5 Health Benefits of Sunflower Seeds

Sunflower Seeds — great at the ballpark, helpful during a long drive, and a native plant to North America that has become a staple to cultures worldwide. Despite their small size, sunflower seeds are a dense source of vitamins and minerals and essential oils. Not only are they a great snack, sunflower seeds offer several extraordinary health benefits.

Sunflower seeds

  1. Promotes Cardiovascular Health

Sunflower seeds contain two nutrients that promote cardiovascular health — vitamin E and folate.

A quarter cup serving of sunflower seeds contains over 60% of the daily value of vitamin E. This essential vitamin performs important antioxidant function and balanced levels of vitamin E have been linked to a lower overall reduced risk of early death from cardiovascular disease. Vitamin E helps neutralize free radicals to protect brain health and cell membranes against redness and swelling. Make no mistake about the benefits of vitamin E, it has been linked to protection from more than one serious health risk.

Additionally, folate has been shown to promote cardiovascular health from birth to old age. It metabolizes homocysteine, an indicator of cardiovascular problems, into methionine, an essential amino acid. Folate and essential fatty acids naturally occur in sunflower seeds and have been associated with cardiovascular health.

  1. Phytosterols Promote Healthy Cholesterol Levels

Sunflower seeds contain a high level of phytosterols. These phytosterols have physical properties similar to cholesterol; more than once, research has linked them to supporting healthy cholesterol levels.

  1. Potent Source of Magnesium

Magnesium deficiency can lead to a variety of heath problems that affect the cardiovascular, nervous, and immune systems. The muscles and skeletal system also require magnesium for proper function. Homeopathic practitioners have long used magnesium to promote respiratory function, heart health, and reduced PMS tension.

And a quarter cup serving of sunflower seeds provides more than 25% of the recommended daily value of magnesium. That’s protection for your brain, heart, muscles and more!

  1. Supports a Healthy Mood

There’s an added bonus to the magnesium in sunflower seeds, it promotes a healthy mood. Over one hundred years ago, magnesium sulfate was given to patients suffering from depression. Its success, as well as its safety, made it a valuable option. Today magnesium plays an essential role in homeopathic therapies for mental health. [6]

  1. Contains Selenium: A Powerful Antioxidant and Great for Thyroid Health

Sunflower seeds contain selenium, an essential nutrient. Studies have found it plays a role in antioxidant function and helps reduce redness and swelling in the body. It also has recently been identified for its critical role in thyroid hormone metabolism. Selenium has also been noted for its ability to encourage DNA repair in damaged cells.

The Best Way to Eat Sunflower Seeds

Sunflower seeds are a great snack but it’s important to keep it healthy. Many of the available-everywhere varieties are roasted and loaded with high-sodium flavorings. They’re also probably not organic or GMO-free — two things you want to look for. Personally, I love the sprouted, organic sunflower seeds from Go Raw. They’re an awesome snack, go great in a salad, and the quality is as good as it gets. I’d also recommend you give sunflower butter a try, similar to peanut butter, it’s available in some grocery stores, it’s not hard to make, and it’s delicious.

 Sunflower Seeds Nutrition Facts

Sweet, nutty sunflower seeds are an excellent source of essential fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals. Sunflower kernels actually employed to extract edible oil at commercial levels. Besides being eaten as popular snacks, they are also used in the kitchen to prepare variety of recipes.

Sunflower is a tall, erect, herbaceous annual plant belonging to the family of Asteraceae, in the genus, Helianthus. Its botanical name is Helianthus annuus. It is native to Middle American region from where it spread as an important commercial crop all over the world through the European explorers. Today, Russian Union, China, USA, and Argentina are the leading producers of sunflower crop.

sunflower seeds
Sunflower seeds. Note for black conical seeds with smooth surface and grey stripes.

Sunflower flourishes well under well-drained moist, limey soil. It prefers good sunlight. Domesticated varieties bear single large flower-head (Pseudanthium) at the top. Unlike its domestic cultivar type, wild sunflower plant exhibits multiple branches with each branch carrying its own individual flower-head. The sunflower head consists of two types of flowers. While its perimeter consists of sterile, large, yellow petals (ray flowers), the central disk is made up of numerous tiny fertile flowers arranged in concentric whorls, which subsequently convert into achenes (edible seeds).

sunflower field
Sunflower field.

Sunflower seeds are about 6 mm to 10 mm in length and feature conical shape with smooth surface. Their black outer coat (hull) encloses single, gray-white edible-kernel inside. Each sunflower head may hold several hundreds of edible oil seeds.

