What is High Oleic Sunflower Oil?
High Oleic Sunflower Oil (HOSO) is a type of vegetable oil made from sunflower seeds. It is made by pressing the seeds. It has a neutral taste, unlike many other oil options for cooking.
It is specially produced to be high in oleic acid and low in linoleic acid (Rauf S, 2017). The definition of high oleic sunflower oil is a minimum of 80% oleic acid (National Sunflower Association, 2020).
The sunflower seeds are designed and bred to have this specific fat composition. Oleic acid is an Omega 9 monounsaturated fat, which is what is in olive oil. The other oil in sunflower oils is linoleic acid, which is an Omega 6 polyunsaturated fat. It makes up the rest of the fat composition of sunflower oils (Rauf S, 2017).
High oleic acid oil is frequently used by the food industry; in baking, in many types of frying, to make products like cereal, crackers, dried fruit, non-dairy creamers, and non-dairy ice cream and for other uses (National Sunflower Association, 2020).
Spoiler Alert: High Oleic sunflower oil is a decent oil choice, but is not the best choice. Read on to find out why.
Other Types of Sunflower Oil
There are, in fact, four types of sunflower oil (National Sunflower Association, 2020):
- HOSO: High oleic acid with 82% oleic acid, 9% linoleic and stearic and palmitic acids
- Classic sunflower oil: High linoleic acid with 20% oleic, 70% linoleic acid
- High stearic/ high oleic with 72% oleic acid
- Mid oleic with 65% oleic acid
The classic sunflower oil is the high linoleic acid (20% oleic acid and 70% linoleic acid) (Rauf S, 2017). High oleic was produced for a more neutral taste and better heat stability vs. the other versions. In this article, we are reviewing the benefits and characteristics of the high oleic acid version of sunflower oil.
Other types of vegetable oils include soybean oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, canola oil, rapeseed oil, sesame oil, grapeseed oil, safflower oil, and rice bran oil. All of these oils are much higher in Omega 6 polyunsaturated fats when compared to HOSO and other oils such as olive, avocado, or coconut.
The Good Aspects of High Oleic Sunflower Oil:
Heart Benefits & Lower Cholesterol
There is some loose evidence of heart benefits to high oleic acid oil. This is because it is low in saturated fats (Rauf S, 2017). A still lingering nutritional myth is that fats are unhealthy and that saturated fats should be very limited in the diet, due to the higher risk of heart disease vs. other types of fat.
Having said that, some older research does show the type of fats in high oleic acid sunflower oil can help to decrease LDL (the ‘bad’ cholesterol), increase in HDL (the ‘good’ cholesterol) and improve one’s overall cholesterol profile (Allman-Farinelli MA, 2005) and (Jenkins DAJ, 2010).
The FDA has reviewed the evidence and says that there is ‘supportive but not conclusive’ scientific evidence that replacing high oleic acid oil for oils higher in saturated fat ‘may reduce the risk’ of heart disease (US Food & Drug Administration, 2018).
There is a lot to unpack in these claims. They are based on somewhat out-of-date information. Fat is healthy, and we need fat in our diets. Saturated fat is also healthy unless you have a particular genetic disposition, which would make it a riskier choice vs. other fats.
Cholesterol is not the devil it has been made out to be. Cholesterol, and a high cholesterol level, is an indicator of inflammation. It is how the body addresses inflammation in the cardiovascular system. So, we must use it as information to reduce inflammation levels and not merely strive to reduce fats and cholesterol in the diet.
Another study showed that rats fed High Oleic Sunflower Oil + either fish oil or + plant sterols experienced a decrease in total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides, and increased HDL levels (Alsina E, 2016). The rat’s body fat showed lower abdominal fat vs. rats fed different oils in their diets (Alsina E, 2016). But here we don’t know how much the fish oil affected these results. Fish oil is a very healthy Omega 3 fat, so these results could be expected with fish oil alone, as well.
Benefits for Obesity, Diabetes & Metabolic Syndrome
Another potential benefit of High Oleic Sunflower Oil is obesity, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. One study on gerbils found that HOSO intake prevented an increase in body weight and fat accumulation, and reduced insulin levels. (Ziv E, 2009). It is, however, somewhat of a leap that results in animal studies translate directly to humans.
Better for Cooking
High Oleic Sunflower Oil is more stable for cooking at high heat and for deep frying (Rauf S, 2017). It is stable at high heat, while the other vegetable oils listed above are absolutely not stable at high temperatures. This is due to the chemical molecular structure of oleic acid vs. linoleic acid. (Rauf S, 2017). It makes high oleic sunflower oil-less prone to oxidation and rancidity than the classic high linoleic acid sunflower oil (Rauf S, 2017).
Another study found that high oleic sunflower oil containing a lower amount of linoleic acid showed superior frying stability compared to a higher content of linoleic acid, indicating that the cooking benefits of high oleic sunflower oil are primarily due to the lower level of linoleic acid (Aladedunye F, 2013).
