Sunflower oil is vegan-friendly. Plant-based oils are easily perceived as vegan because there are no animal derivatives used in producing them, although some plant-derived oils can still be non-vegan. Fortunately, sunflower oil is not one of them.
The common sunflower, which goes by the scientific name Helianthus annuus, is known for its delightful yellow bloom. Apart from being decorative shrubs, sunflowers are also harvestable crops because of their seeds. Many important products can be made from sunflower seeds, which include sunflower oil.
Sunflower oil can be used in many ways that can help improve our way of life. If you are a vegan, you can benefit from the sunflower oil’s amazing properties without feeling any guilt.
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Are All Plant-Based Oils Vegan?
As mentioned at the beginning, some plant-based oils might be mistaken as vegan for the simple reason that they are derived from plant materials. However, the presence of animal byproducts is not the sole basis to rule something as vegan.
Let us use palm oil as an example. Palm oil is made from plant-based ingredients, and no animal by-products are used in its production. However, we should also look at the production process on a larger scale and see if it poses harm to animals.
When Does A Plant-Based Oil Become Non Vegan?
Problems arise when too many palm trees are cut or burned down because of the high demand for palm oil. Excessive deforestation can significantly affect the ecosystem, thus also affecting the animals living in the area.
Palm trees grow in tropical rainforests, which are home to many different species such as elephants, orangutans, and otters. The need to produce millions of liters of palm oil every year means the destruction of the natural habitat of these animals. This is not to mention the subsequent impact of deforestation on global warming, in which more animals in other parts of the world can potentially suffer.
Animals who seek shelter in the rainforest become exposed to poachers when there are too many trees taken down for harvesting oil. These animals would want to feel secure, so they have no other choice but to look for a new home. However, the displacement of these animals to an unlikely habitat can disturb the balance in the ecosystem, thus putting more species in danger.
In the case of sunflower oil production, the destruction of the natural habitat of animals should not be a problem. Since sunflowers can be grown in farms as full-season crops, no animals will be affected when sunflowers are harvested for oil.
Uses Of Sunflower Oil
Sunflower oil can be used as a substitute for cooking oil made from animal fat. As a refined oil, it is flexible in serving different purposes in the kitchen. It is good for preparing vegan-friendly snacks, which can be cooked either by deep or shallow frying. Sunflower oil can also be used in sauteing.
If you feel extra creative in preparing food, you can use sunflower oil as a garnish by putting a little drizzle of the oil all over your food. It also adds a unique flavor, especially in leafy salads.
Sunflower oil has many uses outside the kitchen. Research shows that sunflower oil is a good medication for curing athlete’s foot or tinea pedis. A specific brand of sunflower oil, Oleozon, is said to be just as effective as the drug ketoconazole in treating fungal infections. Applying sunflower oil daily for six weeks will get rid of athlete’s foot and provide a layer of protection against possible re-infection.
Some people claim that sunflower oil has good therapeutic properties that alleviate the symptoms of arthritis. This is the same reason that this oil is widely used in massage because of the soothing effects of sunflower oil in the muscles and joints.
How Is Sunflower Oil Made?
The production of sunflower oil is a bit different compared to other plant-derived oils. Sunflower oil is extracted from the seeds produced by the flowers, unlike others that are obtained directly from the fruit of the plant.
Almost half of the mass of a sunflower seed is oil. This can be extracted in two ways. The first method is refining, wherein farmers use solvents and high temperatures of up to 150 degrees Celsius to extract the oil from the sunflower seeds.
This method is popular in sunflower plantations in the Western United States, mainly because of the quick process of oil extraction. Although, it can be argued that this method also removes much of the natural flavor of sunflower oil, as well as the healthy compounds that are present in the oil.
Another way to produce sunflower oil is cold pressing. This method may require more time and effort to extract oil from the seeds, but cold pressing is actually a more traditional method used by farmers. In this method, oil is squeezed out of the sunflower seeds using pressure.
Unlike the first method, cold pressing does not involve high temperature that eliminates delicate compounds in the sunflower oil. The mechanical apparatus used in cold pressing uses the right amount of friction and heat.
Benefits And Drawbacks Of Sunflower Oil
Sunflower oil offers many benefits to the body. However, like in every food product, consumption must always be in moderation.
This is not to say that sunflower oil is generally detrimental to our health. It is just that what is too much can be bad for you, and the same is true for eating too much sunflower oil.
Pros Of Using Sunflower Oil
Studies have shown that sunflower oil contains properties that lower the cholesterol levels in our body. Specifically, sunflower oil targets low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as bad cholesterol. Too much accumulation of LDL in the arteries is harmful. That being said, sunflower oil is good for people with hypertension, which are at higher risk of developing cardiovascular diseases.
Although, other studies indicate that other plant-based oils such as flaxseed oil are more effective at reducing cholesterol levels than sunflower oil. This is because of the other compounds present in sunflower oil that may negate its positive effects. More of this will be discussed in the following section.
Many people use sunflower oil to treat constipation. It can also be used externally as a beauty product. Sunflower oil is rich in vitamins A, D, and E, which can help rejuvenate the skin and protect you from the harmful effects of UV rays from the sun. It can help speed up the healing of wounds and skin diseases such as psoriasis.
Cons Of Using Too Much Sunflower Oil
As stated earlier, there are other compounds present in sunflower oil that may counter its health-giving benefits. Sunflower oil also has high levels of polyunsaturated fats, which should not be consumed in excess, or else it may lead to setbacks in your cardiovascular health.
Those who are allergic to plants belonging to the Asteraceae or Compositae family are advised to avoid sunflower oil. Better yet, check with your doctor if taking sunflower oil will be good for you.
Some studies have also shown that too much sunflower oil in one’s diet elevates the chances of developing type 2 diabetes. Eating sunflower oil in large amounts causes insulin and blood sugar levels in your body to skyrocket. It is possible that your after-meal blood fats will increase too, posing a risk of developing atherosclerosis or the hardening of the arteries.
Other Products Similar To Sunflower Oil
There are other vegan-friendly oils with the same health benefits as sunflower oil. You try them out if you feel that using sunflower oil in your meal might not be the best choice.
Listed below are the top 5 healthy oil alternatives for sunflower oil that are also vegan-approved:
- Avocado oil: Avocado oil has health perks similar to sunflower oil, not to mention the same unique taste. However, it is relatively pricier than sunflower oil.
- Coconut oil: The oil from the tree of life itself, coconut oil provides many health benefits that may rival those of the sunflower oil. Although, consuming coconut oil must also be moderated if you want to avoid health issues.
- Light olive oil
- Rice-bran oil
- Canola oil
As vegans, we are left with limited choices to consume for our daily needs. However, we can always find alternatives through research. For the purpose of cooking, we can say that sunflower oil is a good vegan option. It works just as well as the regular animal-derived cooking oil, but only with imbued health benefits.
Sunflower oil has also proven to be an all-around product. It can be used outside the kitchen set, for treating skin diseases and injuries.
Still, there should be a limit to your consumption of sunflower oil. You should not take sunflower oil too often or in large amounts just because it has many health benefits or for simply being vegan-friendly. You should be mindful of the possible consequences of consuming too much sunflower oil.