Helianthus annuus or sunflower from the plant family of Asteraceae are native plants from North America. The name comes from the Greek word “Helios” (sun) and “anthos” (flower) because it looks similar to the sun. This long-stemmed flower goes way back in history and because of its striking appearance, it is used as an ornamental and decorative plant. Its seeds are consumed as confectionary snacks while the oil extracted from the seeds are used in culinary and in cosmetics.
Sunflower oil is composed mainly of lipids. The British Pharmacopoeia lists the profile of sunflower oil, that 48-74% is linoleic acid (omega-6) and 14-40% is oleic acid ( omega-3), 4-9% palmitic acid (saturated) and 1-7% stearic acid (saturated). Several types of sunflower oils are produced, such as high-linoleic, high-oleic and mid-oleic. Mid-oleic sunflower oil typically has at least 69% oleic acid. High-oleic sunflower oil has at least 82% oleic acid.
Vitamin E: Sunflower is rich in vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol), a fat-soluble antioxidant compound that aids the body in neutralizing the harmful after-effects of oxidation of fats. According to the USDA Nutrient Database, one ounce (approximately 30 mL) of oil extracted from roasted sunflower seeds provides 76% of the recommended dietary allowance for vitamin E. As an antioxidant, it counteracts harmful effects by suppressing free radicals, thereby protecting cell membranes. Healthy cell membranes may play a major role in delaying the development of chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer, and other diseases.
Heart: With a very low content of saturated fats and rich in vitamin E, sunflower oil helps lower bad cholesterol. According to the National Institutes of Health, vitamin E helps delay or prevent coronary heart disease by limiting the oxidation of low-density lipoprotein (LDL). However, compared to palm oil and flaxseed oil, sunflower oil may be less effective at reducing cholesterol in patients with peripheral vascular disease and atherosclerosis. According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the recommended intake of sunflower oil is around 20-35% of your calorie from fat, or 44-78 grams on a 2,000-calorie (1000 calories = 1 kcal) diet can help maintain a healthy weight while getting the nutrients needed; taking it in moderation can lower risk for heart disease.
Skin: Since vitamin E is a fat-soluble antioxidant, it helps improve skin regeneration and protection. It helps protect skin from UV radiation and skin degradation when free radicals are present in the body. Vitamin E also helps in wound healing and lightens scars and dark spots. The oil can be used to reduce acne as it creates a protective layer that prevents bacteria from direct contact to the skin. Aside from having antioxidant property, it has anti-inflammatory property which helps reduce swelling and rejuvenates skin at the same time, giving a healthy and glowing skin.
Immune system: Sunflower oil helps the immune system by strengthening the membrane barriers, making it hard for bacteria and viruses to enter our body. This is also helpful for body resistance against infections and other illnesses.
Other benefits: As mentioned, sunflower oil has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, thus, it can help prevent cancer, asthma, and arthritis. There are some evidence that since vitamin E has antioxidants, it reduces the risk by inhibiting cancer cells by multiplying and promoting cancer cell death. There are few population studies that supports the higher intake of vitamin E can lower the incidences of prostate and breast cancer..
Omega-6, Omega-3 ratio
There’s a quote by American novelist Edna Ferber, “Perhaps too much of everything is as bad as too little”. Well, this quote is mostly true to pretty much everything of what we take or do in our daily lives. Taking too much or too little of everything can have its consequences. As mentioned, taking sunflower oil is healthy, but take in consideration that taking too much omega-6 than omega-3 can cause unwanted outcomes such as diseases. Because our bodies could not produce omega-3 and 6, a balance of these fatty acids (ratio 1:1) is needed to have a healthy body. In western diet, the ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 is 10:1, which comes from having fast-food meals and processed foods daily. Most nutritionists modify their patients’ diet regimen to help shape up their body and to gain back the necessary nutrients lost.