Sunflower oil comes in three different forms: high-oleic, mid-oleic, and linoleic oil. Differences in these oils lie within their fatty acid profile. Oleic acid is a type of monounsaturated fatty acid (or MUFA) whereas linoleic acid is a type of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid (or PUFA). So a high-oleic sunflower oil has a high MUFA profile, whereas a linoleic sunflower oil is predominantly composed of omega-6 PUFAs. So which is the best choice?
The healthiest sunflower oil is the high-oleic acid variety. “Oleic acid is an omega-9 fatty acid that has been associated with improved heart health—specifically, reduced cholesterol and reduced inflammation,” explains mbg Collective member and registered dietitian Jess Cording, M.S., R.D., CDN. “Linoleic acid is an omega-6 fatty acid. While we need some omega-6, too much has been associated with increased inflammation in the body.”
These differences in health outcomes are linked to the fatty acid’s ability to resist oxidative damage during refining and cooking. Why does that matter? Well, oil that experiences significant damage can ultimately drive unhealthy processes in the body such as oxidative stress and inflammation, physician Cate Shanahan, M.D., a respected authority on vegetable and seed oils and author of The Fatburn Fix previously told mindbodygreen. And omega-6 PUFAs, like linoleic sunflower oil, are more readily oxidized than PUFAs.
TL;DR: So, although linoleic sunflower oil may be the most common, it’s high-oleic oil you should be reaching for. (And for a deeper dive on the nuance of sunflower oil, check out our guide.)