Sunflower oil is increasingly used in the gastronomic field, especially in frying. However, it is an oil that has multiple applications also in the field of well-being, let’s see why.
Sunflower oil is a widely used oil not only in the kitchen but also in the cosmetic field and for the well-being of our body. It is an oil rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are beneficial for our health. This oil is obtained from the seeds of the sunflower plant, whose botanical name is Helianthus annus, a very ancient plant, originally from America, which is then subjected to various modifications in order to obtain a nutritionally more valuable oil.
What is sunflower oil and how is it obtained
Generally, and sunflower oil is no exception, seed oils can be obtained either by extracting them from the seeds with the use of chemical solvents, or by pressing, which can be hot or cold. Both chemical extraction and pressing at high temperatures denature the oil, causing it to lose all its original nutritional and organoleptic characteristics, since in the production phase to make it suitable for consumption, the oil must undergo further refining processes such as deacidification, discoloration and deodorization.
Only with cold pressing can a good product be obtained, safe from a nutritional point of view and which preserves the properties of the oil contained in the seeds unaltered. On the market it is possible to find both refined oil, chemically extracted, and cold extracted oil; both are suitable for food consumption, but of course only the latter brings all the benefits of sunflower seeds, which, as we will see, are many.
Sunflower oil: calories and nutritional values
Being an oil, sunflower oil contains exclusively fats to which mineral salts and vitamin E are added. About 11% of fats are represented by saturated fatty acids and the remainder by mono (mostly oleic acid) and polyunsaturated (linoleic and alpha linoleic acid) fatty acids.
Of course, as with all oils, the caloric intake is high, equal to about 900 kcal per 100 grams, so if used in excessive quantities, it is a food that makes you fat. Below is the table with details on the nutritional values of sunflower oil.
Nutritional values per 100g of sunflower oil:
- Waterfall: 87 g
- Kcal: 899
- Carbohydrates: 0 g
- Fat: 99.9 g
- Proteins: 0 g
- Fibers: 0 g
- Waterfall: 0 g
- Iron: 0.1 mg
- Copper: 0.01 mg
- Sodium: traces
- Potassium: traces
- Magnesium: traces
- Zinc: traces
- Vitamin E: 49.2 mg
- Retinol equivalent: traces
- Equivalent beta carotene: traces
Sunflower oil: properties and benefits
Sunflower oil, thanks to its composition in fatty acids and the presence of vitamin E and mineral salts, is good for the health of the cardiovascular system but also of the integument and the immune system. Let’s see below the properties of sunflower oil.
✓ Lowers blood fat levels
Thanks to its composition in unsaturated fatty acids, sunflower oil helps to lower blood levels of cholesterol and triglycerides.
✓ Antioxidant properties
Sunflower oil contains vitamin E, which is an antioxidant vitamin, useful in preventing and fighting the formation of free radicals, responsible for cellular aging. This antioxidant effect helps protect cells throughout the body and prevent inflammatory diseases.
✓ Friend of the skin
Applied to the skin, sunflower oil has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects and helps restore the skin’s protective barrier, as well as stimulating the proliferation and therefore the renewal of keratinocytes, the most abundant cells in the epidermis.
✓ Strengthens the immune system
The good fats contained in sunflower oil help to strengthen cells, including those of the immune system, as fundamental constituents of the cell membranes themselves.
✓ Valid help for the intestine
Both linoleic acid and vitamin E contained in sunflower oil contribute to the protection of the intestinal mucosa. Added to this is the natural lubricating effect of the oil which prevents and helps in case of constipation.
✓ Antibacterial action
The phenolic compounds present in good quantities give sunflower seed oil antibacterial properties, especially against skin infections.
✓ Useful in diabetes management
Of course, in case of diabetes, we must pay close attention not only to the consumption of sugars, but also of fats, but if used in moderate quantities, sunflower oil, as well as olive oil, by virtue of the high contained in unsaturated fatty acids, it can prove useful for health even in the case of diabetes.
High oleic and high linoleic sunflower oil: differences and characteristics
High oleic sunflower oil is an oil obtained from the seeds of a modified plant that has a higher oleic acid content than the traditional plant. While classic sunflower oil contains about 20% oleic acid and 70% linoleic acid, high oleic oil contains about 80% oleic acid and 10% linoleic acid. Oleic acid is a monounsaturated fatty acid, which is naturally contained in high quantities in extra virgin olive oil and which has numerous beneficial properties. Linoleic acid, on the other hand, is a polyunsaturated fat, also with beneficial properties, but more subject to rancidity.
Consequently, high oleic sunflower oil has different nutritional properties compared to the traditional one, since oleic acid raises the smoke point of the oil, that is the temperature value in which the oil releases toxic compounds.
High oleic sunflower oil, therefore, lends itself better to being used at high temperatures, for example for cooking food in the oven and also for frying. On the contrary, traditional sunflower oil, that is high linoleic oil, is more suitable for use raw and it is better not to be subjected to high temperatures.
How much sunflower oil to use
Cold-pressed sunflower oil can be used raw to flavor our dishes, just as we use olive oil. If we choose to use sunflower oil in the kitchen as a seasoning oil, we must keep in mind that the amount of oil recommended daily for an average healthy person is about 30 grams, equal to about 3 tablespoons in total. This quantity should not be exceeded. If, on the other hand, sunflower oil were to be included in a low-calorie diet, the quantity drops to 20 or 25 grams depending on the judgment of the professional we rely on.
