Sunflower Oil and Organic Food

Posted: December 6, 2022 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , ,

***Long time, no post! I’m excited to be back and hope to start posting more regularly again. My son started preschool this fall, so I am blocking out those few hours a week for writing. I plan to bring you more than just blog posts soon, but this is a great starting point for me to ease back into things after a few years of almost no writing.***

For a long time, I assumed sunflower oil was healthy. It seems like it is included in the ingredients of nearly every processed organic food, so that must mean it’s a healthier option than canola oil or maybe some other oils, right? It can be so easy to trust “organic” labels on foods and conclude that you are putting something healthy into your body. I think of sunflower seeds as healthy, so why wouldn’t sunflower oil be healthy? Then I started seeing snippets of things online about sunflower oil being carcinogenic, so I wanted to do more research on it and whether it was actually healthy like I had previously assumed.

To start, here are a few key details about sunflower oil:

There are four types of sunflower oil: high-linoleic, high-oleic, mid-oleic, and high-stearic with high-oleic.

It has a smoke point of somewhere between 440-450 degrees. My sources differed on the exact number.

Sunflower oil is high in vitamin E.

Sunflower oil used in food can be either refined or unrefined.

Let’s look a little closer at what the above details mean.

If you’re trying to figure out if the sunflower oil included in your food is beneficial for your body, it is important to know which of the types of sunflower oil you are consuming. Sunflower oil is healthiest when it has the highest amount of oleic acid in it. Unfortunately, foods often contain mid-oleic sunflower oil, and its omega-6 content from linoleic acid may cause inflammation in some people. In animals, omega-6 appears to contribute to gaining weight. Consuming enough omega-3 can help to balance out omega-6 levels in the body.

Sunflower oil’s smoke point appears to be great at first glance because it has a higher smoke point than olive oil (so the natural assumption is that it would be better to cook with than olive oil is), and many times sunflower oil is getting fried when it is in processed foods. Various sources state that typical deep frying temperature is anywhere from 320-375 degrees. Unfortunately, that high smoke point doesn’t mean much when sunflower oil is getting reheated multiple times at 356 degrees because it generates aldehydes in the cooking fumes. Aldehydes can harm your cells and DNA and can be factors in health problems like Alzheimer’s Disease. So, although it has a high smoke point, sunflower oil is not stable when heated to high temperatures. If heating sunflower oil to a high temperature is unavoidable, it is considered healthiest to use a high-oleic form of the oil.

The refined version of sunflower oil is used for cooking, and the unrefined oil can be used for raw foods like salad dressing. Unfortunately, many refining processes for sunflower oil turn part of its components into trans fat. As you have probably heard in the past, trans fats are bad for your cholesterol and your heart. They can raise the chances that you might have a stroke or develop type 2 diabetes. Interestingly, sunflower oil is one of the oils the American Heart Association recommends choosing to reduce your intake of trans fat, even though refined sunflower oil contains trans fat. Besides the trans fat aspect, refining sunflower oil also reduces the overall health component of it.

So, back to the question that first made me interested in looking up information about sunflower oil…is it a carcinogen, as so many things seem to be these days?

As far as I can gather, eating an unrefined (and therefore uncooked) form of high-oleic sunflower oil in food is healthy and has no obvious downsides for the average person. Refined (and therefore cooked) sunflower oil is where the problem can be. The aldehydes mentioned earlier may contribute to an increased chance of cancer. Studies also indicate that eating too much linoleic acid (such as in sunflower oil) could raise the risk of breast cancer, because women with breast cancer tend to have more omega-6 fat in their breast tissue versus women who do not have breast cancer. I also found this information to be interesting:

“While animal studies regarding sunflower oil are uncommon, numerous studies have been performed with diets high in corn oil (another high-linoleic acid oil) or arachidonic acid in mice or rats bearing either carcinogen-induced tumors or transplanted mammary tumors. Such diets were found to stimulate the formation and growth of breast tumors in the animals.

Daughter mice of female mice fed a high linoleic acid diet were also more prone to develop mammary tumors in one experiment.” https://foodforbreastcancer.com/foods/sunflower-oil

Sunflower seeds also contain cadmium and copper, both of which contribute to breast cancer when a person consumes too much of them, so obviously sunflower oil would contain those elements as well. I think the overall message I take away from all of this information is that if you’re going to eat sunflower oil, pick the high-oleic form when possible. Try not to heat it to high temperatures. Don’t consume it regularly in large amounts. If you already have cancer, pay special attention to how much omega-6 you are getting in your diet, including from sunflower oil sources.

**I am not a doctor. If you have medical questions pertaining to the above post, please consult your health care practitioner.**

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunflower_oil

https://www.cooksillustrated.com/how_tos/6520-deep-frying-101-treating-your-oil-right

https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/trans-fat

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/is-sunflower-oil-healthy#benefits

https://www.organicag.org/composition-organic-vs-conventional-sunflower-seed-oil

https://www.webmd.com/diet/sunflower-oil-good-for-you

https://foodforbreastcancer.com/foods/sunflower-oil

https://davissciencesays.ucdavis.edu/blog/what-does-science-really-say-about-vegetable-oils-and-cancer

https://maverikoils.com/13-benefits-of-organic-sunflower-oil/

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