Specifically, high oleic sunflower oil also has better heat stability than soybean, corn, and peanut oils (Smith SA, 2007). The genetically modified high oleic sunflower oil, with only 5.5% linoleic acid, had better oxidative and cooking stabilities than the classic sunflower oil with 71.6% linoleic acid. (Smith SA, 2007)
Improves the Health & Fat Composition of Meats
When animals are fed the poor-quality high polyunsaturated fats like corn and soybeans, the fat composition of the meat they produce is actually unhealthy. But adding high oleic sunflower oil to the feed of pigs and chickens improves this fatty composition and thus the health content of the meat to humans. Adding high oleic sunflower oil to pig feed produced lard and meat that was less damaged by free radicals and oxidation (Cardenia V, 2011). Feeding chickens with HOSO changed their fat composition. The chickens had a higher proportion of non-inflammatory vs. inflammatory fats in the make-up of the meat (Rebolé A, 2006).
The Bad Aspects of High Oleic Sunflower Oil:
Olive oil is well-renowned for its antioxidant and phytonutrient content (Romani A, 2019). It is a pillar of the extremely healthy Mediterranean diet and helps to reduce inflammation, combat heart disease, reduce cancer risk, promote healthy aging, and other benefits (Romani A, 2019). Avocado oil is another nutritional superstar with lots of phytonutrients (Dabas D, 2013). Its health benefits include improving cardiovascular health, reducing blood pressure, high cholesterol, inflammation, and diabetes (Dabas D, 2013).
While High Oleic Sunflower Oil contains vitamin E and is healthier than the high linoleic acid version, it has fewer phytonutrients than olive and avocado oils. Unfortunately, there is less research on the nutrient content of High Oleic Sunflower Oil vs. olive and avocado oils.
Inconclusive Health Benefits
As mentioned above, many of the benefits of HOSO, particularly related to heart health, are not very conclusive, according to the research.
The Ugly Aspects of HOSO:
Omega 6 Content & Inflammation
Linoleic acid is an Omega 6 polyunsaturated fatty acid. Omega 6 fats are inflammatory. They create inflammation in the body, which is essentially the source of many health problems today like obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and many others.
Classic sunflower oil is high in Omega 6 polyunsaturated fats and is therefore inflammatory and unhealthy. Oleic acid, on the other hand, is a monounsaturated fat or an Omega 9 fat. This is what olive oil is as well. Omega 9 fat is more beneficial to health, creates less inflammation, and is a better choice. By increasing the oleic acid content of sunflower oil, food producers have now made a healthier product that is higher in non-inflammatory Omega 9 fats vs. the more traditional classic version of sunflower oil.
A critical marker to look at is the Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio of any fat. The lower this ratio is, the better, as it means it has less inflammatory Omega 6 fats vs. non-inflammatory Omega 3 fats. Classic sunflower oil has a very high (more than 200:1) Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio (US Department of Agriculture, 2016). As the amount of linoleic acid is decreased, the Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio improves. HOSO has an 18:1 Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio (US Department of Agriculture, 2016). While we strive, in nutrition, to make that ratio closer to 5:1 or less ideally, this reduction from 200:1 to 18:1 is clearly a massive improvement and a key benefit of HOSO.
Having said that, olive and avocado oil are still less inflammatory at a 12:1 ratio (US Department of Agriculture, 2016).
Vegetable oils, in general, are highly processed. All sunflower oil is either solvent expelled or expeller pressed, which describes how the oil is removed from the sunflower seeds. Solvent expelled oils use the chemical solvent hexane to remove the oil from the seed. Hexane is associated with health risks such as peripheral neuropathy (Bates MN, 2019). Linoleic or classic sunflower oils use solvent expelling, which is cheaper.
Expeller pressed oils to extract the oil out of the seed without using chemicals. Most high oleic sunflower oil is expelled using an expeller press. This is better than the classic version processing method. However, High Oleic Sunflower Oil can still be solvent expelled, so look for the words ‘expeller pressed’ on the label.
One of the most common uses of High Oleic Sunflower Oil is an ingredient to make processed foods. As it is relatively stable for cooking at high heat and for deep frying, it is commonly used by food companies (Rauf S, 2017). It is also added to processed food products to lengthen shelf life (Rauf S, 2017). Processed foods are clearly not a vital component of a healthy diet and have many ingredients that are best avoided.
The issue of GMO foods is controversial. The food industry says there are no health implications, but researchers, such as Anthony Samsel and Stephanie Seneff and others, have extensively studied and identified health issues with GMO foods. There are negative implications for gut health (Samsel A, Glyphosate, Pathways to Modern Diseases II: Celiac Sprue and Gluten Intolerance, 2013), neurological conditions (Samsel A, Glyphosate, Pathways to Modern Diseases III: Manganese, Neurological Diseases, and Associated Pathologies, 2015), kidney health (Gunatilake S, 2019) and many others.
High oleic acid sunflower oil is a vast improvement on the classic high linoleic version of sunflower oil. It is a decent choice of oil. It is undoubtedly better than the worst vegetable oils like canola, Mazola, corn, and safflower oils. But it is not the best choice you can make. Instead, opt for olive, avocado, coconut oils, butter, ghee, and lard for the best and most healthy oils to use in your kitchen.