In response to a growing public concern about hydrogenated oils, some food companies are switching to supposedly more healthful sunflower oil. However, some companies use hydrogenated sunflower oil, while others use non-hydrogenated. With a little information, you can tell the difference between sunflower oils which have been hydrogenated and those which have not.
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Hydrogenation is a chemical process first developed in the 1950s, when food manufacturers discovered that by adding hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils, they could create a product that would remain solid at room temperature. Sunflower oil was just one of many oils to undergo hydrogenation as manufacturers produced margarine and vegetable-based shortening. The problem with hydrogenation is that it produces trans fats. These fats lower good HDL cholesterol levels while increasing bad LDL cholesterol levels.
Pure Sunflower Oil
Generally speaking, if you're buying pure sunflower oil in a bottle, it won't be hydrogenated. Since the reason food manufacturers hydrogenate oils is to make them firm at room temperature, they have no need to hydrogenate oils that they plan to sell in their natural, liquid form. Pure sunflower oil is a better choice than butter and lard; vegetable-based fats have more heart-healthy polyunsaturated fats than animal-based fats.
Products Containing Sunflower Oil
Though pure liquid sunflower oil is non-hydrogenated, that's not always the case for products containing sunflower oil. Current food labeling laws require manufacturers to list trans fats separately from other fats. However, don't rely on food labels that loudly declare "0 grams trans fats." If a recommended serving contains less than 0.5 g fat, the FDA allows the manufacturer to round down to zero. Instead, look at the ingredients label. If it lists "partially hydrogenated sunflower oil" or "hydrogenated sunflower oil," the product contains trans fat.
Pure, liquid sunflower oil is a healthy replacement for animal-based fats such as butter and lard. However, sunflower oil isn't the only healthful oil out there. For a little variety, try high-quality olive oil for topping salads or dipping breads, canola oil for higher-heat cooking such as sauteing vegetables and safflower oil for oven frying.