Sunflower seeds are most popular in multi-grain bread and nutrition bars, and can also be consumed as a healthy snack. They’re rich in healthy fats, beneficial plant compounds, and various nutritious vitamins and minerals. These nutrients certainly play a part in reducing your risk of common health problems, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes. One of the best aspects of sunflower seeds is their versatility as a food source.
Roasted sunflower seeds are an excellent snack that supplies your body with protein and healthy fats. They also make a delightful, crunchy addition to a vegetable salad, provide flavor for a sandwich, or form the bulk of a vegetarian burger.
What else do you need to know about sunflower seeds? Continue reading.
What Are Sunflower Seeds?
Sunflower seeds are technically the fruits of the sunflower plant (Helianthus annuus) (1).
The seeds are harvested from the plant’s large flower heads, which can measure more than 12 inches or 30.5 cm in diameter. A single sunflower head may contain up to 2,000 seeds (2).
There are two main types of sunflower crops. One type is grown for the seeds you eat, while the other, which is the majority farmed, is grown for the oil.
The sunflower seeds you eat are encased in inedible black-and-white striped shells, also called hulls. Those used for extracting sunflower oil have solid black shells.
Sunflower seeds have a mild, nutty flavor and a firm but tender texture. They’re often roasted to enhance the flavor, though you can also buy them raw.
Sunflower seeds are especially high in vitamin E and selenium. These function as antioxidants to protect your body’s cells against free radical damage, which plays a role in several chronic diseases (3, 4).
Additionally, sunflower seeds are a good source of beneficial plant compounds, including phenolic acids and flavonoids, which also function as antioxidants (5).
When sunflower seeds are sprouted, their plant compounds increase. Sprouting also reduces factors that can interfere with mineral absorption. You can buy sprouted, dried sunflower seeds online or in some stores (5).
Furthermore, studies link sunflower seeds to multiple other health benefits.
For example, increased blood levels of the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein is linked to an increased risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes (10).
In a study in more than 6,000 adults, those who reported eating sunflower seeds and other seeds at least five times a week had 32% lower levels of C-reactive protein compared to people who ate no seeds (10).
Though this type of study cannot prove cause and effect, it is known that vitamin E, which is abundant in sunflower seeds, helps lower C-reactive protein levels (11).
Flavonoids and other plant compounds in sunflower seeds also help reduce inflammation.
Good for the Heart
High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease, which can lead to heart attack or stroke (12).
A compound in sunflower seeds blocks an enzyme that causes blood vessels to constrict. As a result, it may help your blood vessels relax, lowering your blood pressure. The magnesium in sunflower seeds helps reduce blood pressure levels as well.
Additionally, sunflower seeds are rich in unsaturated fatty acids, especially linoleic acid. Your body uses linoleic acid to make a hormone-like compound that relaxes blood vessels, promoting lower blood pressure. This fatty acid also helps lower cholesterol (13, 14)
In a 3-week study, women with type 2 diabetes who ate 1 ounce or 30 grams of sunflower seeds daily as part of a balanced diet experienced a 5% drop in systolic blood pressure.
Participants also noted a 9% and 12% decrease in “bad” LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, respectively.
Furthermore, in a review of 13 studies, people with the highest linoleic acid intake had a 15% lower risk of heart disease events, such as heart attack, and a 21% lower risk of dying of heart disease, compared to those with the lowest intake (15).
The effects of sunflower seeds on blood sugar and type 2 diabetes have been tested in a few studies and seem promising, but more research is needed (16).
Studies suggest that people who eat 1 ounce or 30 grams of sunflower seeds daily as part of a healthy diet may reduce fasting blood sugar by about 10% within six months, compared to a healthy diet alone.
Studies also suggest that adding sunflower seeds to foods like bread may help decrease carbs’ effect on your blood sugar. The seeds’ protein and fat slow the rate at which your stomach empties, allowing a more gradual release of sugar from carbs (19, 20).
Promotes Bone Health
Sunflower seeds are rich in magnesium which strengthens your bones beside calcium. Most of the magnesium in the body is present in our bones and helps provide bones their physical structure while the rest is located on the surface of the bones where it is stored for the body to be used as per its requirement. These seeds also contain copper which is vital for the function of enzymes involved in cross-linking collagen and elastin, thus providing strength and flexibility in bones and joints.
