As you might guess by the names, the most obvious difference between olive and sunflower oil is the source. Olive oil is derived from pressing olives, while sunflower oil comes from sunflower seeds.
But while each type of oil is plant-based and their calories are similar — about 120 calories per tablespoon — they do have several nutritional differences.
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Both olive and sunflower oil are rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
These beneficial fats bring down your low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, while elevating the good high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. This process protects your heart, lowering your risk of heart disease and stroke, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
Linoleic types of sunflower oil are particularly higher in polyunsaturated fats — 65 percent of the fat in this sunflower oil is polyunsaturated, compared with just 10 percent in olive oil, according to the USDA Nutrient Database.
Polyunsaturated fat goes above and beyond protecting your heart. It contains omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. These components reduce inflammation, support neurological communications and are essential for everyday growth and development, according to the AHA.
Get plenty of antioxidants, such as vitamin E, in your diet to effectively ward off damaging free radicals. All adults need 15 milligrams of vitamin E every day, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS), to reduce your risk of developing chronic diseases and certain cancers.
Sunflower oil gives you more than a third of that recommendation (about 5.6 milligrams) in a tablespoon. You'll still get vitamin E from olive oil, but 1 tablespoon offers less than 2 milligrams.
Vitamin K is responsible for activating mechanisms that start blood coagulation. It stops bleeding by clotting blood and forming scabs.
According to the ODS, males need 120 micrograms of vitamin K daily, while females need 90 micrograms, even during pregnancy and lactation. You'll get more than 8 micrograms of vitamin K from 1 tablespoon of olive oil, while the same amount of sunflower oil provides less than 1 microgram.
Plant oils in general have very few minerals. Sunflower oil doesn't offer minerals at all. You'll get several minerals from olive oil, albeit in trace amounts, according to the USDA Nutrient Database.
Olive oil contains small amounts of iron, which you need to keep oxygen moving around your body for cells to function; potassium and sodium, electrolyte minerals you need to keep your muscles and heart working; and calcium, which your body uses for teeth and bone structure.
Because olive oil isn't a rich source of any of these minerals, you shouldn't rely on it to meet your nutritional needs.
- USDA National Nutrient Database: 'Oil, Sunflower'
- USDA National Nutrient Database: 'Oil, Olive, Extra Virgin'
- American Heart Association: 'Monounsaturated Fats'
- American Heart Association: 'Polyunsaturated Fats'
- Harvard Health Publishing: 'The truth about fats: the good, the bad, and the in-between'
- Office of Dietary Supplements: 'Vitamin E'
- Office of Dietary Supplements: 'Vitamin K'
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