For a healthy heart
Sunflower oil is rich in heart-healthy polyunsaturated fatty acids and it is also used for industrial purposes. .The seeds too have medicinal value.
APPEALING SIGHT: Sunflower oil is the world's second favourite vegetable oil.
THE SUNFLOWER is native to the vast prairies of North America. Native Americans first cultivated it nearly 3000 years ago, but its use on a major scale took off only 140 years ago when the Russians first recognised its potential as an oil crop.
The arrival of hybrid varieties from Russia into America did a lot for the sunflower's profile as an oil, birdseed and a food crop. Today, sunflower oil is the world's second favourite vegetable oil.
The reason for this is obvious. The oil is light in colour, rich in heart-healthy polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), bland enough to be unobtrusive on the palate and has a high smoking point.
This makes it the preferred cooking medium of chefs as well as health-conscious householders.
Sunflower oil is an excellent salad dressing and margarine base. The seeds, roasted and salted, are a favourite snack of the prairie-dwellers.
The seeds are also a source of flour. The seed meal is a first-rate protein source in cattle feed.
The oil is an ingredient in the manufacture of soaps, detergents and industrial lubricants.
Other industrial uses include the manufacture of paints, textile softeners, varnishes, pesticides and plastics. Its high energy makes it a potential substitute for fossil fuels; this is a hot topic for research in alternative fuels.
The use of sunflower as medicine is as old as Native American culture. There are many indications for its use in that culture, but it is difficult to separate the genuine from the bogus.
Sunflower seeds tend to increase the volume of urine, and they dilute respiratory mucus secretions.
This made them the preferred treatment for coughs, colds and renal ailments.
Over the years, the flower and its seeds entered remedies for virtually every known major respiratory, renal, intestinal and reproductive complaint. They were even touted as a cure for snakebite, scorpion sting, malaria, and some even used them as aphrodisiacs.
The seeds contain 560 Calorie per 100 gm, and the oil they yield is rich in PUFAs like linoleic acid, and low in saturated fats like palmitic and stearic acids. The oil contains appreciable amounts of Vitamin E, an antioxidant. Cooking oils like sunflower that are rich in PUFAs, lower blood levels of LDLs ("bad cholesterol") while raising levels of HDLs ("good cholesterol"). This keeps blood vessels healthy by reducing damage to the inner lining of blood vessels caused by oxidation of LDLs.
Healthy blood vessels translate to lowered risk for heart attack and stroke in the end. However, the DASH diet lays down a three teaspoon/day limit for all cooking oils, so there is a very thin line between eating healthy and eating your way into the ICU.
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