Food use and health effects of soybean and sunflower oils

J Am Coll Nutr. 1991 Oct;10(5):406-28. doi: 10.1080/07315724.1991.10718168.


This review provides a scientific assessment of current knowledge of health effects of soybean oil (SBO) and sunflower oil (SFO). SBO and SFO both contain high levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) (60.8 and 69%, respectively), with a PUFA:saturated fat ratio of 4.0 for SBO and 6.4 for SFO. SFO contains 69% C18:2n-6 and less than 0.1% C18:3n-3, while SBO contains 54% C18:2n-6 and 7.2% C18:3n-3. Thus, SFO and SBO each provide adequate amounts of C18:2n-6, but of the two, SBO provides C18:3n-3 with a C18:2n-6:C18:3n-3 ratio of 7.1. Epidemiological evidence has suggested an inverse relationship between the consumption of diets high in vegetable fat and blood pressure, although clinical findings have been inconclusive. Recent dietary guidelines suggest the desirability of decreasing consumption of total and saturated fat and cholesterol, an objective that can be achieved by substituting such oils as SFO and SBO for animal fats. Such changes have consistently resulted in decreased total and low-density-lipoprotein cholesterol, which is thought to be favorable with respect to decreasing risk of cardiovascular disease. Also, decreases in high-density-lipoprotein cholesterol have raised some concern. Use of vegetable oils such as SFO and SBO increases C18:2n-6, decreases C20:4n-6, and slightly elevated C20:5n-3 and C22:6n-3 in platelets, changes that slightly inhibit platelet generation of thromboxane and ex vivo aggregation. Whether chronic use of these oils will effectively block thrombosis at sites of vascular injury, inhibit pathologic platelet vascular interactions associated with atherosclerosis, or reduce the incidence of acute vascular occlusion in the coronary or cerebral circulation is uncertain. Linoleic acid is needed for normal immune response, and essential fatty acid (EFA) deficiency impairs B and T cell-mediated responses. SBO and SFO can provide adequate linoleic acid for maintenance of the immune response. Excess linoleic acid has supported tumor growth in animals, an effect not verified by data from diverse human studies of risk, incidence, or progression of cancers of the breast and colon. Areas yet to be investigated include the differential effects of n-6- and n-3-containing oil on tumor development in humans and whether shorter-chain n-3 PUFA of plant origin such as found in SBO will modulate these actions of linoleic acid, as has been shown for the longer-chain n-3 PUFA of marine oils.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blood Platelets / drug effects
  • Blood Pressure / drug effects
  • Dietary Fats, Unsaturated / adverse effects
  • Dietary Fats, Unsaturated / pharmacology*
  • Helianthus
  • Humans
  • Immunity / drug effects
  • Lipids / blood
  • Neoplasms / etiology
  • Neoplasms, Experimental / etiology
  • Plant Oils / adverse effects
  • Plant Oils / chemistry
  • Plant Oils / pharmacology*
  • Soybean Oil / adverse effects
  • Soybean Oil / chemistry
  • Soybean Oil / pharmacology*
  • Sunflower Oil
  • Thrombosis / prevention & control


  • Dietary Fats, Unsaturated
  • Lipids
  • Plant Oils
  • Sunflower Oil
  • Soybean Oil