Canola Oil Vs. Vegetable Oil: Is There A Nutritional Difference?

Canola oil and vegetable oil are nearly interchangeable, according to Simply Recipes. You'll find both oils versatile for all cooking needs from pan to deep fat frying and even in baking. Both have high smoke points (around 400 degrees Fahrenheit), a similar pale-gold color, and no flavor profile, so your food is sure to taste as it should. And while it's true that canola oil is vegetable oil, not all vegetable oil is canola oil, and there are other differences worth considering. 

Canola oil is extracted from the rapeseed plant (related to the cabbage) and was crossbred by Canadian scientists to reduce the plant's erucic acid. According to Healthline, canola is short for Canada and "ola," meaning oil. In the U.S. and Canada, most canola oil is genetically modified, but studies have shown that GMOs are not necessarily dangerous.

Many vegetable oils are also genetically modified, but unlike canola oil, which is made from one breed of plant, vegetable oil is not made from vegetables at all, at least not from vegetables we commonly consume (via Kosher Spirit). Since it's made from different sources, primarily corn, palm, and soybeans, among other plants, the term "vegetable oil" is more about separating it from animal products.

So now that we know what they are, how do these two oils, indistinguishable to the naked eye, differ nutritionally?

The nutritional profile of canola oil

Canola oil has 124 calories per tablespoon and 14 grams of fat, according to Healthline, and only one gram of saturated fat. It has nine grams of monounsaturated fat and four grams of polyunsaturated fat. But it also contains 16% of the daily value of the antioxidant, Vitamin E, and 8% of the daily value of Vitamin K, which helps to build healthy bone tissue and aids in blood clotting, according to Harvard University.

Where canola oil stands out among cooking oils, though, is that it is high in Omega-3 oils, which help prevent heart disease, stroke, and may also help prevent certain cancers. It also contains Omega-6 oils, which in lower amounts can be beneficial to overall health.

Canola oil is also processed in two ways, according to Centra Foods, of which the most common is heating and crushing the rapeseed, and then extracting with a chemical compound called hexane. Alternatively, you can buy cold-pressed versions of canola oil, which are a bit harder to find, and are produced without hexane. But according to MedicineNet, there is no evidence that one form of production is nutritionally better than the other.

How vegetable oil compares

Vegetable oil is similar to canola oil in the calorie count, but checks in a bit lighter at 117 calories per tablespoon and 13.6 grams of fat according to Women's Health. It also contains similar amounts of Vitamins E and K. The key difference between the two oils is in saturated fats — where canola has only one gram of saturated fat in its total 14 fat grams, vegetable oil comes in at 11 grams in its total of 13.6 grams. 

That isn't the only difference, however. Vegetable oil also contains higher levels of healthy Omega-6 fats, which can help fight inflammation in the body. On the flip side, vegetable oil is often hydrogenated in order to extend its shelf life, and according to Healthline, this creates more trans-fats. Trans-fats that are not naturally produced in the stomachs of cattle, sheep, and other animals are associated with elevated levels of cholesterol and heart disease. To avoid hydrogenated oils, the American Diabetes Association suggests looking specifically for vegetable oils like sunflower, soybean, corn, or olive oil.

The nutritional differences between canola oil and vegetable oil are not noticeable in terms of their flavors and uses. But a look at what each of them contains reveals differences that are worth taking into consideration when you compare them side by side.