Is Sunflower Oil Good For You?

Sunflower oil is a favorite choice for sautéing due to its high smoke point (via WebMD). Plus, it's cheaper than avocado or olive oil and goes well in most dishes — from salads and stir-fries to baked goods. Just like olive oil, it's highly nutritious and comes in different varieties. Most stores sell extra virgin sunflower oil, organic sunflower oil, refined oil, and everything in between. A single tablespoon provides around 120 calories and 13.6 grams of fat, including large amounts of essential fatty acids (per the U.S. Department of Agriculture). It's also an excellent source of vitamins E and K, points out WebMD.

Generally, high-oleic sunflower oil is more nutritious than other varieties. Rich in monounsaturated fats, it may improve blood lipids and heart health (via WebMD). In one study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, men and women who swapped saturated fats for high-oleic sunflower oil experienced a reduction in "bad" cholesterol and triglycerides. As the researchers noted, this food product may help lower heart disease risk when consumed as part of a balanced diet. 

Sunflower oil is chock-full of nutrients

Along with olive oil, sunflower oil is a staple of the Mediterranean diet. What you may not know is that it's higher in polyunsaturated fatty acids than olive, canola, or almond oil (via Iowa State University). Omega-3s and omega-6s, the two main types of polyunsaturated fats, may help reduce cholesterol levels and plaque buildup. They also have beneficial effects on blood pressure and blood sugar levels, notes the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Vitamin E, one of the primary nutrients in sunflower oil, protects against oxidative stress. This fat-soluble vitamin also keeps your immune system strong and regulates gene expression. In the long run, it may prevent or delay the onset of chronic diseases, suggests the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In clinical trials, higher vitamin E intakes were linked to lower rates of heart disease, cataracts, and age-related macular degeneration. Just 1 tablespoon of sunflower oil provides 37% of the recommended daily intake of this nutrient, reports the NIH.

Interestingly, sunflower oil might actually be better for heart health than olive oil, according to evidence published in the Journal of Lipid Research. After comparing several oils, scientists discovered that sunflower oil was more effective at reducing LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels compared to olive or palm oil. Researchers attribute these benefits to its fatty acid composition. 

Consume it in moderation to reap the benefits

With a smoke point of 440 degrees Fahrenheit, sunflower oil is suitable for cooking and can make healthy eating easier (via Masterclass). Unfortunately, it's also high in calories and fat. If you go overboard, though, those calories and fat will add up. Another aspect to consider is its high content of omega-6s.

A 2018 study published in the journal Open Heart suggests that omega-6 vegetable oils, such as soybean and sunflower oils, may contribute to atherosclerosis. Over time, this condition can increase your risk of coronary heart disease. The culprit seems to be linoleic acid, a polyunsaturated fatty acid with inflammatory effects. These problems are usually due to an imbalance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

Apart from that, sunflower oil is likely safe. Just make sure you consume it in moderation. Ideally, use it along with other oils to make sure you get adequate doses of omega-3s and omega-6s. To stay on the safe side, choose a different type of oil for frying. When exposed to high heat, sunflower oil may release aldehydes, a class of toxic compounds, per a study in the Journal of Hazardous Materials. Safflower oil, rice bran oil, light or refined olive oil, and olive pomace oil generally have higher smoke points, which makes them more suitable for frying (via Masterclass).