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You'll often see flaxseed oil and sunflower oil sold in health food stores as alternatives to more widely used canola and olive oils. Oil is pressed from either the sunflower seeds or tiny flaxseeds to produce cooking oils. Both have benefits to your heart health even though they contain different types of fat. They also vary in culinary uses and differ in taste.
Most cooking oils are energy-dense foods and contain about the same number of calories per serving. You'll get roughly 120 calories per tablespoon of either sunflower-seed or flaxseed oil. You'll also get about 14 grams of fat from a serving of each of the oils. Neither oil provides any carbohydrates, protein or minerals. However, both give you a small amount of vitamin K, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin your body relies on for proper blood clotting.
Type of Fat
While both oils contain the same total grams of fat, they're composed of different types of fat. Sunflower oil contains 12 grams of monounsaturated fat and less than a gram of polyunsaturated fat, while flaxseed oil has 3 grams of monounsaturated fat and 9 grams of polyunsaturated fat. Monounsaturated fats may improve your cholesterol and blood-sugar levels, reducing your risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, according to MayoClinic.com. Polyunsaturated fats may also have these health-promoting abilities. In addition, the type of polyunsaturated fat in flaxseed oil is alpha-linolenic acid, which is a precursor in your body to omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s play a role in brain function, may reduce inflammation in your body and might prevent chronic diseases, such as cancer, arthritis and heart disease.
Another difference in the two types of oil is the form of vitamin E each contains. A serving of sunflower oil provides 6 grams of vitamin E in the form of alpha-tocopherol, while a serving of flaxseed oil gives you 4 grams of gamma-tocopherol. According to the Office of Dietary Supplements, alpha-tocopherol is the only form of vitamin E that meets human requirements for the nutrient. Adults need at least 15 milligrams per day of vitamin E, and a tablespoon of sunflower oil will meet 40 percent of your daily requirement. Vitamin E functions as an antioxidant helping to neutralize harmful free radicals in your body.
Sunflower oil has a higher smoke point than flaxseed oil, meaning sunflower oil can reach a higher temperature before it begins to smoke. Once an oil begins to smoke, it releases toxic fumes, and harmful free radicals form in the oil. You can safely use sunflower oil for cooking at high heat, such as sauteing, baking, searing or stir-frying, or for use in cold salad dressings. Flaxseed oil, on the other hand, should not be heated at all because the smoke point is lower. It's best used in dressing and dips that will be served cold.