Health Benefits of Sunflower Oil
With so many options at the grocery store, it can be hard to know which oil to choose. You may already know that olive oil and avocado oil are two healthy options. But you don't always hear about sunflower oil. Here, we'll break down what it is, give you nutrition information and health benefits, and help you figure out if you should include it in your diet.
What is sunflower oil?
Sunflower oil is made from pressing the seeds of the sunflower plant and is high in heart-healthy poly- and monounsaturated fats. "There are four main varieties of sunflower oil used in foods and for cooking; they differ in their balance of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. High-linoleic sunflower oil is highest in omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, while mid-oleic and high-oleic sunflower oils have more monounsaturated fats," says Ali Webster, Ph.D., RD, director of research and nutrition communications at the International Food Information Council.
Related: What's the Best Oil for Cooking?
Sunflower oil nutrition
Serving size: 1 tablespoon
Total fat: 14 g
Saturated fat: 1 g
Monounsaturated fat: 3 g
Polyunsaturated fat: 9 g
Total carbohydrate: 0 g
Dietary fiber: 0 g
Sugar: 0 g
Choline: 0.03 mg
Vitamin E: 5.59 mg
Vitamin K: 0.73 mcg
Health benefits of sunflower oil
"Eating foods with omega-6 fatty acids can help to lower harmful LDL cholesterol," says Webster. Instead of simply adding these fats to your diet, though, substitute them for less-healthy fats. Numerous studies show that swapping out saturated fats, like those in butter, cheese, full-fat dairy and coconut, for unsaturated fats (poly- and monounsaturated fats) like those found in sunflower oil, is associated with reduced risk of coronary heart disease. A small study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that replacing saturated fat with high-oleic sunflower oil lowered LDL ("bad") cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
"Sunflower oil is high in vitamin E, an important antioxidant and key player for optimal immune function," says Webster. One tablespoon of sunflower oil delivers 37% of the recommended daily intake for vitamin E.
"It's also a source of linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid that we need to get from food—we can't make it ourselves," says Webster. Replacing saturated fat in the diet with linoleic acid is also associated with a lower risk of heart disease.
Americans consume more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fats (found in salmon, tuna, nuts and seeds), and some claim this promotes inflammation and is worse for our health. But Webster says that's not the case. "Omega-6 fatty acids can be used to make arachidonic acid, which is a precursor to several molecules involved in inflammation. Most of us eat far more omega-6 than omega-3 fatty acids, and it's been suggested that this imbalance can lead to more inflammation in the body. But this hasn't been borne out in the literature: studies have shown that omega-6 fatty acids don't increase inflammation, and may even reduce inflammation in certain cases. So while many of us could benefit from eating more omega-3 fatty acids, this doesn't have to come at the expense of eating fewer omega-6s."
How to use sunflower oil
Sunflower oil can be used to stir-fry or sauté. "Refined sunflower oil, particularly high-oleic or mid-oleic varieties, has a high smoke point (about 450°F), which makes it a good neutral oil for frying and other high-heat cooking methods, like stir-frying and sautéing," Webster says. "If you can find cold-pressed sunflower oil, which has a rich, nutty flavor, using it in salad dressings and other low-heat applications is a good way to showcase its taste."
Sunflower oil is a heart-healthy oil that's high in poly- and monounsaturated fats, as well as vitamin E, a potent antioxidant. Replacing saturated fat with poly- and monounsaturated fats is associated with a lower risk of heart disease. Use sunflower oil to stir-fry, or buy cold-pressed sunflower oil to enjoy in your salads.