Soybean Oil Nutrition: A Story of Versatility


Soy has earned a positive reputation for the many health benefits it may offer consumers, including the prevention of some cancers and coronary heart disease. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) awarded a health claim for soy's cholesterol lowering properties in 1999. Soy protein's reputation appears to have had a "halo effect" on soybean oil, too.

According to USB's 2016 Consumer Attitudes about Nutrition survey, six in 10 consumers perceive soybean oil as “healthy,” on par with canola, safflower and sunflower oils.

Manufacturers of packaged goods have recognized the health cache that soy carries as a marketing opportunity. Instead of listing "vegetable oil" on the ingredient label, some have begun to prominently feature soybean oil on their packaging.

+ Soy oil is one of two oils consumers say they use most often.



For decades, food manufacturers have selected soybean oil for its versatility and competitive pricing. The neutral flavor and well-balanced fatty acid profile of soybean oil make it a desirable ingredient for a variety of applications ranging from baked goods to salad dressings.

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Liquid soybean oil is among the healthiest of all edible oils and has a very favorable fatty acid profile. It is low in saturated fat, high in polyunsaturated fat and contains monounsaturated fat. The Institute of Medicine's Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) acknowledged that unsaturated fatty acids reduce blood cholesterol and lower the risk of heart disease when they replace saturated fats in the diet, and the report provided recommended intakes for both linoleic and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).


Soybean oil is one of the few non-fish sources of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, which have various physiological benefits including cardioprotective effects. While fish oil is the preferred source of omega-3s because of the bioavailability of eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) in soybean oil is the principal source of omega-3s in the American diet. Researchers are currently developing soybeans with increased amounts of stearidonic acid (SDA), EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids to meet the growing demand for heart-healthy ingredients.

Omega-6 fatty acids, found naturally in soybean oil, may also decrease risk of heart disease, according to a science advisory published by the American Heart Association in January 2009. Containing about 50 percent omega-6 fatty acids, soybean oil is one of the most concentrated sources of this polyunsaturated fat.


Soybean oil is the primary commercial source of alpha-tocopherol, also known as vitamin E. Vitamin E is the body's primary lipid-soluble antioxidant defense against free radical induced cell damage, which has been linked to a number of cancers, heart disease, cataracts, premature aging and arthritis.

+ Of the major vegetable oils consumed in the United States, including corn, cottonseed, canola, palm, peanut, sunflower and soybean oil, seventy-one percent is soybean oil.


Soybean oil contains a number of phytosterols including β-sitosterol, campesterol and stigmasterol. In particular, β-sitosterol and its hydrogenated and esterified derivatives, known as sitostanol esters, have been shown to reduce serum cholesterol and LDL cholesterol by up to 10 percent without decreasing levels of the beneficial HDL cholesterol.

Soybean oil provides 327 mg of phytosterols per 100 grams and is a common source of phytosterol preparations. A number of margarines, spreads and salad dressing products containing β-sitosterol or sitostanol esters are being marketed as cholesterol-lowering products.

+ Seventy-three percent of Americans would be unlikely to purchase products listing trans fats on their nutrition labels, according to the United Soybean Board's 2016 Consumer Attitudes about Nutrition survey.



The balanced fatty acid profile and neutral flavor make soybean oil a favorite for commercial salad dressings and light frying applications.

Hydrogenation is the process of adding hydrogen molecules directly to the poly- or monounsaturated fatty acid to convert the liquid oil to a solid state for stability and functionality. The process of hydrogenation creates trans fatty acids, which have been compared to saturated fats in terms of overall affects on serum lipid levels and cardiovascular function. Most health authorities do not recommend replacing trans fats with saturates, and instead advocate reducing the total amount of both types of fat in the diet.

The commercialization of low linolenic soybean oil has replaced some of the partially hydrogenated soybean oil used in the food industry. Today, less than50 percent of the soybean oil used for domestic food production requires hydrogenation.

To meet the food industry's demand for increased functionality and improved nutrition profiles, researchers are working to develop soybeans with enhanced compositional traits. The resulting soy oils will offer improved functionality and will reduce or eliminate the need for hydrogenation without adding additional saturated fat.


The United Soybean Board (USB) recognizes that the needs of the food industry and the demands of end users are constantly changing. Although soybean oil continues to be the number-one choice for food processors and manufacturers, USB is working with industry leaders and private and public seed breeders to develop soybean oil varieties that do not require hydrogenation while still delivering the superior functionality and flavor characteristics that the food industry has come to expect from soybean oil.