What Exactly is “High Oleic” Oil?

Maybe you’ve seen “high oleic oil” in an ingredients list on a package of your food lately.  But what exactly is it and is it healthy or unhealthy?  Here are some quick facts about high oleic (canola, sunflower, corn) oil:

What is “high oleic” oil?

High oleic oil is any oil that is high in monounsaturated fats.  Olive and canola oil are naturally high in monounsaturated fat, but they are also high in polyunsaturated fats which mean they are not very shelf-stable.  In recent years, scientists have developed sunflower (and other) oils that are bred to be high in monounsaturated fats and low in polyunsaturated fats so they can be used in products that need to be shelf-stable.

Why do food companies use high oleic oil?

In the past, food companies used hydrogenated oils (trans fats) to keep food shelf-stable and preserve flavor.  When companies had to stop using trans fats, they switched to high oleic oils or palm kernel oil to make their food last longer for customers.  These oils are often used in packaged baked goods (packaged cakes, cookies, etc), as spray coating for cereal, crackers and dried fruit; and in non-dairy creamers as well as many types of frying.

Is it healthy?

As far as we know, yes.  High oleic oil is high in unsaturated fat, low in saturated fat, and has no trans fat.  The large amount of monounsaturated fat in high oleic oil has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) without lowering HDL cholesterol (the good kind).  When LDL cholesterol goes down, so do the risks of heart disease, heart attacks, and stroke.

Should I buy foods made with high oleic oil?

Only packaged, processed foods will contain these oils.  It’s best not to rely too heavily on these types of products anyway, and to focus on eating mostly whole foods.  But if you’re going to buy packaged, processed food sometimes, then yes, look for the term “high oleic sunflower (or other) oil” in the ingredients list.  This is a much better option, as far as we know, than trans (hydrogenated oil) and saturated fats.

Image source for above.

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26 Responses to What Exactly is “High Oleic” Oil?

  1. After inspecting a couple of boxes of saltines at the grocery store, I found that one package contained “soybean oil with TBHQ for freshness.” Is that another way of saying “hydrogenated” or is TBHQ a preservative? I just want to eat saltines with my homemade chicken soup. What’s a girl to do???!!!

    • TBHQ is a preservative added to lengthen the shelf-life of packaged foods that don’t have trans fats or other shelf-stable fats. It’s used widely in the U.S. and Europe and is considered “safe” in the quantities it’s used in. However, it associated with negative health effects in lab animals when given at higher doses, and may be carcinogenic if eaten in large amounts. Here are some details: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tert-Butylhydroquinone ….. if it were me, I’d avoid this stuff altogether when possible. There are some natural brands that don’t include this preservative – these are probably your best bet. Even better, dunk hunks of bread into your soup.

  2. I was worried when I saw the word “high” in high oleic sunflower oil. I know “high” fructose syrup is very bad for me, so I though this high oleic oil would be too. Since it’s also used to preserve shelf life, wouldn’t that make it more of a preservative than a healthy oil? I guess I would just like some more information on the process of how this type of oil is made. Thanks!

    • Not to be obnoxious, but what exactly was the thought process that made you think that the word “high” was the thing that was bad for you and not the fructose? Does “high” vitamin C content scare you too? Or “high” antioxidant content? I mean, sure, moderation is good, so maybe you read “high” as “excessive”?
      The same sort of logic follows for the second part of your post. Nothing is inherently wrong with something that preserves things, just like nothing is inherently wrong with something that has a high content of something. It depends entirely upon what the nature of the ‘thing’ in question is. Lemon juice is a great preservative for guacamole, and lemons are very healthy.
      Anyhow, it’s very good of you to push for more information and I admire your drive to self-educate about the sorts of foods you put in your body. I just always worry that we become too dependent on easy access to sources of knowledge that we forget to apply a little of our own simple logic to refine our questions so that we ask the right ones and make the right choices with that information.

  3. These oils are “scientificly” developed? As in GMO?
    I notice natural cereals have these oils, but organic cereal does not.
    How can we tell if oils are GMO products?

    • They are not GMO oils, since their structure is modified after the oil crops are harvested, not before. As far as I know, it’s safe to eat high oleic oils.

      • The way you wrote that scientists have “bred” the sunflower oil to be higher in mono and lower in poly seems to be conflicting with your comment above saying the oils are modified after being harvested.

    • If you’re speaking strictly about shopping for olive oils, then that’s a wise decision. Though even then, don’t be over trusting of the labeling.
      As for oils in general, there are plenty of other oils that are at least as healthy as olive oil. A simple google search will give you all the info you need in that regard.

  4. Butter is good if you don’t heat it, creating carcinogens. Olive oil is great for salads and/or cooked at temps. 350 degrees or less.

  5. To quote you:…”have developed sunflower (and other) oils that are bred to be high in monounsaturated fats”……
    What you are saying that they are GENETICALLY MODIFIED!…………………NO THANK YOU!
    I also know that canola oil is from Rapeseed and it is now a GMO product.
    Palm oil production creates RAINFOREST DESTRUCTION–..NO THABK YOU !!

    Karen k. m.

  6. Is high oleic canola oil made from using olestra in the processing of the canola oil? I have read a lot about the side effects of olestra. Is there any relationship between the two?

  7. Hi I just found your site through a Sprouts link. I’m very impressed (I don’t often compliment sites being someone who has high standards.) I really like the organization of categories, the succinct information and ease of navigation.

  8. I found this more critical summary as well:
    “In summary: High oleic oils are oils made from new varieties of plants. While they are hybrids rather than genetically modified plants, they are not created by the use of traditional methods, instead radiation and toxic chemicals are used to speed up the process. No one has eaten these varieties for any length of time and this is a red flag for me.” http://tqidiet.wordpress.com/2013/05/28/speaking-out-against-high-oleic-oils/

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