Should we use sunflower oil? What are the health benefits? What type of vegetable oil is good for our health? All the answers are here…
How sunflower oil is made?
There are 2 types of sunflower oils in the market.
Cold-pressed or Extra-Virgin
The first type of oil is the cold-pressed or extra-virgin sunflower oil.
In a cold-pressed process, the hulls are removed and the seeds are broken into smaller pieces. Afterward, oil is squeezed out, through pressure. This process doesn’t involve any high heat.
Warm-Processed or Refined
Most commercial sunflower oils are refined oils, meaning additional processing.
Nost often, refined sunflower oil has a different flavor, odor, or thickness than an unrefined oil.
The simple cold-pressed process leaves much of the oil behind in the seeds. That’s not efficient.
Warm presses work much the same as cold presses, but the seeds are heated slightly before passing through the press for extraction. The heat allows the oil to flow more easily from the seeds when pressed.
This way more oil is extracted. But that’s not enough.
Companies use a solvent named hexane. This chemical increases the amount of oil that can be extracted, leaving no remaining oil in the seeds.
These steps alter the natural characteristics of the oil. So, more steps are necessary…
The next step is to heat the oil for removing the chemical taste and heat it again to comply odor, color, and taste of the final product to the customer’s preferences.
According to the US Department of Agriculture, the common sunflower oil contains: (1).
- saturates fatty acids: 10% of the fat content,
- monounsaturated fatty acids: 19.5% of the fat content,
- polyunsaturated fatty acids: 66% of the fat content
Sunflower oil contains only 2 vitamins:
- Vitamin E, 41 mg/100gr. To understand it better, a tablespoon of sunflower oil contains about 5.6 mg of vitamin E. The recommended daily intake is 15 mg for adults. So, a tablespoon provides about 37% DV.
- Vitamin K, 5.4 mcg/100gr. The recommended daily intake is 80-120mcg for adults. Hence, sunflower oil contains only traces of vitamin K.
Sunflower oil doesn’t contain any minerals or polyphenols.
Types of sunflower oil
- 65% Linolenic acid – 10% saturated – 25% Oleic acid
The standard sunflower oil that we buy contains about 65% polyunsaturated fatty acids, known as Linolenic acid (or omega-6).
This type of sunflower oil is the least healthy. It contains many omega-6 fats and no omega-3 fats. That’s something you should avoid.
The 65% Linolenic acid sunflower oil has also a lower smoke point of 227oC (440oF). For this reason, people tend to use vegetable oils for frying with a greater smoke point.
- 80% Oleic acid – 10% saturated – 10% Linolenic acid
Oleic acid is another name of monounsaturated fatty acids. It’s also known as omega-9. This oil is also called High Oleic Acid Sunflower oil.
It has great properties. It remains stable without hydrogenation and has a longer shelf-life. Due to these properties, high oleic acid sunflower oil is widely used in the food industry.
- 65% Oleic acid – 10% saturated – 25% Linolenic acid
This is also known as Mid-Oleic acid sunflower oil. It’s the most common sunflower oil. It’s the sunflower that you’ll buy in a store.
Sunflower oil smoke point
The worst type of sunflower oil for frying is the unrefined cold-pressed sunflower oil. It has a smoke point of 107oC (225oF). Practically it isn’t appropriate for frying. You better use it in dressings.
In contrast, the higher the oleic acid content, the higher the smoke point of the oil.
The 65% Linolenic acid sunflower oil has a smoke point of 227oC (440oF), while the 65% Oleic acid has a smoke point of 232oC (450oF).
Is sunflower oil good for you?
Sunflower oil contains only about 10% saturated fatty acids.
That’s the kind of fat that is mainly present in animal fat and we better avoid it.
Sunflower oil health benefits
If you replace animal fat, that is rich in saturated fats, with any vegetable oil, it can benefit you. Studies have shown that vegetable oil can reduce total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, or even improve insulin sensitivity.
Sunflower oil has the lowest risk for atheromas formation on the walls of the arteries or even the production of a thrombus (3).
Additionally, scientific data, from many cohort and dietary studies, have suggested that replacing saturated fat with omega-6 fats (sunflower oil fats) would rather be beneficial than harmful for the prevention of coronary heart disease (6).
Replace dietary fats from animal sources to fats from vegetable oils.
Is sunflower oil bad for you?
Sunflower oil is bad for you because it contains high amounts of omega-6 fats, while it doesn’t contain any omega-3 fats.
