The Best Vegetable Oil; Olive or Sunflower?

Which are the best vegetable oils to cook with and which are the best oils to use in salad dressings? To use sunflower oil or olive oil in that special recipe? Which is better for your health?

This can be a confusing issue for people who are interested in eating to support wellness. As you may know, some vegetable oils are more fragile than others when heated. If these oils are damaged they can cause oxidative stress to our cells. So ideally we should use oils which are stable at the temperature we use them at.

Recently I was asked some questions about vegetable oils. Just Garcia in Spain wanted to know:

“Is sunflower oil OK for cooking? Or should you use Olive oil? What kind of vegetable oils do you recommend for eating?  
Is it possible to mix them in our diet?   Is there any incompatibility between different kinds of vegetable oils?”

I would like to eat a meal prepared by Just!  I sometimes get e-mails from him telling me what they made for dinner.  He really enjoys making and eating their food and I know they have plenty of fresh produce available in their region.

So to answer Just’s questions…

I feel cautious about the sunflower oil. Sunflower oil is less stable than olive oil and I don’t recommend it for cooking. 
Sunflower oil is about two-thirds polyunsaturated fat and is therefore much more prone to damage from heat and light than olive oil, which is about 75% monounsaturated.

If you can obtain high quality cold-pressed sunflower oil then it may be good in salad dressings – it has a delicious flavour.  But most common sunflower oil, in particular that sold in large clear plastic containers is already quite degraded.  It will have been heated in the extraction process and then stored for a long time with further attack from light. 

The other problem with regularly eating sunflower oil is that it contains a high proportion of omega-6 fatty acids.  If you would like to read why this is a problem  have a look at my article about Rice Bran Oil.   This article contains a lot of useful information about the whole issue of cooking oils.

Using olive oil in salads and as a dip is a good idea.  Olive oil is perhaps the best oil to use regularly.  It stores well and is stable enough to use for moderate temperature cooking.  Use Extra Virgin Olive Oil where possible - it has had the least processing and filtering.

To answer the final question from Just, there are no nutritional problem with mixing oils together.   Use combinations that taste good to you.  I often add a few drops of sesame oil to rice bran oil when cooking Asian dishes for an exotic aroma and flavour.
Like Sunflower oil, many other seed, nut and vegetable oils have similar issues. Oils in plastic bottles from the supermarket, like canola, soya and corn oil, are highly processed, degraded, and possibly sourced from genetically engineered crops. Avoid them! 

Now check out our list of the best oils for cooking, together with ideal temperature ranges for use. 


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