Sunflower Seeds Health Benefits
Sunflower seeds are a unique food, rich in many types of essential, and sometimes hard to get, nutrients. In fact, sunflower seeds make my Top 10 List for foods rich in Vitamin E, copper, B Vitamins like thiamine, phosphorus, selenium, and more.
Sunflower seeds, like nearly all types of nuts and seeds, provide a healthy source of essential fatty acids; their specific fatty acids are in the form of linoleic acid. Additionally, sunflower seeds are also an excellent source of fiber, amino acids (especially tryptophan) which make up the building blocks of proteins, B Vitamins, phytosterols, and more.
Although as a culture we have been led to believe that consuming fat can lead to unwanted weight gain, the opposite is in fact true; consuming healthy fats actually leads to a healthy cardiovascular system, a stable healthy body weight, and reduced levels of body-wide inflammation.
Healthy sources of fats like those found in sunflower seeds are actually the building blocks for cell membranes, allow your body to balance hormones, help to slow down absorption of food during meal time so that we can go longer without feeling hungry, and also act as carriers for important fat- soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
By adding healthy sources of fats into your diet, like the polyunsaturated kind that is found in sunflower seeds, and replacing trans-fats and low-quality easily oxidized fats, you can experience multiple health benefits.
Sunflower Seeds History
According to the National Sunflower Association, Sunflowers are actually native to North America. There is evidence that sunflowers were cultivated by native americans as long as 3000 B.C! However, they were first discovered and taken to Europe, and then spread to Russia where they were first commercialized as a crop and harvested for their oil. It wasn’t until the late 1800’s that they were brought back to North America where they are popular for their oil, seeds, and as a beautiful addition to your garden.
Sunflower seeds are an excellent source of many vital nutrients including Vitamin E, also known as gamma-tocopherol. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that is found in many nuts and seeds, but sunflower seeds are one of the best natural sources of this antioxidant, which works hard to fight free radical damage within the body.
Sunflower seeds are most highly correlated with boosting cardiovascular health thanks to their ability to reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol and to prevent hypertension, in addition to many other positive effects like cancer prevention, less headaches and muscle cramps, improved detoxification, healthy skin, and more.
Sunflower Seeds Nutrition
A ¼ cup serving of sunflower seeds provides (in value recommended values): 190 calories, 16 grams of fat, 6 grams of protein, and 4 grams of fiber
- 82% of Vitamin E
- 70% DV of copper
- 43% Vitamin B1 (thiamine)
- 34% of manganese
- 34% of selenium
- 33% of phosphorus
- 28% of magnesium
- 28% of Vitamin B6
- 20% of folate
- 18% of Vitamin B3
Top Health Benefits of Sunflower Seeds
1. Reduces Risk for Heart Disease
The high supply of antioxidant Vitamin E (80% of your daily recommended value in every ¼ cup of seeds) helps to reduce body-wide dangerous inflammation from leading to various diseases. Vitamin E, also known as gamma-tocopherol, is a powerful antioxidant that is found in nuts and seeds including sunflower seeds (1).
Researchers now know that high levels of inflammation are correlated with an increased risk for heart disease, but also for stroke, cancer, diabetes, and even serious neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Frequently consuming sunflowers seeds has been shown to help balance cholesterol levels, to reduce hypertension, to lower high blood pressure, and to protect against heart disease- all which are possible once inflammation levels are under control.
Sunflower seeds are rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds which lower oxidative stress and the presence of damaging free-radicals within the body. According to recent studies published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, the amount of beneficial phytosterols present in nuts and seeds was highest in sunflower seeds than almost all other types. Phytosterols are responsible for keeping unhealthy cholesterol levels in check which is one of the best ways to guard against cardiovascular disease.
Vitamin E is a fat soluble vitamin, meaning it must be consumed with fat in order to be absorbed to the body’s best ability; this makes it even more beneficial that sunflower seeds provide essential fatty acids in addition to Vitamin E.
