The key quality that sets canola oil apart as a healthy oil is its low level of saturated fat -- in fact, it's the lowest level of any oil derived from plants. Saturated fats are the cholesterol-raising, artery-clogging, heart-disease-inducing kinds of fats to avoid. Foods like cream, butter, cheese, lard and fatty meats have high percentages of saturated fat. Imagine bacon cooked in butter -- that would be a saturated fat fest! In comparison, canola oil with its 7 percent saturated fat content is much easier on the arteries and, by extension, the heart [source: CanolaInfo].
But canola oil's healthy fat composition isn't just about what canola doesn't contain. It's also about what it does have. While saturated fat is definitely an undesired ingredient, unsaturated fat (excluding trans fat) is an important part of a healthy diet. Canola oil contains a high percentage (61 percent) of monounsaturated fat, which can help reduce cholesterol and moderate amounts of polyunsaturated fat (32 percent) [source: CanolaInfo]. Polyunsaturated fat includes essential omega-3 fatty acids, such as alpha-linolenic acid, and omega-6 fatty acids, such as linoleic acid.
This combination of low levels of bad saturated fat combined with relatively high levels of good unsaturated fat makes canola oil a formidable competitor in the healthiest oil category. Its low level of saturated fat beats out other vegetable oils, such as safflower oil (8 percent), sunflower oil (12 percent), corn oil (13 percent) or olive oil (15 percent). All of these oils put fats like butter (68 percent saturated fat) or coconut oil (a whopping 91 percent saturated fat) to shame, but canola takes the prize for the lowest level [source: CanolaInfo].
Some of these other vegetable oils can edge out canola oil when it comes to their content of healthy unsaturated fat. For example, flaxseed oil contains 73 percent polyunsaturated fat and sunflower oil contains 72 percent [source: CanolaInfo]. But canola oil still lays claim to relatively high amounts of these healthy fats, particularly monounsaturated fat.
But how exactly does this combination of low saturated fat and high unsaturated fat translate into good health for people who use canola oil in their cooking? Read on to find out.