Sunflower seeds are a popular healthy snack all over the worlds. Not only are they delicious to taste, but they are also high in nutritional content.
They can help improve digestion, aid in weight loss, and prevent diseases like arthritis, cancer, insomnia, and hypertension.
What are sunflower seeds?
The sunflower seeds are the fruit of the sunflower plant. These seeds are harvested from the flower heads for the sunflower plant.
There are two primary varieties of the sunflower plant. The seeds with the solid black husk are called oil sunflower seeds and are grown to extract oil.
The seeds with black and white striped husk are used for culinary purposes and can be eaten as snacks.
Sunflower seeds have a tender texture and a mild nutty taste. They are often roasted to enhance their flavor.
History of sunflower seeds
The wild sunflower plant is native to North America, though its commercialization took place in Russia.
The sunflower was commonly cultivated by the American Indian tribes in North America.
There is some evidence to show American Indians grew sunflower in present-day Mexico and Arizona around 3000 BC.
Spanish explorers took this plant to Europe in 1500, where it was used primarily for ornamental purposes.
However, by 1769, there is written evidence of sunflower being cultivated for oil production.
The Russian Orthodox Church also helped increase the popularity of sunflower oil. While most oil foods were forbidden from being consumed during lent, the sunflower was not prohibited.
By the late nineteenth century, the Russian sunflower seed gained popularity in the US. The US acreage grew to over 5 million in the late 1970s due to strong European demand.
The nutritional profile of sunflower seeds
This tiny seed is packed with many nutrients. One cup (128 grams) of hulled sunflower seeds contain (1).
- Calories: 745
- Total fats: 63.8 grams
- Saturated fats: 6.7 grams
- Monounsaturated fats: 12.2 grams
- Polyunsaturated fats: 42.1 grams
- Proteins: 24.7 grams
- Carbohydrates: 30.8 grams
- Fiber: 14.2 grams
- Vitamin E: 33.4 mg (167% DV)
- Pantothenic acid: 9 mg (90 % DV)
- Folate: 303 mcg (76% DV)
- Vitamin B6: 1 mg (51% DV)
- Niacin: 9 mg (45% DV)
- Phosphorus: 1478 mg (148 % DV)
- Selenium: 102 mcg (145% DV)
- Manganese: 2.7 mg (135% DV)
Health benefits of sunflower seeds
1. Reduce chronic inflammation
Chronic inflammation can increase the risk of many diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
During a 2006 study, 6000 participants who consumed sunflower seeds amongst other nuts and seeds had 32 percent lower levels of the inflammatory marker C reactive protein as compared to people who ate no seeds (2).
Sunflower seeds are a rich source of vitamin E, which is known to reduce the levels of C reactive protein.
The flavonoid content of sunflower seeds also helps to reduce inflammation (3).
2. Promote cardiovascular health
Sunflower seeds contain vitamin E, which helps reduce inflammation and the risk of heart disease. The magnesium content of sunflower seeds also helps to lower blood pressure.
During a 2012 study from New Zealand, when 22 post-menopausal women ate 30 grams sunflower seeds per day for two periods of three weeks separated by four weeks, it led to a reduction in total cholesterol, bad cholesterols, and triglycerides (4).
Sunflower seeds also contain phytosterols, which are known to block the absorption of cholesterols in the body to protect against heart disease.
According to a study from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, sunflower kernels are the richest in ploysterols, as compared to most nuts and seeds commonly consumed in the US (5).
3. Prevent cancer
Sunflower seeds contain selenium, a trace mineral that helps prevent cancer. This powerful antioxidant stops the proliferation of cancer cells and stops tumor growth through apoptosis.
Several studies have shown that selenium aids in DNA repair, and it detoxes the body of harmful, damaged cells.
Sunflower seeds are also a rich source of vitamin E, which can help prevent breast cancer. According to studies, dietary sources of vitamin E can protect against breast cancer (6).
4. Reduce the risk of developing diabetes
Sunflower seeds are rich in fiber, which is known to balance blood sugar levels. Fiber helps to slow down the absorption of sugar in the bloodstream and prevents blood sugar spikes.
According to research published in the Journal of Chemical and Pharmaceutical research, 60 patients were supplemented with sunflower seeds for six months.
The results showed that the patients taking sunflower seeds showed a positive and a faster decrease in their fasting blood sugar level as compared to the control group (7).
