Sunflowers are one of the few crops native to the United States. According to some sources, indigenous people likely began to cultivate them around 1000 BC. Sunflower seeds probably didn't reach Europe until the 1800s. When sunflower seeds arrived in Russia, their oil content interested farmers. The farmers selectively bred the plants until they almost doubled the oil content of the seeds.
Today, sunflower oil is a food, a medicine, and a skin treatment. It is available in several forms, each with a different formula and with its own health benefits. Sunflower oil is a popular vegetable oil in the kitchen because of its mild flavor and high smoke point.
One tablespoon of sunflower oil contains:
- Calories: 120
- Protein: 0 grams
- Fat: 78 grams
- Carbohydrates: 0 grams
- Fiber: 0 grams
- Sugar: 0 grams
Sunflower oil is also a good source of these vitamins:
Potential Health Benefits of Sunflower Oil
Sunflower oil has many health benefits because it is low in saturated fat and high in two types of fatty acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids and monounsaturated fatty acids.
Polyunsaturated fatty acids, or PUFAs, include omega-3s and omega-6s. PUFAs can reduce cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood, especially when substituted for less-healthy fats.
Monounsaturated fatty acids, or MUFAs, also appear in sunflower oil. MUFAs may reduce heart disease. MUFAs in olive oil help make the Mediterranean diet healthy.
There are a few different types of sunflower oil you can choose from. It can be high in oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid, or it can be high in linoleic acid, a polyunsaturated fatty acid, or it can be somewhere in between. A high oleic sunflower oil is more frequently sold, since it is more stable for cooking.
Monounsaturated fats, such as those found in high oleic sunflower oil, are good for heart health. In one study, MUFAs increased HDL, the "good" cholesterol. Study subjects also had lower levels of inflammation. The Food and Drug Administration supports the health claim that oils containing at least 70% oleic acid may reduce coronary heart disease.
Linoleic Acid for Heart Health
Linoleic acid, the other unsaturated fat in sunflower oil, can also benefit your heart’s health. The American Heart Association performed a review of studies and concluded that linoleic acid lowers the risk of coronary heart disease. The Association suggests that consumers get 5-10% of their calories from linoleic acid. That translates to about 100 to 200 calories a day in a 2000-calorie a day diet.
Brain and Nerve Health
Sunflower oil is also an excellent source for vitamin E. Many studies suggest that a healthy source of vitamin E in your diet could provide many health bonuses. Some evidence suggests it may slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease. A deficiency of vitamin E can cause nerve pain. Vitamin E from food sources is more effective than from a supplement.
Potential Health Risks of Sunflower Oil
While sunflower oil has health benefits, you will want to avoid overconsuming or using it in unhealthy ways. Although sunflower oil is healthy on its own, it is often an ingredient in highly processed foods. Sunflower oil also has these possible health risks:
Excess Body Weight
All fats, even sunflower oil’s beneficial fatty acids, are high-calorie foods. Eating excess fats may contribute to obesity and its health risks. People who are overweight but not obese may also benefit from weight loss. In these cases, it is necessary to monitor intake of fats, including the intake of sunflower oil.
Fats used in frying emit cooking oil fumes. These fumes contain toxic substances called aldehydes that may increase one's risk of cancer. Deep frying produces the most aldehydes, but sunflower oil generates more aldehydes than other oils regardless of the cooking method. Experts recommend low-heat cooking methods when using sunflower oil. Aldehydes have also been found in fried food and in the oil after frying.