What makes it bad for you?

Sunflower oil can be a healthy choice when used at the right temperature. It contains high levels of unsaturated fats used in the body as omega-6 fatty acids, which are vital for regulating metabolism and promoting proper growth and health of skin, hair and bones. Although the body needs omega-6 fatty acids, consuming foods with excessive nutrient content can lead to increased inflammation.

This article discusses the compounds in sunflower oil, the best temperatures to take advantage of its health benefits, and its possible effects on the body.

Abraham González Fernández / Getty Images

What makes sunflower oil potentially harmful?

Sunflower oil can be healthy when consumed in moderation and cooked at the right temperature (up to 450 degrees). Higher heat can cause the oil to release toxic compounds that can negatively affect your overall health.

Omega-6 and High Oleic Content

Omega-6 fatty acids fulfill various bodily functions. They include:

  • Stimulate hair and skin growth.
  • Maintain proper bone health
  • Regulate metabolism
  • Maintain the health of the reproductive system.

People need approximately 11 to 22 grams of omega-6 fatty acids daily to ensure the nutrient does its job. However, most standard Western diets contain much higher levels of these nutrients.

Because of that excess, people who consume too many omega-6 fatty acids are at risk for increased widespread inflammation throughout the body and conditions that thrive on inflammation, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Oleic acid and your health

The culprit behind increased inflammation after consuming too much sunflower oil is oleic acid. Oleic acid is a chemical compound present in animal and vegetable fats and oils. It is often considered a “healthy fat” that can reduce inflammation, fight free radical damage, and keep your heart healthy. However, when consumed in excess, the opposite effects can occur. Research has shown that having too much oleic acid in the diet can negatively affect heart health, in particular, leading to heart failure.

Oxidation and Aldehydes

Sunflower oil should not be cooked above 450 degrees because it releases potentially toxic compounds at higher temperatures. The smoke point of an oil is generally considered the limit at which the oil should be used in cooking because that is when it begins to break down. However, research has found that an oil’s smoke point and its ability to maintain the integrity of its healthy compounds are not directly related.

Research has found that cooking oil above a specific temperature releases compounds known as aldehydes. When released into the air, aldehydes can be:

Research has also found that DNA damage resulting from excessive consumption of aldehydes may also play a role in the onset of Alzheimer’s and other serious health conditions, such as heart disease.

What is a smoke point?

The smoke point assigned to an oil is the temperature at which it will begin to burn and smoke. The compounds in the oil break down when it is overheated. Cooking below the smoke point is often recommended for the best overall effect in terms of flavor and health benefits.

Does sunflower oil contribute to inflammation?

Sunflower oil is often considered capable of fighting inflammation, but the opposite may also be true. Because of its compounds, such as omega-6 fatty acids, consuming too much oil can cause the release of inflammatory chemicals in the body.

Potential benefits of sunflower oil

Although consuming too many of these dangerous compounds can cause adverse health effects, including them moderately in the diet can offer some health benefits. They include:

Comparison of sunflower oil with other cooking oils

Various other oils can be used in the same way as sunflower oil. However, no two oils are completely alike. For example, the smoke point (the temperature at which the oil begins to burn) of oils changes dramatically from one to another.

Different cooking oils and their smoke points
Type of oil Smoke point (degrees F)
Sunflower oil 450
Coconut oil 350
Olive oil 325 to 375
Avocado oil 520
Canola oil 375 to 450
Grape seed oil 420
Peanut oil 450
Almonds oil 430
Safflower oil 475 to 500
flax oil 225
Sesame 410 to 450
Oils smoke and burn at different temperatures and should therefore be used to cook different foods to help reap health benefits.

Is olive oil better?

Olive oil has a lower smoke point than sunflower oil and therefore should be cooked at a lower temperature. That said, because olive oil is more likely to remain stable at higher temperatures than sunflower oil, it is considered a good choice for cooking for its health benefits.

Both oils contain “good” fats that can benefit your overall health. Saying that one oil is better than the other would not be a good idea because, while one is better than the other for certain types of cooking, both have healthy properties when consumed in moderation.

How to tell how hot the oil is

You can tell if the oil is hot enough to fry food by placing a wooden spoon in the pan. The oil is hot enough if bubbles appear around the spoon and float to the surface. It is best to heat the oil slowly to prevent it from reaching its smoke point.

Who should avoid sunflower oil?

Sunflower oil is generally safe to consume and offers some health benefits. That said, its pro-inflammatory effects when consumed in too high quantities can be harmful to someone with a disease or disorder that causes chronic inflammation.

Obese people may also want to limit their sunflower oil consumption because high-fat diets may contribute to worse health outcomes in this group.


Sunflower oil can be a healthy choice for some people when consumed in moderation. However, cooking foods in too much quantity or too often can cause pro-inflammatory effects in the body. Its health benefits, such as reducing “bad” cholesterol levels, can be great for those looking to combat specific problems related to a high-fat diet.

When cooking with sunflower oil, consume it in moderation to reap its health benefits without putting your body at risk for further inflammation.

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts contained in our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we check the facts and keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.

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By Angelica Bottaro

Angelica Bottaro is a professional freelance writer with over 5 years of experience. She was educated in psychology and journalism, and her dual education provided her with the research and writing skills necessary to deliver solid and engaging content in the healthcare field.

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