While canola oil comes from the canola plant, vegetable oil can come from any number of plant-based sources, as well as be a blend of more than one kind of oil. Vegetable oil is made predominately using soybean oil, though it can also contain canola oil and corn oil, or any other vegetable-derived oil. Both canola oil and vegetable oil are considered healthy fats when used in moderation as part of a balanced diet. Overuse of either of these or any other cooking oil can lead to obesity and many other health problems.
Canola Oil Basics
Canola oil is made by pressing the seeds of the canola plant, a yellow flowering plant belonging to the Brassica family of plants along with cabbage and cauliflower. Originally bred from its parent the rapeseed, canola is not the same thing as rapeseed and has a completely different nutritional makeup. There are many myths floating around on the Internet about canola oil's connection to the more harmful rapeseed, however, the claims of ill health affects are unfounded. While rapeseed oil does contain levels of erucic acid that can be harmful, the canola plant is specifically bred to have lower, healthy levels of erucic acid.
Canola oil has the lowest levels of saturated fats out of all of the vegetable oils and is considered to be one of the overall most healthy vegetable oils for cooking. Additionally, canola oil is very high in monounsaturated fats, which have been shown to be effective in reducing cholesterol levels. Canola oil also contains moderate levels of polyunsaturated fats, another heart healthy fat choice. One main distinction in the nutritional makeup of canola oil is that is contains omega 3 fatty acids, a necessary component in our bodies that must be ingested from food sources.
Vegetable Oil Basics
Though commercially-sold, vegetable oil can be a number of oils, most of the time products labeled "vegetable oil" are made of soybean oil. There are, however, many kinds of vegetable oils, including olive oil, palm oil, pumpkin seed oil, safflower oil, grape seed oil, sunflower oil and sesame oil, among others.
Soybean oil has a higher saturated fat content than canola oil, making it slightly less heart healthy. Soybean oil, like canola oil and other blends sold as vegetable oil, is great for any high-temperature cooking, such as deep frying, because of its high smoke point. This allows the oils to heat to high temperatures without turning rancid, something that medium smoke point oils like olive oil and safflower oil cannot do.
Both canola and vegetable oils have 120 calories per tablespoon and 14 grams of fat. The difference in the chemical makeup is in the differences between levels of saturated fats, polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats.
When choosing an oil for cooking, both vegetable oil and canola oil are good choices over the many other animal fats available. Both work well for deep frying and all other kinds of uses, including those that require an oil with little recognizable taste. Canola oil is a marginal amount healthier than vegetable oil, though either one can be included as part of a healthy diet and used in moderation.