Vitamin E antioxidants are found in cholesterol particles and help to prevent free radicals from dangerously oxidizing cholesterol (2). Cholesterol must first become oxidized before atherosclerosis can occur, which results in blocked arties and eventually can lead to cardiac arrest.
2. Helps to Prevent Cancer Due to High Antioxidant Content
Studies demonstrate that sunflower seeds are especially useful for preventing cancer through eating a high-nutrient diet. The important range of antioxidants, trace minerals, and other vitamins found in sunflower seeds help to reduce oxidative stress from taking place within the body, which when left uncontrolled contributes to the development of cancer.
Studies show that the nutrients found in sunflower seeds have chemo-preventive compounds that stall early phases of cancer development to help shut off tumor growth (3). The antioxidants found in sunflower seeds are utilized for DNA repair and work to slow the growth of mutated cancer cells. This makes consuming sunflower seeds an excellent way to prevent cancer and also to decrease the chance of reoccurrences taking place.
Gamma-tocopherol (Vitamin E) has been proven effective in studies at aiding in cancer prevention. Studies have demonstrated that Vitamin E protects men from prostate cancer and a new study conducted by the Texas Woman’s University suggests that it can also help to reduce the risk for lung cancer.
Sunflower seeds also contain selenium, an antioxidant that is important for preventing breast cancer. Selenium has also been shown in studies to help with DNA repair and for detoxing the body of harmful, damaged cells. Selenium helps the body to stop the proliferation of cancer cells and to stall tumor growth through apoptosis, the self-destruction of damaged cells by the own body, including those found in cancerous tumors (2).
3. Supports Thyroid Function Through Selenium
Sadly, the United States National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health now estimates that around 27 million Americans suffer from thyroid disease, with women and older people being even more susceptible. One of the leading causes of thyroid disorders, including hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism, is a deficiency in the mineral selenium, which sunflower seeds are luckily an excellent source of.
The thyroid gland is responsible for regulating body temperature, heart rate, the production of protein, and controlling the rate of your metabolism, just to name a few functions; therefore a thyroid disorder can show up in many different symptoms (weight gain, fatigue, abnormal body temperatures, etc.) and can be hard to properly diagnose without a blood or urine test.
One of the keys to controlling thyroid disorders naturally- without the use of pharmaceutical drugs- is to include more selenium and iodine in your diet, among other beneficial changes that can be made.
4. Helps Combat Osteoporosis, Bone Loss, and Muscle Cramps
Sunflower seeds provide a high amount of essential trace mineral magnesium, which most Americans are actually deficient in due to eating a poor “standard American diet” low in fresh, nutritious foods. Magnesium plays many important roles within the body: it helps to balance the calcium/potassium ratio within cells, is crucial to overall cardiovascular health and it aids in healthy blood pressure (4).
It is partially responsible for keeping the skeletal structure healthy and helps to prevent conditions related to loss in bone mineral density like osteoporosis. Additionally it helps with blood clotting as well as bone calcification. Magnesium also helps to reduce chronic migraine headaches, constipation, chronic fatigue, and even symptoms associated with mood disorders like depression and anxiety.
Sunflower seeds are a rich source of B Vitamins, including Vitamin B5, which is also known as pantothetic acid. Like the other types of B-vitamins, Vitamin B5 plays an important role in energy metabolism, since it acts as a coenzyme involved in energy-producing chemical reactions within the body.
Pantothetic acid also plays an important part in synthesizing fat, regulating hormones, and maintaining healthy brain function. While a severe deficiency in Vitamin B5 is not very common, mild deficiencies include symptoms like fatigue, muscle cramps, and plantar fasciitis which is a common, painful injury within the shin and feet that are often found in athletes.
5. Balances Blood Sugar Levels and Helps Ward off Diabetes
A diet rich in all types of nuts and seeds has been shown to reduce hyperglycemia and to help balance blood sugar levels. This decreases the chance of developing metabolic syndrome including diabetes or insulin resistance. We know from looking at the diet of populations who traditionally have eaten a high amount of seeds that the compounds found in seeds help to combat diseases related to uncontrolled blood sugar levels.
