Within every sunflower, up to 2,000 seeds are neatly tucked away, artistically spiraled within the sunflower’s (Helianthus annus) large flowering head. The sunflower seed shells come in varied colors, ranging from gray, black and striped, covering grayish-green or black seeds. One of the first cultivated plants in the US, these sunny plants originate from Mexico and Peru, where they have long been used as traditional medicine and even a natural dye.
If you travel to the northern plains of the Dakotas during the summertime, you’ll glimpse fields of gorgeous, golden sunflowers as far as the eye can see. Like many people, I love to pop these seeds in my mouth as one of the tastiest and healthiest snacks on the planet; the oil from the sunflower seed is beneficial, too. At harvest time, the sunflower seeds are collected and then crushed to separate the oil from the seeds. Different varieties of sunflower seeds produce different types of oils with different fatty acid profiles. However, all sunflower seed oils contain good sources of heart-healthy fats, vitamin E, and no genetically modified organism (GMO) ingredients. In fact, sunflower oil is a high-oleic oil and is comprised of 82 percent monounsaturated fat (MUFA), nine percent polyunsaturated fat (PUFA), and nine percent saturated fat, making it an excellent choice for optimal health.1
Compelling evidence suggests that cutting out trans fats, limiting saturated fats in the diet and replacing these fats with MUFAs and PUFAs, may reduce risk of cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes, because these fats improve blood cholesterol levels and the responsiveness of insulin in the body. That’s why many leading health organizations, including the United States Department of Agriculture, American Heart Association, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and Harvard School of Public Health, have released recommendations to focus on healthy liquid vegetables oils with good MUFA and PUFA levels, such as sunflower seed oil.
Sunflower seed oil is a favorite in the kitchen, thanks to its mild flavor and excellent stability in cooking. It’s a great choice to replace less healthy fats, such as trans fats and saturated fats. It’s perfect for baking, sautéing, and roasting foods, as well as in the formulation of food products.
So, go ahead, use sunflower oil — in moderation. A little goes a long way! Drizzle it over your roasted vegetables, whisk it into your dressings and vinaigrettes, use it to sauté your favorite healthy foods, fold it into wholesome bread recipes and look for it on product labels!
1National Sunflower Association. Health & Nutrition.
Sharon Palmer, The Plant-Powered Dietitian™, is a registered dietitian, editor of the award-winning health newsletter Environmental Nutrition, and a nationally recognized nutrition expert who has personally impacted thousands of people’s lives through her writing and clinical work. She lives outside of Los Angeles with her husband and two sons.