Paleo Plan

Q&A: Why Are Seeds Paleo But Not Seed Oils?

sunflower seedsHi Neely,

On the “Paleo Diet Food List” it states sunflower seeds are acceptable to eat, but on the “Paleo Plan Food Guide” it states not to eat sunflower oil.

Can you please expound on that. 

Eternally confused,



Hi Mark,

I’m not sure which “Paleo Diet Food List” you’re talking about, but even on the Paleo Plan Food Guide it says seeds (including sunflower seeds) are acceptable to eat. I understand why that would be confusing. Here’s the deal.

There’s a big difference between a concentrated oil from a seed and the seed itself. There are components of seeds (phytic acid, lectins, omega 6 fatty acids, etc.) that are fine for most people in small amounts, like the amounts we get from eating a handful of seeds (although even a handful of seeds would cause problems for some people, including myself). When you go and make an oil out of it, you’re getting those things – especially the omega 6 fatty acids – in much larger amounts than that handful of seeds. Then you make those seed oils a substantial percentage of your diet (I believe it’s somewhere around 20% for most Americans) and you have a real fatty acid problem on your hands. As you probably know, you need to get a good proportion of omega 3’s (anti-inflammatory) to omega 6’s (inflammatory). And this can’t happen when you’re eating way too many omega 6’s. Optimal omega 3:omega6 ratio would be between 1:1 to 1:4 and many Americans eating a lot of seed oils are getting up to 1:25 or higher.

Beyond that, though, the oil from seeds like sunflowers, corn, and cottonseed is mostly polyunsaturated and that means it’s very susceptible to damage by heat. When oils are made, they’re generally heated to high temperatures, not to mention they’re chemically deodorized, refined, etc. It’s not a pretty process and it’s believed that many seed oils come to us already rancid or in the process of becoming rancid (aka oxidized). Oxidized polyunsaturated fatty acids are actually one of the biggest contributors to inflammatory diseases, including heart disease. That’s why we say stay away from seed oils on the Paleo diet in general.

I hope that helps, but let me know if it doesn’t completely clarify.


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  1. That was so helpful! I’ve been wondering about this for awhile. Thanks Neely!

  2. So succinct and easy to understand! Thanks again Neely for your blog!

  3. Is there any real difference between eating many seeds and having a tablespoon of seed oil? I can’t see why there would be anything in the oil that isn’t in the seed.

  4. A common misconception is that this applies to “all” seed oils. It does not.

    Many of the seed oils are very HIGH in Omega-3 content relative to their Omega-6 content. Chia seed oil is an example.

    So it’s not that ALL seed oils are bad. There are good seed oils too, but as the article says: be aware of the kinds of fats in the seed oil and how they are affecting your nutrition. You don’t want to be consuming too many Omega-6’s without any Omega-3’s.

  5. Sunflower seed oil is actually almost entirely monounsaturated fat and contains only a tiny amount of polyunsaturated fat– look at the label! 1.5 g saturated fat per T, 0.5 g poly and 12 g monounsaturated. It’s completely fine to use in a primal or paleo eating plan. Not all oils are the same.

    • Neely Quinn

      Beth – were you looking at a label of a “high oleic” sunflower seed oil? That’s different than most commercial sunflower seed oils.

  6. Susan Jenkin

    thanks so much for a simple, meaningful and important distinction!

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