Sunflower Oil Health Benefits and Side Effects
Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) are common plants that are found all over and native to Europe, South America, North America, and Central America. Sunflowers produce sunflower seeds that are just under the first layer of the face of the plant.
Sunflower seeds are what’s used to make sunflower oil. Which are usually harvested near the end of the plant’s life cycle, when the seeds begin to develop black stripes. Each giant sunflower can produce up to 1,000 seeds per flower head.
Sunflower oil is especially popular in Russia, where it arrived during the 18th century from Europe. It was a substitute for animal fats such as butter, lard, as well as seed oils including mustard, linseed, and hemp oils.
Sunflower seeds are heavily produced and sunflower oil is growing in popularity worldwide. Sunflower oil has mainly received a lot of medical and research related attention since it’s a healthy alternative for conventional vegetable cooking oils.
The largest producer of sunflower seeds in the world is Ukraine, with around 15 million metric tons produced each year, follower by:
Russia: 13 million metric tons
European Union: 10 million metric tons
Argentina: 4 million metric tons
Turkey: 2 million metric tons
An estimated 16 million tons of sunflower oil is produced worldwide every year. Sunflower oil has a light yellow tint, a mild nutty flavor, and a high smoke point.
Changing global market conditions and new research gave rise to more commercially grown sunflower plants, creating a new option instead of for cooking oils such as:
Sunflower oil (Slightly healthy)
Avocado oil (Healthy)
Soybean oil (Not healthy)
Palm oil (Not healthy)
Sunflower Oil’s Nutrition Facts
Sunflower oil has no vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein, or trans fats. Sunflower oil contains all 3 types of fatty acids:
Linoleic acid (polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acid)
Alpha-linolenic acid (polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acid)
High oleic acid (monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acid)
Mid oleic acid (monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acid)
Stearic acid (saturated fatty acid)
Palmitic acid (saturated fatty acid)
Corn oil is lower in polyunsaturated fats compared to most other cooking oils like soybean oil, palm oil, and canola oil which are a part of many household diets lacking in nutrition.
Consuming too many polyunsaturated fats can cause weight gain and obesity, heart disease, and may promote diseases caused by inflammation such as:
Atherosclerosis (plaque buildup in arteries and blood vessels)
Healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are a necessary part of our diet, and sunflower oil is a good-tasting and slightly nutritious cooking oil that has many health benefits.
The major drawback to using sunflower oil as your main cooking oil is that it’s very sensitive to hydrogenation, the chemical fat bonds break easily when exposed to oxygen.
Exposure to oxygen makes your oil go rancid, it’s best to keep all cooking oils properly sealed, in a dark glass jar, and in a cool environment. This reduces the exposure to heat, sunlight, and oxygen.
The natural color of sunflower oil is light amber. If it’s kept in a dark-colored glass and at low temperatures, it will retain most of its nutrients and maximize its shelf life.
The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) nutritional information on sunflower oil shows that it’s rich in vitamins and minerals, 1 tablespoon contains:
Vitamin E: 63%
Vitamin K: 1%
6 g of Monounsaturated fat
5 g of Polyunsaturated fat
1.8 g of Saturated fat
0 g of Cholesterol
0 g of Fiber
However, there are plant breeders, farmers, and other companies have produced different strains of sunflowers that produce different healthy variations of this profile of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids, namely:
Sunflower oil with high linoleic acid
High oleic acid
Mid oleic acid
High stearic acid
Sunflower oil has variable smoke points, depending on the quality and how it’s produced:
Raw and unrefined sunflower oil’s smoke point: 227 °C (440 °F)
Cold-pressed sunflower oil’s smoke point: 232 °C (450 °F)
Refined sunflower oil is unhealthy, although not recommended, it increases its ability to be heated allowing it to be used for high-heat cooking and frying. The more intense the refining process, the less nutrition remains in the oil.
Sunflower oil is rich in vitamin E, which helps digest plant-based lecithins. Lecithin is a natural source of phosphatidylcholine (PC). Phosphatidylcholine is a natural type of phospholipid that’s used as the major component for all cell membranes. Lecithin and phosphatidylcholine can also be found in:
Legumes such as soybeans, black beans, kidney beans, and lentils
Seafood, including shellfish
Brussels sprouts, broccoli
All of which improve cognitive processing, overall brain health, as well as the central nervous system’s health and function. Lecithin, collagen, and gelatin are all necessary for benefiting your skin health, elasticity, firmness, and hydration.
