Heads up: There Might Be Canola Oil in Your Oat Milk, but Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Panic

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Plant-based milks have never been more popular (or plentiful) than now—what a time to be alive! From almond to pistachio to oat, there are tons of options to choose from. That said, the latter of the bunch—oat milk—tends to garner tons of attention thanks to its unparalleled creamy texture, neutral flavor, and luxurious mouthfeel, a match made in heaven for your morning brews if you ask us.

While die-hard oat milk fans have likely already sworn allegiance to their favorite brands, there are a few things you may want to keep in mind when shopping around for some of the tastiest (and healthiest) oat milk products. For those with digestive sensitivities, staying away from potentially hard-to-digest ingredients such as carrageenan might be helpful. Meanwhile, if lowering inflammation is the goal (isn't it always?) double-checking the sugar content on the nutrition facts is a must. But as you peruse the label, one ingredient may stand out that you may not be as familiar with: rapeseed oil. So: what is it, and is rapeseed oil healthy? We've done some investigative work to learn more, and (spoiler alert!) it's really NBD.

Experts In This Article

What is rapeseed oil made from?

The name alone might sound a bit intimidating. But, in truth, it's not as alarming as it sounds. In fact, if you take the time to whip out your phone and do a quick Google search while staring at the dairy-free case, you'll find that it's commonly talked about alongside canola oil. Here's why: they're basically the same thing.

Some background context: Rapeseed oil is made from the seeds of the rape plant (a relative of mustard). Some types of rapeseed oil can naturally contain high amounts of erucic acid (between 30-60 percent), which some studies suggest may be linked with the increase in fat deposits in heart muscle, called myocardial lipidosis, with high, prolonged intakes. However, in the 1970s, food scientists developed a rapeseed plant that had much lower levels of erucic acid through cross-breeding techniques (not to be confused with genetically-modifying the plants). They named the plant, and the oil created from it, canola.

So: how does canola oil differ from rapeseed oil? Per the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in order for an oil to be called canola, no more than two percent of its fatty acid profile can come from erucic acid.

"In some countries, primarily in Europe, [the terms] canola oil and rapeseed oil are used interchangeably," says Kristin Kirkpatrick, RD. What's more, studies show that rapeseed oils' high content of unsaturated fatty acids, especially polyunsaturated fatty acids, can offer many health benefits.

A few rapeseed oil benefits

The good news? Most "rapeseed oil" today is made with these lower-erucic acid plants, making the list of differences between canola and rapeseed oil much less significant. "In some countries, primarily in Europe, [the terms] canola oil and rapeseed oil are used interchangeably," says registered dietitian Kristin Kirkpatrick, RD. What's more, due to the lower presence of erucic acid, most rapeseed oils are nothing to be concerned about. In fact, studies show that rapeseed oils' high content of unsaturated fatty acids, especially polyunsaturated fatty acids, can offer many health benefits. According to the same study, rapeseed oil also contains nine additional "functional components that contribute to its anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, anti-obesity, anti-diabetic, anti-cancer, neuroprotective, and cardioprotective" benefits.

Kirkpatrick agrees that rapeseed oil (aka canola oil) can present additional health and cooking benefits. For starters, it's widely considered to be a healthy fat, high in omega-3s. Plus, it can come in handy in the kitchen. "Unlike olive oil, rapeseed oil has a higher smoke point, so it's safe for cooking," she adds. (Translation: You won't accidentally set off the smoke alarm in your kitchen next time you try to make a stir fry.) "And like all oils, it's a good source of vitamin E." That said, not all health experts agree; some still recommend avoiding canola because of its potentially inflammatory properties and because it can still in some cases be hydrogenated (which stabilizes it but also potentially introduces trans fats), but more on that ahead.

So, why is rapeseed oil in your oat milk in the first place?

Kirkpatrick says that canola and rapeseed oil are so common in oat milk because they serve as an excellent emulsifier, keeping the water and oats blended together. Essentially, you can consider it the main reason why oat milk has such a smooth, creamy texture.

Are there any potential risks with consuming rapeseed oil?

But what's the big deal if you see "rapeseed oil" on your nutrition label, anyway? Kirkpatrick says that the presence of rapeseed oil (or canola oil, for that matter) may "turn off " some folks because in the U.S. it's typically been labeled as a genetically-modified food. While the original canola plant was bred through traditional farming techniques, modern plants are often genetically modified to be herbicide-resistant. Of course, you can easily avoid this by buying products with a certified non-GMO or organic labels, Kirkpatrick says. (For the record, Oatly says it uses non-GMO canola oil in its products.)

That said, the FDA clearly states that "GMO foods are carefully studied before they are sold to the public to ensure they are as safe as the foods we currently eat. GMO foods are as healthful and safe to eat as their non-GMO counterparts. Some GMO plants have actually been modified to improve their nutritional value."

On the other hand, there's internet-bred rumors that seed oils are also inherently bad for you, but health experts agree that the validity behind these claims is sparse. In fact, seed oils contain both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. It's also worth noting that while omega-3 fatty acids tend to have anti-inflammatory effects, some omega-6 fatty acids can present some pro-inflammatory effects. But it's not that simple, or black and white, or even fair to label them as 'bad' and 'good' nutrients.

As gastroenterologist Matthew Bechtold, MD, previously shared with Well+Good, the most common omega-6 (linolenic acid) turns into another fatty acid (arachidonic acid) in the body that can cause inflammation in certain settings, but it can also quell inflammation in others. What's more, omega-6s play an important role in our overall nutrition, so long as the appropriate amounts of omega-3s are consumed in conjunction for a complete, well-balanced, and healthy diet.

What to do if your oat milk contains this ingredient

In Kirkpatrick's purview, seeing rapeseed oil listed in the ingredients list on your oat milk carton shouldn't raise any red flags. As broken down above, there are several benefits to consuming this ingredient that go beyond rich and creamy plant-based oat milk coffee drinks. That said, it's ultimately up to you. Once you've taken a close look at the pros and cons, and if you decide that it's simply not for you, there are tons of ways to avoid the ingredient altogether. "But if you're still concerned, there are certainly brands that don't use it," Kirkpatrick says. In fact, Elmhurst is one of 'em, and their Unsweetened Oat Milk is made with just three simple ingredients: filtered water, whole grain oats, and salt (and is Non-GMO Project-certified).

Oh, and if you find some spare time in your busy day, you can always make it yourself. All you need is five ingredients, a high-speed blender, a strainer, and the rest is homemade oat milk history. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

Up next on our myth busting to-do list? Settling the canola oil vs. olive oil debate once and for all. Who's ready for some gut-friendly oils?

The benefits of oat milk, according to a registered dietitian:

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.
  1. Galanty A, Grudzińska M, Paździora W, Paśko P. Erucic Acid-Both Sides of the Story: A Concise Review on Its Beneficial and Toxic Properties. Molecules. 2023 Feb 17;28(4):1924. doi: 10.3390/molecules28041924. PMID: 36838911; PMCID: PMC9962393.
  2. Shen J, Liu Y, Wang X, Bai J, Lin L, Luo F, Zhong H. A Comprehensive Review of Health-Benefiting Components in Rapeseed Oil. Nutrients. 2023 Feb 16;15(4):999. doi: 10.3390/nu15040999. PMID: 36839357; PMCID: PMC9962526.

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