Prevent and Fight Sickness
Sunflower seeds are a good or excellent source of nearly a dozen essential vitamins and minerals, two of them being zinc and selenium. Zinc is an integral part of the immune system, as it helps both to develop and maintain proper function of immune cells. Additionally, zinc functions as an antioxidant to fight off free radicals.
Selenium also plays a role in fighting inflammation and infection, along with boosting immunity, to ensure our bodies are producing a proper response to any intruders in the body. This mineral is an important part of achieving mental health and preventing neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s as well.
Improves Mental Health
Sunflower seeds have a positive effect on your mood as it reduces the risk of depression. They contain tryptophan, an essential amino acid that helps produce serotonin, an important neurotransmitter. When serotonin is released in our bodies, it alleviates tension, calms the brain and leads to relaxation. Choline, another compound found in sunflower seeds helps in improving memory and cognitive function. Magnesium helps reduce the frequency of migraine attacks, lowers blood pressure and prevents heart attack, soreness, and fatigue.
Recommended for Expecting Mothers
Whether you’re hoping to have a baby, are pregnant or are just trying to follow a well-balanced diet, sunflower seeds have a lot to offer. These seeds are a good source of zinc and folate, while being an excellent source of vitamin E. Vitamin E is essential for prenatal health, as it helps the fetus develop and use red blood cells and muscles. Folate supports the placenta and helps prevent spina bifida, while zinc helps produce insulin and enzymes.
Vitamin E is also a key nutrient for achieving that “pregnancy glow.” You’ve likely purchased a skincare product that touts having vitamin E in it, as it fights against UV damage and nourishes your largest organ. Sunflower seeds pack more than one-third of your daily needs.
How Much Fat is in Sunflower Seeds?
Sunflower seeds are high in fat, mostly polyunsaturated fat. According to the American Heart Association, polyunsaturated fatty acids may help your heart. But that’s only the case if they’re eaten in moderation, and eaten in place of foods that are high in saturated and trans fats.
Polyunsaturated fats may:
- Reduce bad (LDL) cholesterol levels
- Reduce heart attack risk
- Reduce stroke risk
- Manage blood sugar
- Lower blood pressure
The healthy fats in sunflower seeds are good for you, but they may still increase your waistline if you overindulge. Sunflower seeds are small, so it’s easy to eat more than you should. If you’re not careful, you may consume more than one serving in a sitting. Try pre-measuring them to prevent yourself from eating too many.
How Many Calories Are in Sunflower Seeds?
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Nutrient Database:
- 1/4 cup of raw sunflower seeds has 204 calorie
- 1/2 cup of seeds with the edible hulls has 67 calories
- If you’re a fan of dry-roasted sunflower seeds, a 1/4-cup serving is 186 calories
- Sunflower seeds roasted in oil are 200 calories per 1/4-cup serving
Sunflower seeds are available seasoned in a variety of flavors such as sour cream and onion, ranch, and dill pickle. In most cases, the seasonings don’t add calories. For example, a 1/4-cup serving of David’s Ranch Sunflower Seeds is 190 calories, whether you eat just the kernels or you eat the kernels and the seasoning in their hulls.
Chocolate fans can enjoy chocolate-covered sunflower seeds. But save them for an occasional treat. A 1.4-ounce serving or less than 1/4 cup of dark chocolate-covered sunflower seeds has around 200 calories.
Sunflower Seeds and Weight Loss
While research on sunflower seeds and weight loss is lacking, the nutrients in these seeds may aid weight loss in several ways:
Keep You Full and Prevent Overeating
Eating snacks helps reduce hunger and may help prevent overeating at subsequent meals (21).
Additionally, the major nutrients in sunflower seeds, namely fat, protein, and fiber, have been shown to be particularly filling (24).
For example, one-third of the fiber in sunflower seeds is soluble, the type of fiber that may help manage weight by adding bulk to your stools, slowing digestion, and increasing feelings of fullness (25, 26).