Here’s the list of all of the phenolic compounds found in sunflower oil:
The list of flavonoids found in sunflower oil includes:
The list of tetraterpenoids and antioxidants found in sunflower oil includes:
The major health benefit of the plant-based compounds also reduced bad LDL cholesterol from being absorbed into the bloodstream, by competing with it.
How Is Sunflower Oil Made?
Raw sunflower seeds actually contain more vitamins and nutrients than all forms of sunflower oil. Sunflower seeds contain manganese, zinc, magnesium, selenium, copper, calcium, and iron.
Unfortunately, many of these important vitamins and minerals are lost during the refining process. Sunflower oil can be cold-pressed, chemically extracted, or refined.
Cold pressing retains all of the natural minerals, vitamins, and macronutrients originally found in the grain, seed, or fruit.
The original health benefits, macronutrients, antioxidants, polyphenols, phytosterols, and other plant-based compounds are all retained when the seeds are cold-pressed, avoiding any harmful chemical washes, hydrogenation, oxidation, as well as high heats.
Chemical extraction is a process that uses organic and inorganic solvents to extract the sunflower oil from its seeds, followed by then separating the sunflower oil from the chemicals.
This process is not an environmentally friendly, healthy, or safe process for large scale food production facilities. This process releases a large amount of toxic chemicals into the environment as a waste product.
Refined sunflower oil is made by a series of chemical reactions and extractions at high heats, removing and destroying any of the original healthy nutrients of the sunflower oil.
Refined sunflower oil is used for high-temperature frying, mostly by fast-food chains and companies.
Most of its original nutritional value is removed during the process, with the high temperatures creating free radicals, oxidation, and toxic trans fats. Sunflower oil is composed of unstable unsaturated fatty acids and monounsaturated fatty acids.
It does not have a long shelf life and goes rancid quickly when exposed to heat, air, and light. This degradation is due to accelerated oxidation, as factories expose the sunflower oil to heat, air, and light.
The refinement process increases its shelf life and sustainability for high-temperature cooking, making being very toxic and unhealthy.
How Is Sunflower Oil Used?
Cold-pressed sunflower oil is used in a variety of cuisines and cooking applications using low to medium-high temperatures. It’s used for pan-frying and deep-frying foods, similar to vegetable oil but a lot healthier for you.
Sunflower oil can also be used as a base for cosmetics, salad dressings, and can even be made into a sunflower butter, mostly used in Eastern European cuisines. For cooking, you can use sunflower oil exactly as you would use extra virgin olive oil.
It’s often used to replace other cooking oils that are much higher in saturated fats, for people who have a history of and are looking to prevent:
Coronary heart disease
Type 2 diabetes
Sunflower Oil Health Benefits
The health benefits and side effects of sunflower oil have been thoroughly studied to see if it should be a part of your diet. It has many beneficial fatty acids that improve heart health and helps control high cholesterol levels.
The main contributors to sunflower oil’s healthy properties are the monounsaturated fat, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory plant-based compounds, and sesamol which is also found in sesame oil.
Sunflower oil is a healthy cooking oil that can also:
Boost energy levels
Improves skin health
Boosts immune system strength
Improves digestive health
1. Lowers Cholesterol and Prevents Heart Disease
Multiple research papers and studies showed that substituting traditional vegetable oils, except of olive oil and coconut oil, with sunflower oil will help lower your risk for heart disease due to all of the healthy saturated fats.
However, certain sunflower oil products that contain lower amounts of oleic acid were not as beneficial. The recommended amount of sunflower oil to prevent heart disease is around 2 tablespoons per day.
Omega-3 and omega-6 unsaturated fatty acids remove the waxy bad (LDL) cholesterol that gets clogged and attached to the layers of your arteries.
Reducing low-density lipoproteins (LDL) in the bloodstream is one of the main contributors to lowering your risk of heart disease.
This isn’t the case for people with acute atherosclerosis and peripheral vascular disease (PVD), peripheral vascular disease is a disorder that causes blood vessels outside the heart and brain to narrow, block, or spasm.
Heart-related diseases are primarily impacted by the cooking oil and cooking methods of household families.