Unbalanced blood sugar levels and insulin resistance lead to further inflammation, weight gain, and even autoimmune responses. But thankfully the powerful nutrients in sunflower seeds help to stop the spikes and dips of blood sugar that many people experience due to diets too high in sugar, refined grains, sweetened beverages, and processed foods. Magnesium, for example. has been found to have a protective effect against developing type 2 diabetes in controlled studies (5).
Populations within South America, including those living in present day Mexico and Peru, have been consuming sunflower seeds for thousands of years. It’s believed that the seeds were first eaten for their satisfying high fat content starting around 5,000 years ago. Spanish explorers who discovered the seeds in South America spread their uses across Europe after returning home, and then brought them to North America soon after.
6. Improves Skin Health
Studies have shown that antioxidant Vitamin E is especially useful for maintaining youthful, strong, healthy skin. Sunflower seeds contain Vitamin E in addition to essential fatty acid lipids that help keep skin hydrated and free from sun and pollution damage. Studies have shown that in controlled trials using animals, both sunflower seeds and flax seeds are able to keep animal coats and skin healthy and free from signs of damage even as the animals age, and believe that the same benefits are achieved in the skin and hair of aging humans (6).
Purchasing Sunflower Seeds Today
Today, sunflower seeds are one of the most consumed seeds in the world, especially in the United States. There are actually three types of commonly used sunflower seeds: linoleic (most common), high oleic, and nusun sunflowers seeds; the kind most often eaten is the linoleic kind.
The three varieties all have different exact nutrient contents, but are very similar in terms of health benefits and uses. Sunflower seeds are
They can be consumed raw, sprouted, roasted, toasted, and just about everything in between. They are commonly ground into “Sunflower Seed Butter”, which has become an increasingly popular alternative to other nut butters over the past decade, since sunflower seeds tend to be much less likely to cause an allergic reaction that other nuts like peanuts or almonds.
Sunflower seeds that have been shelled (removed from their husks) are said to have a mild nutty taste compared to other nuts, and a medium to firm texture. They are easy to incorporate into other recipes, since they’re taste is not overwhelming and their small size makes them ideal for adding them to things like veggie burgers or other ground mixes.
Sunflower seeds can be found in either shelled or unshelled varieties, meaning their hard husks will either be intact or removed. One of the best ways to buy sunflowers seeds is by getting them from “bulk bins”, which are areas of certain health food stores or major markets that sell foods by the pound.
Buying the seeds is this way usually means you are getting the best price and also purchasing fresh, organic seeds most of the time. When choosing your seeds, look for the kinds that are uniform in color without any major yellow spots, firm and plump, and not broken. It is common for the shelled seeds to have black and white striped on them, so do not be concerned if this is what you find in stores; you can always de-shell them afterwards.
Because the seeds are high in delicate polyunsaturated fats, they can easily go rancid if left out in the heat for too long. You will want to preserve their nutrients and keep them from spoiling by storing them in your refrigerator in an airtight container. Keeping them this way, they should stay fresh for several months and their taste should not be altered.
If you are buying sunflower seed butter, check the ingredient label to make sure no other ingredients are added like any hydrogenated fats, extra flavors, or thickening agents. Store your sunflower seed butter in the refrigerator and check the date to know how long you can expect it to stay fresh, depending on when the seeds were ground.
It’s possible to harvest your own sunflower seeds from mature sunflowers too of course, if you’d like to try doing this. You can prepare your flowers for a drying process in which they will produce edible seeds once the back of the flower head begins to turn yellow to yellow-brown. You will want the sunflower to be completely dry in order for the seeds to fall out.
This means half of the yellow petals should have dropped before you start picking out the mature seeds. Look for the seeds to begin to plump up and for their black-and-white striped shell colors to form; this is when they are ready to consume.
