Sunflower Oil


Sunflowers are known for their bright, beautiful flowers. Some also enjoy eating the seeds as a healthful snack. Still others use the concentrated oil for cooking as well as an ingredients in commercially processed foods.

It seems this lovely flower is all around us, so it merits the time taken to learn how this oil affects our bodies and whether it too considered a healthful choice.

What Is It?

Sunflower oil [1] comes from the seeds of a sunflower, and is expeller pressed in the same manner that we produce olive and other vegetable oils. The three most common types of sunflower oil are linoleic sunflower oil (which contains only unsaturated fats), partially hydrogenated sunflower oil (which contains trans fats), and hydrogenated sunflower oil (which contains saturated fats).

What Is Its Biological Role?

Not all fats (oils) are created equal. When the body digests fats and oils from the foods we eat, they are broken down into their individual building blocks, called fatty acids.[2] Different fatty acids do different things; some good and some bad.

Overall, it is important to maintain a proper balance of fatty acids in the body. Sunflower oil can assist with this because it showcase a variety of fatty acids, including linoleic acid, oleic acid, palmitic acid, and stearic acid.

While fatty acids may have slightly different applications, as a whole they work to keep your body running smoothly. This includes regulating your blood sugar, blood pressure, thyroid and adrenal gland functioning. They also assist in the production of hormone and cell membranes, which allows the brain and nervous system to function properly.

While these are all positive functions, there is some bad news as well. Sunflower oil contains a very high concentration of omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-6’s are typically far too prevalent in the standard American diet, and cause increases in internal inflammation.

Omega-6’s can be helpful in the right amounts; [3] the problem comes when a standard diet involves too many Omega-6 fatty acids. Because these types of fatty acids are found in so many foods, the American Heart Association currently recommends avoid foods that contain very high levels of Omega-6’s, such as sunflower oil.

How Does It Help Bodybuilders and People Who Work Out?

Due to its incredibly high calorie content, it is not a good cooking oil option for weight loss. A single teaspoon contains 40 calories, and most people use a much larger amount of oil than that when cooking.

This high calories content may seem attractive to bodybuilders looking to bulk up. It is best to consume this ingredient in moderation and also consult with your doctor before consuming it regularly and especially in high amounts.

What Foods Contain It?

Sunflower oil is sold in pure form as a cooking oil, and can also be found in a wide variety of processed foods. Examples include granola, cereals, pasta, trail mix, bakery mixes or confections, butter substitutes, and more.

How Much Of It Do You Need?

Sunflower oil is not a necessary part of a healthy diet. Due to the high omega-6 content of the standard American diet, the American Heart Association recommends reducing the consumption of products high in Omega-6 fatty acids, including sunflower oil.

This recommendation is redoubled when considering the more processed types of sunflower oil that have undergone either partial or total hydrogenation. This process converts many of the fatty acids in the oil into trans fats and saturated fats, which are generally to be excluded from any healthy diet due to their potential health risks.

Are There Risks Associated With Consuming Too Much Of It?

An excess of sunflower oil can cause weight gain from the high fat and calorie content. The high omega-6 content can also cause various health complications, including an increased risks of developing heart disease. It is best to take in small amounts and consult with your doctor beforehand.

Are There Risks Associated With Consuming Too Little Of It?

Sunflower oil can be a useful substitute cooking oil in certain situations, and is found in many foods. However, should you choose to avoid it you will face no ill effects. The positive benefits offered by sunflower oil do not necessarily outweigh the ones that can be gleaned from other, more nutritionally sound, sources.

Final Take

Marketing claims about the healthfulness of sunflower oil are frequently overstated, but that does not mean this pale yellow oil is without its uses and benefits. Hopefully you feel empowered with this new knowledge to continue researching and taking control of your nutrition.

References:

[1] Wikipedia. Sunflower Oil. Wikipedia, 2017.

[2] Wikipedia. Fatty Acid. Wikipedia, 2017.

[3] Dr Hensrud, Donald. Omega-6 Fatty Acids: Can They Cause Heart Disease?. The Mayo Clinic, 2014.