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Is Sunflower Oil Healthy, Actually? What Science Says

Organic sunflower oil in a small glass jar with sunflower seeds and fresh flowers. Outdoors

Is Sunflower Oil Healthy, Actually? What Science Says

You've probably heard the recent health and food trend over the last few years that using sunflower oil is a healthier option when used to cook or consume. Well, is sunflower oil actually healthy for you? The answer is that it depends on how it's being used. With that being the case, why have so many people hopped on the bandwagon to switch over their oil? Let's take a look at what is being shared about sunflower oil, learn when it is and isn't healthy, and what science tells us about it.

Organic sunflower seeds and flowers on wooden table
To make sunflower oil, the seeds are ground up into a course meal. They are then further refined into a fine substance that is heated up and pressed to release the oil.

©New Africa/Shutterstock.com

What Is Sunflower Oil?

Sunflower oil is made from the Helianthus annuss plant. The seeds are pressed to release the oils that are collected in mass. It is often seen as a healthy oil because it contains unsaturated fats that are looked at as hearth healthy.

But, there are different types of sunflower oils that don't all have the same components. Each is made from sunflower seeds but the seeds produce different fat compositions. The types of sunflower oils are differentiated by their linoleic or oleic acid concentration. Linoleic acid is an omega-6 and oleic acid is an omega-9 fatty acid. There's high linoleic which has 68% linoleic acid, mid-oleic which has 65% oleic acid, high oleic which has 82% oleic acid, and high stearic/oleic which has 72% oleic and 18% stearic acid.

When Is Sunflower Oil Healthy?

Both linoleic and oleic acids can be good for you as they serve as a source of energy and give cells and tissues strength. Sunflower oil also contains Vitamin E which is an important nutrient that helps cells from being affected by age. The sunflower oils that are healthy for you are the ones with 80% or higher of oleic acid.

It is believed from certain research that oleic acid or monounsaturated fatty acids help lower cholesterol levels. There have been enough tests that the FDA has qualified the health claim that high oleic acid sunflower oils or products with a similar composition are heart-healthy. It's important to note that you should be replacing the saturated fats in your diet with high oleic acid to see results.

Woman pouring cooking oil from bottle into frying pan with vegetables on stove, closeup
Sunflower oil can release toxic compounds when cooked at high temperatures. Cook it low and slow to ensure it stays stable and safe.

©New Africa/Shutterstock.com

When Is Sunflower Oil Not Healthy?

The most common type of sunflower oil sold in the U.S. is mid-oleic acid which has a lesser amount of oleic and is supplemented with linoleic acid, which is an omega-6. Although omega-6 is an important part of the diet, if consumed too much it can have negative effects. It is believed to cause inflammation and other health-related issues. There have not been enough studies to determine the safe amount of linoleic acid that can be consumed, but it is known in animals that if consuming too much linoleic acid can cause cancer.

Another important thing to note when consuming sunflower oil is it's temperature. It can become unsafe and release a toxic compound called aldehyde that damages DNA if heated to 356 degrees or higher. This means that sunflower oil is not a good option when deep-frying or cooking with high heat. Sunflower oil does have a high smoke point, which means it can get very hot before it starts to become smokey. This should not be mistaken for its stability under high heat.

How To Use Sunflower Oil In A Healthy Way

Now, don't let the previous statements scare you as there is a way to safely cook with sunflower oil. If you cook with sunflower oil and keep the heat lower and cook slower, it is safer as it shouldn't break down and release large amounts of aldehyde.

The absolute safest way to consume sunflower oil is to use it raw. Common ways you can use sunflower oil is to make dressings and sauces such as mayonnaise and ranch. It can also be used when making nut butter.

Sunflower natural background. Sunflower blooming
There are 70 species of sunflowers. They are mostly native to North and Central America, except for three species found in South America.

©Skrypnykov Dmytro/Shutterstock.com

Important Takeaways

Sunflower oil can be very beneficial to you as it contains important omega-9s. Most often, the sunflower oil you'll find in the stores is a mid-oleic oil which is not the best option because it also contains more linoleic acid. If you can find a sunflower oil with high-oleic content, that is going to be your healthiest option. Sunflower oil has been found in studies to help lower cholesterol levels and be a heart-healthy option. It is best to consume sunflower oil raw and not cooked. But, it can be consumed if cooking at a lower temperature.

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