The Shocking Truth About Sunflower Oil

Why to rid sunflower oil - and processed food - from your diet.

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Olive oil, flaxseed oil, canola oil, hempseed oil, coconut oil, peanut oil … With all the different types of oil on the market, it can be tough to know which you should keep in your diet and which you should eliminate.

I recently received an email asking if sunflower seed oil was a healthier option than other oils. The simple answer is no – it is not a healthy option at all.

 Let me explain why this is the case. Essential fatty acids are a type of fat your body needs in order to perform a number of important functions. EFAs cannot be synthesized in the body so it is "essential" you consume them in your diet.

There are two different types of EFAs found in food. The first type is called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and is an omega-3 type of fatty acid. This type of EFA is found in fatty fish, nuts, seeds, certain types of sea vegetables and algae. Generally speaking, these sources of EFAs are not common in the Western diet.

[See: 8 Easy Ways to Load Up on Healthy Omega-3 Fats.]

The second type of EFA is called linoleic acid (LA) and is an omega-6 type of fatty acid. Omega-6 is found in meats, vegetable oils and prepackaged, processed foods. These sources are much more common in the Western diet.

The optimum ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids recommended for good health is 1 to 1. In other words, you should consume equal parts of each type of oil. Unfortunately, the average Western diet provides large amounts of omega-6 and small amounts of omega-3.

If this is the type of diet you typically consume, your ratio is likely way off. As a matter of fact, the latest estimates show most people have an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 10 to 1! This is very problematic because high levels of omega-6 increase the inflammation inside your body.

This is very bad for your health. Inflammation is correlated with heart disease, cancer and every disease in between! This is why it is so important to minimize the amount of omega-6 you consume in your diet.

[Read: Top 5 Foods to Fight Inflammation.]

Sunflower seed oil is commonly used in frying, fast-food prep and packaged and processed foods. It is so prevalent I can almost guarantee you that if a food comes in a package, you'll find sunflower seed oil in the ingredient list. And this is not a good thing.

Sunflower seed oil is very high in omega-6 fatty acids. In some cases, the omega-6 content is as high as 70 percent! If you are currently using sunflower seed oil in your diet, I urge you to stop. It is not good for you at all. It exacerbates the inflammation in your body and puts you at risk for disease.

So what are some alternatives?

Fish oil is very high in omega-3; however, if you don't like the fishy taste, you can try hemp seed oil, flax oil or walnut oil. All three of these taste great on veggies and salads.

[Read: How to Make the Perfect Salad.]

The thing you want to keep in mind about omega-3s is they are an unstable fat. This means they spoil very easily. These oils are susceptible to damage from heat, oxygen and light.

All oils high in omega-3 should be stored in a cool temperature, so keep them in the fridge and if they are in a dark glass bottle, that's even better. You also want to be mindful not to let them sit out on the counter for a long time. Just drizzle them on your food and put them up right away.

And after you put them on your salad, for example, it is best to eat it right away, so the oil doesn't have a chance to spoil while it is sitting on your salad. The same thing goes for taking these oils by the spoonful. You don't want to leave the cap off or bottle open because oxygen, heat and light will turn those omega-3 fats rancid.

[See: Fresh Fish Shouldn't Stink and Other Rules of Thumb.]

Since these oils are so delicate, they should not be used for cooking. Instead, use them only as a dressing or in smoothies and juices. Coconut oil is a better cooking option because it is more stable and will not spoil when heated.

In order to tone down the omega-6 in your diet, you should stop using vegetable oils like sunflower oil, safflower oil, soybean and corn oil, which are all high in omega-6 acids. These oils are also commonly used in most prepackaged, processed foods – yet another reason you should exclude these garbage foods from your diet.

[Read: Is All Processed Food Unhealthy?]

The oils you should include in your diet are fish oil, hemp oil and flax oil, which are high in omega-3s. If you are vegetarian or vegan and want to stay away from fish oil, you can stick to flax and hemp. You can also try algae oil, which is very high in EPA and DHA sources of omega-3.

If you want to do more than just switch out oils in order to level out your omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, you can increase your intake of fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, anchovies and sardines. These fish are all sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

[See: 11 Best Fish: High in Omega-3s – and Environment-Friendly.]

If you do all of these things, you will decrease the level of inflammation in your body, lower your risk of developing an array of diseases and have more energy and vitality. Sounds like a no-brainer to me!

Hungry for more? Write to eatandrun@usnews.com with your questions, concerns and feedback.

Yuri Elkaim, BPHE, CK, RHN is a registered holistic nutritionist, fitness expert and highly sought-after high-performance health coach. He's also a former professional soccer player and served as the head strength and conditioning and nutrition coach for men's soccer at the University of Toronto for seven seasons. For more than 13 years, he's empowered more than 86,000 people to greater health with his no-nonsense approach to health, fitness, and nutrition. He's made it his mission to empower at least 10 million people to greater health and fitness by 2018. Get Yuri's free "Y-Factor" at www.yurielkaim.com.