A recent study on safflower oil benefits, published by Ohio State University researchers, has sparked interest in the potential health benefits of this oil. Authors of the study suggested that obese women may be able to reduce their risk of heart disease, just by adding small amounts to their diets. Although the study was small, and there were problems with the way it was run, it was intriguing. But if you’re thinking about adopting the practice as one of the ways of losing belly fat, consider these facts before diving in.
The safflower plant is a thistle-like member of the daisy family, and is one of the oldest plants to be grown by humans. Evidence of its use has been found in Egyptian tombs and hidden in Greek writings. The plant was originally grown to make dyes and medicines. Now it is used as a carrier to enhance essentials oils, and may enhance the benefits of tea tree oil. In recent years, there has been more interest in the plant, as safflower seed oil has been found to have a number of different uses. It thrives in dry climates, and is produced in the upper mid-west U.S., as well as other areas around the world. The flowers find use as an inexpensive replacement for saffron, and the oil is popular with industry and chefs.
Safflower oil is a rich source of vitamins E and K, and contains high levels of phytosterols. But consumers should know there are two different varieties of safflower, and the oils derived from the two varieties have quite different profiles. So if you’re aiming for a specific health benefit, its worth knowing exactly which kind you’re getting.
High Oleic Safflower Oil
The Molin and Montola varieties of safflower are known as “high oleic” oils, for their high levels of oleic acid. This is the oil that made olive oil famous for its heart health benefits. With nearly 79% of this being oleic acid, it has even more than olive oil. The remainder is 8% saturated fat, and 13% polyunsaturated fat. Owing to the oleic acid content, oil from these varieties shares a lot in common with sweet almond oil.
From the chef’s perspective, the high oleic oil has a smoke point of 450°F, which makes it good for high temperature cooking. In fact, the high oleic acid content makes it a great alternative to canola oil for frying. Safflower oil is usually sold refined, so it contributes very little flavor when used in recipes.
In addition to cooking, oil from these varieties of safflower find use in cosmetics, as emollients. It’s use in hair and skin-care products is quite common.
High Linoleic Safflower Oil
The Centennial, Finch, and Nutrastaff varieties produce oils rich in omega-6 fats, the majority of which is linoleic acid; one of the essential fats that humans can only get by consumption. Linoleic acid is the precursor for a number of biologically important molecules, and was the subject of the study mentioned at the beginning of this article. The consumption of large amounts of omega-6 fats is a matter of much debate among health experts, as the typical Western diet is heavily weighted toward omega-6 fats. While these are essential fats, their consuming too much is thought to promote a state of overall inflammation within the body.
The high levels of polyunsaturated fats in high linoleic oils make them particularly susceptible to spoilage, so protection from light and air becomes essential for long-term storage and use. These oils also have low smoke points (350°F), and so are more suited to low temperature uses, such as salad toppings, and in margarines.
Telling the difference between high oleic and high linoleic safflower oil is pretty straightforward if you’re buying bottles in the U.S. A quick glance at the fat profile on the label will tell you which oil you’re getting. If it’s mainly polyunsaturated fat, you’re getting high linoleic. If it’s mainly monounsaturated fat, you’re getting the high oleic variety.
People who are allergic to daisies should be careful when using this oil, as they can also suffer from allergies to the safflower plant and its oils. Members of the daisy family include ragweed, chrysanthemums, and marigolds, so if you’re allergic to any of these, be cautious. Some also suffer from linoleic acid allergy, so oils like the high linoleic variety have been known to cause problems as well.
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