Use healthy cooking oils such as olive oil and coconut oil as well, on low to medium heats to prevent any oxidation and to preserve the antioxidants.
Supplementing with sunflower oil can also have antidiabetic effects, improving the health of your pancreas by reducing insulin resistance, hyperglycemia, and lowered pancreatic beta-cells, which are toxic to your liver’s health.
2. Boosts Energy levels and Improved Mood
Sunflower oil products that contain high amounts of oleic acid are best for improving energy levels and elevating your mood. The healthy fatty acids benefit your:
Muscle adenosine triphosphate (ATP) production and glycerol reserves
Mineral and nutrients transportation through the bloodstream
Stabilizes blood sugar levels
Immune system health
All of these improvements contribute to your well-being, which allows your body to feel consistently energized throughout the day. This also serves as additional energy for your cells, improving your metabolism.
In addition, 2 supporting medical studies prove that replacing low-quality cooking oils and fats with sunflower oil can benefit your mood and behavior.
These studies found that these same individuals reported increased energy levels and slightly decreased feelings of anger and unhappiness over the span of 2 and 3 weeks.
Even if you do not have a mood-related condition, these effects can be beneficial to your overall well-being.
3. Prevents Athlete’s Foot
Ozonized oils are a combination of organic and cold-pressed cooking oils that are infused with activated oxygen, creating an oxygen-rich ointment that has improved antifungal health benefits. Only certain oils can be ozonized, including:
Hemp seed oil
Some studies showed that applying ozonized sunflower oil twice a day for 5 to 7 weeks was as effective as popular pharmaceutical medications for curing athlete’s foot, such as:
These antifungal medications are also used to treat vaginal yeast infections, oral candidiasis (oral thrush), rashes, pityriasis Versicolor (yeast infection), and types of ringworm including athlete’s foot and jock itch.
Other essential oils that kill athlete’s foot and other fungal infections include:
Lavender essential oil
Geranium essential oil
Tea tree essential oil
The research papers claim that ozonized sunflower oil, as well as most listed essential oils, may cure fungal infections between 5 to 9 weeks, depending on the severity. With the most effective out of the listed oils being ozonized sunflower oil.
4. Improves Skin Health and Wound Healing
Sunflower oil’s healthy, natural, and potent fatty acids all contribute to improving your skin health. These healthy fats include:
Monounsaturated fatty acids
Polyunsaturated fatty acids
They all provide skincare benefits and are found in almost every skincare product. Helping treat many issues, chronic disorders, and certain diseases. Applying sunflower oil to your skin can help:
Moisturize dry skin
Heal sunburned skin
Reduce signs of ageing
Reduce redness, irritation, and acne
Sunflower Oil Side Effects and Detriments
As healthy as sunflower oil can be, it also has many side effects to consider. Consuming much more than the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of any oil can have possibly serious side effects, regardless if it’s healthy or otherwise beneficial.
Most dietitians suggest that healthy fats should not make up more than 15% to 20% of your daily caloric intake, and most cooking oils shouldn’t exceed over 10% of your daily caloric intake to prevent any side effects.
Diversifying your cooking oils is highly recommended, to offer vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that other oils lack. A good set of oils to add to your daily diet are:
Extra virgin olive oil
Virgin coconut oil
In addition to the high calories, which can promote weight gain, sunflower oil also contains a lot of phosphorus which can cause additional damage to your liver and kidneys.
In severe cases, phosphorus may also cause diarrhea, vomiting, constipation, and nausea. Since sunflowers are an allergen and a part of the ragweed.
1. Sunflower Oil Increases Blood Sugar Levels
Studies have shown that using sunflower oil will increase fasting insulin and blood sugar levels. This raises the cholesterol and blood glucose levels in your blood, losing insulin stability and possibly increasing insulin resistance.
People suffering from type 2 diabetes may develop atherosclerosis over time, as the excess fats flowing through your arteries could start to clog and build plaques, reducing blood circulation.
2. Causes Dry Skin and Eczema For New Born Babies
Early health care research suggested that applying sunflower oil to baby skin would help to keep it moist and prevent dry skin, but it is not recommended within the first 4 to 6 weeks.
Research suggests that at this early stage in child development, applying sunflower oil to a newborn baby’s skin may hinder normal skin barrier functions and development.
A study was conducted on 150 newborn babies which were given either olive oil, sunflower oil, or none at all, applied twice a day for 4 weeks and all families had a history of atopic eczema.
