The Sun writes: FLOWER POWER Sunflower oil is ‘BETTER’ for your heart than olive oil – and it’s much cheaper

FOR years, we've been told that olive oil is the healthiest oil to cook with and dress our food in.

But a new study suggests that seed oils might be better for reducing cholesterol than the more expensive Mediterranean variety.

[...] they compared the effect of 13 oils and fats: safflower oil, sunflower oil, rapeseed oil, flaxseed oil, olive oil, hempseed oil, corn oil, coconut oil, palm oil, soybean oil, butter, beef fat, and lard.

The "best performers", according to the study, were sunflower, safflower, rapeseed and flaxseed oil.

Is the claim that using sunflower oil better than using olive oil at keeping LDL cholesterol low true?

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    That tabloid is paper is not good. If you are interested just in adequate reporting: it was not, imo. But regarding the core of the originating claim: Could you please edit this away from "health" and more to the concrete parameters from the originating study ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30006369 ? Commented Aug 20, 2019 at 10:15
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    FYI: Some of the reasons this question edited to be more specific can be found here: skeptics.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/2508/…
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 17:48
  • @Oddthinking Read the most upvoted answer in the link you just posted. You made my question worse: more verbose, removed useful details, added a question that makes absolutely no sense. "Is the claim X?" Duh, of course it is the claim. Fail.
    – user17561
    Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 20:56
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    @MaxB: Please remember the Be Nice policy. Yes, you are right that sentence makes no sense, due to a simple editing error that was fixed in 5 seconds. You personal preferences for taste and cost are not useful details. By "more verbose" do you mean "quoted the claim under discussion"? Then I plead guilty. It protects against link rot and makes the context clearer.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Aug 22, 2019 at 2:54
  • Cooking with olive oil is a bad idea, because of the low smoking point. People who know anything about oil are not advising anybody to cook with olive oil. Commented Aug 26, 2019 at 21:10

2 Answers 2


According to the mentioned study review, when used instead of butter, sunflower oil was associated with greater reduction of total and LDL cholesterl than olive oil. No other blood parameters or health outcomes were compared.

From the original paper (they included randomized trials lasting >3 weeks): Effects of oils and solid fats on blood lipids: a systematic review and network meta-analysis (Journal of Lipid Research, 2018):

Each 10% of dietary energy from butter replaced with an equivalent amount of safflower, sunflower, rapeseed, flaxseed, corn, olive, soybean, palm, and coconut oil, and beef fat was more effective in reducing LDL-C (−0.42 to −0.23 mmol/l)... Moreover, sunflower oil was more effective in reducing LDL-C than olive and palm oil (−0.10 to −0.09 mmol/l).


Despite the limitations of the NMA approach and the overall low quality of evidence judgements, the NMA findings are in line with existing evidence on the metabolic effects of fat, and support current recommendations to replace high saturated-fat food with unsaturated oils.

I haven't found a single study that would compare the preventative effect of sunflower and olive oil on actual health outcomes: cardiovascular or other disease. There is some weak evidence that the olive oil intake is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease (covered on Medical SE).

I don't want to make any firm conclusions from a study for which even their authors say that is based on weak evidence.

  • Thx for jumping just to the study the way you did. –– A major gripe I have with it is that it also didn't look at other parameters of diet, and fat quality. They say FAs are relevant but lumped all studies together, whether grass fed milk had differing profile or not. Further, the same author has a paper discussing differing qualities of olive oil having differing outcomes, yet how was the rampant fraud in olive oil trading controlled for? Observationally (just buy some olive oil) it may have value, but concluding "(all) olive oil is" seems inappropriate. Please name the type of study. Commented Aug 20, 2019 at 13:48
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    I also thought, the review was too ambicious: they tried to compare many oils and solid fats but missed a lot of circumstances. Also some included studies were only 3 weeks long. Sunflower oils are high in linoleic acid, but high-oleic sunflower oils are available. Olive oils can be virgin, extra virgin, high or low in polyphenols, etc. The type of study is in the linked title: a systematic review and network meta-analysis (they checked randomized trials lasting >3 weeks).
    – Jan
    Commented Aug 20, 2019 at 14:01
  • I guess study type explication is necessary for target audience here. But the types (high phenolic super quality vs relabled lampante poison) are exactly what I meant with critique on that (too short text in any case). Also "replace saturated fat with PUFA"? That also means 'fresh' or it gets worse quickly, since oils don't keep that well. Etc etc. Just on that level: Pretty sure a sedentary 8000kcal diet treated in that way is meaningless in real-life. The valid reach of the study gets even still exaggerated in TheSun… Commented Aug 20, 2019 at 14:08

I don't think one can really answer, because what is good or bad for anyone's particular biology is largely variable. We can determine that, yes, generally, this kind of oil is pretty good or bad, comparatively, but when faced with relatively healthy oils, you'd be hard-pressed to say "Oil A is 15% healthier than Oil B".