Wait a minute…I thought that omega-6 fats are beneficial…
That’s right, but we shouldn’t consume much more omega-6 fats than omega-3 fats.
Scientists suggest that humans evolved on a diet with a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFA) of approximately 1 (2).
The problem is that nowadays this ratio has totally changed.
If you eat a standard American diet, you probably consume much more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3.
The optimum omega-6 to omega-3 ratio from 1:1 nowadays has become 20:1 or even higher.
This high ratio means that we consume much more omega-6 fats than omega-3, causing increased risk of health problems like (2,4,7):
- the body gain fat more easily,
- cardiovascular disease,
- atherosclerosis formation,
- chronic low-grade inflammation,
- oxidative stress,
- inflammatory diseases and
- autoimmune diseases.
Sunflower oil has no omega-3 fats while it’s rich in omega-6 fats. That’s the worst combination.
- Prefer sunflower oil low in Linoleic acid (that’s a type of omega-6 fat). For this reason, avoid 65% Linolenic acid sunflower oil.
- Avoid excessive use of all vegetable oils, as they are very rich in omega-6 fats and are an ingredient in almost every processed food.
- Eat whole seeds and nuts, as an alternative dietary fat source.
How many calories per tablespoon?
Sunflower oil, as all vegetable oils, is very calorie-dense.
You better avoid it if you want to lose weight.
100 gr of sunflower oil contains about 900 calories.
Only a tablespoon of sunflower oil contains 120 calories.
These are “empty calories“, as they don’t have any nutrition value. Sunflower oil doesn’t contain any vitamins (except vitamin E), minerals, protein, or fiber.
Do people have allergy to sunflower oil?
Sunflower seeds are a rare source of allergy.
On rare occasions, sunflower seeds may have caused anaphylaxis (8).
Moreover, occupational (like bird breeders) allergies to sunflower seeds have been reported.
Sunflower oils are less allergenic than seeds. The refining process removes the allergy-causing proteins.
Even patients who are allergic to sunflower seeds, they aren’t oil-sensitive (9).
Best substitute for sunflower oil
The best alternatives to dietary fat are whole seeds and nuts.
On the other hand, if you want to choose the best vegetable oil, keep reading…
Which vegetable oil isn’t GMO?
Sunflower hasn’t been genetically modified. All varieties are natural crossbreeding. For this reason, if you worry about GMO products, sunflower oil is a safe option (8).
Other non-GMO vegetable oils are olive oil and coconut oil.
The most common GMO vegetable oils are canola oil, soybean oil, corn oil, and cottonseed oil.
Sunflower oil vs olive oil
Olive oil is for many the best choice, among vegetable oils. Extra virgin olive oil:
- is the richest vegetable oil in polyphenols,
- is cold-pressed,
- has proven its value for thousands of years, along the Mediterranean Diet,
- can benefit heart issues,
- can benefit cognitive functions (5)
It’s the best choice for dressings.
Contrary, better prefer sunflower oil for frying, as it has a higher smoke point (232oC) than olive oil (190oC).
Sunflower oil vs canola oil
Sunflower oil isn’t a GMO product. In contrast, canola oil mainly comes from genetically modified varieties.
Both have similar smoke points, so they both are excellent for frying.
Furthermore, canola oil contains some omega-3 fats.
Most noteworthy, both are rich in omega-6 fats. They are cheap vegetable oils and the food industry uses them everywhere.
For this reason, you better consume more foods rich in omega-3 fats, like flaxseeds, walnuts, chia, or hemp, while avoiding the excessive consumption of these vegetable oils.
- US Department of Agriculture – Sunflower oil
- NCBI: The importance of the omega-6/omega-3 fatty acid ratio in cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases.
- Chemometric studies of the effects of milk fat replacement with different proportions of vegetable oils in the formulation of fat-filled milk powders: Implications for quality assurance.
- Omega-6 vegetable oils as a driver of coronary heart disease: the oxidized linoleic acid hypothesis
- NCBI: Effect of the replacement of dietary vegetable oils with a low dose of extra virgin olive oil in the Mediterranean Diet on cognitive functions in the elderly
- Randomized trials of replacing saturated fatty acids with n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids in coronary heart disease prevention: Not the gold standard?
- NCBI-PMC: An Increase in the Omega-6/Omega-3 Fatty Acid Ratio Increases the Risk for Obesity
- NCBI-PMC Sunflower seed allergy
- NCBI-Pubmed.gov: Sunflower oil is not allergenic to sunflower seed-sensitive patients.