When you shop for vegetable oil, you will encounter one type of canola oil but several forms of sunflower oil. Sunflower seeds go through different processes to produce oils with varying amounts of monounsaturated fats. Canola oil and the different sunflower oils are all good sources of heart-healthy unsaturated fats, but they contain different types of fats. Canola and sunflower oils are also different when it comes to vitamin content and their use in cooking.
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Good for Your Heart
Both types of unsaturated fat -- monounsaturated and polyunsaturated -- reduce the levels of total cholesterol and bad cholesterol. Monounsaturated fats have an additional benefit: They also increase good cholesterol. If you want to increase monounsaturated fats in your diet, then go with high-oleic sunflower oil because 83 percent of its total fat consists of monounsaturated fats. Linoleic sunflower oil has 50 percent monounsaturated fats. Canola oil falls between the two sunflower oils. Canola oil and all types of sunflower oil have 120 to 124 calories in a 1-tablespoon serving. All of the calories come from 14 grams of total fat.
More of a Good Thing
The essential fatty acids -- omega-3 and omega-6 -- are polyunsaturated fats. Both types of fatty acids lower your risk of developing cardiovascular disease, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. The omega-3 fatty acids also help prevent irregular heart rhythms and may inhibit the formation of blood clots. One tablespoon of canola oil has 1.3 grams of omega-3 in the form of alpha-linolenic acid. The same portion of sunflower oil has 9 grams of omega-6 in the form of linoleic acid. However, the high-oleic type of sunflower oil is not a good source of polyunsaturated fats.
Most vegetable oils only contain two nutrients: vitamins E and K. The amount you’ll get of each vitamin varies significantly from one type of oil to the next. Vitamin E is an important antioxidant that protects essential fats throughout your body from damage caused by free radicals. Canola and sunflower oils are good sources of vitamin E, but both types of sunflower oil are the best choice because they provide 37 percent of the recommended daily allowance in a 1-tablespoon serving. Canola oil has half that amount. Canola oil contains 10 micrograms of vitamin K, which is 8 percent of your recommended daily intake. Sunflower oils are not good sources of vitamin K.
When they’re heated, vegetable oils reach a smoking point, which is the temperature just before they catch on fire. Besides the risk of burning, at the smoking point, the fats begin to break down, become toxic and ruin the food you’re cooking. Sunflower oil, especially the high-oleic type, has a high smoke point suitable for browning and frying, notes the Cleveland Clinic. Canola oil has a medium smoke point, which means you can use it for baking and stir frying, but not higher temperature deep-frying.
- USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Oil, Canola
- USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Oil, Sunflower, Linoleic (Less Than 60 Percent)
- USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Oil, Sunflower, High Oleic (70 Percent and Over)
- University of Arizona Cooperative Extension: Healthy Fats: Guide for Improving the Quality of Fat Intake
- Harvard School of Public Health: Ask the Expert: Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- Linus Pauling Institute: Essential Fatty Acids: Sources
- Colorado State University: Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- Cleveland Clinic: Heart-Healthy Cooking: Oils 101