Although one of the most widely used oils in the food industry, there are still concerns about the safety of canola oil. This fear arises, in part, from the extensive processing that is required to extract the oil, and in part from the hydrogenation of the oil that increases the amount of trans fat in the final product. So is canola oil safe?
Although common along the shopping aisle, there is little work done on the effect of canola oil on people. The canola oil industry primarily sponsors research available to humans, and therefore caution is needed in interpreting the results. However, there have been a lot of animal studies as well as a few that are aimed at humans, which may indicate a possible negative impact on health.
There have been many studies linking canola oil to oxidative stress and increased inflammation in animals. In rats fed a diet that included canola oil, antioxidant levels were found to be lower, while “bad” cholesterol levels were increased. However, as in all animal research, caution should be exercised in interpreting them too far, as their effects on humans may differ.
Canola oil was once considered a heart-healthy option, but recent studies have begun to suggest that this is not the case. Previously, vegetable-based alternatives to saturated fats were considered healthier. However, saturated fats are no longer considered a problem, with a research article from 2018 in The nutrition journal suggesting that switching from animal to vegetable fats has little, if any, effect on heart health.
A human study comparing the effects of a diet containing refined oils, such as canola oil, with extra virgin olive oil, showed a significant brain function benefit for the olive oil group. Although this is more of a benefit of olive oil than a disadvantage of canola oil, it shows that there may be healthier alternatives.
Currently available research suggests that there may be harmful effects associated with the use of canola oil, although this is not conclusive anywhere. However, it is interesting to note that in a significant proportion of studies that indicate a negative impact, the comparison is with extra virgin olive oil, one of the most researched oils available. Given this, it seems logical that extra virgin olive oil should always be the preferred option, if possible.