At the end of the research study, they found that boil oil groups had improved skin hydration but had much fewer lipid lamellae structures compared to the group that used neither oil.
The lipid lamellae structure is the skin barrier on the surface of the skin, the epidermis, which regulates water diffusion and corneocyte cohesion, which is the strength of the intercellular bonding of skin cells, both being vital for skin health.
3. May Cause Rheumatoid Arthritis and Joint Pain
Some studies show that taking sunflower oil would improve joint pain and inflammation in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, but has the ability to promote both the development and the aggravation of arthritis and joint pain through inflammation.
Because sunflower oil is rich in omega-6 fatty acids, consuming just above your recommended daily allowance (RDA) will cause internal inflammation in everyone, but mostly in patients already suffering from arthritis and joint pain.
This triggers hormonal responses that produce pro-inflammatory reactions, omega-6 fats are the most common type of fat consumed by the typical North American diet.
Alternatively, omega-3 fatty acids reduce these side effects as it’s anti-inflammatory by nature, omega-3 fats are found in:
Seafood and shellfish
Seaweed and algae
Beans and legumes
4. May Cause Allergic Reactions
Sunflowers are part of the Asteraceae family of plants. The Asteraceae family of plants contains:
If you’re allergic to any of these plants you need to check for other possible related allergies as well.
Sunflower oil can be found in some cosmetic products, such as creams for dry skin, so it’s best to read the ingredient label before using any creams or other cosmetic products.
There are also a minority of people who could possibly be allergic to sunflower seeds, plants, and oils causing minor to severe allergic reactions and anaphylaxis shock.
Sunflower oil is relatively safe as the extraction process removes the majority of the protein content, which is the main cause of allergic reactions.
Because sunflowers are related to ragweeds, people who have allergies to ragweeds may also be allergic to:
Always verify with a healthcare professional and an allergist before adding sunflower seeds or oil to your diet, especially if you have a nut allergy, seasonal allergies, or ragweed allergy.
5. May Cause Breast Cancer
The relationship between oil and fat consumption and breast cancer is clear, unhealthy oils such as canola oil, vegetable oil, and certain nut oils are associated with a higher risk of breast cancer.
A diet including unsaturated fats including monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), as well as omega-3 fats all contributes to reducing inflammation, which counteracts breast cancer.
Other studies have pointed that too many omega-6 fats will promote inflammation aggravating and worsening symptoms of breast cancer, North American diets are full of omega-6 fats.
Healthy cooking oils such as olive oil and coconut oil have antioxidants, as well as antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties which contribute to reducing inflammation, preventing breast cancer.
Sunflower oil has many studies displaying either carcinogenic and tumor-promoting properties, as well as in vitro studies, which demonstrates that linoleic acid, the primary fatty acid in sunflower oil, promotes mammary tumor development.
One study found that women who have the genotype ALOX5AP – 4900 and consumed a significant amount of linoleic acid (omega-6s) in their diets had an increased risk of breast cancer.
Another study found increased breast cancer risk among women cooking primarily with vegetable or corn oil, as compared to women cooking with olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, peanut oil, and sunflower oil.
Consuming sunflower oil would tend to increase the ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s for most women because of its high omega-6 content. The more omega-3s in your diet, the better your immune system will be and its anti-inflammatory responses.
Studies show that consuming olive oil or fish oil’s eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) have improved the absorption and metabolism of beta-carotene in food compared with linoleic acid, including:
Carrots, asparagus, broccoli, and turnips
White potatoes and sweet potatoes
Red and yellow peppers
Dark leafy greens, such as kale, spinach, and romaine lettuce
Overall, sunflower oil is a healthier alternative than most other vegetable cooking oils that are available. It has a healthy nutritional profile due to a low level of trans fats and huge levels of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids.
Cold-pressed sunflower oil has considerable health benefits and can be a very good source of vitamin E, omega-6, and omega-3 fatty acids. However, there are significant nutritional differences in the different types of sunflower oils that are available.
The refining process, as well as poor storage and cooking with high heats, can significantly reduce these health benefits. If you’re considering sunflower oil for its health benefits, it is important to consider what you need.
If your diet is low in antioxidants, vitamin E, and polyunsaturated fatty acids (omega-3s and omega-6s) then sunflower oil is a good option for you.
