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Better Nutrition (1989-90)

Discover the facts about sunflower oil; sunflower oil is a great source of the essential fatty acids necessary for the production of prostaglandins

Discover the facts about sunflower oil; sunflower oil is a great source of the essential fatty acids necessary for the production of prostaglandins – includes recipe

Susan Hodges

Discover the Facts About Sunflower Oil

Sunflower oil is a great source of the essential fatty acids necessary for the production of prostaglandins

Fats, once given a thumbsdown vote by health and nutrition experts, are back under the microscope. This time, the news is good. Like vitamins and minerals, certain fats in the form of natural oils have been found to be absolutely essential to the function of a nutritionally balanced, healthy body.

Ann Louise Gittleman, M.S., author of Beyond Pritikin, said the key to what seems a direct contradiction of the nutrition research of the last 20 years is the word natural.

“Oils are considered natural when they are allowed to remain in their natural state, that is, undamaged by modern processing techniques that use high heat and chemicals,” said Gittleman. “In their natural form, oils can play an important role in cooking and in maintaining personal health.” These natural oils are available in health food stores today.

Of course, you can still buy dozens of oils processed with heat and chemicals, because they are the mainstay of regular grocery stores. The tasteless, colorless appearance of many of these oils makes them more attractive to consumers, who tend to equate uniformity in color, taste and texture with quality.

But your body knows the difference. Here’s why. “On a cellular level, polyunsaturated oils (such as sunflower) provide raw material for the manufacture of prostaglandins, hormonelike compounds that regulate every function in the body at the molecular level,” said Gittleman. “These tissue-like compounds play major roles in protecting the cardiovascular, reproductive, immune and central nervous systems. Without enough prostaglandins, we are vulnerable to a variety of disease conditions, including arthritis and allergies.”

To ensure the daily production of prostaglandins, all we need is 1 to 2 tablespoons of the right oil every day. The secret is knowing which oils to use and how to use them. This month we’ll focus on sunflower oil.

You’d never know it from the way most of them are used commercially, but edible oils are extremely fragile. The more polyunsaturated an oil is, the more it must be protected from excess heat, air and light.

Sunflower oil is very high in polyunsaturated fat. Next to sunflower, it is the highest — its fatty acid composition ranges between 64 and 68 percent. From a nutritional standpoint, this is desirable, because as mentioned earlier, polyunsaturates are the source of essential fatty acids necessary for the production of prostaglandins.

But because of their sensitivity, most polyunsaturated oils, including sunflower, should only be used raw. Once damaged, polyunsaturated oils form free radicals. Free radicals are highly reactive molecular fragments that attack and weaken cell membranes, causing premature aging and disease.

Of course, each oil is different. Some have higher smoking points than others, and those with high smoking points can be used for cooking, baking and sauteeing. Sunflower oil, however, is not one of these. Although sunflower oil has been hailed as an all-purpose oil, it must be used cold because it is so sensitive to heat. It is excellent as a salad dressing base and as a drizzle for steamed vegetables and grains.

The oil’s mild flavor is also a plus, allowing it to be used in vinaigrettes as a medium for diluting other more full-bodied oils. For example, if you want to cut the fruity, full-bodied flavor of olive oil in a recipe, you might consider making your dressing or marinade with half olive oil and half sunflower oil. Sunflower is also ideal as a base for mayonnaise.

Another pleasing characteristic of sunflower oil is its virtual lack of odor, which makes it an excellent conveyor of other flavors when mixed with herbs and spices as a salad dressing.

The best brands of natural sunflower oil can be purchased in your local health food store, which in all likelihood carries 100 percent expeller-pressed natural oils. A label bearing these words is one of the best indications that no heat has been used in processing.

Once you have purchased your oil, you can store it at room temperature. But after you have opened it, be sure to refrigerate it.

For an exotic change of pace, Gittleman recommends the following salad dressing recipe:

Sunflower Oil Dressing with Papaya and Tarragon

1/2 cup sunflower oil

1 Tbsp papaya juice

concentrate

1 Tbsp finely chopped sweet

onion 1/2 tsp tarragon

Place all ingredients in a small jar. Shake well, then refrigerate. Serves 9. (Serving size is 1 Tbsp).

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