Canola and vegetable oils are both plant-based oils that are liquid at room temperature. They're both beneficial for heart health, and are commonly used in cooking and baking. Therefore, it may be difficult to determine which type of oil is the better option for you -- but subtle differences do exist.
What Oils Are Made From
The main difference between vegetable and canola oils is the type of plant they are made from. Canola oil is extracted from rapeseed plants, which are related to mustard and cabbage plants. Vegetable oil on the other hand, is no other than soybean oil in many cases. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration notes that oils labeled as vegetable oil can contain one of more of the following: soybean oil, corn oil or safflower oil.
Calories, Carbs, Protein, Fat and Vitamins
Calorie, carbohydrate, protein, fat and vitamin content are similar for both canola and vegetable oils. Each contains about 120 calories and 14 grams of fat per tablespoon. These oils both lack protein and carbohydrates, but are good sources of vitamin E and vitamin K.
Fatty Acid Composition
Both canola and vegetable oils contain mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are healthy for your heart. The majority of canola oil is made up of monounsaturated fat, but canola oil is also a source of polyunsaturated fats, including omega-6 fatty acid linoleic acid, and omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), according to the University of Colorado. The same source shows that both corn and soybean oils, commonly present in vegetable oil, do provide monounsaturated fat, but polyunsaturated omega-6 linoleic acid is more abundant in these oils. Soybean oil also contains a small amount of omega-3 fatty acid ALA.
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are both essential in your diet. However, getting to many omega-6 fatty acids, which are abundant in vegetable oil, and not enough omega-3 fats may promote inflammation and cause health problems. Therefore, the University of Maryland Medical Center suggests getting the right balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fats in your diet, which means consuming two to four times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3s. The University of Maryland Medical Center notes that many Americans consume 14 to 25 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fats.
The smoke point of oil is the temperature at which the oil starts to smoke and break down into potentially harmful substances including free radicals, according to Cleveland Clinic. The same source notes that canola oil has a medium-high smoke point, which means it's bested suited for baking, stir frying and oven cooking, while soybean and corn oils have medium smoke points and are useful for low-heat baking and sautéing. If you're looking for oil with a high smoke point to use for browning, searing or deep frying, try sunflower oil or light olive oil.
An experienced health, nutrition and fitness writer, Erin Coleman is a registered and licensed dietitian and holds a dietetics degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She also has worked as a clinical dietitian and health educator in outpatient settings. Erin's work is published on popular health websites, such as TheNest.com and JillianMichaels.com.