Great Health Benefits From South African Olive and Sunflower Oils

Dr. B.B. Marvey

Fats can be good or bad for your health depending on what you eat. Healthy vs unhealthy fatty acids can depend on where the original plant was grown.

Sunflower (Helianthus annus) and olive (Olea europaea) oils have numerous varieties which differ in oil composition depending on the place of origin and the method used for their production. Thus oils from different areas could have different ratios of saturated vs monounsaturated vs polyunsaturated fatty acids. Research shows that oil derived from olives and sunflower of South African origin is rich in unsaturated fatty acids, in particular oleic (mono-unsaturated) and linoleic (di-unsaturated) acids.

Mono-unsaturated fatty acids (MUFA's) are found chiefly in vegetable oils such as canola, olive and peanut oils and are liquids at room temperature. Poly-unsaturated fatty acids (PUFA's) are found mainly in vegetable oils such as safflower, sunflower, corn, flaxseed and canola oils and are also liquids at room temperature. Saturated fatty acids (SFA's), on the other hand, are mainly found in animal sources such as red meat, poultry, milk and butter and are usually solid at room temperature.

Research has shown that unsaturated fatty acids in the form of Omega-3 oils (e.g. Eicosapentaenoic acid, commonly found in fish), Omega-6 oils (e.g. linoleic acid, gamma-linolenic acid) and Omega-9 oils (e.g. oleic acid) have great therapeutic properties. Omega-3 and Omega-6 oils are essential fatty acids (EFA's). EFA's are fatty acids that are necessary for normal growth and development but cannot be manufactured by the body. They have to form part of the regular diet for the body to have them and to begin to function efficiently. Regular consumption of Omega oils provides a good way of preventing many health maladies. A deficiency of Omega oils in the diet could lead to a multitude of health problems including heart attacks, high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus, arthritis, cancer, premenstrual syndrome, hair loss, multiple sclerosis, eczema, etc. According to research, people consuming sufficient amounts of Omega oils through their diet have reduced risks of heart attack, high blood pressure, cancer and many other health problems. On the other hand, eating too many foods high in saturated fat may increase blood levels of cholesterol resulting in heart-related problems. Foods high in mono- and poly-unsaturated fatty acids ("good fat") help lower cholesterol levels and decrease the risk of heart disease. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends a lower limit for dietary fat intake to be 15% of total calories and about 20% for women of reproductive age.

It has been reported that in Western countries an intake of EFA's in regular diet is down by 20% compared to 100 years ago. Instead, Western diet is high in white sugar, flour and saturated fat (mainly from red meat), which tend to interfere with the absorption of essential fatty acids. The situation in South Africa may not be very different. Studies on health/disease profile of South Africans have revealed that many South Africans (between 2.3 - 2.5 million) are undernourished, the majority being children below the age of 12. Undernourishment in children has led to poor mental development, poor school achievement and metabolic abnormalities. In adults, it has led to increased rates of heart-related diseases, high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus and arthritis.

Olive and sunflower oils provide vitamins (A, D and E), MUFA's and PUFA's to help produce optimal health and to strengthen the body's immune system. Vitamin A is good for eyesight, skin and growth and it is an antioxidant which disposes of the free radicals that can cause aging. Vitamin D is essential for the normal development of bones and teeth. Vitamin E boosts blood circulation and helps the skin stay supple. Dry skin and stretch marks can, for example, be treated by direct skin-application of cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil. Thus olive and sunflower oils rich in Omega fatty acids have excellent healing and nutritional properties and offer a natural and affordable means for improving the quality of life. "Good fats" can also be obtained from natural sources like safflower, canola, peanuts, avocado, pumpkin seeds, soybean, corn, salmon and tuna.

May 2003

More information:

Article by B.B. Marvey, PhD, Department of Chemistry,
University of North-West, South Africa

Recommended Reading:

FD Gunstone, JL Harwood, FB Padley (Eds), The Lipid Handbook, 1986, Chapman and Hall (New York)
K. Bertz, Vegetable oil based fatty acid ester production, 1997, Kooperationsstelle Hamburg
B.B. Marvey et al., Journal of Molecular Catalysis A: Chemical, 2003, (
E. Garza, Guide to Natural Remedies for Health and Well-Being, 1998, Orvit Publishing (Mexico)
Primer on Fats and Oils, American Dietetic Association, 2001,
The Multicom Range, Canyon Organics,
J. Badham, SAAFoST, August 2000,
Heart Foundation of South Africa,