Two developments in recent months have reaffirmed the positive link between sunflowers and human health.
July saw the national launch by Unilever Foods of Flora Pro-Activ, a polyunturated sunflower-hased margarine enriched with sterols, naturally occurring plant components with the ability to reduce cholesterol levels in blood.
According to Unilever marketing manager Nick Goddard, the company has struggled at times to keep up with public demand for sterol-enriched Flora Pro-Activ, despite it costing almost four times as much per gram as regular unsaturated margarines.
Mr Goddard said the release of Flora Pro-Activ was obviously good news for the estimated 4.5 million Australians with high blood cholesterol levels, but it was also good news for the nation's graingrowers, as Australian sunflower oil was used in its production.
Meanwhile, at the takeaway
Around me same time, it was oil change time' for the deep fryers in selected Shell roadhouses in Queensland and NSW, with researchers testing public reaction to the replacement of traditional deep frying fats beef tallow and palm oil - with healthy alternatives — Sunoil, Sunola and Signature.
This trial followed a Heart Foundation survey that found that, despite widespread home acceptance of unsaturated fats and oils, only 4 per cent of takeaway food shops in NSW were using similar healthy oils for commercial deep frying. And that only 7 per cent of consumers knew what type of frying oil their favourite takeaway used, although 52 per cent said they were interested in knowing.
Change to sunflower - less heart risk
The Foundation's national nutrition manager, Susan Anderson, said that while it was difficult to estimate the public health benefits of changing a single food ingredient, the foundation believed substituting high oleic sunflower oils for palm oil could reduce the population's cholesterol level by 1 per cent, representing a 2 per cent lowering of cardiovascular risk.
This could lead to the saving of about 14 lives a day.
How sterols affect cholesterol
Plant sterols have the ability to interfere with the absorption of cholesterol from the human gut. If consumed in sufficient quantity, they can result in most consumed cholesterol passing straight through the intestine, to be excreted.
According to Unilever, European trials have shown that, relative to polyunsaturated spreads, sterol-enriched products can achieve a 12-13 per cent reduction in serum-LDL cholesterol in just two-and-a-half weeks, with beneficial HDL-cholesterol unaffected. Ongoing research also showed:
- while higher content of sterols in spreads resulted in greater lowering of cholesterol, two-thirds of the potential effect could be achieved by an intake of just 2 grams of sterols a day, and
- the blood cholesterol-lowering effect of plant sterol-enriched spreads was additional to that of the statins, the most widely prescribed class of cholesterol-lowering medication.
Contact: Ms Susan Anderson, The Heart Foundation 02 9219 2444; Mr Nick Goddard, Unilever 02 9517 6541