We know that monosaturated fats are some of the healthiest oils there are for human consumption.

Also vital and needed for good health are polyunsaturated fats, which include Omega 3 and Omega 6 fats.

Saturated fats are considered less healthy, but even that is being re-evaluated in light of things that were done to avoid saturated fats (use of trans fat subsitutes, for example).

And trans fats have been found, after much use, to be pretty much evil for the body. Oops.

What are fats? The real skinny on healthy fats and harmful fats

The other answer referenced a specific study where it seemed that sunflower oil was better for cardiac health results. Obviously, more results are needed before anyone outside of a marketing department can declare anything definitive.

What is interesting is that olive oil is higher in monosaturated fats, but also higher in saturated fats, with sunflower oil having more polyunsaturated fats. of, is there an ideal ration of one to the other? Depending on the opinion of which factor is most important (let alone how a composite evaluation is determined), the question of "better" seems to be unresolved, at this time.

{PDF} Oils Comparison Chart

What is still at issue is that we know that "bad fats" are to be avoided, and "good fats" are a better choice, but here we have have, open, the question of whether one good fat is more helpful than another, and the jury still seems to be out on that.

If monosaturated is better, than olive oil would be the choice. If the amount of saturated fat is more vital, then sunflower oil. If polyunsaturated fats, especially Omega Threes, from any source, help reduce cardiac risk, then sunflower oil. If vegetable sources for Omega Three fats don't work the same as fish-based oils, then that advantage is not present, and we just don't know yet. You can't find any recommendations out there that give specific advice of more than one "good" fat vs another.

The potentially helpful types of dietary fat are primarily unsaturated fats:

Monounsaturated fatty acids. This type of fat is found in a variety of foods and oils. Studies show that eating foods rich in monounsaturated fatty acids instead of saturated fats improves blood cholesterol levels, which can decrease your risk of heart disease and may also help decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids. This type of fat is found mostly in plant-based foods and oils. Evidence shows that eating foods rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids instead of saturated fats improves blood cholesterol levels, which can decrease your risk of heart disease and may also help decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Omega-3 fatty acids. One type of polyunsaturated fat is made up of mainly omega-3 fatty acids and may be especially beneficial for heart health. Omega-3, found in some types of fatty fish, appears to decrease the risk of coronary artery disease. There are plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids. However, it hasn't yet been determined whether replacements for fish oil — plant-based or krill — have the same health effects as omega-3 fatty acid from fish.

...... Avoid trans fat. Limit saturated fat to less than 10 percent of calories a day. Replace saturated fat with healthier monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

Mayo Clinic - Dietary fats: Know which types to choose

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    The question has now been focussed on a more specific claim, precisely to make it answerable.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Aug 20, 2019 at 23:43
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    "Obviously, more results are needed before" I'm not sure this is obvious; I think it is the basis of the question. Is the evidence in on this?
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Aug 20, 2019 at 23:44
  • @Oddthinking - Did you see how Jan concluded his/her answer, above? One study, which the author's, themselves, say isn't strong evidence. What's not obvious about that? Commented Aug 22, 2019 at 15:54
  • Jan provided some (fairly weak, to be sure) evidence that there was insufficient scientific evidence to make a decision. This answer just says it is obvious, and leaves it as that. If it were obvious, the question wouldn't have needed to be asked.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Aug 23, 2019 at 2:27
  • @Oddthinking - It seems like you are in a somewhat pedantic mood for this question. It's obvious more than just one study is needed. That's obvious for any scientific inquiry where you have an initial result. Scientists say it every time there is a "first" study with any set of particular results. Replication is one of the foundations of the scientific method. I would think you would know that. It would seem that this being obvious would be the REASON a question would be asked - to see if there is more out there. If there is already sufficient knowledge out there, that's when there is no need. Commented Aug 23, 2019 at 14:13

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