Sunflower seeds also contain a plant compound known as chlorogenic acid, which helps lower blood sugar levels (8).
5. Support thyroid function
Almost 6 % of the American population has thyroid issues. The thyroid gland is involved in regulating hormones, circulation, heart rate, hormones, and body temperature.
Selenium is an essential mineral for thyroid function. Since sunflower seeds are a good source of selenium, easing more sunflower seeds can support thyroid function (9).
6. Promote bone health
Magnesium is vital for bone health as it aids bone calcification. Lack of magnesium in the body can lead to osteoporosis.
Sunflower seeds are rich in magnesium. Sunflower seeds also help promote healthy connective tissue and joints.
Manganese, copper, folate, Vitamin B1, and vitamin B6 are some of the other nutrients in sunflower seeds that help maintain healthy bones.
7. Improve brain function and memory
Sunflower seeds contain vitamin E, which offers protection from the brain decline that comes with age.
This powerful antioxidant helps lower the risk of neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s (10).
The choline and selenium in sunflower seeds are also beneficial for the brain and memory.
Pantothenic acid, another nutrient found in sunflower seeds, also helps in maintaining brain function.
8. Improve skin and hair
Sunflower seeds are abundant in vitamin E, which helps to keep the skin looking young and healthy.
These seeds have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that help prevent wrinkles and signs of aging.
Sunflower seeds also contain essential fatty acid lipids that help keep the skin hydrated and healthy.
Consuming sunflower seeds regularly also helps keep the hair healthy and prevents
hair loss. The iron content of sunflower seeds oxygenates and blood and facilitates better circulation, which improves blood flow to the scalp and promotes hair growth.
Side effects of sunflower seeds
Sunflower seeds provide plenty of health benefits; however, overindulging in them can cause some side effects as well.
The shells of sunflower seeds are often coated with sodium. High sodium intake can lead to problems like high blood pressure, kidney issues, and bone loss.
You can opt for the unsalted sunflower seeds or reduce your consumption.
Sunflower seeds contain natural cadmium in higher amounts than most other foods.
According to a study, when volunteers consumed 255 grams of sunflower seeds per week for 48 weeks, their estimated cadmium intake increased from 65 mcg to 175 mcg per week (11).
While this amount did not increase the cadmium concentration in the blood or lead to kidney trouble, one should keep consumption to a reasonable level.
3. Omega-6 fatty acids
Sunflower seeds contain omega-6 fatty acids. Though we need these fatty acids in our body, having too much omega-6 and too little omega-3 fatty acids can lead to inflammation.
So, ensure that you eat enough omega-3 fatty acid foods along with sunflower seeds.
4. Fecal impaction
Consumption of sunflower seeds along with shell fragments, can lead to fecal impaction, which may require hospitalization (12).
Besides constipation, it can also cause abdominal pain and nausea.
Though rare, some people are known to develop allergies to sunflower seeds. The symptoms include rashes, itching of the mouth, swelling of the mouth, asthma, vomiting, and anaphylaxis.
In some rare cases, people can also develop allergies from touching sunflower seeds (13).
Ways to use sunflower seeds
You can buy both shelled or unshelled sunflower seeds from the supermarket. The shelled seeds of sunflower have a mild nutty taste.
Look for seeds that are intact, uniform in color and without any yellow spots.
Sunflower seeds contain polyunsaturated fats, so they can turn rancid if left out in the heat. Always store them in an air-tight container in the refrigerator.
You can incorporate these healthy seeds into your diet in several different ways:
- You can munch on roasted sunflower seeds as a healthy snack.
- Add these seeds to your salad.
- Stir them into your cereal for added nutrition.
- Add sunflower seeds to your stir-fries.
- Add these seeds while making bread and muffins.
- Sprinkle them on to avocado toast for added crunch.
The sunflower seeds are the fruit of the sunflower plant. Sunflower seeds have a tender texture and a mild nutty taste. They are often roasted to enhance their flavor.
Sunflower seeds contain nutrients like vitamin E, pantothenic acid, folate, vitamin B6, niacin, phosphorus, selenium, and manganese.
They help to reduce chronic inflammation, prevent cancer, promote cardiovascular health, and reduce the risk of diabetes.
You can consume sunflower seeds raw or even add them to different dishes like salads, bread, and stir-fries.