It has 0 trans fats compared to vegetable oil, canola oil, safflower oil, and soybean oil which all have between 0.1 grams to 0.8 grams of trans fat per 100 grams of oil due to the toxic chemical washes, high heating, and refining to keep these cooking oil stable.
Here’s the full list of the health benefits of sunflower oil:
- Lowers cholesterol and prevents heart disease
- Boosts energy levels and improves mood
- Prevents athlete’s foot
- Improves skin health and wound healing
Here’s the full list of side effects of sunflower oil:
- Sunflower oil increases blood sugar levels
- Causes dry skin and eczema for newborn babies
- May cause rheumatoid arthritis and joint pain
- May cause allergic reactions
There can be considerable differences in the chemical and nutritional properties of the different brands of sunflower oil that are available.
Some of these versions might not give you the health benefits you’re looking for, due to the source, location, type, and how it’s processed. The only version of sunflower oil that you should buy must be organic and cold-pressed.
Sunflower oil is generally safe to consume unless you have a history of:
- Allergic reactions and allergies
- Arthritis and joint pains
- Low blood pressure
In which case you may need to avoid it, and If you take any prescription medications you should always consult a medical professional before making any changes to your diet.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Is Sunflower Oil Made?
Making sunflower oil is simple to make, it’s even possible to do this process at home with the right equipment.
It takes roughly 3 lbs (1.36 kg) of sunflower seeds to make 0.5 cups of oil.
1. Using a cold-pressing machine or if you make this at home you can use a hand press, feed the whole sunflower seeds into the hopper.
2. Pre-heat your pressing machine and insert the extraction bins for the oil and the residue.
3. Churn the hand press or run the cold-pressing machine to extract the oil and any other byproducts.
4. You now have cold-pressed unrefined sunflower oil and the byproduct of the sunflower seeds and husks.
The byproducts can be used as fertilizer as well as animal feed.
Is Sunflower Oil Bad for You?
Sunflower oil has many side effects that can be very bad for your health if used improperly.
In addition to being high in calories, sunflower oil contains a lot of phosphorus which causes damage to your liver and kidneys.
And in severe cases, phosphorus may also cause diarrhea, vomiting, constipation, and nausea.
Here’s the full list of side effects of sunflower oil:
1. Sunflower oil increases blood sugar levels
2. Causes dry skin and eczema for newborn babies
3. May cause rheumatoid arthritis and joint pain
4. May cause allergic reactions
Is Sunflower Oil Healthy?
Sunflower oil can be very healthy as it has many health benefits if taken in moderation.
The nutritional profile and healthy fats found in its composition are the main sources of all of its benefits.
Sunflower oil contains healthy properties such as: monounsaturated fat, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory plant-based compounds, and sesamol.
Here’s the full list of the health benefits of sunflower oil:
1. Lowers cholesterol and prevents heart disease
2. Boosts energy levels and improves mood
3. Prevents athlete’s foot
4. Improves skin health and wound healing
Is Sunflower Oil Good for Frying?
Sunflower oil is very good for shallow and pan-frying, not for deep frying.
The smoking point for sunflower oil is 232 °C (449.6 °F) which makes it slightly sensitive to high heats. Pan-frying or searing is the best use for sunflower oil.
All cooking oils that are good for deep frying are very bad for your health and have many side effects, such as:
Avoid deep frying with any of these unhealthy oils, the healthiest oil for deep frying is avocado oil.
Articles and Sources
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8. Clin Nutr Res. (2020 January 01) A Comparative Study of the Effect of Flaxseed Oil and Sunflower Oil on the Coagulation Score, Selected Oxidative and Inflammatory Parameters in Metabolic Syndrome Patients.
10. J Nutr. (2002 December 12) Butter differs from olive oil and sunflower oil in its effects on postprandial lipemia and triacylglycerol-rich lipoproteins after single mixed meals in healthy young men.
12. Br J Nutr. (2002 May 05) Different effects of diets rich in olive oil, rapeseed oil and sunflower-seed oil on postprandial lipid and lipoprotein concentrations and on lipoprotein oxidation susceptibility.
15. Int J Vitam Nutr Res. (1996 September 02) Long-term influence of dietary fat (sunflower oil, olive oil, lard and fish oil) in the serum fatty acid composition and in the different lipidic fractions, in miniature swine.