Understanding Polyunsaturated Fat Oils
Sunflower seeds have a very high oil content, so unfortunately it is common for them to be used as the base for processed polyunsaturated oils. While sunflower seeds themselves are very healthy, oils made using sunflower seeds can be unfavorable because their polyunsaturated fats do not hold up well to high-heat cooking.
All polyunsaturated fats can easily become rancid oils and undergo oxidization when you cook with them, turning them into a vehicle for toxins rather than nutrients. The high heat and pressure involved in extracting oil from something like sunflower seeds destroys their antioxidants and alter the chemical nature of the fat, creating dangerous free radicals.
Many types of polyunsaturated oils are inexpensive and widely available in most grocery stores today because they are made with cheap crops like corn and soybeans, which are often genetically modified. However they are dangerous to your health and a much better option for cooking is unrefined coconut oil.
This oil is far less processed and also has a higher heat threshold. It’s believed that modern diets can contain as much as 30% of calories from omega-6 polyunsaturated oils, but research indicates that this amount is far too high and that these types of fats must be balanced with omega-3 fats and sources of healthy saturated fats.
Excess consumption of polyunsaturated oils has been shown to contribute to a large number of disease including increased cancer and heart disease, immune system dysfunction, damage to reproductive organs and more. So remember that you want to eat raw or toasted sunflower seeds often, but its best to leave behind oils made with them.
Ways to Eat Sunflower Seeds
The good news is that it’s very easy to add sunflower seeds to some of your favorite meals and healthy snacks that you’re already making. Try these simple ways of getting these nutrient-packed seeds into your diet more often:
- Add the seeds to homemade veggie burgers, meatballs, or meatloaves
- Toss some seeds on to a salad or use sunflower seed butter in a homemade sauce
- Try adding them to tuna or salmon salad, since they add a nice crunch and texture
- Add some sunflower seed butter to your oatmeal in the morning, spread it onto your sprouted grain toast instead of peanut butter, or add a tablespoon to your favorite healthy smoothie recipes
- Add the seeds to any baked goods you make, including grain-free muffins, breads, and scones
- Use ground sunflower seeds in place of flax or chia seeds in any recipe, or sunflower butter in place of another nut butter
- Toss sunflower seeds into any of these recipes for on-the-go healthy snack ideas
The fastest and easier way to remove the shells from whole sunflower seeds before using them in recipes is to add them to a blender, food processor, or even coffee grinder so that they become “milled”. This is similar to how flax seeds are milled, and is a common practice done to release some od the nutrients of the seeds that can go undigested and absorbed when the shells are intact.
Once you grind the seeds, you can pour water over them and the shell pieces that have fallen off the seeds should float to the top of the water so you can easily skim them away, leaving only the seeds behind. Allow the seeds to dry and then store them in a dry container in the refrigerator.
SUNFLOWER SEEDS RECIPES
This grainless granola recipe is the perfect snack when you’re on the go. It’s full of healthy fats that will help curb those hunger cravings, good fiber and minerals!
- 1 cup raw pecans, chopped
- 1 cup dried apples, chopped
- 1 cup raisins
- 1 cup raw sunflower seeds
- 1/2 cup raw almonds, chopped
- Pinch of ground Clove, cinnamon and nutmeg
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and serve.
Possible Interactions & Sunflower Seeds Side Effects
Luckily, concerns with or allergies to sunflower seeds are not very common at all. The seeds are not high in oxalates, purines, or other substances like aflatoxins or mold that cause allergies, harm your metabolism, and cause unwanted interactions with medications commonly.
The one thing to note about consuming sunflower seeds is that they are an omega-6 polyunsaturated fat like I mentioned above, and you want to be careful about balancing your omega-6 intake with omega-3s as well. Aim to have about 1 ounce of sunflower seeds per day, to vary your fat intake and include sources like coconut, wild fish, ghee and grassfed butter, walnuts and flaxseeds, and other omega-3s too in order to get the most health benefits from your diet overall.