Health benefits of sunflower seeds

  • Delicious, nutty, and crunchy sunflower seeds are widely considered as healthful foods. They are high in energy; 100 g seeds hold about 584 calories. Nonetheless, they are one of the incredible sources of health benefiting nutrients, minerals, antioxidants and vitamins.
  • Much of their calories come from fatty acids. The seeds are especially rich in poly-unsaturated fatty acid linoleic acid, which constitute more 50% fatty acids in them. They are also good in mono-unsaturated oleic acid that helps lower LDL or “bad cholesterol” and increases HDL or “good-cholesterol” in the blood. Research studies suggest that Mediterranean diet which is rich in monounsaturated fats help to prevent coronary artery disease, and stroke by favoring healthy blood lipid profile.
  • Like in other nuts, they too are a very good source of proteins loaded with fine quality amino acids such as tryptophan that are essential for growth, especially in children. Just 100 g of seeds provide about 21 g of protein (37% of daily-recommended values).
  • In addition, sunflower seeds contain health benefiting poly-phenol compounds such as chlorogenic acid, quinic acid, and caffeic acids. These compounds are natural anti-oxidants, which help remove harmful oxidant molecules from the body. Further, chlorogenic acid helps reduce blood sugar levels by limiting glycogen breakdown in the liver.
  • Further, the seeds are indeed a very rich source of vitamin E; contain about 35.17 g per 100 g (about 234% of RDA). Vitamin E is a powerful lipid soluble antioxidant, required for maintaining the integrity of cell membrane of mucus membranes and skin by protecting it from harmful oxygen-free radicals.
  • Sunflower kernels are one of the finest sources of B-complex group of vitamins. They are very good sources of B-complex vitamins such as niacin, folic acid, thiamin (vitamin B1), pyridoxine (vitamin B6), pantothenic acid, and riboflavin.
  • Sunflowers are incredible sources of folic acid. 100 g of kernels contains 227 µg of folic acid,which is about 37% of recommended daily intake. Folic acid is essential for DNA synthesis. When given in anticipant mothers during the peri-conceptional period, it may prevent neural tube defects in the baby.
  • Niacin and pyridoxine are other B-complex vitamins found abundantly in the sunflower seeds. About 8.35 mg or 52% of daily-required levels of niacin is provided by just 100 g of seeds. Niacin helps reduce LDL-cholesterol levels in the blood. In addition, it enhances GABA activity inside the brain, which in turn helps reduce anxiety and neurosis.
  • The seeds are incredibly rich sources of many essential minerals. Calcium, iron, manganese, zinc, magnesium, selenium, and copper are especially concentrated in sunflower seeds. Many of these minerals play a vital role in bone mineralization, red blood cell production, enzyme secretion, hormone production, as well as in the regulation of cardiac and skeletal muscle activities.

Just a handful of sunflower kernels a day provides much of the recommended level of phenolic anti-oxidants, minerals, vitamins, and protein.

Selection and storage

In the farm fields, sunflower heads can be ready for harvesting once they turn brown and dry. In general, the seeds intended to use in confectionery are somewhat larger, sweet, and have striped hulls. Oil-type sunflower seeds are characterized by small size, have more oil content, and feature black hulls. However, both types of seeds can be used for either purposes.

In the stores, one may choose whole-seeds, hulled, roasted, salted, etc., for use. Avoid thin, shriveled seeds or old stocks, as they tend to be out of flavor.

At home, store whole seeds at room temperature in a bin or jar. However, sunflower kernels should be placed inside an airtight container and stored inside the refrigerator.

Culinary uses

At present, sunflower seeds are used mainly to press cooking oil. They are still favored in the confectionery, and as bird feed. As in hazelnut, sunflower seeds too are popular, tasty, low-fat snack item.

Here are some serving tips:

  • Roasted and salted, they can be enjoyed as a healthy snack.
  • They add crunchiness to salads.
  • Sprinkle sunflower kernels over fried-rice dishes or sautéed vegetables as garnish.
  • The seeds can be coated with chocolate, candied, or added in cakes, and muffins.
  • The seeds can be added to salad dressings, casseroles or baked goods.
  • In Germany and other Central European regions, the flour made from the seeds is used in making dark bread, sonnenblumenbrot (sunflower bread).
  • Sunflower seed butter, sold as SunButter, is a suitable alternative in peanut allergies.

Safety profile

Sunflower seed allergy is quite rare unlike peanut or tree-nuts (cashew, walnuts, hazelnut, etc.) allergies. In some susceptible individuals, however, its reactions may include itchiness of the skin, sneezing, itchiness in the eyes, gastritis, vomiting, etc. It is advised, therefore, to avoid the use of seeds in known allergic persons. (Medical Disclaimer).

See the table below for in depth analysis of nutrients:Sunflower seeds (Helianthus annuus), kernels, dried,  Nutritional value per 100 g.
(Source: USDA National Nutrient data base)

Principle Nutrient Value Percentage of RDA
Energy 584 Kcal 29%
Carbohydrates 20 g 15%
Protein 20.78 g 37%
Total Fat 51.46 g 172%
Cholesterol 0 mg 0%
Dietary Fiber 8.6 g 23%
Vitamins
Folates 227 µg 57%
Niacin 8.335 mg 52%
Pantothenic acid 1.130 mg 22%
Pyridoxine 1.345 mg 103%
Riboflavin 0.355 mg 27%
Thiamin 1.480 mg 123%
Vitamin A 50 IU 1.6%
Vitamin C 1.4 2%
Vitamin E 35.17 mg 234%
Electrolytes
Sodium 9 mg 1%
Potassium 645 mg 14%
Minerals
Calcium 78 mg 8%
Copper 1.800 mg 200%
Iron 5.25 mg 63%
Magnesium 325 mg 81%
Manganese 1.950 mg 85%
Phosphorus 660 mg 94%
Selenium 53 µg 96%
Zinc 5.00 mg 45%
Phyto-nutrients
Carotene-ß 30 µg
Crypto-xanthin-ß 0 µg
Lutein-zeaxanthin 0 µg

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