is linked to a higher risk of metabolic syndrome—a cluster of conditions that markedly increases the odds of developing heart disease. 

Research with animals has also suggested that consuming canola oil daily negatively impacts memory and learning abilities in mice. 

However, we don’t have the same research substantiating this in humans yet. 

Pros and Cons of Olive Oil

Olive oil has been shown to have many positive effects on health, mainly due to its high antioxidant content, which is especially abundant in extra-virgin olive oil. 

Regular olive oil consumption has been linked to reduced risk of heart disease, heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, neurodegenerative diseases, and cancer.

The primary fat found in olive oil is oleic acid, which reduces inflammation and may prevent cardiovascular and age-related diseases.

A non-health-related benefit of olive oil is its superior taste to canola oil. 

While canola oil is neutral and bland, olive oil’s wide variations in flavor can be likened to wine in that the area it was grown plays an important role in how it tastes.

The only negative about olive oil is that it cannot be utilized to cook at high temperatures, due to its lower smoke point. 

FAQs About Canola Oil Vs. Olive Oil

What Is Healthier: Canola or Olive Oil?

Research supports the notion that olive oil is a healthier choice than canola oil.

While canola oil does have a desirable nutritional profile, the extensive extraction process introduces oxidation and harmful pro-inflammatory compounds.

On the other hand, olive oil—especially extra-virgin varieties—is loaded with antioxidants and unoxidized healthy fats that support health and reduce the risk of disease.

Is Canola Oil Healthy or Not?

While many nutrition guidelines still recommend canola oil as a healthy oil, due to its low saturated fat and high unsaturated fat content, a lot of newer research suggests that canola oil is more on the unhealthy side. 

Although we don’t want to demonize specific foods, there are many other healthier oil options available, like olive oil or avocado oil, that do not contain oxidized fats and cause inflammation like canola oil can. 

What Is the Healthiest Oil to Cook With?

The healthiest oil to cook with depends on the cooking method you are utilizing. 

For no-heat or low-heat cooking, olive oil is your best bet, as it’s packed with antioxidants and healthy fat. 

For higher heat cooking, avocado oil is a great option because it has a higher smoke point than olive oil.

Which Oil Is Best for the Heart?

Olive oil is one of the world’s healthiest fats, and research has linked olive oil consumption to lower rates of heart disease. 

Which Oil Is Best for High Cholesterol?

Olive oil is also a beneficial oil for high cholesterol, as it is low in saturated fat, high in monounsaturated fat, and contains heart-healthy antioxidants. 

Can I Use Canola Oil Instead of Olive Oil?

While you can certainly use canola oil any time, olive oil provides additional health benefits without the risk of causing inflammation. 

However, consuming canola oil every once in a while will likely not cause harm—it’s the long-term, chronic use that may be detrimental to health. 

Key Takeaways

  • Canola oil and olive oil both have good nutritional profiles, with high amounts of healthy fats.
  • However, the lengthy extraction process used to make canola oil introduces oxidation and makes canola oil a less healthy option than olive oil.
  • Olive oil is loaded with antioxidants and is consistently linked to reduced risks of heart disease, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases.

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Lauretti E, Praticò D. Effect of canola oil consumption on memory, synapse and neuropathology in the triple transgenic mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease. Sci Rep. 2017;7(1):17134. Published 2017 Dec 7. doi:10.1038/s41598-017-17373-3

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Sales-Campos H, Souza PR, Peghini BC, da Silva JS, Cardoso CR. An overview of the modulatory effects of oleic acid in health and disease. Mini Rev Med Chem. 2013;13(2):201-210.

Sales-Campos H, Souza PR, Peghini BC, da Silva JS, Cardoso CR. An overview of the modulatory effects of oleic acid in health and disease. Mini Rev Med Chem. 2013;13(2):201-210.

Sales-Campos H, Souza PR, Peghini BC, da Silva JS, Cardoso CR. An overview of the modulatory effects of oleic acid in health and disease. Mini Rev Med Chem. 2013;13(2):201-210.

Sun Y, Magnussen CG, Dwyer T, Oddy WH, Venn AJ, Smith KJ. Cross-Sectional Associations between Dietary Fat-Related Behaviors and Continuous Metabolic Syndrome Score among Young Australian Adults. Nutrients. 2018;10(8):972. Published 2018 Jul 26. doi:10.3390/nu10080972

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