Sunflower oil is a vegetable oil prepared from the Sunflower seeds. It is routinely used in restaurants and eateries as well as at home for cooking and frying. It is commonly used in many ready to eat processed foodstuffs as well.
Sunflower oil contains mainly Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated fatty acids. The monounsaturated fatty acid is Omega-9. Polyunsaturated fatty acids are of Omega-3 and Omega 6 types in the ratio of 1:71 (1 Omega-3 to the 71 Omega-6s).
Omega-3 and Omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids are also called as essential fatty acid because they are necessary for our body, but our body lacks the enzymes to produce them; thus we have to get them through the food we eat.
Though both these fatty acids (Omega-3 and Omega-6) are necessary, it is essential to take them in a proper ratio. According to experts the (Ideal ratio of Omega-3: Omega-6 should be 1:4) that means for every four omega-6 there should be at least one Omega-3.
In some vegetable oils like Sunflower oil, the amount of Omega-6 to omega-3 is very high. The ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 in Sunflower oil is 1:71, this excess of Omega-6 as compared to omega-3 is the main culprit behind the development of inflammation in our body, which has many adverse health consequences.
Before going further, let us first understand what inflammation is.
Inflammation is our body's response to injury and infection. It is carried out by our immune system. It is our body's way of signalling the immune system to heal and repair damaged tissue and also to defend itself against foreign invaders, such as microorganisms like viruses and bacteria. When this inflammation is acute and short-lived, it helps our body to recover from the damage and injury caused by invading pathogens. However, if the inflammatory process goes on for too long or if this inflammation occurs in places where it is not required, it can become problematic. It starts damaging our cells and tissues. This type of prolonged, sustained inflammation is called chronic inflammation. It can have long term adverse effect on our body and can contribute to the development of various diseases. The Very high amount of Omega-6 as compared to Omega-3 in Sunflower oil (The ratio between Omega-3: omega-6 is 1:71) is responsible for the secretion of pro-inflammatory chemicals/toxins (Prostaglandins and leukotrienes). These chemicals/toxins are responsible for the development of excessive and unresolved inflammation within multiple tissues and organs of our body. It can cause significant damage to our body and manifest in the form of various diseases and disorders such as:
- The inflammation can damage our blood vessels by making them either rigid (Stiff) or forming a plaque within their lumen. It narrows the lumen and increases the resistance to the blood flowing through it, which can increase the risk of:
- High Blood pressure (Hypertension)Heart attack
- Insulin is a hormone necessary for effective metabolization and utilization of sugar in our body. The sustained inflammation associated with excess Omega-6 fats consumption weakens the action of the hormone insulin (Develops insulin resistance). Which disturbs the metabolism of sugar thus, increase the risk of:
- Diabetes Mellitus.
- Excess quantity omega-6 fatty acids in diet develop a sustained (chronic) inflammation which promotes resistance to the actions of Hormones, Insulin and Leptin. It encourages the excess of fat deposition in our body. Also, it reduces its effective metabolization (Reduction in Fat burning) of fats which ultimately leads to:
- Weight gain and Obesity
- Fat deposition in and around internal organs like the liver. It is very harmful.
- Increase in the levels of Bad Cholesterol (LDL-Cholesterol)
- The toxins released due to inflammation can increase the secretions within the respiratory tract. It can also develop swelling and spasm of the airways making a person feel breathless. It increases the risk of suffering from ASTHMA.
- These inflammatory toxins can damage the DNAin our cells and disturb the healthy cellular metabolism leading abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells and tissues. It increases the risk of certain cancers such as:
- Breast Cancer
- Prostate Cancer
- Cancer of Large intestine (Colorectal Cancer)
- The inflammatory toxins can disturb the function of our immune system, making it overaggressive and attack our tissues at various parts of the body. It can result in the development of many autoimmune and inflammatory diseases such as:
- Rheumatoid Arthritis (Joint pain, swelling and deformities)
- Systemic Lupus Erythematosus
- The disturbance in the normal function and over aggressiveness of the immune system can also increase the risk of suffering from various types of Allergies.
- The excess dietary consumption of Omega-6 fatty acids is associated with a reduction in bone mineral density (Osteoporosis) which makes bones fragile and weak. It can increase the risk of frequent Fractures.
- The inflammatory toxins released due to excess omega-6 consumption can lead to the dysfunction of the Lacrimal gland. It reduces the tear production, which manifests as frequent Dryness, Itching, Burning in the eyes. It can be damaging to our eyes.
- The inflammatory toxins associated with consumption of oils high in omega-6 fats can disturb the normal secretion and function of neurotransmitters (Chemicals carrying signals between neurological cells) in the brain. These toxins can also cause direct damage to the brain cells, thereby increasing the risk of:
- Dementia (Memory loss)
- Alzheimer's Disease
Since the consumption of excess omega-6 fatty acids with respect to the omega-3 fatty acids can generate an inflammation within the entire body, thereby causing damage at various organs and systems, it is better to avoid oils such as Sunflower oil which has a very high amount of Omega-6 and very little Omega-3 in cooking.
As an alternative, we can choose the oils having a balanced ratio of Omega-3: Omega-6 (As close as to the ideal ratio of 1:4). E.g. Safflower oil (Ratio 1:14) or Olive oil (Ratio 1:9) etc. (Refer to the Diagram explaining the percentage of Omega-3 and Omega-6 in different oils)
Using Oils which have the Sufficient amount of Omega-3 fats present with respect to Omega-6 (Balanced Omega-3: Omega-6 ratio) has a protective effect, against the inflammatory reactions that can otherwise occur due to excess of Omega-6 fats.
It is important to note that various ready to eat processed foodstuffs or fried foods which we usually get outside may contain a high amount of Sunflower oil. Thus, it is better to avoid such food. We Should be inquisitive about the oil used when eating in Hotels to protect our health from the damaging effects of excess of Omega-6 fats.