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Olive or canola oil: which is healthier?

We spoke to the experts and discovered some surprising facts and stats about oil.

One small thing: Use canola oil when cooking. Because it has a high smoking point, its antioxidants, character, colour and flavour won’t spoil at high temperatures.

In recent years we’ve become more oil aware – some varieties definitely taste better, while others are healthier for us. Olive oil has always come out tops as the must-have on the cook’s counter, but the benefits of canola oil, derived from the rapeseed plant, are not to be underestimated.

Olive vs canola oil

Olive and canola oils are both derived from vegetables (unlike butter, which is an animal fat), and both are rich in heart-healthy unsaturated fats, just to different degrees.

Canola oil has the lowest saturated fat content of any common, edible vegetable oil, and so wins this particular race: it has 92% unsaturated fat, compared with the 86% found in olive oil. Canola oil also has lower levels of those nasty, cholesterol-promoting saturated fats (5.5%), while olive oil trots in with 13.5%.

What’s good to know is that both of these golden liquids’ saturated fat levels are lower than those present in other oils. But what really makes the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa (HSFSA) happy is the amount of omega-3 fatty acids (polyunsaturated fats known to reduce the risk of heart disease) present in canola oil (11%). Olive oil has 1%.

“Omega-3 fats are beneficial in lowering triglyceride levels and preventing blood from clotting,” explains Ayesha Seedat, registered dietitian at the HSFSA. They’re also essential for brain and eye-tissue development in children. A plus for olive oil, however, is that monounsaturated fats, also known to lower cardiovascular disease risk, are present in larger amounts (77%), compared with canola oil (63.7%).

“Hence both have cardio-protective effects but from different sources of fats,” says Seedat. Vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant, is also found in canola oil.

Which is best for cooking?

If you’re going to cook with oil, canola is the healthier option. It’s one of the few oils that can be heated to high temperatures without its antioxidants, character, colour and flavour spoiling.

The reason for this is that it has a higher smoking point (the point at which a fat begins to smoke or smell) than olive oil.

Olive oil is the preferred choice for salad dressings, or sprinkling on roast vegetables or foods that can be eaten cold (unless you prefer the milder taste of canola). It’s also fine for sautéing at lower temperatures.

If you have a question for our dietitians, click here, or to find a dietitian in your area, visit adsa.org.za. To get in touch with us, email healthhotline@pnp.co.za.