People often ask me, “What is in canola oil?” The simple answer is canola oil is low in saturated fat and has a high proportion of monounsaturated fat (MUFA), which makes it a healthy choice when it comes to cooking oils and eating right. In fact, some dietitians and health experts have included canola oil in their heart health recommendations for how to lower cholesterol for many years.
The results published in a recent review1 demonstrate both positive health benefits and neutral actions from canola oil. The review included an assessment of 66 studies (mainly human research) to identify the health effects of intact canola oil rather than the effects of its individual components. This approach is more practical since consumers use intact cooking oils.
The review looked at studies that compared canola oil-based diets to other dietary patterns higher in saturated fatty acids (SFA) on:
- blood fat (lipid) levels
- insulin sensitivity
- low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) oxidation
- energy metabolism
Studies have shown consumption of a Western diet, which is typically high in SFA, has been linked to negative heart health. Efforts to substitute SFA have typically relied on replacing animal fat and dairy products with liquid vegetable oils including canola.
According to this review, canola oil’s ability to decrease total cholesterol (TC) and LDL-C levels compared to SFA and other vegetable oils and its effect on reducing the risk for heart disease is well defined:
- Specifically, 5 studies provided evidence canola oil was able to reduce TC levels by an average of 12.2%.
- Seven studies showed canola oil led to significant reductions in LDL-C levels — the “bad boy” of cholesterol —with an average reduction of 16.2%.
- Thirty-one studies concluded replacing SFAs with canola oil is beneficial for decreasing TC, LDL-C and maintaining normal triacylglycerol (TAG) levels, all factors for heart health.
When it comes to other health risk factors, canola may offer benefits. The review suggests high MUFA oils, including canola, may offer protection from lipoprotein oxidation and promote positive immune system actions compared to the consumption of other oils. The ability of canola oil to alter energy balance or result in weight reduction is not conclusive; however, some studies suggest enhanced use of fatty acids for fuel may occur for oleic acid (MUFA) compared with other fatty acids. In addition, canola oil may have a protective role against certain cancers. More studies are required to better define the role of canola oil on these health markers.
The bottom line is after 15 years of continuing research since the last review2 in 1989, the data shows evidence of potential health benefits of canola oil consumption. Canola oil can now be regarded as one of the healthiest edible vegetable oils in terms of its biological functions and its ability in reducing diseases-related risk factors for heart health.
1Lin L, Allemekinders H, Dansby A et al. Evidence of health benefits of canola oil. Nutrition Reviews. 2013; 71(6):370-385. 2Dupont J, White PJ, Johnston KM et al. Food safety and health effects of canola oil. J Am Coll Nutr. 1989;8:360-375.