Is Sunflower Oil Healthy?

Sunflower oil can be healthy — so long as you choose the right type.
Image Credit: Cunaplus_M.Faba/iStock/GettyImages

Sunflower oil is a good choice when you're reaching for oil in the kitchen: It's naturally high in healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats and is an excellent source of vitamin E.

But not all forms of this oil are the same — both the nutrition facts and health benefits differ based on one variety to another. Find out all about the most common varieties of sunflower oil, along with the nutrition facts for each.

Advertisement

Sunflower Oil Nutrition

Sunflower oil's calories come from fat. Your body needs some fat for energy, digestion and vitamin absorption.

One tablespoon of sunflower oil contains:

  • ​Calories​: 120
  • ​Total fat​: 14 g
    • Saturated fat: 1 g
  • ​Cholesterol​: 0 mg
  • ​Sodium​: 0 mg
  • ​Total carbs​: 0 g
    • ​Dietary fiber​: 0 g
    • ​Sugar​: 0 g
  • ​Protein​: 0 g

Fat is calorie-dense, which means there are more calories in a gram of fat than there are in a gram of protein, according to the USDA.

Advertisement

Less than 30 percent of your total calories should come from fat, per the Mayo Clinic. And, you should aim for less than 10 percent of your total caloric intake to be saturated fat, per the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Some fats are healthier than others, and it's important to eat the right kinds of fat when it comes to oils.

3 Types of Sunflower Oil

There are three common grades of sunflower oil available. All of them are an excellent source of vitamin E and provide a small amount of vitamin K. They do not contain cholesterol, protein or sodium.

Advertisement

Where the different types of sunflower oil vary is in their makeup of fatty acids.

1. High-Oleic Sunflower Oil

This type of oil has a long shelf life and is made from sunflowers bred to have a high concentration of oleic acid in their seeds. Also known as omega-9, oleic acid is a type of monounsaturated fat, per the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs.

Along with polyunsaturated fat, monounsaturated fat is considered a healthy form of fat, per the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM).

Advertisement

High oleic oils are considered healthy because of their higher content of omega-3 and lower content of omega-6 fatty acids as compared to other types of sunflower oils. Both omega-3 and omega-6 fats are essential for your body, and you need to get them from your diet, per the American Heart Association (AHA).

2. Mid-Oleic Sunflower Oil

Mid-oleic is the oil that's used for stir-frying and in salad dressings. You might see it listed as "NuSun" on ingredient lists, which is the brand name, and it is used for commercial food preparation purposes.

It has less oleic acid than high-oleic sunflower oil.

3. Linoleic Sunflower Oil

Linoleic sunflower oil contains more polyunsaturated omega-6 fats but is lacking in healthy omega-3s.

The ratio of these two fats matters, but having the right ratio in place can help prevent and manage obesity, according to a March 2016 study in Nutrients.

Typically, we eat more omega-6 fats than omega-3 fats, but rather than limit our intake of omega-6 fats, a better strategy is to eat more omega-3s to keep a healthy balance of the two fats, per Harvard Health Publishing.

So, if you use linoleic sunflower oil (which is high in omega-6 fats), be sure to add some fish or other omega-3-rich foods to your diet.

Nutrition Facts for Different Types of Sunflower Oil

Per 1 Tbsp.

Linoleic

High-Oleic

Mid-Oleic

Calories

120, 6% DV

124, 6% DV

120, 6% DV

Total Fat

13.6 g, 6% DV

14 g, 18% DV

13.6 g, 17% DV

Saturated Fat

1.4 g, 7% DV

1.4 g, 7% DV

1.2 g, 6% DV

Monounsaturated Fat

2.7 g

11.7 g

7.8 g

Polyunsaturated Fat

8.9 g

0.5 g

3.9 g

Omega-3 Fats

0

27 mg, 2% DV

5 mg, 0% DV

Omega-6 Fats

8,935 mg, 53% DV

505 mg, 3% DV

3,934 mg, 23% DV

Source: USDA

The Health Benefits of Sunflower Oil

1. Rich in Vitamin E

Every type of sunflower oil is rich in vitamin E, which has antioxidant properties that help neutralize damaging free radicals in your body, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Free radicals are formed as a result of metabolic processes, such as digestion, or from the environment, such as air pollution.

In addition to supporting your immune system to fight off invading viruses and bacteria, vitamin E is vital for keeping your blood vessels healthy by managing blood clotting by helping cells interact to carry out important bodily functions.

Related Reading

2. Might Improve Cholesterol Levels and Heart Health

Studies link oleic acid — the most commonly eaten monounsaturated fat — to disease prevention and healthy body weight, per a July 2020 systematic review in Advances in Nutrition.

Swapping out saturated fats in favor of unsaturated fats helps improve your cholesterol levels, per the Mayo Clinic. That, in turn, can help decrease your risks of heart disease and potentially type 2 diabetes.

Opting for polyunsaturated fats in place of saturated fats is linked to a reduced risk of coronary heart disease, per a March 2010 systematic review in PLOS Medicine.

In November 2018, the FDA determined oils containing at least 70 percent oleic acid, such as high-oleic sunflower oil, qualify for being labeled with claims of heart health benefits when used to replace saturated fats.

3. May Improve Your Mood

Oleic acid may have a significant effect on mood and behavior. In a small study of young adults, replacing saturated fat with oleic acid led to an increase in energy and a reduction in feelings of anger and hostility, per February 2013 research in the American Journal of Nutrition.

Because oleic acid is known for promoting proper brain function, eating sunflower oil may have a positive effect on your emotional state when it is used as a replacement for less-healthy fats.

Sunflower Oil Risks

1. Linoleic Sunflower Oil May Cause Inflammation

While high-oleic acid sunflower oil helps improve cholesterol levels and decrease heart disease risk, the situation is less straightforward with linoleic sunflower oil.

On one hand, an August 2014 systematic review in ​Circulation​ that looked at more than 300,000 people found an inverse association between linoleic acid and coronary heart disease.

But sometimes research points to the opposite conclusion: For example, a September 2018 article in Open Heart notes that linoleic acid promotes inflammation and "is likely a major dietary culprit for causing CHD [coronary heart disease]."

The difference in outcomes may be due to genetics: The variety of a certain gene seems to dictate a person's inflammatory response to taking linoleic sunflower oil, per a January 2019 study in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

2. Linked to Cancer Risk if Used With High Heat

If you've ever fried foods, you know that frying with oil stinks. These fumes that waft through your kitchen when you cook with oil contain chemicals, including aldehydes, which are carcinogenic, per an October 2016 study in the Journal of Hazardous Materials.

According to the study, which compared the aldehydes that resulted from using different cooking oils, methods, and foods, cooking with sunflower oil leads to the most emissions of aldehydes.

And, the longer sunflower oil is subjected to heat, the more aldehydes are released, per a March 2019 study in Scientific Reports. That's probably why some people think sunflower oil is bad for you.

To skip these so-called sunflower oil side effects, stick to gentle cooking methods like stir-frying, recommend the ​Journal of Hazardous Materials​ study authors.

To sear or brown, turn to high-oleic sunflower oil, per the Cleveland Clinic. Because it's rich in monounsaturated fats, it may do a better job at standing up to the heat, according to Houston Methodist.

Related Reading

Advertisement

references