Is sunflower oil good for cooking? Does it have health benefits?

Health benefits of sunflower oil.
Sunflower oil

Sunflower oil may be bad for your health, due to its extremely high concentration of omega-6s, which may cause inflammation. But, it’s good for cooking and when we use it instead of fat from animal sources.

How sunflower oil is made?

There are 2 types of sunflower oils in the market.

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. Oil is squeezed out, through pressure. This process doesn’t involve any high heat.

But, the cold-pressed method doesn’t remove all oil from the seeds. It isn’t efficient.

On the contrary, the common refined sunflower oil is made by the pressure of pre-heated seeds. The heat allows the oil to flow more easily. Hence, more heat is extracted.

Furthermore, companies use a solvent named hexane. This chemical increases the amount of oil that can be extracted, leaving no remaining oil in the seeds.

But, this process alters the natural characteristics of the oil. The next step is to heat the oil to remove the chemical taste and heat it again to comply odor, color, and taste of the final product to the customer’s preferences.

Therefore, sunflower oil is a highly processed food.

Nutritional Info & of sunflower oil

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 vitamin E. It contains 41 mg per 100gr. Practically, a tablespoon of sunflower oil contains about 5.6 mg of vitamin E, or 37% DV (Daily Value).

Moreover, it contains traces of vitamin K.

Therefore, sunflower oil doesn’t contain any significant amounts of minerals or antioxidants.

Concentrations of different types of sunflower oil

65% Linoleic acid – 10% saturated – 25% Oleic acid

The standard sunflower oil that we buy contains about 65% polyunsaturated fatty acids, known as Linoleic acid (or omega-6).

This type of sunflower oil is bad for your health. It boosts the daily intake of omega-6 fats. If we consume too much omega-6s, it may cause inflammation. Omaga-6s are necessary for the body. But we tend to consume way too much!

The 65% Linoleic acid sunflower oil has a low smoke point of 227oC (440oF). It isn’t the best choice for frying.

80% Oleic acid – 10% saturated – 10% Linoleic acid

Oleic acid is another name of monounsaturated fatty acids. It’s also known as omega-9. It’s called High Oleic Acid Sunflower oil as well.

It remains stable without hydrogenation and has a longer shelf-life. Due to these benefits, high oleic acid sunflower oil is widely used in the food industry.

65% Oleic acid – 10% saturated – 25% Linoleic 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.

What type of sunflower oil is best for cooking?

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.

As a rule of thumb, the higher the oleic acid content, the higher the smoke point of the sunflower oil.

The 65% Linoleic 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. The American Heart Association recommends consuming up to 13g of saturated fatty acids a day.

If you replace animal fat, that is rich in saturated fats, with any vegetable oil, it’s good for your health. Studies have shown that vegetable oil can reduce total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, or even improve insulin sensitivity.

Sunflower oil has the lowest risk for the development of atheromas on the walls of the arteries (3).

Additionally, replacing saturated fat with omega-6 fats (sunflower oil fats) would rather be beneficial than harmful for the prevention of coronary heart disease (6).

Is sunflower oil bad for you?

Sunflower oil is bad for you because it contains high amounts of omega-6 fats. On the contrary, it doesn’t contain omega-3s.

Actually, we shouldn’t consume much more omega-6s than omega-3s. We evolved on a diet with a ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s of approximately 1 (2).

Nowadays, we consume extremely high amounts of omega-6s. If you eat a standard American diet, you probably consume much more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3.

Although the optimum omega-6 to omega-3 ratio should be 1:1, nowadays, it has become 20:1 or even higher.

This high ratio may cause many health problems (2,4,7):

  • obesity,
  • the body gain fat more easily,
  • cardiovascular disease,
  • atherosclerosis formation,
  • chronic low-grade inflammation,
  • oxidative stress,
  • cancer,
  • inflammatory diseases and
  • autoimmune diseases.

Sunflower oil can make you gain weight

Sunflower oil, as all vegetable oils, is high in calories. You better avoid it, if you want to lose weight.

100 gr of sunflower oil contain about 900 calories. Practically, a tablespoon of sunflower oil contains 120 calories.

Therefore, sunflower oil is bad for weight loss, as it doesn’t help us be on a caloric deficit. We tend to consume too many calories, without feeling full. Sunflower oil doesn’t control appetite.

Sunflower oil isn’t GMO

Sunflower hasn’t been genetically modified. All varieties are natural crossbreeding (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.

Best substitute for sunflower oil

The best alternatives to dietary fat are whole seeds and nuts. In fact, sunflower seeds aids weight loss.

Sunflower oil vs olive oil

Instead of sunflower oil, you could use olive oil. It’s the healthiest vegetable oil. Extra virgin olive oil:

  • is the richest vegetable oil in polyphenols,
  • is cold-pressed,
  • is a part of the famous Mediterranean Diet,
  • can benefit heart issues,
  • can benefit cognitive functions (5)

Certainly, olive oil is the best choice for dressings.

On the other hand, sunflower oil is a better choice for cooking, 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 cooking.

Furthermore, canola oil contains some omega-3s.

Most noteworthy, both are rich in omega-6s. They are cheap vegetable oils, highly used by the food industry.

Sources:

  1. US Department of Agriculture – Sunflower oil
  2. NCBI: The importance of the omega-6/omega-3 fatty acid ratio in cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases.
  3. 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.
  4. Omega-6 vegetable oils as a driver of coronary heart disease: the oxidized linoleic acid hypothesis
  5. 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
  6. Randomized trials of replacing saturated fatty acids with n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids in coronary heart disease prevention: Not the gold standard?
  7. NCBI-PMC: An Increase in the Omega-6/Omega-3 Fatty Acid Ratio Increases the Risk for Obesity
  8. NCBI-PMC Sunflower seed allergy
  9. NCBI-Pubmed.gov: Sunflower oil is not allergenic to sunflower seed-sensitive patients.