Good for Digestion
Another benefit of sunflower seeds comes from the fact that it is a good agent to act down on the symptoms associated with constipation and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The enzymes present in the seeds regulate the secretion of digestive juices and eliminate unnecessary toxins from the body, making sure that your stomach and the gut keep on functioning well at all times.
Help You Maintain Muscle
Research has shown that people with a higher percentage of muscle burn more calories — even while resting (27).
When following a reduced calorie diet, studies have suggested that over 35% of the weight loss may be from muscle (28).
As shelled sunflower seeds contain around 2 grams of protein per tablespoon or 10 grams, they’re a great way to boost the protein content of your snacks and meals.
For example, you can dip apple slices in sunflower seed butter or sprinkle shelled sunflower seeds onto your salad as a tasty source of added protein.
Regulate Body Fat
A big benefit of sunflower seeds lies in its rich magnesium content, which not just promotes good heart health but also detoxifies the body of toxins by working from the cellular level and rooting out the bad germs and actively fights against the extra fat which can accumulate when the metabolism isn’t functioning properly. It also lessens the risk of developing cardiovascular problems in the long run.
Make You Stick to Your Diet Plan
Ultimately, a successful weight loss plan is one you can stick to.
Fiber, like that found in sunflower seeds may help. Health authorities recommend that women consume 25 grams of fiber daily, while men should consume 38 grams per day (31).
In one 6-month study involving 345 people on a severely calorie-restricted diet, those who consumed the recommended daily intake of fiber were more likely to adhere to their diet plan (32).
What’s more, participants who increased their fiber intake the most shed more weight. On average, every 3.7-gram increase in daily fiber was associated with an additional 3 pounds or 1.4 kg of weight loss (32).
Additionally, research suggests flexible weight loss plans tailored to food preferences are easier to comply with (33).
In other words, if you enjoy sunflower seeds, eating them may help you follow a diet long term.
Fuel Your Workout
To fuel your workouts, you need the right kind of food which makes up for the missing nutrients and electrolytes that can give you the energy and at the same time, aid in the recovery process. Sunflower seeds contain a powerful extract called Thiamin (Vitamin B1) which plays an essential role in managing the energy production in the body, muscle building, blood transmission and restoring vital balance in the body post an engaging workout. A handful of seeds before or after a workout can fill you up in no time.
How to Eat Sunflower Seeds?
Sunflower seeds are sold either in the shell or as shelled kernels. Shelled sunflower seeds are more versatile. These are the ways you can eat them:
- Add to trail mix.
- Stir into homemade granola bars.
- Sprinkle on a leafy green salad.
- Stir into hot or cold cereal.
- Sprinkle over fruit or yogurt parfaits.
- Add to stir-fries.
- Stir into tuna or chicken salad.
- Sprinkle over sautéed vegetables.
- Add to veggie burgers.
- Use in place of pine nuts in pesto.
- Top casseroles.
- Grind the seeds and use them as a coating for fish.
- Add to baked goods, such as bread and muffins.
- Dip an apple or banana in sunflower seed butter.
Sunflower seeds may turn blue-green when baked. This is due to a harmless chemical reaction between the seed’s chlorogenic acid and baking soda but you can reduce the amount of baking soda to minimize this reaction.
Healthy Sunflower Seeds Recipes
No-Bake Granola Bars Recipe
These chewy bars supply a surprisingly scrumptious flavor with the nutrients you need in a concoction that is easy to create. Enjoy this as a quick snack on any day of the week.
Pumpkin Chia Seed Pudding Recipe
This pudding can be the best way to start your day with the rich flavor of pumpkin complemented by the crunch of your favorite nuts and seeds. Sunflower seeds make tastiest toppings for this superb meal that is surprisingly healthy. Try it out today!
Homemade Granola Bars Recipe
For a more conventional bar with a crispy crunch that will delight your tongue and tantalize your taste buds, try this recipe for a fruit-filled bar that will satiate your midday hunger pangs.
What are you waiting for? With all the health benefits sunflower seeds can offer, you should start looking for ways to include sunflower seeds in your diet regimen now! You can eat sunflower seeds in raw form, mix them in your cold or hot beverage, or sprinkle them over salads and other food servings as mentioned above.
No matter how you eat sunflower seeds, you can reap the full benefits of the primary nutrients that are contained in each crunchy kernel.