Food uses and health effects of corn oil

J Am Coll Nutr. 1990 Oct;9(5):438-70. doi: 10.1080/07315724.1990.10720403.


This review of corn oil provides a scientific assessment of the current knowledge of its contribution to the American diet. Refined corn oil is composed of 99% triacylglycerols with polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) 59%, monounsaturated fatty acid 24%, and saturated fatty acid (SFA) 13%. The PUFA is linoleic acid (C18:2n-6) primarily, with a small amount of linolenic acid (C18:3n-3) giving a n-6/n-3 ratio of 83. Corn oil contains a significant amount of ubiquinone and high amounts of alpha- and gamma-tocopherols (vitamin E) that protect it from oxidative rancidity. It has good sensory qualities for use as a salad and cooking oil. Corn oil is highly digestible and provides energy and essential fatty acids (EFA). Linoleic acid is a dietary essential that is necessary for integrity of the skin, cell membranes, the immune system, and for synthesis of icosanoids. Icosanoids are necessary for reproductive, cardiovascular, renal, and gastrointestinal functions and resistance to disease. Corn oil is a highly effective food oil for lowering serum cholesterol. Because of its low content of SFAs which raises cholesterol and its high content of PUFAs which lowers cholesterol, consumption of corn oil can replace SFAs with PUFAs, and the combination is more effective in lowering cholesterol than simple reduction of SFA. PUFA primarily lowers low-density-lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) which is atherogenic. Research shows that PUFA has little effect on high-density-lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C) which is protective against atherosclerosis. PUFA generally improves the ratio of LDL-C to HDL-C. Studies in animals show that PUFA is required for the growth of cancers; the amount required is considered to be greater than that which satisfies the EFA requirement of the host. At this time there is no indication from epidemiological studies that PUFA intake is associated with increased risk of breast or colon cancer, which have been suggested to be promoted by high-fat diets in humans. Recommendations for minimum PUFA intake to prevent gross EFA deficiency are about 3% of energy (en%). Recommendations for prevention of heart disease are 8-10 en%. Consumption of PUFA in the United States is 5-7 en%. The use of corn oil to contribute to a PUFA intake of 10 en% in the diet would be beneficial to heart health. No single source of salad or cooking oil provides an optimum fatty acid (FA) composition. Many questions remain to be answered about the relation of FA composition of the diet to various physiological functions and disease processes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibody Formation
  • Corn Oil* / adverse effects
  • Corn Oil* / analysis
  • Corn Oil* / metabolism
  • Corn Oil* / pharmacology
  • Heart Diseases / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Cellular


  • Corn Oil