Bismarck, N.D. — High on NuSun sunflower oil, Midwest sunflower growers are hoping for something low — like cholesterol.

NuSun oil has a heart-healthy fatty acid profile, high in monounsaturates. Animal feeding trials have yielded positive results; now the National Sunflower Association is turning their attention to a human diet study.

NuSun supporters believe their oil compares favorably with olive oil. However, they lack the nutritional research to support their claim. That may change, pending the results of the human study expected to start this month at Penn State University. The study will examine NuSun sunflower oil’s effect on blood cholesterol levels.

“The benefits to NuSun are that it’s a healthy oil and does not require hydrogenation” for product stability during storage and distribution, says Ruth Isaak, NSA communications director. “The monounsaturates mean the oil is stable, it has great taste, and because of no hydrogenation, no trans fats are created.”

Profile permutation

Five years ago, the National Sunflower Association recognized a need to tweak the fatty acid profile of sunflower oil in order to compete with soy and corn oil in domestic food markets. Through traditional plant breeding, a mid-oleic or monounsaturated sunflower oil was developed. Later called NuSun, the oil combines excellent taste with health benefits. Proponents say it works well in commercial applications such as frying. It’s already the oil used to make Pringles potato chips.

The National Sunflower Association says about 35 percent of last year’s oilseed sunflower acres were NuSun varieties. With positive results from the human diet study, producers could have reason to grow even more.

“We can build a market for sunflower oil,” Isaak says. “There’s a 50 to 70 cent per hundred weight premium for NuSun growers. The goal is to build new markets and increase return to sunflower growers.”

Big boost?

The NSA has already received support for the study from AURI, as well as commitments from groups in the sunflower-growing states of North Dakota and Kansas. The project is garnering widespread support because NuSun could boost the whole sunflower industry.

“When we look at it, there aren’t a lot of alternatives for producers in this region of the country,” says AURI fats and oils scientist Max Norris. “With factors like a short growing season, we don’t have unlimited opportunities. So when we do have another way for producers to turn, we have to investigate it.”

“Human nutritional research will help us continue to market this oil,” Isaak adds. “Positive results will help us sell the health benefits of NuSun to the nutrition and medical communities as well as consumers.”

For more information on NuSun, visit the NSA Web site at www.sunflowernsa.com.