If we choose to introduce sunflower oil into our diet without giving up extra virgin olive oil, the total amount of 30 grams should naturally be respected. In general, however, it is preferable not to completely replace olive oil with sunflower oil since even extra virgin olive oil is a food with excellent nutritional and beneficial properties.
Is cold-pressed sunflower oil suitable for frying?
Traditional sunflower oil, although obtained with cold pressing and therefore rich in beneficial properties, is not suitable for frying as it has a low smoke point (about 130 degrees) and would therefore release toxic compounds if subjected to the high temperatures of frying. On the contrary, a particularly suitable oil for frying turns out to be high oleic sunflower oil whose smoke point is equal to about 230 degrees centigrade. In general, however, we remind you that extra virgin olive oil is also a valid choice for frying.
How to use sunflower oil in cooking
As just mentioned, the best use of sunflower oil that can be made in the kitchen is raw and cold. If we have purchased a good organic and cold-pressed sunflower oil, we can certainly use it to dress salads and cooked vegetable dishes, such as aubergines, peppers and grilled zucchini. It is also excellent for the preparation of cold sauces, such as mayonnaise and cold pesto to season pasta dishes.
Sunflower oil is widely used in confectionery, even at an industrial level, since it has a very delicate flavor and does not interfere with the taste of sweets, so even at home we could use it in desserts instead of butter, for sponge cake, pies and shortbread biscuits. Since the doughs of these sweets are subjected to high temperatures, in this case it will be good to use a high oleic sunflower oil, for the reasons stated above.
As for the quantities of oil to be used instead of butter, the recommended proportion of the weight of the butter minus 20% is usually used, i.e. instead of 100 grams of butter we should use 80 grams of oil.
How to store sunflower oil
The cold-pressed and therefore unrefined organic sunflower oil must be stored in glass bottles, possibly dark because it is very sensitive to light and also to heat, therefore it must be stored in a very cool place such as a dry cellar or in the refrigerator.
Furthermore, given the high possibility of rancidity, once the container is opened, the oil must be used up within three months. Of course, a refined oil will need less care, that is, it can simply be stored in a cool and dry place and will last even more than six months, since it is less likely to become rancid.
Sunflower oil on skin and hair: the benefits
Cold-pressed sunflower oil is widely used on the skin and hair for its beneficial properties. If spread directly on the skin it is effective to soothe irritation and redness because it promotes its regeneration and is also used in cosmetics for the creation of moisturizing and anti-wrinkle creams.
It has also been shown that this oil is effective in protecting the skin from UV rays thanks to its vitamin E content, so much so that it is used in the formulation of cosmetics used as sun protection. We can also use sunflower oil for hair: applied to the hair it gives them softness and shine and protects them from stress damage caused by frequent washing. We find it in the composition of many body care products under the name of Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil.
Contraindications of sunflower oil
Sunflower oil, if used in moderation and as part of a varied and balanced diet, has no contraindications, except, of course, specific allergies, which can occur in those who have a hypersensitivity to plants belonging to the Asteraceae family, to which the sunflower belongs. Even those who are allergic or intolerant to nickel must be careful because sunflower seeds contain it, while celiacs can safely use it since sunflower oil does not contain gluten.
Furthermore, as we have seen, sunflower oil contains a good amount of linoleic acid, a fatty acid of the omega-6 series. Remember that it is important not to overdo the omega-6 intake in order not to unbalance the omega3 / omega6 intake, which must be in the ratio of about 4: 1. An excess of omega-6, in fact, can create various problems related to inflammatory processes.
Sunflower oil vs olive oil: which one to choose?
From a nutritional point of view, extra virgin olive oil and cold-pressed sunflower oil are excellent, even if they have some differences: olive oil is particularly rich in oleic acid, which is a monounsaturated fatty acid, while sunflower oil contains less oleic acid, but more polyunsaturated fatty acids, which however make it more susceptible to oxidation and rancidity.
On the other hand, the refining and deodorization processes that sunflower oil often undergoes cause it to lose its nutritional characteristics and also the vitamin E content, which in general for sunflower oil is higher than for olive oil.
On the contrary, extra virgin olive oil can also be used in cooking without losing its extraordinary nutritional characteristics. Furthermore, by law, seed oils must undergo production processes that sometimes alter their nutritional characteristics, to which extra virgin olive oil is not subject, therefore it is certainly more “natural”.
A good compromise to benefit from the properties of both oils would be to consume cold-pressed sunflower oil to season raw foods and extra virgin olive oil for raw seasonings to which you want to give a touch of flavor. in addition and in cooking.
Sunflower oil: where to buy and which one to choose
Sunflower oil can be found easily in supermarkets and grocery stores. You can buy cold-pressed organic sunflower oil in health food stores and online. If you want to benefit from all the nutritional characteristics of sunflower oil, you should choose an oil obtained from organically grown and rigorously cold extracted plant seeds for both hot and chemical extraction and subsequent extraction. refining and deodorizing not only deprive it of many important nutrients, but can even make it harmful to health. Care should therefore be taken to buy an unrefined and undeodorized oil. If, on the other hand, you want to use it for frying, you will have to choose a high oleic sunflower oil.
The price of sunflower oil can vary greatly depending on its quality, but an organic cold-pressed sunflower oil can cost around 40 USD per liter.