Is sunflower oil healthy?
In comparison to many other alternatives on the market, sunflower oil is very nutrient dense and, therefore, good for you when consumed as part of a balanced diet.
“Sunflower oil is not bad for you at all,” Natalie Von Bertouch, accredited practising dietician, tells New Idea Food. “It is safe to cook with and use in salads, although it’s best to consume in moderation as oils are still a fat and are therefore high in calories.”
Sunflower oil (like all pure oils) is gluten free. In addition, it’s high in vitamin E, which is a powerful antioxidant that not only protects the health of our cells, tissues and organs, but also plays a role in keeping our immune system strong.
It contains phytochemicals such as choline and phenolic acid and is free from trans fats. Plus, research shows that sunflower oil can effectively lower our ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol levels – all factors that promote good heart health.
“If you have a choice between sunflower oil and vegetable oil, I’d recommend sunflower oil,” Von Bertouch adds. “While both oils have a high smoke point and are low in saturated fats, vegetable oil is generally a blend of less-popular oils such as soy and canola.”
“However, if you have olive oil on hand, opt for that. In comparison to sunflower oil, olive oil is a better source of vitamin K, fatty acids, monounsaturated fats and minerals - making it a healthier choice overall.”
What are the best substitutes for sunflower oil?
- Olive oil
- Vegetable oil
- Peanut oil
- Canola oil
- Walnut oil
- Coconut oil
- Avocado oil
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1. Olive oil
Olive oil typically contains the highest percentage of monounsaturated fats out of all cooking oils. It comes in two varieties: Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO), which comes from the first press of the olives and, therefore, is fruitier in aroma, more flavourful in taste and higher in antioxidants. And Virgin Olive Oil, a more refined version derived from the second press that is lighter on the palette.
Both varieties have a smoke point of 210 °C, making olive oil work best for low-temperature cooking, such as sautéing.
Best for: dipped in bread and used in salad dressings.
2. Vegetable oil
Traditionally, ‘vegetable oil’ was a term saved for soybean oil, but these days it mainly refers to a blend of multiple oils. It’s made up of polyunsaturated fat (61%), monounsaturated fat (24%) and saturated fat (15%), although it does contain some omega 3’s.
Vegetable oil is neutral tasting and doesn’t have much flavour, but its smoke point of 220°C makes it a very versatile oil for high heat cooking.
Best for: deep frying veggies and fish.
3. Peanut oil
Peanut oil has a sweet, nutty flavour and aroma. It’s packed with vitamin E (just one tablespoon boasts 11% of the recommended daily intake), although it’s percentage of saturated fat is higher than that of other vegetable oils.
Peanut oil has a smoke point of 227°C and doesn’t absorb the taste of the food cooked with it. Because of this, it’s perfect for Asian-inspired dishes.
Best for: curries and stir-fries.
4. Canola oil
This neutral-flavoured oil is derived from the rapeseed plant. It has the lowest level of saturated fat among all cooking oils (7%), and it is one of the few good plant-based sources of omega-3 fats.
It’s relatively cheap and can be used in a variety of ways – be it baking and grilling or salad dressings. It has a smoke point of (204°C).
Best for: cakes and barbecuing.
6. Walnut oil
Walnut oil is rich in both texture and flavour. It’s derived from pure ground walnuts that have been dried and cold pressed and is loaded with antioxidants, omega-3s and poly-unsaturated fats.
It can become bitter when heated, so is best reserved as a finishing oil or in chilled desserts.
Best for: drizzling over fish or ice cream.
Butter is known for its delicious flavour, creamy texture and enhancing the flavour of any ingredient that’s cooked in it. It’s high in vitamins A, E and K and contains lots of healthy saturated fats.
On the downside, butter is high in calories and does tend to burn easily when heated due to its low smoke point of 177°C.
Best for: cookies and cakes.
7. Coconut oil
Coconut oil comes in two varieties: refined and unrefined (aka, Virgin Coconut Oil).
Both types have a mild topical taste, although refined coconut oil is most commonly used for sautéing and baking thanks to its smoke point of 177°C. On the other hand, unrefined coconut oil has a smoke point of 200°C making it more suitable for frying.
At just 117 calories per tablespoon, coconut oil is a great low-calorie alternative to many other oils you may have on hand. It is rich in antioxidants and is often used as an alternative to butter for vegans and vegetarians as it works perfectly in cold desserts.
Best for: raw chocolate and slices.
8. Avocado oil
As you might expect, avocado oil is pressed from the fruit of the avocado tree. It has a pleasant, grassy flavour that reduces in intensity when heated.
It contains high levels of carotenoids, lutein, vitamin E and phytosterols and is ideal for roasting and grilling as it has a high smoke point of 271°C.
Best for: roast vegetables and grilled meats.