The present trend in human diets is to decrease the consumption of the saturated fatty acids, palmitic and stearic fatty acids. Studies have shown that consumption of high levels of saturated fats increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Vegetable oils are the principal source of fats in many diets. Sunflower oil, which is fourth in production among vegetable oils in the world, contains 6.5% palmitic and 4.5% stearic acids. In an effort to reduce saturated fats in sunflower oil, a survey of wild annual H. annuus populations was undertaken to identify potentially useful populations with low palmitic and stearic fatty acids (less than 7% combined). Achene oil of one population of wild H. annuus from Holmquist, SD had a palmitic acid level that averaged 3.9% with a range of 2.8 to 4.3%, while stearic acid averaged 1.9% with a range of 1.5 to 2.2%. The combined 5.8% palmitic and stearic acids is almost 50% lower than the present level of these fats in sunflower oil. The level of saturated fatty acids observed in the population remained low when plants were grown in the greenhouse under uniform conditions. In the greenhouse, palmitic acid averaged 4.0%, while stearic acid averaged 1.9%. This would indicate that palmitic and stearic acids have a genetic base with the potential for selection and incorporation into cultivated sunflower to lower the present level of saturated fats in sunflower oil.

Key words: fatty acids, Helianthus annuus, palmitic acid, saturated fats, stearic acid, sunflower