Heart Health

Updated 15 August 2017

The health benefits of canola oil

The plethora of cooking oils available is enough to confuse consumers about what really is best. But scientists have now found new evidence to show that canola oil scores high marks in the health stakes.

For almost half a century, one of the buzzwords on everyone's lips when it comes to health, and weight management, has been "fat" – with the debate about "good" and "bad" fats still going strong.

When it comes to cooking oils, the wide range on offer – ranging from olive to sunflower, coconut and palm oil – can truly make your head spin. Which is why the latest research on canola oil should come as a relief to health-aware consumers.

The story so far

While a scion of scientists recently found that canola oil is one of the healthiest vegetable oils in terms of its biological function and ability to improve one's health, it hasn’t always been so.

The yellow-flowering plant, which originates from northern Europe and the Mediterranean, was identified around 2000 BC. Back then, rapeseed (also called canola), had a very high erucic acid content, and for centuries it was considered unsuitable for human consumption.

However, around 1976, experiments were conducted that helped to improve the quality of rapeseed cultivars and, through plant breeding, made canola viable for human use. And over the past 40 years, canola has become one of the most important oil seed crops in the world. 

Fat facts

But just because it's consumed in large amounts doesn't mean it's healthy, does it?

As Ayesha Seedat, a registered dietician for the Heart and Stroke Foundation, notes: "There are different types of fat in the human diet – healthy and unhealthy." The trick is to know which ones are which. "Unhealthy fats raise cholesterol levels – these are saturated fats (like animal fats and also palm and coconut oils), and trans fats (commercially prepared biscuits, crisps and the like)."

So where does canola oil fit into the picture?

According to a study documented in Nutrition Reviews, Volume 71, "canola oil-based diets have been shown to reduce plasma cholesterol levels in comparison with diets containing higher levels of saturated fatty acids".

The report continues to say that canola oil is characterised by low-level saturated fatty acids, substantial amounts of monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fatty acids (which are high in omega-3 and omega-6) and also includes oleic acid, linoleic acid and plant sterols – all of which includes supportive data that indicate that they are cardio-protective substances.

Nutrition Reviews substantiates these claims by pointing out that a lower incidence of cardiac heart disease (CHD) is associated with the reduction of lower levels of aggressive saturated oils found in other byproducts that are not canola-based.

In addition, dietary fatty acid composition plays an important role in metabolism and in the maintenance of body weight and the prevention of obesity.

Omega-3 is particularly significant in reducing blood-clotting problems, according to Seedat, and she reiterates that fat is vital. "We all need some fat in our diet for various reasons – it’s an important source of energy that forms part of cell membranes required for the production of certain hormones and also aids the body in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K."

The good news

The growing scientific evidence about the health benefits of canola are certainly encouraging, with the research showing that this oil's composition is linked to positive indicators in insulin resistance, obesity, energy metabolism and cancer-cell retardation – and that canola oil can form part of a health-promoting diet.

So here's to tucking into some healthy fats...

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