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Olive Oil v. Sunflower Oil

School Of Nutrition Posted Oct 06, 2014 Future Fit Training

Olive oil has documented heart-healthy properties, such as a high level of mono-unsaturated fats and polyphenols with anti-inflammatory properties.

Olive Oil v. Sunflower Oil

The so-called Mediterranean diet, with its frequent use of olive oil, has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease. On the other hand, being relatively inexpensive, sunflower oil is a popular choice for everyday use.

Which oil is better for you?

Let’s look at some stats:




Portion size

1tbsp (14g)

1tbsp (14g)







Saturated Fat



Mono-unsaturated Fat



Poly-unsaturated Fat



Omega-6 fatty acids



Vitamin E






Here are some highlights:

  • Both oils have pretty much the same caloric and total fat amounts.
  • The difference lies in the proportion of mono-unsaturated vs. poly-unsaturated fatty acids. Olive oil is mostly made up of mono-unsaturated fatty acids, while sunflower oil is predominantly poly-unsaturated fatty acids.
  • Sunflower oil contains more vitamin E than olive oil.
  • Olive oil has double the amount of phytosterols than sunflower oil. Phytosterols (plant sterol and stanol esters) are a group of naturally occurring compounds found in plant cell membranes. Because phytosterols are structurally similar to cholesterol, when they are consumed they compete with cholesterol for absorption in the digestive system. According to the European Foods Safety Authority (EFSA) consuming 1.5 to 2.4g of plant sterols and stanols every day can reduce blood cholesterol by 7 to 10.5%.  


OUR WINNER: Olive Oil!

Olive oil has been proven to help lower the risk of heart disease and breast cancer - possibly because of its high mono-unsaturated fat content, which lowers cholesterol. Extra virgin olive oil is particularly rich in natural plant anti-oxidants that can protect us against damaging free- radicals.

On the other hand, sunflower oil is a good source of the protective anti-oxidant vitamin E – a tablespoon provides just over a third of your daily requirement.  And the poly-unsaturates it contains help lower cholesterol.  Even so, it may not be good for your overall heart health. Sunflower oil is high in omega-6 fatty acids which are pro-inflammatory and overly available in our food supply.  Our diet generally is too low in omega-3 fatty acids. There is some thought that this imbalance has contributed to the rise of inflammatory type diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.

We need to eat less of the omega-6’s and more omega-3’s to regain our balance. So if you use sunflower oil regularly, you need to make sure to include enough omega-3s in your diet from other sources (such as oily fish) to balance it out.

Sunflower oil is arguably more suitable for deep-frying as it doesn't smoke unpleasantly at high temperatures. However, a word of caution: re-using the oil more than a few times for deep-frying could cause the formation of harmful trans-fats.

Whichever type of oil you use bear in mind that all oils are calorically dense! If you are concerned about your weight, we recommend using less oil overall, regardless of whether the oil is classed as healthy. If you want to benefit from heart-healthy phytonutrients and anti-oxidants, boost your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables instead.

Written by Victoria Trowse

If you would like us feature specific types or brands of food in our weekly Food Fight, email nicola.white@futurefit.co.uk with your suggestions.


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European Food Safety Authority. Blood cholesterol reduction health claims on phytosterols can now be judged against EFSA new scientific advice. http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/press/news/nda090731.htm

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