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.



  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

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

  4. I’m having a hard time giving up potato chips, nor do I have the time to make homemade chips, I found a brand of sweet potato chips that meets all of the paleo ingredients except for “expeller pressed canola oil and/or safflower oil and/or sunflower oil”. I was wondering if those are used in a small enough amount that it’s okay to eat those sweet potato chips, or if I should avoid them?

    1. Hi Craig,

      Potato chips are HARD to say goodbye to, aren’t they! I used to be a potato chip addict. From my personal experience, as well as with many clients, it’s actually harder to replace potato chips with sweet potato chips. They give you the crunch, but in many other ways aren’t as satisfying to replace the wonderful REAL potato chip. Not to mention, they’re not Paleo with the added oils, as you mentioned. The best success that I and others I’ve worked with have had in giving up potato chips came when you replaced the crunchy/saltiness of the potato chips with something else entirely, like roasted/salted pumpkin seeds (which you can buy in organic/Paleo versions) or roasted/salted almonds (again, that come in Paleo versions with no added oils). They don’t give you the same crunch as potato chips, but they are a good snacky food, and they give you better nutrients than sweet potato chips will. Another thing: having cravings for potato chips can often indicate that your blood sugar isn’t balanced well (as cravings often happen when the blood sugar needs a boost). Make sure you’re eating breakfast that has at least 15 grams of protein, and then eat protein with every meal/snack throughout the day. This should help to minimize cravings. Please let me know if this helps you, or if there is anything else we can do to help you on your Paleo journey!

      – Aimee

    1. Hi Monika!
      If you can get your hands on cold-pressed, high-oleic or high-stearic sunflower oil, these would be permitted on the Paleo diet. We recommend rotating this oil with other fat sources as well, like a good quality olive or avocado oil and saturated fats (i.e. coconut oil, ghee/butter if tolerated, lard, tallow, etc.). Thanks for your question!

      In good health,
      Kinsey Jackson, LMP, MS, CNS®

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