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


Screen-Shot-2012-03-29-at-10.32.53-AM-300x234.pngHi 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.